I’ve just watched the first three discs of the first season of Alias and will admit to being less than excited. Reports made it sound Buffy-smart but instead Alias isn’t smart at all. Where Joss Whedon was a comic and B-movie fan who intimately understood how those forms can--in fact have to--work on multiple levels, Alias is merely the work of a TV writer, which is not meant to be a compliment. It’s not just that implausibility is a structuring principle but that there isn’t much of a point to anything. Missions could be more or less swapped between episodes, the emotional parts are forced to say the least, there’s no sense of building and has anything in recent memory had such clunky exposition scenes in every freakin’ episode! That’s not made any more palatable by a “humorous” tech guy clearly based on Bond’s Q (and which reminds me of the chapter title in a James Kincaid book called “Who Is Relieved by Comic Relief?”). The commentary on the pilot gushes about the actors but there’s not much for them to work with, especially the head bad guy Sloane who is a complete blank. This isn’t CEO blank or restrained menace blank but more like they started shooting from a script draft without any character information. A further problem is that Sao Paolo looks like L.A., Athens looks like L.A., Germany looks like L.A. but fortunately the Argentine countryside looks like Southern California. And the terrible music choices don’t help either. It’s TV, it won’t have a big budget, but least they could have made a joke out of it, considering that the rest isn’t very serious.
Still, I won’t deny that there’s enough narrative momentum that I’ll probably watch the rest of the season. Unfortunately, like with comics I read collected in TPBs instead of individual issues, I already know a few of the key plot twists. It would be cool if some thought had been put into rewatchability (sort of how The Murder of Roger Ackroyd still works even if you know the killer’s identity) but the show is so heavy-handed with twists I didn’t know about--at least not until a couple of minutes before they’re actually revealed--that the overall thinness is no surprise. Sydney’s journalist buddy, the only fully conceived character on the show, is the focus of the best story line so I’m hoping he gets moved forward. If not, well there are DVDs of The Shield and West Wing waiting, at least until I find out if these are any good either.