"I've lived with secrets all my life...and I'm done."
Although the music industry is the most troubled of the entertainment business right now, television - in my humble opinion - doesn't seem that far behind. Network TV offers few bright spots these days and good, well-reviewed shows that don't find an audience right away (most famously, Aaron Sorkin's "Sports Night" or Fox's "Family Guy", the latter only returning after its DVDs sold well) aren't given much of a chance. Bright spots like "Scrubs" or Fox's "24" are few-and-far-between, often coming in-between a double-dose of reality TV. Some networks have reportedly planned to pack in more low-cost reality television down the road.
So, congrats to ABC for keeping the show going as long as it did, despite the fact that "Alias" has never been a particularly big ratings grabber. Hopefully, the show's eventual success will lead to more, similar series with equally complex, intelligent and satisfying storytelling.
"Alias" is the creation of "Lost" creator JJ Abrams and stars Jennifer Garner ("Dude, Where's My Car"). The choice of Garner as Sydney Bristow is one of those things where most will likely not imagine anyone else in the role. Able to portray a natural sweetness and likability, Garner turns Sydney into a highly engaging character with complex and conflicting emotions, as well as one who is an expert in martial arts.
At the opening of the first season, Sydney worked for a top-secret organization called SD-6, who is searching for a mysterious device by a scientist named Rambaldi. It's not long before Sydney realizes that SD-6 isn't the branch of the CIA that it says it is, leading Sydney to work as a double agent for the real CIA to investigate SD-6. It's not long before Sydney finds herself in the midst of double-and-triple crosses, not to mention surprises, as she finds out her father (a terrific Victor Garber) is an agent, as well.
The show does take a bit from previous efforts such as "Mission: Impossible" and "La Femme Nikita" (the latter was also turned into a well-liked TV show), while also running on the techno-pulse of a "Run Lola Run". Still, the show manages to add its own twists and turns on a familiar genre. The show's production design, cinematography and costumes are all first-rate, while the occasional jump to a foreign location or new gadget intro make the show fun and compelling.
The fourth season of "Alias" was a strong effort after a third season that some considered disappointing. The season starts off with the two-part "Authorized Personel Only", where Sydney joins a Black Ops group called APO/Authorized Personel Only...and finds that the leader of the group is Arvin Sloane (Ron Rifkin), the former head of SD-6. Sydney's half-sister Nadia (Mia Maestro) also gets a larger role in the fourth season.
The fifth and final season opens where the fourth season ended. Although it seemed as if everything was well for Sydney and Vaughn as the season came to a close, a reveal from Vaughn that he isn't who he's claimed was cut short by...well, you'll just have to watch to find out what happens during the show's final run. While the fifth season was ultimately still not a return to the earlier seasons of the series, the opening refueled the doubt of who Sydney can trust and the season overall was a boost from an uneven fourth round.
Garner's real-life pregnancy was also written into the series; while that may have limited the action somewhat, it was another layer to the story. The show also benefitted from some new roles - including new agent Thomas Grace (Balthazar Getty) and Renée (Elodie Bouchez, wonderfully icy), a woman on the FBI's most wanted list who Sydney finds herself forced to team up with. Meanwhile, Sloane (Ron Rifkin) returns, seeking to save Nadia, but with other intentions in mind. Other characters from Sydney's past also make a return, as well, as she seeks to uncover the truth about a mysterious organization called Prophet 5.
VIDEO: "Alias" is presented by Buena Vista in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. The picture quality remains marvelous throughout, and appears to be an improvement over the broadcast quality of the series, if not a major one. Sharpness and detail are mostly excellent, as the picture appeared consistently well-defined, with good fine detail often visible. Some darker scenes could be a little murky, but in some cases it was seemingly by intent.
A few darker scenes also showed some minor artifacts, but they did not prove to be much of a distraction. Not surprisingly, the elements appeared crisp and clear, with no concerns. Colors looked bright and vivid, with no smearing or other faults.
SOUND: "Alias" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The audio quality is generally quite good, with the surrounds kicking in for some pretty enjoyable sound effects during the action sequences. Dialogue remmained crisp and clear throughout, as did sound effects and music.
EXTRAS: Four commentaries are included: "Prophet Five" (director Ken Olin, Exec Producer Jeff Pinker and actor Victor Garber), "Bob" (writers Monica Breen and Alison Schnapker and actors David Anders and Rachel Nichols), "The Horizon" (writers Josh Applebaum and Andre Nemec, along with director Tucker Gates"), "There's Only One Sydney Bristow" (the "Alias" production assistants). All four commentaries are terrific, although the first and the last are the most fun, as the the "Prophet Five" participants have a lot of fun cracking jokes about writer's room games and scenes from the episode. Yet, while remaining quite funny, the group does manage to offer up some interesting behind-the-scenes tidbits about shooting and the season. The production assistants commentary is also on the jokey side, but also informative - and it's nice to hear from PA's for once.
On the fourth disc, we start with "Bloopers of Alias", which is a few minutes of bloopers that's highlighted by Garner and creator JJ Abrams jokingly reinacting his call to her about starring in the series (she hopes that there won't be any stunts or wardrobe changes). "Celebrating 100" is a "behind-the-scenes" look at the 100th episode of the series, with some minor looks at the shooting of the episode and the party afterwards. "The Legend of Rambaldi" takes a look at this piece of the "Alias" puzzle, with thoughts from Abrams and the actors, as well as some thoughts on the props involved. "Heightening the Drama" takes a look at the music of "Alias", with composer Michael Giacchino, who is also the composer on "Lost". Finally, we get a tour of the production with Rachel Nichols.
Final Thoughts: The last season of "Alias" contains some twists that are a bit much, but while the season is not a return to the show's early going, it still remains engaging more often than not and stands as a reasonably good close to an excellent show. The DVD set provides terrific audio/video quality and a nice set of supplemental features. Recommended.