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Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.

Hercules The Strong loves television. Loves it. Lives it. Breathes it. Can’t get enough.

Harry Knowles hates television. Refuses to watch anything, even if it’s recommended strongly, even if I tell him he’ll love it. He’d rather wait for it to show up on DVD so he can tell himself he’s not watching TV. Total freakin’ snob.

And me? Well, I fall somewhere in the middle. I love the potential of television to tell stories you can’t tell in a two hour feature film, the way you get caught up in a favorite show, the way you get pulled back week after week to see these characters you’ve come to love. When it works, I think it’s really great. Admittedly, there’s a lot of crap to wade through, and one of the most interesting times of the year is the start of the season, when you pick and choose to see what you’re going to tune in for, what you’re going to sample.

I’ve been sent a lot of pilots recently, and in most cases, the shows have been so forgettable that I didn’t see any reason to review them. THE DOWNER CHANNEL. NIGHT VISIONS. These aren’t shows that are going to last, and you’ll figure that out on your own. There’s really no need for me to pipe up.

In the case of ABC’s upcoming ALIAS, though, I thought I should chime in. You see, the first two reviews we’ve had on the site were negative, and after seeing the pilot, I’m somewhat surprised. There was Viacom Girl’s review, and we also had a review by Stumpy. In both cases, they called it a cliché, a boring retread, not worth watching.

Well, I call shenanigans on both of them.

ALIAS is going to be playing on Sunday nights on ABC, opposite THE X-FILES and the new LAW & ORDER show. For my money, ALIAS looks like the strongest of the three. It may cover familiar ground, but I’ve always said... it’s not what you’re telling, it’s how you tell it. In this case, the pilot, written and directed by executive producer JJ Abrams, is stylish, appropriately intense, and confident. Yes, it’s apparent he’s seen both LA FEMME NIKITA and RUN LOLA RUN. So what? The way he blends his obvious influences is what makes the 71 minute pilot (an odd running time) such a pleasure.

The opening takes place in a dirty, dank little room in Taiwan, a concrete square somewhere underground. A girl is being beaten while her tormenters bark at her in Chinese. It’s a disturbing opening, and when she answers in Chinese, it’s disorienting. Where are we? It’s not made any clearer when we suddenly cut to a classroom at a major university where the same girl, looking very different, is finishing up an exam. Time runs out and her teacher tells her to put her pencil down. She manages to sneak in a few extra lines before handing the test in.

Outside, we get our real introduction to Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner), a long lanky beauty. She’s with her boyfriend, doctor-in-training Danny, complaining about her test, and when he stops in the middle of the campus yard and drops to one knee, she’s not sure what he’s doing. He proposes, and she is overwhelmed. She says yes, and the two embrace. It’s a sweet scene, handled with the right amount of humor, and Garner generates an immediate warmth. She’s hard not to like. For fans of FELICITY, the other JJ Abrams show on the air right now, this is going to feel like familiar territory. As Sydney tells her friends about the proposal, there’s the suggestion of a strained relationship with her father (played by Victor Garber, who many of you will recognize from TITANIC). We also learn that she has a best friend, Will, who is constantly pining for her. I was all set to roll my eyes and tune out when Sydney went to work.

The show’s got a great soundtrack, and as it kicked in, I realized just how fun the blend could be between the sort of relationship drama Abrams is known for and a sophisticated spy romp. It’s the same sort of balance that James Cameron struck in TRUE LIES, and as Sydney makes her way into the building where SD-6, her top-secret agency, is located, there’s a feeling that we’re passing from one world to another. The great Ron Rifkin is her boss, and he briefs her and her partner Dixon about a mission they’re going to be sent on in Taiwan. There’s a genuinely funny Q-type character, Marshall, a sort of uber-nerd who explains their spy gear to them, and then they return to their normal lives to get ready to leave.

Before she can go, Sydney decides to tell Danny the truth about what she does. At first he thinks she’s kidding, but when he realizes it’s the truth, he flips out. She explains how she got involved with SD-6, and we see it all in flashback, but Danny doesn’t want to hear it. He cuts her off and leaves, not sure how he feels about any of it. Sydney is crushed when she leaves town, and in her conversations with Dixon on the plane, it’s obvious that it’s weighing heavy on her. She wants to believe she did the right thing, that Danny should know the truth. Dixon has never told his wife anything, and there’s the implication in what he says that it’s for her own safety as much as out of a sense of duty.

While she’s overseas and working to photograph the high-tech doodad which serves as the episode’s McGuffin, Danny calls her answering machine and leaves a message in which he tells her he doesn’t care if she’s a spy or not. He loves her and he wants to be with her. That call is intercepted by SD-6, though, and Rifkin ends up with a report on his desk within minutes. He calls in another agent to discuss the matter, and in a nice reveal, it turns out to be Sydney’s estranged father. They debate what to do, and in the end, there seems to be only one choice.

