On September 30, 2001, ABC’s spy drama Alias premiered. The show focused mainly on Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner) as she worked as a double agent to take down ST6 with her father Jack and her handler Michael Vaughn.
It’s been 20 years since we last saw our favorite spy family or Sydney on a mission. We couldn’t let the 20th-anniversary go by without paying tribute to this iconic show.
TV Fanatic staff writers Laura Nowak and Mary Littlejohn got together to discuss their favorite Alias relationships, the memorable costumes and missions, and which actors they’ve followed to other projects.
What was your impression of Alias when it first aired in 2001?
Mary: I was 20, and it was really cool. It was cool seeing this young woman with these competent athletic skills and still be a very complex person, navigating all the regular young woman stuff, but also being super badass. It was very satisfying.
Laura: It was the first spy show I ever saw. It intrigued me, especially where a female was the lead. She was so cool and badass.
Mary: She was really likable, too. She’s just such a charming actor. She feels like a genuine person, and that’s why it’s cool that she’s also a super spy and amazing at everything.
How did you think it differed from the other shows airing at that time?
Mary: I think it’s interesting because Buffy came just before that. I think it had the same appeal but was a bit more female-oriented. Many shows that were on TV at the time that dealt with women of that age were more about the relationships and regular struggles of young women navigating through life.
So taking that and also making her a super spy was just a neat little twist. Even with how crazy Alias was, in the first season, it felt more grounded in reality compared to something supernatural, like Buffy.
Laura: I think I think it was different as well. It was special. It was a family drama with Jack.
Mary: Totally, and then all the stuff with the mom and the sister coming in. It was absolutely a family drama.
Laura: In totally different ways than most family dramas. It wasn’t a traditional family drama, but it was in many ways. It was a spy thriller, but in other ways, it was an angsty family drama.
Mary: It had a lot going for it. I think that probably gave it its appeal. I would watch it with my mom. We both enjoyed it because it had that side to it. It’s always nice when a show isn’t just one thing because then it doesn’t have the same staying power.
Laure: It’s so many. I mean, it was a thriller, action, family, and romance.
Mary: Absolutely. The “will they or won’t they?” They always had that in the early 2000s, late 90s.
What were some of your favorite relationships from the show?
Mary: I mean, Jack and Sydney were always the most interesting to me. It was super dysfunctional. But you always knew that they loved each other, and that was the basis for everything. The actors also seem to have such a good relationship outside of the show. You can see that, and that warmth was always lovely.
Even though he recruited her to this organization, they loved each other, and that never stopped for the entire series.
Laura: They had my heart from the beginning. There was just something about them. You know he loved his daughter even when he had put a hit out on her first fiancé. There was just something about them.
You wanted to see them come back together and work together. And that was the series — how their relationship evolved through the good and the bad.
Mary: They had great chemistry, which is a word that’s more used in romantic relationships. It felt like a real father-daughter relationship.
Laura: They are one of my favorite father-daughter relationships.
Mary: I can’t think of any others off the top of my head that stuck with me as they did.
Laura: I did like Irina with them. I mean, I didn’t, per se, like Irina is a character. I thought she was the evilest of the three, but she added a fun dynamic to the spy family.
Mary: I like the way Sydney cares about people, and we can take her relationship with any of the other characters. I like her relationship with Dixon, her partner. There’s a mutual respect that Sydney just had for everyone she worked with — except the double and triple agent thing.
Laura: I did like most of her relationships, so I liked her friendship with Dixon and with Will.
Mary: And Francie. That whole doppelganger thing with Francie bothered me for various reasons, but also because Sydney and Francie had such a great relationship.
They were best friends, and we didn’t get to say goodbye to Francie properly, even though the actress stayed like it was a weird way to change that.
Laura: Yeah, then Vaughn. I loved Vaughn. Mary: Yes. That whole the beginning of season three was a gut punch for sure. That was a long wait. I remember the wait between season 2 and season 3.
Mary: He was with Lauren. Yeah, it was like, “how could you?” And now, how are we going to get out of this? Of course, Lauren has to be evil because that’s the only way out of it.
But it’s all right. They made it. They made it by the end.
Laura: They were a couple that was meant to be.
Of course, Alias is known for its missions and its costumes.
Mary: That was a huge part of the appeal. One reason I started watching as there were so many cool costumes, and it was really neat seeing her do something different every episode — sometimes multiple times per episode.
What were some of your favorites?
Mary: I had so much fun going down this rabbit hole! Definitely the disco ball flapper outfit she wore in Vegas. It’s really awesome.
It was in Season 1 Episode 14 where they went to Vegas, and she’s like wearing this thing on her head, and she just looks like a disco ball.
Then there is the one where she went on the mission with Will, where he’s a rock star (which is funny because of him later doing A Star Is Born). They dressed him like a cowboy, and she was wearing this amazing magenta faux fur coat.
