Top critical review
3 1/2 STARS FOR ALIAS FIRST SEASON
on January 1, 2004
Always action packed and entertaining, the first season of Alias, like a lot of television shows, was hampered a bit by having to set up its premise and characters. All of this paid off with the second season but the first season is exceptional with a number of strong episodes. Sydney (the wonderful Jennifer Garner) discovers that, while she thought she was working for the CIA, she was, in fact, working for the bad guys in an organization called SD-6. Sydney finds out the hard way when her fiance is brutally murdered at the orders of Sloan ( the oily Ron Rifkin) her boss at SD-6. She discovers all of this from her father ( the exceptional Victor Garber). She had assumed her father was working for a company that makes airplane parts but he's an agent for SD-6 and there's more; he's a double agent spying on the organization for the CIA.
The plot twists like a modern rollercoaster. Sydney eventually agrees to become a double agent for the CIA as well to eventually get Sloan and SD-6 for the bad things they've done. Unfortunately, most of the people including her partner (the superb Carl Lumley)believe they're working for the good guys which creates quite a bit of conflict for Sydney.
Creator J. J. Abrams has created an unusual blend of The Prisoner, Mission: Impossible, The X-Files and Felicity. What's amazing is that the series works despite drawing on these varied sources. The writing is, for the most part, first class and the acting in his spy opera is exceptional. If some of the performances are a bit over-the-top, keep in mind it works within the genre and the format of the show.
The first six episodes are exceptional but when the series gets bogged down in the Rimbaldi Prophecy late in the season, the show loses some of its focus. Abrams tries a bit too hard to build up a mythology much like The X-Files by using this McGuffin to drive the stories. Unfortunately, it becomes a bit too much of a focus during the last part of season one. It's not bad, just a bit much to swallow.
The story arc of the first season will be, for the most part, resolved by the middle of season two allowing for fresh, interesting vistas to keep fans interested. One other unusual attribute of the series is the stunt casting. During season one and two we see a number of exceptional guest stars including Christian Slater, Rutger Hauer, Amy Irving and Ethan Hawke. The casting works because the actors play characters that lend themselves for instant identification and to their strengths.
The DVD transfer are quite good with some compression issues but nothing noteable. The sound is exceptional. There are a number of cool extras including the gag reel for the season and three featurettes plus commentary on a number of key episodes. My only complaint is that Touchstone doesn't have a chapter menu within individual episodes. If you forget to activate your memory on your DVD player and have to stop playing it, you'll have to skip around a bit. It wouldn't have been that big a deal to provide the additional chapter selections on the disc (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is a great example of this).
While the kudos for the show is much deserved, the second season is really where the series pays off. I'd still recommend renting or purchasing the first season in order to follow the story arcs set up for season two (and later season three).