When Sydney returns from Taiwan, she finds her apartment trashed. Even worse, Danny is dead in the bathtub, slashed up. It’s a shocking image, and it sets up the stakes in the show. It plays for keeps, and it plays rough. When she confronts Rifkin, not only does he admit to having had Danny killed, he rubs her nose in it and tells her it’s her fault. She has to be debriefed, and Anghus (PHANTASM) Scrimm shows up in a nice cameo as the guy in charge of the interrogation. All of this is intercut with that opening scene, Sydney in some underground room in China, being tortured. Again, they play rough. They pull teeth from her head without anesthesia. They beat the shit out of her. It’s surprising how far Abrams goes.

But when is that torture taking place? How does Sydney end up back in Taiwan? Is SD-6 really the agency she thinks it is? Where do her father’s loyalties really lie? I don’t think ALIAS is the greatest show ever made, and I’m not telling you that you HAVE to tune in to find out the answers to these questions. I will say that I enjoyed it greatly, that I think Garner has the right stuff to carry the show, that I want to see more of the supporting cast around her, and that I was impressed by how well Abrams serves both halves of Sydney’s life in the show. If he’s able to walk that balance each week, and if he’s able to really get us invested in the life of this girl, then Touchstone Television could have a real winner on their hands. I’ll say this... in some ways, this is a better piece of spy pop fiction than the recent Bond films have been. At least here, there’s a chance we’ll see some real growth or change in the character at the center of things. In Broccoli-land, nothing ever changes, and nothing ever matters. There’s never any real peril. We see Sydney get hurt badly in this first episode, so we’re prepared now: anything can happen.

I give this the highest compliment I can for a TV pilot: I’ll tune in for the second episode. I’ll be curious to see how many of you feel the same when the show premieres this fall. Until then...

"Moriarty" out.

Readers Talkback
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  • Aug. 9, 2001, 5:25 a.m. CST

    Okay, when?

    by eviltwin

    This show sounds decent, but when exactly does it premeiere?

  • Aug. 9, 2001, 5:45 a.m. CST


    by FUZZCO66

    This sounds remarkably like the new DC Comic, Codename: Knockout. Not that I am saying one is a rip-off of the other, but it's an interesting coincidence. Why can't we have a lady secret agent in this day and age that does not have Daddy issues? *second*

  • Because I actually liked the look of the tv series on USA a whole lot. It was so cool and if Alias is similar to that then I am in for a treat.

  • Aug. 9, 2001, 6:45 a.m. CST

    School girl with a secret identity hmmm sounds familiar

    by spike fan

    Can anyone say Buffy rip-off. Only difference that she is a spy and not Vampire SLayer. Still I will give it a go though it hopefully it does not go the way of Dark Angel. On another note why do all the main charachters have to be WHITE ALL AMERICANS. For once I would love for it to be an AFrican American or a Mexican American or even a NATIVE AMERICAN. I mean the non white community is actualy higher than the white community in California. You would think that one time a black person would be the main charachter instead of as usual the goofy side kick

  • Aug. 9, 2001, 11:14 a.m. CST

    "It's a Knockoff"--The Lamest Criticism of All

    by RogerOThornhill

    This show may very well suck, but TBers GET A NEW SUIT! Whether something is good or bad is not intrinsically connected to its supposed "originality" or lack thereof. John Huston's version of The Maltese Falcon was the third film version of that book, the 1939 Wizard of Oz was the third or fourth version of that work. Are you telling me that you prefer Warren William to Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade, or Oliver Hardy to Jack Haley as the Tin Man? (At the time, of course, the Judy Garland Wizard of Oz was dismissed by quite a number of critics as a retread of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs! Pre-internet geeks that they were, they were knowledgeable enough to be waiting for Shirley Temple in The Bluebird, which btw sucked big time.) Virtually all popular works of gangster lore are "knockoffs" of The Valachi Papers. So therefore no Godfather, Wiseguy, Goodfellas, Donnie Brasco, Sopranos??? And in the end Shakespeare's Hamlet is at points a scene-by-scene rewrite of Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy--so therefore Kyd's play is better??? The onsite complaints about the pending remakes of Day of the Dead and The Warriors seem to me more on target. This particular TV show may or may not suck; I may or may not watch it; but geeks of the world, GET A NEW MODE OF CRITIQUE! Thank you for your time; that is all.

  • Aug. 9, 2001, 11:28 a.m. CST


    by tongxinglian

    I'm a bit confused why this would take place in Taiwan, and why you would send caucasians to spy there, but oh well. I'll see it just for that little bit.

  • Aug. 9, 2001, 11:42 a.m. CST

    You Buffyheads and your conspiracy theories...

    by No. 41

    ...yes, everyone's out to rip off Buffy, I mean, after all, it gets a whole, what, 6 or 7 million viewers a week on WB / UPN or wherever it is these days? It's a fun show and all, but you guys are almost as funny as the SW types.

