November 03, 2003

Alias, I love you

I usually go for shows like Homicide (gritty but quirky), ER in its early years (whiplash and poignancy), anything put out by the Zwick/Herskovitz team (thirtysomething, My So-Called Life, Relativity, Once and Again – real-feeling relationships with buckets of subtext), Homefront (set after WWII but real-feeling relationships with buckets of subtext), and the like.

Okay, maybe that “and the like” part was a little vague. Let me put it another way: I like quirk but I also like real and I especially like things that make me feel without shoving my face in the emotion.

So what’s my current favorite show? Alias.

Real? Um, not exactly. More like comic book Bam! Pow! Ow! chopsockey mixed with high tech gadgetry and mind-spinningly complex spy stories. This is utterly not my thing. Or so you’d think. Except that I used to love James Bond movies despite their wincingly awful woman-as-happy-harlot bits. The movies make little sense and have virtually no character development – in fact, when Timothy Dalton came along and tried (I assume it was his fault) to add some brooding and backstory, it backfired big time and booted him right out of the job. But they were fun in a mindless guilty pleasure sort of way. Alias is like that, only without the “c’mere and fuck me, eye-candy lady” part because of course the eye candy lady is the main character and is a bright, independent sort of person to boot.

If the show was all uberspy superdrama, I’d get bored pretty quick, though. Ultimately, in most TV shows (excepting puzzle dramas like Law and Order) it’s the characters that keep you hooked. And this series is no exception. I love Spy Daddy’s stone faced love for his daughter, I love Spy Momski’s double-triple-quadruple crosses, always with this warm droopy-eyed love-you-baby even-if-I-have-to-kill-you sort of expression. I love Dixon’s serious mien and difficult moral decisions (and I just plain love Carl Lumbley), I love the slow development of the main love story with Vaughn and its painful current state. I love Marshall’s silliness (shades of Q, of course, with his tech toys and eccentricities but extended into more than a one note cameo – Marshall has at least two notes to play) and Weiss’s wry warmth and Sloane’s doe-eyed creepiness. I love the show, basically. And I think Jennifer Garner kicks ass, and not just in the obvious way. Her face is so mobile and expressive, she says it all without words. I don’t think she’s quite Oscar caliber, not yet, nor does the role allow for that level of acting. But she’s damned good and I think can become great. Which is crucial, because we see this world through her eyes and her chops make the absurd believable because she invests it with so much authenticity.

I was never a big fan of Felicity, J.J. Abrams' earlier outing. Maybe because I missed the first season, but except for Scott Foley’s general adorableness, I never quite got what made people gush. I felt like it was trying for the Zwick/Herskovitz tone but that it never achieved the same level of emotional complexity. Everything seemed too clearly drawn, too clean and simple and so it never leaped off the screen for me. But somehow Abrams has translated that same sensibility to a spy show and made it pop. There’s less time for the personal so perhaps the personal feels less labored and therefore more affecting. Or maybe it’s just that in a larger-than-life always-on-the-verge-of-disaster premise, his kind of bold strokes fit better. I’m not sure. All I can tell you is that it’s a smart, fun show and I’m good and hooked.

Oh, and it’s the absolute most perfect show for a workout session. I’m skiing on my Nordic Track watching Jennifer Garner kick butt and the combination of adrenaline and “Man, I want to look like that” (well, okay not quite like that, but closer than now) does wonders for my endurance.

Posted by Tamar at November 3, 2003 10:19 PM

What about "Boomtown" for both quirky & gritty?

Posted by: jms at November 4, 2003 07:33 AM

Oh yes, definitely Boomtown too. I'm angry at NBC for yanking it, I hope it comes back but I'm not holding my breath. If Homicide were airing in the '03-'04 season, it would have been pulled too. A damned shame.

Posted by: Tamar at November 4, 2003 09:06 PM

I remember watching the first episodes of Felicity, and really noticing Jennifer Garner, who had a supporting role. She had way more charisma and acting talent than the lead actress.

Posted by: Allison at November 10, 2003 12:54 AM