The J.J. Abrams spy drama, premiering 20 years ago this week, laid a lot of the groundwork for the television trends that would become commonplace in the years following its debut, says Lacy Baugher. Yet many of those copycats didn't put a female front and center like Alias did with Jennifer Garner's Sydney Bristow. "In many ways, Alias was doing a lot of things that Lost did, before Lost made all those things cool," says Baugher. "Plenty of shows—including several of the ones Abrams himself went on to work on—copied a lot of what Alias did well. From puzzle box mysteries to twisty in-episode flashbacks (that ubiquitous 24 hours earlier card!), and cliffhangers that seamlessly led into a subsequent installment, this show is responsible for a lot of what we now see as the bones of a modern-day genre property in the age of peak TV. Yet, as we consider Alias’ legacy two decades on, perhaps the most frustrating thing is perhaps what didn’t get stolen or copied into infinity: Sydney Bristow herself. This isn’t, of course, to say that female-fronted spy dramas disappeared once Alias went off the air. In many ways, everything about Marvel’s Black Widow essentially feels like Alias but with superheroes, even down to the messy Russian family dynamics thrown on top. Amazon Prime’s Hanna will certainly provide a welcome balm for those with a female-led high octane thriller shaped hole in their lives. And The CW’s Nikita always felt more like Alias’ spiritual younger cousin more than it did a La Femme Nikita remake. But given just how many shows went on to copy so much of what helped make Alias popular, the fact that most of them ignored the female lead at the center of the story is incredibly disappointing. Perhaps it shouldn’t surprise any of us that network television chose to prioritize stories about male characters (yet again!) when given the opportunity to do otherwise, but the thing is, Alias would never have worked without Sydney. In fact, her character—along with Garner’s dedicated and emotional performance—was the often only thing that held the show together during its later seasons, as its stories became increasingly outlandish and nonsensical. (Clones! Quasi-magical Renaissance artifacts! Sloane trying to become immortal!)"
TOPICS: Alias, Jennifer Garner, J.J. Abrams, Retro TV