I remember seeing that coat, and I wanted that coat. After finding a coat like that, I incorporated faux fur into my wardrobe more. She really was like a fashion icon in a weird way back then, wasn’t she? I remember I definitely emulated a lot of her looks or tried to with my basic wardrobe back then.
Laura: I remember her Cabaret outfit in Season One. That one was fun. I think she kept the blue wig for the first season finale when she was meeting Irina for the first time.
Mary: Was that the light blue wig that she wore in the club with the people when she was running the PVC and stuff? It’s intense. But also again, I definitely tried to replicate that outfit.
Laura: Then I like the one in season two when she, Irina, and Jack were all on the same mission together when they were the tourists. They tried to make her look younger.
Mary: Yeah, like a teenager. It’s all in the mannerisms, right? Jennifer Garner is a talented actress. But Sydney also is a fantastic actress! If she wasn’t a super spy, she could probably have been an actor as well, in another life.
Laura: It was all in the mannerisms. One of my favorite missions, even though I don’t think they wore costumes, was “Liberty Village.” It was so fun to watch them pretend to be a married couple.
Mary: That was a really cool concept. Just having that little American village and how Russians see Americans and how you have to be a certain way.
My favorite mission was when they went to get the Horizon. Irina, Jack, and Sydney went to Vancouver and Vancouver’s my hometown. I was like, “Yay! They’re in Vancouver!” Then Sydney gave birth in Vancouver! It was really cool that she gave birth in my hometown. That was awesome.
I loved seeing them go to so many cities and seeing these cities. It was almost like tourism ads in every episode just seeing all the cool places in the world, and it really made me curious about traveling and seeing all these other cities and their appeal. It broadened my horizons.
Laura: I never thought about it like that, but that is true. They went up everywhere.
Mary: I really like that aspect of it. They must have filmed in most of these places. I mean, they probably couldn’t go to places like North Korea, but I wonder how many places they actually went to, or if they just got like the aerial shot and then filmed somewhere else.
They must’ve. It was a huge network show. It must have been cool to film.
Laura: They do have a lot of costumes.
Mary: Didn’t it win some Emmys for costumes and wigs? I’m sure it did.
We have not talked about Sloane yet.
Mary: He’s an interesting guy. I liked the actor that played him — Ron Rifkin, but I knew him and Victor Garber from musical theater stuff. So seeing them be super spies on a show like Alias was fun. Whenever you see someone in the first thing, you see them in, that’s always what they’ll be to you, don’t you think?
Laura: That’s probably how I feel about Victor Garber and Jennifer Garner on Alias. Although I watched Ron Rifkin in Brothers and Sisters. He’s Uncle Sal, one of the main characters. He went there right after Alias. ABC must have liked him. They kept him on.
Mary: Sloane is such an interesting and complex villain. It went really weird. Like I said at the beginning, for how fantastical the spy missions and stuff were, they still based it in reality — but then you got the weird doppelganger thing, which was basically Face/Off.
Then, there is the Rambaldi stuff where he wanted to be immortal, and that’s out of Harry Potter. It’s very fantastical — like that’s not what you’re expecting from a spy show. Do you know what I mean? It was weird. It was kind of unexpected, and his ending was brutal.
I guess he was pretty evil. I think this goes back to knowing him from Broadway and stuff, but he seems like such a nice, humble, sweet guy. Seeing him be evil, it’s like, “Oh, he’s going to end up being nice, right?”
Laura: They did for a bit with his daughter.
Mary: Yeah, they totally did, and that was the thing.
Laura: I was really hoping that Nadia could have reformed him. It was nice to see that softer side of him, though. That death thing between him and Jack was epic, but it was sad because I really didn’t want Jack to die.
Mary: No, of course not, but honestly, on a spy show in the last season, someone’s got to.
Laura: So many people died in those last scenes–Irina, Jack, Sloane.
Mary: Yeah, you’ve got to kill your darlings, as they say. It made sense that it wasn’t a happy ending, but it didn’t feel shoehorned in.
Laura: No, it didn’t. It felt right. It was just sad. At least Sydney named her son after her dad. That was a nice fitting end. That was lucky. Yeah. It was very sweet.
Have you watched it much since?
Mary: No. I re-watched some clips on YouTube. After reading about it again, I kind of want to re-watch it. Now that I have more free time, I’m tempted, and I feel like it’s something I could probably convince my husband to get into as well because it’s super-spies being awesome!
Laura: I have the DVDs, but I haven’t watched them in a while.
Mary: I feel like I had the DVDs at one point, like, borrowed from someone. I think I did re-watch it at some point, but it wouldn’t have been in the last ten years, I don’t think.
Laura: Yeah, I bought this DVD set around five or six years ago, so I know I’ve watched it then, but it’s still been a while.
Whose stuff have you followed since they left the show?
Mary: Well, it’s funny because Victor Garber is my favorite. I really love Victor Garber and have since before Alias. I feel like he was part of the reason I started watching Alias. Victor Garber is in it, and he’s Canadian.
