Thursday, January 13, 2005

Wednesday nights on the cathode ray tube

Wednesday is quickly becoming the best night of television, at least if you watch ABC from 8-10 p.m. LOST gets better each week. Last night's episode was a real corker as it increased the scenario's mystery while revealing some major information about a few characters. I also liked how information that the audience has known but most characters haven't is slowly spreading.

I don't remember the last time I "jumped" watching a television show, if I ever have, but one moment last night on LOST delivered an unexpected jolt. I think it's more difficult to get this reaction from home viewers largely because they feel more comfortable there. Besides having the added advantage of the audience being in a "less safe" environment, movie directors shamelessly deploy well-placed stingers, but often the beats in horror films or thrillers are so familiar that I can anticipate them. What happened on LOST came completely out of the blue and was followed by a nice touch showing the character being lifted up and carried out of the frame without showing the island's monster. That was awesome.

ALIAS has returned with three terrific hours to kick off its fourth season. Once again J.J. Abrams has rebooted the show. First Jennifer Garner's Sydney Bristow worked for SD-6, which she believed to be a black ops division of the CIA. As she learned in the pilot, SD-6 was working against the CIA, so she became a double agent. With her help SD-6 was shut down midway through the second season. The fourth season began with Sydney being transferred to Authorized Personnel Only (APO), a black ops division of the CIA. So we're back where we began, sort of.

(By the way, Salon's Charles Taylor, fresh off the debacle that was this year's Slate Movie Club, has written a superb piece explaining ALIAS' pleasures--it's not just about how smokin' Garner is, although that doesn't hurt--and why it's ultimately a domestic drama dressed up as a spy show.)

I've read some grumbling online from fans who are dissatisfied that the show's mythology, the search for the Da Vinci-like Milo Rambaldi's artifacts, has not factored into this season yet, with the blame for stand-alone episodes being assigned to the new viewers the network hopes to attract. With LOST providing a huge lead-in audience, ABC obviously wants to bring more eyeballs to the well-reviewed but ratings-challenged ALIAS. (The network is to be congratulated for displaying patience with its cult hit. Early results for this season indicate that the decision is starting to pay off.) Taking a break from the mythology is a wise creative move too. I was an avid fan of THE X-FILES, but the focus on an increasingly muddled mythology ended up sinking the series by its ninth season. (Coincidentally, THE X-FILES' final season was ALIAS' first. The shows aired head-to-head, and my abandonment of sci-fi for spies was probably not uncommon.)

Last night's ALIAS may have been the funniest in the series' history. Kevin Weisman's Marshall was in rare form, especially in the opening scene in which APO try to break into a Bahamanian bank safe; however, as Sydney's humorless father Jack Bristow, Victor Garber's deadpan delivery of "I don't read e-vites" was priceless.

More non-J.J. Abrams TV project writing to come later today...

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