Title: Alias (Seasons #1-5)
Released: 2001

Fix: Spies, Double Agents, Badass Women, Complicated Family Relationships, Twisted Show Mythology, Excellent Casts, Slow Burn Romance, Watching Jennifer Garner Be AAA (Adorable, Amazing, #ArmGoals), 2000s Electronica Nostalgia
Platform: Amazon Prime

Amazon Prime Summary:

Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner) discovers that her employer, SD-6, is not part of the government but actually an enemy organization. She goes to work undercover at SD-6 as a double agent, while actually working with the CIA. Her greatest ally is another fellow double agent: her father.

FYA Summary:

It was Alias’ 20th anniversary in 2021 *cries in old* and as I’ve been migrating old posts, I realized I need something on in the background that is both familiar (so I don’t have to pay that much attention) and yet engaging. And because I have now been to every dusty and unlit corner of our old website, I’ve come to the realization we’ve never discussed this show. LET’S FIX THAT.  

I know some people are, like, very over JJ Abrams and his lens flare obsession, but before he was getting all that Star money, the man knew his way around a television screen. And did you know he also co-wrote the screenplay for Armageddon? Honestly, after a glance through all the things Abrams’ has either created, directed, or produced, I’m starting to feel the way Dawson does about Spielberg, because THIS MAN GETS ME. (Having said that, I am really, really hoping he’s not a POS IRL like so many famous men…sigh.)


The pilot of this series is truly *chef’s kiss* and features one balls-to-the-walls WTF moment after another. Right away, we witness Sydney Bristow, graduate student in literature, get engaged to her med student boyfriend, Danny. But, surprise! She’s also secretly a spy for the CIA and gets to wear all kinds of colorful wigs and look great in all of them. She realizes that if she’s going to marry Danny, she needs to be honest about her wigs what she does for a living.

But unbeknownst to Sydney, she was actually recruited for the enemy, SD-6, who lies to all but their top leaders about being the CIA. When they find out Sydney spilled the beans, they murder her fiancé. (Sydney forgot the first rule of Fight Club.) If her fiancé being murdered wasn’t enough, Sydney is also earmarked for assassination, but she’s saved by her estranged father, Jack, and learns in rapid succession that 1) he also works for SD-6, 2) they are evil, 3) he really works for the CIA, 4) and is a double-agent, and 5) never bothered to tell her all this ‘til now. Sydney decides to get her revenge and take down a terrorist organization by also becoming a double-agent.

If you got to the end of this episode or my synopsis and weren’t intrigued, then…I don’t know if we can be friends. (Or at least, GOOD friends. Acquaintances, sure! Not everyone is perfect.)

I will level with you: this show isn’t perfect. Seasons 1 and 2, and even parts of 3, were really, really great TV. Seasons 4 and 5 are…less so. A common Abrams problem is that he’s really good at story starters, then shoehorns in way more mythology than the show-writers can keep up with. But, if you have sworn off Abrams because of the Lost series finale, I CAN promise there is better pay-off here.

I can also promise you will fall in love with Jennifer Garner and never trust Ron Rifkin’s benignly evil face ever again.

Familiar Faces:

There are SO MANY familiar faces in this show, I don’t know how I will constrain myself. So I won’t!

Jennifer Garner as Sydney Bristow

Jennifer seems like one of those genuinely lovely people who are too good for this world. I admire her dedication to what I’m sure was a grueling exercise regime. She plays Sydney’s emotional moments so open and honestly (I pretty much always cry when she cries) and yet she’s utterly believable when she turns stone-cold as she’s kicking asses and catching plutonium before it explodes. She got her big break in a small but meaningful role as Noel’s on-again, off-again ex on Felicity when Abrams decided this girl was going places and needed her own whole-ass show.

Michael Vartan as Michael Vaughn

Otherwise known as the questionable teacher who fell in love with Drew Barrymore in Never Been Kissed. Vaughn is the ever supportive, upstanding CIA handler who can’t help but catch feelings for Sydney even though it’s wildly inappropriate. I appreciate it’s not a glacially, X-Files slow burn, and they did the payoff right in season two—and we’ll not speak of the Melissa Georgeness of season three.

Victor Garber as Spy!Daddy Jack Bristow

This man has been in everything and always brings his A-game. Jack is notoriously buttoned up—I mean the man has had a rough go of it: wife dead, betrayed, double-agent, his daughter was pulled into the spy life against his will—but Garber always manages to convey that Jack is basically one breath away from exploding with feels. The way Sydney and Jack’s complicated father-daughter relationship morphs into what it becomes by season five is one of my favorite parts of Alias. I also love that Garner and Garber are still IRL besties (he officiated her wedding to Affleck way back when!).