He had just been in Titanic and the Cinderella musical with Brandy and Whitney Houston. Alias was really cool, but after that, he got super busy.
I didn’t keep up with everything, and I haven’t even watched the Legends of Tomorrow. I just have so much trouble keeping up with all the superhero stuff. Is that the one he’s on, or is it the Flash?
Laura: He did both. He started on the Flash and then moved to Legends, and now he’s gone. I stopped watching Legends when he was gone.
Mary: I don’t remember if Legally Blonde was before or after this, but if it’s a movie and Victor Garber is in it, I’m going to go; I will see that.
Laura: I really like him, too. He was my favorite. I saw Titanic. I didn’t really know who he was, but when I re-watched Titanic. I’m like, “Whoa that is him! A very young him!”
Mary: I know. It’s funny because he’s had gray hair for a long time. So he doesn’t really feel like he’s aged that much in the last 20 – 25 years, but then he’s always been that kind of dad type.
Laura: I hear he’s got a new show coming out in Canada, but I don’t know how I’m going to watch it — Family Law.
Mary: He was in another show as well that I watched for a little while.
Laura: I know he was in a show called Deception on NBC. I watched that.
Mary: He was in Argo. Apparently, he was on an episode of Schitt’s Creek. I still have been meaning to watch that.
Laura: I’ve seen him in Motive, I’ve seen him in Deception. He was in a Hulu Christmas movie last year, which I could not stand the movie, but I watched it for him — The Happiest Season.
Mary: Isn’t that awful that when you enjoy an actor and then they’re in something just bad? Like, this happened to me a lot.
Laura: Yeah, I couldn’t stand the main characters. They had no chemistry. But Victor played the dad of one character, and you know what? He’s decent as a dad. But yeah, I saw it because yeah, yeah. Yeah, and I was just so excited. He was in something since he left the Legends.
Mary: He’s done a lot of Broadway performances. And so I always enjoy seeing him, like, pop-up on the Tony Awards. He has a beautiful singing voice. I don’t know if you’re into musical theater at all.
Laura: I have not seen him in anything.
Mary: I haven’t seen him in anything, but I have my soundtracks and he was in the original Broadway cast of Sweeney Todd, the musical.
Laura: I have seen a lot of Jennifer Garner’s and Bradley Cooper’s stuff, too.
Mary: Yeah, of course. Bradley Cooper is now a Megastar. I would argue that he’s the biggest star to come off of this show, even more so than Jennifer Garner. He’s directing and writing. He’s had multiple Oscar nominations; he is doing great for himself.
Laura: I see a lot of his stuff. I’ve seen a lot of her movies. I know that her Netflix movie just got a sequel yesterday. That was really cute.
Mary: She’s just so charming and likable, and she also seems like a great person because some celebrities are not. She just seems like one of the nicer celebrities in the world, like she could be your best friend.
Laura: Absolutely. She’s so relatable and down-to-earth. That’s why I like a lot of her stuff.
Mary: She picks good stuff, too. I’ve found I’ve really enjoyed her movies — like Juno is a great movie, and I love 13 Going on 30, even though I’m not a huge rom-com person. The Invention of Lying is awesome. And Catch Me. If You Can. She did some great films.
I’m thrilled that they gave her Alias to blow her up and show off what she can do because not everyone could have done Alias.
Laura: It is such a different genre.
Mary: And like so many genres, and she had to play so many characters in the same series, like, you know, characters within a character, but then also like being a triple agent and also being really athletic. And I know she had a stunt double, but she’s in there doing it and doing it.
She’s awesome. I hope she continues to be great and happy and work and create.
Do you think we’ll ever see a revival or reboot of Alias in the world of reboots we’ve been getting?
Mary: I think so. I don’t know what it would look like. I mean, they’ve been talking about it.
Laura: I don’t really want one unless it’s a revival or maybe something with their kids. And she and Vaughn could make some appearances.
Mary: Yeah, exactly. They kind of hinted at the end of the series that their daughter was gifted in the same ways that Sydney was, so it would make total sense to just create another spy show with Sydney’s daughter, going through the same, not the same thing. But like you said, they could have Jennifer Garner come in now and then with Michael Vartan.
I think it’s definitely a possibility. They have been talking about it.
Laura: So yeah, it would be interesting. What else did we need to cover? I think we covered just about everything unless you have anything else.
Mary: The other thing I was going to mention was they had some awesome celebrity guest stars.
I thought it was really cool that it had Sir Roger Moore in one episode because he was one of the original James Bond’s and it felt like this was basically like a young woman James Bond because usually in James Bond movies, girls are that arm candy or the love interest.
But this was a spy show, with the young woman being the awesome spy instead. So it’s like it inverted the James Bond trope. So I thought it was a nice reference to have a James Bond actor in there.
Laura: That’s a good way of putting it.
Mary: There were just so many random great guest stars like Isabella Rossellini, Quentin Tarantino, Gina Torres.
What are some of your thoughts about Alias 10 years later? How are you celebrating the anniversary? Let us know in the comments.