I recently made two very fundamental mistakes. First, I signed up for Netflix. I had vowed never to do this again. I had a very brief membership several years ago during the height of the economy and the height of my own disposable income, and it caused me a tremendous amount of grief. First, it removed yet another avenue of local social interaction. I get antsy when I feel cut off from my neighbors. I have to admit this remorse was pretty easy to surmount because, while my neighborhood video store has a decent selection of films, their employees are a bunch of thick-headed understudies from Growing Up Gotti and spend so much time calling their "boys" on expensive cell phones, and threatening each other with physical violence, that they haven't allotted themselves much time for small talk with customers like me.
But beyond a stunted social life, I just could never make the economics of Netflix work. I liked its absence of late fees – it has a certain kind of appeal, after you've just paid $16 in late fees on EuroTrip: The Unrated Version – but I am home so rarely that I usually ended up viewing 4 Netflix films in a single month. I would constantly obsess over my belief that I was on the losing end of my (then) $19.95 monthly subscription fee, so much so that I found myself fast-forwarding through movies and sometimes even returning DVDs to Netflix before I'd viewed them. I wanted to get a good deal, and it was killing me.
Fortunately, I'm very impressionable, and a couple months ago a friend made a pretty compelling argument in favor of reinstating my Netflix membership. I think she said, "everyone I know does it." And though I am often very disapproving of everyone else, I still want nothing more than to be exactly like them. So there I was, back again. My opening gambit was an insane one, and has ripped open the wound on all of my old concerns. Instead of throwing a bunch of back catalog releases in my queue, I immediately lined up six full DVDs containing the entire first season of the television show, Alias. All 22 hours of it.
Alias is a program I missed out on from the very beginning, a mistake for which I have been repeatedly chastised. (This is a new chapter in a tradition that began with The X-Files, another show I never watched, and steadily continued with Buffy The Vampire Slayer.) The pressure placed on me by friends has grown more intense since I started watching Lost, which shares a creator/executive producer with Alias. I think it's weird when friends criticize you for not watching more television. It's like being mad at you for not drinking enough, or for eating a pound of fudge too slowly. There are plenty of things I've fucked up in my adulthood, but I don't think missing The West Wing cliffhanger is one of them. Nevertheless, I decided this would be a good way to renew my Netflix membership with a bang and, one week later, the TV started pouring in.
It's damn hard to watch that much of one television show, in one sitting or many. And, from what I can tell, Alias is a pretty good show. Great casting, smart plots, lots of fun cameos. (Roger Moore was an especially rewarding one.) But, watch about four episodes back to back and the writing patterns reveal themselves very quickly. The suspenseful moments stop working, because you see how immediately and illogically they get resolved. The subplot about Sydney's double-life feels phony, because even the greatest (and dumbest) friends would not forgive Sydney's amazing frequency of canceled social engagements, sudden disappearances, and prolonged absences.
The show's most glaring flaw, however, isn't its plotting or all the mileage they've gotten out of the fact that their tech-gadgets expert, Marshall, stammers quite a bit. It's the weird and constant infusion of Lillith Fair music into the show's action. The first time I heard a Sophie B. Hawkins (?) track on the show, I thought, "that's an interesting choice for a program about deadly international espionage," but I had no idea this would be a motif for Alias. It seems like nearly every episode contains a montage scored to a plaintive pop track written by a woman who performs barefoot. I usually mute the volume during these moments, because I'm afraid my neighbors are going to think I'm Wiccan.