Long before filmmaker J.J. Abrams started putting his mark on some of the biggest pop culture franchises on the planet, including both Star Wars and Star Trek, he was once considered a master of the small screen. While his 2004 series Lost probably stands as one of his most enduring additions to the history of television, we’d be remiss to look past his early 2000s spy-thriller Alias, which helped launch the careers of both Jennifer Garner and Bradley Cooper.
Making its debut on 30 September 2001, it’s hard to believe it’s been 20 years since Garner’s Sydney Bristow first burst her way onto screens. Working as a double agent for the CIA to take down the nefarious criminal organisation SD-6, Sydney’s action-packed world of espionage and brightly coloured wigs was further complicated by the emerging prophetic threats of artefacts created by the Renaissance-era genius Milo Rambaldi.
Lasting five seasons and earning a swathe of awards, Alias was not only a major hit in the early noughties, but it still remains highly placed on a number of ‘greatest series of all time’ lists. So significant was Garner’s time in the role that in 2003 the actual, real-life CIA enlisted her help to record a recruitment video they showed at job fairs and college recruitment drives.
A spokesperson for the CIA at the time said: “Jennifer and the character of Sydney Bristow both reflect a lot of the qualities we look for in new career field officers. What you have to bring to the table is character traits: honesty, integrity, intelligence, creativity, energy and the ability to think outside the box, an inherent willingness to pit your skills in a risk-taking context for carrying out agency missions and assignments.”
If Garner seems perfectly suited to her breakout role, it’s because Abrams always had her in mind to tackle it when he was writing the pilot episode. After working with Garner on Felicity, Abram’s wife Katie kept telling him “you have to write something for Jen”, and he even admitted that “there was no one else I really considered” for the role, despite making her audition five times for it.
Of course, it was not only Garner’s performance that made the show such as success — its talented ensemble cast also included Michael Vartan, Ron Rifkin, Victor Garber and Kevin Weisman. Weisman, who played the loveable tech-guru Marshall throughout all five seasons, would later admit to Abrams that he based much of his character’s performance on the series creator himself.
Since the series wrapped in 2006, there have been random talks of a potential reboot, and in 2010 it was reported that an updated version of the series was in early development, with the intention of removing the Rambaldi storyline altogether. Probably to the relief of a lot of fans, however, these plans never eventuated and the project was shelved before it even began.
And now, with the series 20-year anniversary drawing near, it is probably time for both die-hard Alias fans, and those who have never had the opportunity to see it for themselves, to binge all five seasons now available on Disney+.