Monday, June 22, 2009

Alias, The Marathon of TV Marathons

Shows with strong willed, smart, kick ass girls seem to get the thumbs up from me. Veronica Mars. Buffy Summers. Rory Gilmore. Temperance Brennan. Carrie Bradshaw. All different, but all intelligent women who make great, yet sometimes flawed, role models. After my two weeks of non-stop television marathoning, Sydney Bristow has been added to the list. Spoilers for all five seasons after the jump...

Now as you may realize, I spend quite a bit of time in front of the TV. I’ve been known to watch 3 seasons of Lost and The Office in the course of several months, 10 seasons of Friends in less than a year, 7 seasons of Buffy over half a year…well you get the picture. But the free time I was presented with upon returning home from school along with catching a cold from my sister offered me ample time to hunker down with Alias, a show I had always had my eye on but never had the time for. Two and a half weeks (yes, weeks) after watching the, dare I say, awesome, pilot episode I had completed viewing the (slightly less awesome) series finale of a 5 season show. Hold for applause. Or shocked silence.

Not all 5 seasons were incredible. The villains could be convoluted and the reboots didn’t offer the same excitement as the initial premise. Nevertheless, something kept me going for two weeks. I’m gonna say the shows ability to end nearly every episode in a cliffhanger is what kept me hanging by a thread at the end of each hour. Add a great cast and charged plot lines and you’ve got 105 action packed episodes of goodness.

Favorite story line? Not even a question about it, the initial story of the show. Season 1 through midway season 2. Sydney’s role as a double agent was without a doubt the most interesting and exciting plot throughout the series. And that ending. “Phase One” must be one of the greatest hours of action television out there. Ok, yes I haven’t seen enough action TV to be a great judge on that. But it goes right up there with the episode of 24 where nerve gas was released into CTU. Not sure which episode “Phase One” is? If you watched the Superbowl in 2002 and stayed tuned afterwards, you would’ve seen Jennifer Garner in some pretty racy lingerie. Remembering now? If you continued to watch you would’ve seen an episode of TV that covered more ground in the first 20 minutes than the show did throughout almost all of season 4. By the end of the episode I thought I had watched a feature length film complete with action, romance, drama, and even a little bit of comedy. I watched that episode twice.

By season 5, I’m going to be honest I still don’t really know what Prophet 5 was all about. What I do know is that it was bad, had to do with Rambaldi, and was brought down in the end. Just for fun, let’s name all the bad groups I can remember from the series. Obviously SD-6. Then there’s the Alliance, the Covenant, the Trust, Prophet 5... I’m drawing a blank. Anyway, Rambaldi is the unlikely key that brings all these evil groups together. The elusive fifteenth century genius brings his own set of names: page 47, the Prophecy, the Passenger, the Circumference. The list goes on and on. In spite of the confusion caused by the numerous groups and the somewhat let down build up of the Rambaldi artifacts, I was constantly intrigued by this world that J.J. Abrams created.

Alias gave me a new kind of show unlike anything else I’m watching, unless you count 24 or Chuck. But 24 relies more on explosions and politics to keep the action and drama heated and Chuck is truly a comedy at heart. Alias is exactly what it sounds like, a spy thriller with an unmatched cast.

Ron Rifkin will henceforth be known as once of the biggest baddies in TV as Arvin Sloane. What bugged me throughout season’s 3, 4, and 5 is that they really tried to make you believe that he had changed. And just when they had you believing that maybe he really was good, he went and killed someone he cared about. In the back of my mind, I always knew he was evil. But there were points in the show where it seemed as if even the writers didn’t know if he was good or bad (particularly seasons 3 and 4). By the end Sloane got what he deserved, eternity under rubble. It’s almost poetic.

Michael Vartan provided the man candy, and not to mention tears during both of his apparent deaths as Michael Vaughn. As Sydney’s CIA handler, I could tell from episode 1 there would be sparks flying in a world where they couldn’t be together for the sake of the country. He was always the good guy. The one that Sydney could depend on no matter how tough her SD-6 situation was. Basically, he had us at hello.

Kevin Weisman played the man who was consistently one of my favorites throughout all five seasons, Mr. Marshall Flinkman, the neurotic, socially awkward, technology genius. Essentially, he was Sydney’s very own Q. Why a favorite? First off, he always had the cool gadgets. Lip stick with cameras or security sensors, credit cards with micro-chips, compact cases that really decrypt vault passwords, you think of it, he probably made it.

Victor Garber provided one of the most roller coaster father daughter relationships I’ve seen on television. (That doesn’t include Nadia and Sloane.) Garber’s deadpan delivery as Jack Bristow made his apparently evil dad character one of the show’s most intriguing subjects, particularly when mommy dearest, also known as traitor Irina Derevko (Lena Olin), showed up.

