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, 17 May 2009
For a time (the second half of the first series and all of the second) this was the best fun on telly, if you were in the mood for escapism: a sort of Jane Bond / Mission Impossible given an extra special ingredient X in the ongoing search for the works of Rambaldi, a 15th century monk who was like Da Vinci multiplied by Nostradamus and has left behind devices which are in advance even of today's technology and are sought by various competing Illuminati-type organisations bent on fulfilling his prophecies and taking over the world. Other things it had going for it were the gorgeous Jennifer Garner in the lead and regularly kitted out in sexy disguises; the impossibly gorgeous Lena Olin as her evilish genius mum; a leading man whom even as a hetero I found almost more beautiful than either and yet somehow sympathetic; a uniformly great supporting cast, especially Ron Rifkin as a much more evil genius; and very very high production values - special effects you'd only expect to find in big-budget films, and an uncanny ability to successfully make locations in Southern California resemble exotic locations all over the world. It was played so straight and written so well that it really did suck you in. At times like all modern TV it dwelled too much on Personal Relationship issues - hard to give a damn that a secret agent on the track of a nuclear device isn't spending enough quality time with her room-mate - but at its best it really was ace. It went rubbish in series 3 and then disappeared from British terrestrial TV anyway so I never found out how it ended until now. Thanks to a certain DVD rental service I've just worked my way through series 4 and 5 and am happy to report that in these Alias returns almost to peak form. In 4 Jennifer Garner is teamed with a new half-sister, the gorgeous Nadia, played by Mia Maestro, an actress who is so perfect a cross between her and Lena Olin I suspect the producers genetically engineered her. For the first half the backstory is toned down and the show concentrates on one-off missions. In the second half the Rambaldi mythos returns and it builds to an apocalyptic climax of jaw-dropping bravura. This would probably actually have been a better end to Alias as a whole than the end of series 5, but then we would have missed out on the last two minutes of series 4, one of the best moments in televsion for years, and all the good things in series 5. For the first half of 5 Garner was pregnant and so a lot of her running-jumping-shooting duties devolved on a new trio of babes: a loose-cannon French girl played by Elodie Bouchez, an icy villainess played by Amy Acker, and a reluctant new CIA recruit played by Rachel Nichols. This actually worked well and in particular the episodes with Garner mentoring the latter brought something refreshing to the formula and provided some strong stories. In the second half Garner is back in business and Rambaldi rears his head again. The show starts to gracefully build to an ultimate ending and dangling threads from earlier series that one had given up on are picked up again. I had high hopes for a completely satisfying resolution. Unfortunately the show was cancelled before the end and the producers were given a very small number of episodes to wrap everything up. Within this limitation they did admirably. They sort of, kind of, almost, resolve the mystery of Rambaldi's plan. Much-liked characters are killed off abruptly, which at least adds impact. At the very end one previously ambiguous-at-worst and very intelligent character suddenly becomes almost motivelessly nasty. But there are satisfying endings for other characters and plot strands. While it could have been better, I wasn't badly disappointed. It at least stays fun until the last drop, and I finished it with a smile and didn't regret getting involved with it again.
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