Take one college co-ed with a vast intellect and athletic prowess and adopt her into one of the world”s most covert agency and you might have an inkling of a description for ABC”s new action-drama “Alias,” premiering Sunday at 9 p.m.

Paul Wong
Sydney (Garner) wouldn”t give us her name either.<br><br>Courtesy of ABC

Created by J. J. Abrams (who also created “Felicity), “Alias” explores the double life of Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner, “Pearl Harbor”), a 26-year-old graduate student secretly working for SD-6, a covert division of the CIA. Right now you”re probably thinking haven”t I seen this premise before? Well sure, in a much more subdued format with the dearly departed “Le Femme Nikita,” but unlike the nave Nikita, Sydney knows exactly what she”s getting herself into risk is part of the pleasure. Of course, like Nikita, Sydney yearns for the pleasure of a normal life, one without the constant shadow following her every move.

For those who have seen the film version of “Le Femme Nikita” or “Point of No Return,” you may know that having a boyfriend when you”re a covert operative makes things quite complicated, especially when they have just popped the question. For Sydney, what should be the greatest time in her life is quickly becoming her worst nightmare. Guilt prompts Sydney to break the first rule of SD-6: Never reveal who you really are. When her boss Slone (Ron Rifkin, “L.A. Confidential”) gets wind of Sydney”s revelation, no more fiance.

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. On the lam from SD-6, Sydney falls into a maze of lies as her estranged father Jack (Victor Garber, “Titanic”) informs her that he too is an agent and that the organization they both work for has no affiliation to the CIA. but to the enemies of the United States. Confused yet? “Alias” has double, maybe even triple agents and still after watching the show it is not so much confusion you should worry about, but keeping track of all the surprises. At least it keeps things interesting.

“Alias” is incredibly well done, smoothly shifting between scenes, both backwards and forwards. Built along the lines of “Run Lola Run,” “Alias” moves through time in a fluid motion, taking us from a torture scene in Taiwan to Sydney”s entrance into SD-6. Most of the characters are reminiscent of those on “Nikita,” always offering their assistance (when they shouldn”t, of course) when Sydney needs it most.

Seemingly the most interesting part of the story is Sydney”s complicated relationship with her father and how it impacts her past and future. The series is action-packed with stunts you”d only see in the movies, or maybe “Dark Angel” (both spend the big dollars). Watch as Sydney subdues the inquisitive torturer by performing a back flip while shackled to a chair.

Garner proves that she isn”t just another nymphet performing for the masses like in her past series debut “Time of Your Life” (Don”t worry if you can”t remember it). Nor is she simply an ass-kicking Felicity, or stake-wielding Buffy. Sydney Bristow is more along the lines of a conflicted Clark Kent, saving the world while still fumbling for domestic bliss.

“Alias” debuts commercial free, which speaks to the confidence place in this freshman darling. Critics are already issuing glowing recommendations. Do yourself a favor and catch a glimpse of what may be the future of television. While most of the returning shows slowly make their way to the circular file, watch as a shining star introduces smart, action-packed drama back into the mix.

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