Thursday, November 16, 2006

Alias, Adieu

By Tony Buchsbaum

Well, it’s over.

Sydney Bristow knows everything she has to know about ex-boss and arch-nemesis Arvin Sloane, her mother Irina, her father Jack, her husband Michael Vaughn, and the ever-mind-boggling inventor/visionary Milo Rambaldi.

Alias, which has fascinated viewers for five years, has run its considerably complex course, and we have the DVDs to prove it. The complete series is now available is what looks to be a very over-produced box that looks like a gen-you-wine Rambaldi artifact, and in case you’re one of those people who’ve been buying the season sets year by year, Season 5 is now available, too.

As one of the season-set buyers, I can’t even begin to think about diving into the big box—nufty extras aside—but the Season 5 set is pretty spectacular on its own. All 17 episodes are here, and while the year had its clunkers, most of it is very good, solidly in the Alias expository tradition of misdirection, melodrama, abrupt plot reversals, and professional and personal betrayal.

The new set also includes the 100th episode and a decent collection of bonus features, to wit: a 100th episode celebration; a History Channel-style faux-doc on Rambaldi; an on-set visit with the newest agent, actress Rachel Nichols; a wonderful doc about series composer Michael Giacchino, one of the new guard of Hollywood composers, whose work brilliantly brings every episode to life; and my personal fave, the bloopers. What can I tell you? Alias is such a serious show that few of the characters ever smile, let alone laugh; the bloopers (and there’s a reel of them in each season’s DVD set) are a wonderful way to break the tension. Series creator J.J. Abrams was largely absent from the last season, which was one of the reasons it didn’t shine quite as bright as other seasons. (Hardly a slacker—the guy also co-created Lost—he was off making Mission: Impossible III with Suri Cruises’s dad.)

The series doesn’t fall to pieces, but it veers perilously close to severely overwrought self-parody. The final episode, in which there is great and significant revelation and death, as well as a healthy dollop of hope, seems rushed; it should have been a two-hour epic, but in the end no one saw the need to spend all that dough on a series that was on its way out.
Alias was the kind of television program that was so wonderful so often that you have to wonder what happened? Was it Abrams’ exit? Lead Jennifer Garner’s pregnancy? Or was it just too much of a grind? It was the kind of show whose life depended on thrills on a fairly constant basis. In terms of thrills-per-minute, it fell somewhere between a good 007 movie and 24.

I, for one, loved Alias, and I always will. What with every moment preserved on DVD, I’m not as torn up as I was when, say, The Mary Tyler Moore Show ended. But I’ll miss the series’ unique, innovative, addictive format, which always hinged on the conflict between spycraft and familycraft—between the art of hiding in plain sight from people who’d just as soon see you dead and the art of hiding in plain sight from people who’d just as soon see you at Thanksgiving dinner.

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