Carl Lumbly as Marcus Dixon who was just always great. Funny, serious, tough, he played the perfect partner for Sydney. Greg Grunberg, as Agent Eric Weiss, (a J.J. Abrams favorite), always gave a good laugh. And we round up the crew with Julian Sark (David Anders)—the manipulative evil asshole, Francie Calfo (Merrin Dungey)—the best friend gone bad, Will Tippin (Bradley Cooper, in the Hangover, go see it now)—the lovesick journalist who got in way over his head, Nadia Santos (Mia Maestro)—the long lost sister, Lauren Reed (Melissa George)—most hated character on the show (Vaughn’s traitor wife), Director Kendall (Terry O’Quinn)—could only see him as Locke the whole time he was on screen, Agent Thomas Grace (Balthazar Getty)—the brooding quiet one, and Rachel Gibson (Rachel Nichols)-the newbie with a lot of unfulfilled potential.

And finally, the actress who provides the reason to watch the show in the first place, Jennifer Garner. She really shows her true colors throughout the 5 seasons of this show. I’ve really only seen her in chick flicks, which don’t get me wrong she’s very good in (particularly 13 Going on 30). I had absolutely no idea that she could stunt like that, and yes, she does do almost all her own stunts. Sydney is a character who lost the love of her life to her perilous work and despite a broken heart chooses to fight back in the most dangerous way possible, as a double agent. Strong willed, genius smart, and drop dead gorgeous, Garner plays Bristow with grace and confidence. She stands up for what she believes in and doesn’t let anyone get in her way. That is what makes her the woman that gets girls like me to think “wow, wouldn’t it be sick if I could be like that.”

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Thursday, June 4, 2009

Friends: 10 Seasons in 1 Year.

So, I realize I've been completely neglecting my blog here for quite awhile. But, now summer is here and my boredom has taken flight so it's time to get back on track. I have a few summer projects underway including "Mad Men" season 1, "True Blood" season 1, "Sports Night" to follow along with Sepinwall who is reviewing them every Wednesday, and whatever else the TV Gods throw my way. I have also signed up for a TV writing class this summer to pursue my dream of writing for the idiot box. Updates on that to come.

But to get back into the swing of things, I thought I'd share with you my thoughts after finishing a series that all of you have heard of and may be shocked to hear that I did not watch until this year. Follow the link for some coffee and F.R.I.E.N.D.S.

A television show’s life span is a precious thing. There’s the coveted 100th episode mark that every show desires to reach. The 100th is usually somewhere in the 5th season of a show. So, 5 seasons equals successful show. Seven seasons is the mark of the long lasting hit show, i.e. Gilmore Girls. Anything beyond that can lead into questionable territory, *cough* Smallville *cough* (Should have ended long ago, yet I still inconceivably tune in every week, huh.) However, once in a while a show comes along that manages to make it past seven seasons with high praise, and an effect on society unlike any other. No I’m not talking about The Simpsons. I’m talking about Rachel, Monica, Phoebe, Ross, Chandler, and Joey. The six friends that defined a decade.

Now, let me be clear. I was not a “Friends” fanatic. I did not follow the show starting in 1994 and drag my heart along until 2004 rooting for Ross and Rachel. No, I kind of missed that. But, as an obsessive idiot box addict, when I arrived at college this past fall with a roommate who brought all 10 seasons with her, it was clear that Friends was about to come marching into my life.

I read in a book once, that movies are like one night stands, while television shows are like long-term relationships. “Friends” was one heck of a relationship.
238 episodes later I sat by myself, tears streaming down my face, watching the purple door and gold picture frame fade out on my computer screen as the final episode came to a close. Just to emphasize, that was 10 seasons, or 119 hours of Monica’s OCD and Chandler’s not-so-funny-but-still-hilarious jokes, completed in a mere seven months, also known as freshman year. (I somehow still managed to maintain a life while keeping up with all my TV, don’t ask how.)

What is it that makes us fall in love with these characters? It’s what every show strives for. A premise that’s relatable, that’s funny, and that speaks to everyone whether or not you’ve had the same experiences. Ross and Monica exemplify a brother-sister relationship that I have not seen paralleled on TV. Monica probably had the most quirks of the entire group from fighting for her parent’s attention to her OCD about organization, and her loud (somewhat obnoxious) “oh my god!”. Ross’s unwavering romantic personality was complimented by his bi-polar-ness when it came to his best friend and his sister getting together. His best friend and his sister?? His best friend and his sister! There’s Phoebe whose quirkiness is only matched by how much love she has for each and every one of her friends. Joey’s determination as an actor and naivety as a friend only adds to the group dynamic. Chandler, the college roommate and my personal favorite character, with his never-ending sarcastic remarks, knew how to make an uncomfortable situation even more uncomfortable. And finally, there’s Rachel Greene; the girl who learned how to make it without the help of her parents, while still maintaining fabulous hair the whole time.

Now I’m not saying there weren’t some rough patches. Ross did get on my nerves. But he always redeemed it with the whole “we were on a break” longstanding joke. Chandler’s job never made any sense. But if it had made sense he and Joey would have never gotten the apartment. And then the finale couldn’t have included that poignant line Monica made about how they had all lived in that apartment at one point or another.

Like any group of friends, not every story is going to be a great one. Every night out isn’t going to be epic just like every episode wasn’t perfect. But, every moment with your true friends are moments that you won’t forget. Which is exactly what “Friends” was about. How the insignificant can be significant. How, once you’re an adult, the people you spend every day with, they are the ones who become family and are there for you through thick and thin.

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