Jennifer Garner says an Alias ‘reboot’ is in the works, potentially going ahead without her.
There is only one Sydney Bristow.
Alias, the first (and best?) brainchild of J.J. Abrams, is perhaps the most underrated ‘girl power’ show of its time.
Led by Jennifer Garner with a stellar cast counting Victor Garber, Bradley Cooper, Carl Weisman, Merrin Dungey, Michael Vartan and Ron Rifkin, Alias followed postgrad student Sydney Bristow who paid her bills by being a top-secret government agent super spy.
The series ran for five brilliant seasons (okay, three brilliant seasons and two more after that) between 2001-2006, and the cast and crew have long since gone on to do bigger things.
However, this past week, Jennifer Garner told The Hollywood Reporter:
“I’ve heard that there’s an Alias reboot happening, but no one’s talked to me about it. I mean, it would be totally different. But if they didn’t have me on as a guest, I would be very, very angry. But I can’t imagine it being that serious yet because I haven’t heard anything about it at all.”
The fact that an Alias reboot is in the works is not surprising, considering the fact that a) it has been in talks since 2010, and b) nostalgic revivals are currently all the rage. J.J. Abrams himself is currently working on a pretty big one.
And I suppose that after Charmed, Buffy, Sabrina and Veronica Mars, Alias is the obvious next step in terms of ‘strong female character’ revivals. And there is a lot to mine in this world, whether they choose to pick up with Sydney Bristow or a new character starting out on a complicated spyfam journey.
After all, while we absolutely still need new stories, the current social and political climate definitely inspires nostalgia. And what better stories than those about the heroines of our youth — Buffy, Veronica Mars, the Charmed Ones, Sydney Bristow — to remind us what we’re fighting for?
Compared to the rest, Alias is perhaps not quite as iconic or well-known. The series remains a hidden gem, even from genre fans. And in many ways, The CW’s Nikita already ‘rebooted’ the show, playing with so many of the same storylines and themes, and even Agent Carter may be said to follow in its footsteps.
But Sydney Bristow herself is still one of the best female characters to ever grace our screens. Her adventures and life experiences were what made Alias special. And so much of that came from Jennifer Garner’s unique portrayal of the character.
Sydney Bristow: A different brand of heroine
The backlash to the ‘strong’ female character is fairly recent, perhaps properly kicking off with Sophia McDougall’s seminal 2013 essay “I hate strong female characters.” ‘Strong’ females, it was said, were reduced to just that one characteristic, erasing nuance and anything considered traditionally feminine in order to play with the boys.
There are several issues with that mindset (for one, none of the above mentioned female characters suffered from such limitations; also, women are certainly no less valid for leaning into being ‘strong’), but it is nonetheless a sound critique. Sydney Bristow, however, broke that mold a decade earlier.
From the very first episode of Alias, Sydney was defined by her duality: hardcore spy badass who spat in her torturers’ faces by night, soft, sweet and sensitive college student by day.
One of the first things that enamoured me to Sydney Bristow was how openly emotional she was; how genuinely affected she was by the horrific things that happened around/to her. Her job hardened her, but it did not make her hard.
There was such a well-drawn contrast between spy Sydney and ‘real’ Sydney that I genuinely believed they were two different people who just happened to look alike, and the thrill of Alias was watching those two sides of Sydney clash and ultimately meld together, so that she got to be her ‘true’ self even while remaining a spy.
And that balance was struck, in large part, because — and I say this with utmost affection — Jennifer Garner is not an action hero. She did not play Sydney Bristow as an action hero. Yes, her physicality was paramount and she absolutely nailed that part of the job, but Sydney worked as a character because she was first and foremost the ‘girl next door’ Garner is so often pegged as. Without that genuine heart and authenticity, Sydney’s intense and intricate emotional journey would have rung hollow.
It’s not that Jennifer Garner is the only actress who could have brought Sydney Bristow to life, but there are very few who could do what she did. Plus, let’s not forget that J.J. Abrams specifically made the role for her, because of the vulnerability and quiet ferocity he sensed in her.
’Reboot’ is just a fancy word for ‘age reset’
Let’s be honest: the idea of a story reboot with a ‘new version’ of whatever character is closely tied to the silver screen myth of immortality, or time freezing.
The Hollywoodized notion of the eternal high schooler or 20-something is perpetuated by the trend of ‘starting over’ with a fresh set of younger actors to repeat the stage of life that has been so romanticized by the entertainment industry.
Alias, much like its close cousin Nikita, were already (bizarrely) remarkable for their time by virtue being actions dramas starring women in their late 20s (and following them into their 30s).
Since then, the age spectrum for women in Hollywood has thankfully been slowly expanding (Carrie Fisher reprised her role as General Leia Organa in 2015, and we’re getting Linda Hamilton back as Sarah Connor in 2019), but in the mid-2000s, what should be a very unremarkable thing really shook things up — and made the stories more interesting as a result, because we got to see different stories for women than the usual pre-adulthood template.
A new Alias with a new Sydney Bristow-esque lead would certainly have its advantages — the Buffy and Charmed reboots have both opted for more diverse casts, opening up these iconic stories for women who were previously excluded from them — and Jennifer Garner even insinuated that, if anything, she’d expect to return as a guest as opposed to picking up her story where it left off (and she is retired, anyway).
But it’s important not to exclude Garner, either, not just because she is the epitome of what made the original show great, but because it would perpetuate the ridiculous notion that she would be ‘done’ with this world just because she has graduated from the stereotypical action heroine age bracket.
Jennifer Garner, now 46, would and should be ready to step right back into Sydney Bristow’s shoes, if not to lead a revival series then to appear in the reboot to help thematically tie the new and old stories together.
And let’s not forget that Garner was also a producer on the original series, and has gone on to produce a number of movies. To suggest an Alias reboot could be done without her involvement is a little ridiculous.
As with most reboot news, I remain cautiously optimistic about any potential Alias franchise continuation — but it’s going to be hard to get me on board without Jennifer Garner’s involvement.