  • Aug. 9, 2001, 12:47 p.m. CST

    I've seen ALIAS

    by Darth Diego

    I've seen the pilot, and this show is neither a Dark Angel, nor a Buffy knockoff. I thought it rocked, and so has everyone else I've shown it to -- in fact, we're all a little irritated that we've had to wait so long for the season to start, because, like Moriarty, we'd like to see what happens in the second episode. Oh, and Spike Fan: both Sydney's best friend and her partner -- roles that look to be important throughout the series -- are African American, so relax.

  • Aug. 9, 2001, 1:17 p.m. CST

    Lola... I meant, Alias

    by Plenty O'Toole

    Granted all things are derivative, but I think our very talentless boy JJ went a bit far with his aping of RUN LOLA RUN. The plot of ALIAS is completely different, sure, but check out the show's original promos... character with flaming red hair running to the techno track that Rheinhold Heil scored for the original Tykwer film. Christ, JJ... that's theft of intellectual property. I don't care if it's only packaged as such for the promos. Is it OK if I create a show with my character dressing up as Batman for a brief instant, hopping from rooftop to rooftop to the strains of the Elfman composition? Hell no. Not even for a promo. JJ basically dangles Tykwer's character in our face to get new viewers to watch his pathetic dribble. I'd like to see how interested Tykwer would be... I'm sure his permission wasn't sought.

  • Aug. 9, 2001, 1:59 p.m. CST

    Hey Fuzz

    by Anton_Sirius

    Is there really? That's interesting. As I recall DC also released a comic called Scarlett when Buffy the TV show first came out, about a blonde high school vampire killer. Hmmm...

  • Aug. 9, 2001, 2:30 p.m. CST

    Of course you don't have to tell us how it all works out. . .

    by RenoNevada2000

    . . .Because most of us can guess about half way through what's going to happen. I did see this and while I agree with Mori on the daringness of the plot, once the fiancee winds up cacked, I pretty much guessed where it was going. It's pretty sad when the cutting edge becomes passe, even predictable. (Exhbit 1A- The last season of "Miami Vice.")

  • Aug. 9, 2001, 5:30 p.m. CST

    Since you asked -- the premiere date:

    by Hercules

    ABC is planning to premiere "Alias" (commercial free!!) on Sept. 30.

  • Aug. 9, 2001, 6:02 p.m. CST

    Re:Peter O'Tooley, and Run Lola Run


    Yeah, that ad really Screams RLR... It better be a damn homage! However, somehow I foggily remember RLR's creator being somehow connected to Alias. Either that, or someone else got that impression from those Ads as well! Actually, Moriarity's reveiw of the show sounds kinda interesting. Perhaps someone could clear this up.

  • Aug. 10, 2001, 8:20 a.m. CST

    I have also seen the pilot...

    by ChemicalReaction

    Don't believe the hype. This piece of shit isn't a knock off of buffy or dark angel. It's a completely derivative sterile evocation of RUN LOLA RUN, LE FEMME, and JAMES BOND but lacking any of the relevance its inspiritions contained. It's not camp, it's not smart, and it doesn't know what it is. JJ thinks he's breaking new ground but all he has accomplished is an empty little tale filled with broadstroak storytelling devices and littered with overblown symbols. What a jackass.

  • Aug. 10, 2001, 12:41 p.m. CST

    Spike Fan

    by tonystark

    Darth Diego, I think what Spike Fan was talking about how in most American popular entertainment, especially genre entertainment, minorities in general and African Americans in particular are rarely the main protagonist. Look at current genre tv: Buffy, Angel, X-Files, Andromeda, Earth Final Conflict, Voyager, La Femme Nikita. The main characters, the "hero" is invariably white. While there may be minority character in the cast, rarely are they fully developed. At best they are the "side-kick". I've watched television my entire life and see this repeated again, and again waiting to see someone like myself as the focal point of a drama, or genre program. I think by telling Spike Fan to "relax" you're dismissing what is a very serious problem: Hollywood's refusal to base television programs around characters that are not white, and America's refusal to see minority groups in ways other than the stereotypes they're accustomed to. Now having said that, I'll probably check out "Alias" but it would nice to see a program with a minority character in the lead who the had opportunity to be "heroic", have a love life etc.

  • Aug. 10, 2001, 12:53 p.m. CST

    Alias-seen it

    by Deeva

    I've seen the pilot and I gotta say that I agree with Moriarity. It looks good. Jennifer Garner does a good job with her character. I think that I also heard that it'll be shown commercial free because Motorola(?) paid to have 2 spots shown before and after the show.

  • Aug. 12, 2001, 3:18 a.m. CST

    I saw "Alias" and it ROCKS

    by meataicn

    "Alias" is amazing. It is sheer fun. Jennifer Garner is great. The twists and turns are really wild. I don't watch a lot of network TV, but this is true quality and fun. Long live "Alias"

  • Aug. 12, 2001, 4:55 a.m. CST

    I'll watch it just to see how she retaliates for the bad guy pul

    by Junior D-Girl

    If she doesn't repay him in kind then I will never watch another episode ever again! I hope she turns the tables on that Chinese bastard and pulls all of his rotten teeth out! Then I hope she pulls his nose off and his ears! :)