When Alias was first picked up to series by ABC, there wasn't much fanfare.
"Hey, it's a new show from that guy who created Felicity."
"Oh, hey, isn't that Noel Crane's ex-girlfriend Hanna in a Run Lola Run wig?"
And then we saw the pilot. And for many of us, nothing was ever the same.
Any hardcore Alias fan will tell you: There has never been, nor will there ever be, a more badass TV heroine than Sydney Bristow. You felt every single thing she felt. You sobbed when she sobbed. Your pulse raced when she raced. And when she woke up two years in the future and only to find out that her true love Vaughn had married that dirty little skank (she wasn't) Lauren? Your heart broke in places you didn't know it had.
All of this…over a TV CHARACTER.
I'll never forget when Alias was about to premiere, because it was only 19 days after the horrific attacks of September 11. We were all still grieving. Nothing felt normal. And it seems so ridiculous to come into an office of an entertainment website and talk about how cool you thought Jennifer Garner's smudgy makeup looked when she sobbed over her dead fiancé in the bathtub. (True story, though, no one has ever looked more amazing while having their heart ripped out on screen. That silent scream in the pilot? Gets me. Every. Time.)
Many critics at the time thought Alias would flop. It didn't have any real, buzzy star power—aside from that cute teacher from Never Been Kissed, no one had really heard of Jennifer Garner or certainly Bradley Cooper—and the timing seemed to be the absolute worst. Who would want to watch a show about terrorism in the wake of September 11? Wouldn't everyone still be watching the news? Or maybe a fluffy sitcom to try and forget?
I can only speak for myself, but watching Sydney Bristow dominate the world in those days was hugely empowering. She seemed so bitingly real—despite the ludicrous things happening around her—and nothing was more therapeutic than to see her saving the world every Sunday night.
No one had it worse than Sydney Bristow, and no one ever complained less than Sydney Bristow. She simply refused to be a victim.
You think you have family issues? Well, Sydney Bristow's mother faked her own death and became "The Man," a.k.a the number one enemy of the United States of America. You think you have boyfriend issues? Well, Sydney Bristow's boyfriend accidentally married someone else because he thought she was dead (then later "died" and was brought back to life). And she kept on ticking. And high-kicking. (In some of the most amazing disguises TV has ever seen, BTW.)
The storylines were insane, and as Alias went on, you started to feel how many cooks were meddling in the kitchen of J.J. Abrams' brilliant original concept. Remember when the entire show basically blew up in that post-Super Bowl 2003 episode? When Sydney defeated SD-6 and her best friend Francie died, and the entire premise of the show changed forever? Friends at ABC told me at the time that that was all a network directive, that the show was too "confusing," so we went from there to all the Rambaldi prophecy stuff and well...things spiraled downward from there.
Still, though, I ache for that kind of female character on my TV these days. One who makes you feel like you can accomplish any damn thing the world throws at you—and give you a real solid ugly cry when you need it most—all while rocking the most amazing outfit you've ever seen that was hobbled together in the bathroom of a 99 Cent store.
Sydney Bristow. Never forget.