Why Alias is the People's Choice, and why ABC is not...

It was important to watch last night's The People's Choice awards "cum grano salis" and remember that even the ancient Greeks knew that democracy by direct popular vote is a bad idea. That being said, these awards, based on nationwide Gallup polling, still managed to get a few things right here and there.

One of the better selections was ALIAS (ABC, Sundays, 9PM) as Best New Drama. For those of you unfamiliar with the ABC show, it is a fun, sexy, smart action packed romp.

Jennifer Garner stars as Sydney Bristow, a would-be graduate student and international bank employee who's really a top agent of SD-6, a cutting edge intelligence operation that purports to be a highly covert branch of the CIA. When SD-6 kills Sydney's fiancée after she reveals her secret to him, Sydney learns the truth: SD-6 is not part of the CIA, but in fact the hub of a sprawling network of rogue mercenary groups. In true "hell hath no fury like a woman scorned" fashion, Sydney goes to work for the real CIA as part of the effort to bring down SD-6. Here's a quick rundown of the other recurring characters:

JACK BRISTOW. Sydney's estranged father, he's the other CIA double agent working for SD-6. Sydney uncovers possible evidence linking him to the KGB, but as with most of ALIAS, not everything is what it appears.

SLOANE. The menacing head of SD-6. He's even creepy when engaging in small talk.

DIXON. Sydney's partner at SD-6. Fiercely loyal and protective, it will be interesting to see how he reacts to the inevitable discovery of Sydney's double agent status and the truth about SD-6.

MARSHALL. An amusing cross between Bond's "Q" and a Hobbit. Marshall outfits Sydney with neat gadgets and desperately tries to engage his co-workers in social interaction.

VAUGHN. Sydney's CIA handler whose interest now may be more than professional.

ANNA. Butt-kicking Cuban agent who's Sydney's nemesis. Anna works for the rival group K-Directorate.

RIMBALDI. Supposed 15th century genius, part Di Vinci, part Nostradamus. SD-6, the CIA, and K-Directorate are racing to recover one of his centuries-ahead-of-its-time (and perhaps ours) inventions. The plotline adds just the right amount of scientific mysticism.

WILL. Friend and newspaper reporter. Displayed high levels of wimpiness early on, but grew a spine in recent episodes after finally taking his investigation of the death of Sydney's fiancée to a new level. Now speaking to a mystery informant who may be part of a new group (perhaps the Brotherhood of Rimbaldi?).

FRANCIE. Sydney's best friend. Strictly filler.

What works about the show is that it successfully blends action, intrigue, drama, and humor without veering into too far into silliness or implausibility. One way the show pulls viewers in at the start of the episode is to delay the credits until about ten minutes in. The acting, while far from exceptional, is solid. Ron Rifkin is especially enjoyable as the sinister baddie, and a guest appearance by John Hannah (Sliding Doors, Four Weddings And A Funeral) was a treat. It is also fun to watch the chameleon like Jennifer Garner pull off a wide variety of looks ranging from a sexy Brazilian to a sexy Italian to a sexy German to a sexy pink haired American.

ABC certainly deserves credit for bringing ALIAS to life, particularly at a time when The X-Files has ceased being worthy of viewing (perhaps Chris Carter should read the classic Robert Bloch short story about the grandfather who refused to accept his death and, to his family's dismay, showed up for breakfast the day after he died). That being said, ABC has a built an unfortunate record of crippling or even killing promising shows with schedule changes and postponements. And although the network has ordered more episodes of ALIAS, it is otherwise doing it's best to ensure that next year ALIAS doesn't win any awards.

Early in its run, for example, ABC postponed ALIAS for two weekends. During the first weekend of the postponement, ABC ran Saving Private Ryan in honor of Veteran's Day, a respectful and ratings smart decision. But for the second weekend, ABC apparently did not want to "waste" a new episode against the twice-postponed Emmy awards (Author's note: I wrote to ABC to get a reason for the postponement but only received a short note about when airing would resume). Similarly last night, ABC presumably did not want to waste another new episode against The People's Choice Awards.

Continuity is very crucial for a new show, particular one such as ALIAS that features a very complex plot. Postponing new episodes alienates the loyal fans that are making ALIAS a minor hit. And re-runs aired out of order are likely to confuse first-time viewers and unlikely to secure new fans.

So if you can tolerate some confusion while getting up to speed, ALIAS is definitely worth the effort. In the meantime, let's hope the ABC programming team, which must be tired of cellar dweller status, shows a little more backbone.

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