Picks and Pans Review: Alias

UPDATED 02/14/2005 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 02/14/2005 at 01:00 AM EST

ABC (Wednesdays, 9 p.m. ET)

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You'd figure a flashy spy show would be all about the action, but what's least interesting in Alias is the weekly quota of derring-do. In fact, I wish the characters would take a break from battling terrorists and other villains and concentrate on personal issues.

Alias creator J.J. Abrams is also the man behind Lost, and ABC now has the shows airing back to back. It should be a surefire combination, but I found it hard to get excited last month when Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner) started the fourth season by pretending to quit the CIA and quickly slipping into the agency's new black ops unit, APO. Her boss is none other than Arvin Sloane (Ron Rifkin), ex-head of the sinister SD-6, whom Sydney calls "a criminal psychopath beyond verbal description." Since words fail Sydney, let's just say she has reason to detest Sloane, who happens to be the father of her half sister and APO teammate Nadia Santos (Mia Maestro). Sydney also resents her own dad, old CIA hand Jack (Victor Garber), for killing her mother and telling lies. At least she's finding love again with colleague Michael Vaughn (Michael Vartan), who feels bad about gunning down the double agent he married back when Sydney was presumed dead.

Everybody here has a festering grudge or a haunting memory, and you wish they could simply sit down someplace and talk things over. (Rifkin, a terrific actor, is especially worth listening to because his every word suggests a hidden agenda.) But custom dictates that each episode send the spies off on some new mission improbable that allows Garner to play the sexy, butt-kicking chameleon. APO's next assignment should be group therapy.


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