If you seek exciting espionage adventure that links family conflicts with international relations, then binge-watch "Alias." Featuring Jennifer Garner as the coolest spy in television history and J. J. Abrams’ impeccable production values, "Alias" is a thrilling treat.
Year it began: 2001
Where it can be seen: Netflix (DVD only), Hulu.
Who’s in it: Jennifer Garner, Victor Garber, Ron Rifkin, Michael Vartan, Carl Lumbly, Lena Olin.
Typical episode length: 43 minutes
Number of episodes to date: 105
Brief plot description: Sydney Bristow works as a double-agent within SD-6, a black-ops intelligence service posing as the CIA. As Bristow dons a variety of disguises to handle dangerous missions, she negotiates complicated professional and personal relationships.
Why it’s worth watching: For its first few seasons, "Alias" delivers some of the most thrilling and emotionally engaging spy action in television history. With its high-octane international narratives and its complicated web of emotional connections, Alias consistently convinces us to suspend our disbelief and enjoy the dramatic ride. Created by J. J. Abrams, "Alias" features excellent filming locations, fine directing and wonderful soundtracks.
At the show’s center is Garner’s breathtaking performance as Sydney Bristow, an impossibly talented super-agent with a heart of gold. Garner’s ability to win our sympathies as easily when Sydney is fighting ferocious enemy agents as when she is having heart-to-heart talks with friends and family gives the show a unique emotional power. Two other performances anchor the show: Garber’s infinitely cool Jack Bristow, who exudes supreme confidence as an agent and yet projects vulnerability as he repairs his relationship with his daughter and heals from a tragic marriage; and Rifkin’s Arvin Sloan, a fiendishly intelligent super-villain who is all the more heinous when he presents himself as a force for good.
Other standout performances include Carl Lumbly’s Marcus Dixon, who plays Sydney’s reliable partner as an eminently decent man who wears his heart on his sleeve; Kevin Weisman’s charmingly goofy Marshall Flinkman, who combines social awkwardness with technological mastery; Bradley Cooper’s endearing journalist-friend, Will Tippin; and David Anders’ cold-hearted, genuinely creepy villain-agent Julian Sark. Many special guest stars keep the series fresh, but one deserves special note: Lena Olin delivers a mesmerizing performance as Irina Derovka, Sydney’s icily brilliant and talented mother, an ex-agent with an especially intense story to tell.