Carl Lumbly as Marcus Dixon

Carl is one of those character actors who has been in so much you’re always going, “oh hey, it’s that guy!” (Most recently uttered during The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.) Dixon is Sydney’s loyal SD-6 partner who still thinks they work for the good guys and Sydney’s constantly having to work around him while she steals something and tries to make the CIA a copy without him knowing. (Dixon’s best line while undercover as a (cheesy) DJ: “I speak nine languages; techno is not one of them!”)

Merrin Dungey as Francie Calfo

Again, another face you’ll know without knowing why you do, Merrin has been all over the place but she’ll always be Francie to me. Francie is Sydney’s BFF who has no clue what she does but is always there for Syd, and she has an INTENSE arc in season two. I will always remember that Francie doesn’t like coffee ice cream. (If you’ve managed to remain unspoiled about a 20 year show, then do yourself a favor and don’t do any googling, but trust, it was WILD.)

Bradley Cooper as Will Tippin

I don’t think you would know who this guy is, but he played Sydney’s other BFF, a journalist who held a torch for her and was obsessed with finding out the secrets behind Danny’s murder. Cooper notoriously asked to be written off so he could go be famous—bet he regrets THAT now. /s

David Anders as Sark

This was Anders’ first big role and it definitely paid off as he’s quite the prodigious  TV actor (relevant to our interests: iZombie, Once Upon a Time, and The Vampire Diaries to name but a few). Sark is a totally morally gray mercenary who’s in it for the payday and prestige, but that never stopped the people from wanting him and Sydney to bang.

Ron Rifkin as Arvin Sloane

I told you there were SO many heavy hitters in this show. Sloane is such a chilling character because he can be so ruthless and evil yet he can be soft and so blind when it comes to Sydney, having always wished he was her father. His faith in Rambaldi is unwavering to the point where he will commit unspeakable acts in the name of said faith, which I find pretty damn scary.

Lena Olin as Irina Derevko

Honestly I don’t know if I’ve seen Olin in anything else (she does have a lot of credits to her name) but I couldn’t not include her because Irina is such a big catalyst in this show. The woman has the most intimidating presence and you understand why Sydney and Jack are so torn up about whether or not to trust her.

I really should stop there but take a browse through the Alias IMDB page (or don’t because spoilers) and you’ll find so many recognizable names like Terry O’Quinn, Amy Acker, Patricia Wettig (ugh, her CIA psychologist role made me hate the sight of this woman; sorry, Patty), Melissa George (ditto), Greg Grunberg (hi, Sean!), Kevin Wiseman, Gina Torres, Amanda Foreman (hi, Meghan! What’s in the box?) and so many more.

Couch-Sharing Capability: High

But I need to be clear: if this person is going to sit there and continually mock the show’s core tenet that Rimbaldi—a Da Vinci / Nostradamus hybrid—was a seer from the 1500s who predicted all kinds of engineering and mechanical marvels, then they can vacate their couch cushion. Because yes—we all know the Rimbaldi mythology is as crazy as a sack full of cats. THAT’S NOT WHY WE’RE HERE. We’re here for the family drama and the problematic realities of being a double-agent who is hiding your secret identity from your basic-ass friends, whose lives also get ruined by your toxic job.

Recommended Level of Inebriation: Rimbaldi Rye

I feel like Sydney would probably drink something classic, like an old-fashioned. But only ONE because there are so many twists and turns in this show that you really should be sober if you want to keep up.

Use of Your Streaming Subscription: Excellent

LIKE DUH. Look, I am totally biased over here; this show premiered when I was fourteen and ended up being one of those formative pieces of entertainment that imprinted on my psyche. I loved how unapologetically powerful and vulnerable Sydney was as a character. It was a show my parents and I would watch together weekly, without fail, and that gives me the warm and fuzzies. I went all-in on the internet fandom and would read the Television Without Pity recaps and comments religiously. I had the hugest crush on Michael Vartan, and my shipper heart was #blessed when I learned Garner and Vartan were dating in real life. I could probably put together a decent sized playlist of “emotional Alias songs to cry to” that this show introduced me to. I even have the damn DVD box set that looks like the Rimbaldi box, for God’s sake. (It’s really pretty on my book shelves.)

Photographic evidence, exhibits A and B:

If pressed, this actually won’t be the first show that springs to mind if you asked what my favorite TV series was, but in counting it up, I’ve probably rewatched this at least four times over, so…I think it’s safe to say: IT’S UP THERE.

Stephanie (she/her) is an avid reader who moonlights at a college and calls Orlando home. Stephanie loves watching television, reading DIY blogs, planning awesome parties, Halloween decorating, and playing live-action escape games.