Why Annie Walker will never be as cool as Sydney Bristow

Annie Walker/Covert Affairs
Sydney Bristow/Alias
The Alias vs. Covert Affairs battle


Every time I watch Covert Affairs it reminds me so much of Alias in a this-is-nowhere-as-cool-as-Alias kinda way. Now let me first say that I don’t hate Covert Affairs, it is an enjoyable enough show with some good actors that I really like (Peter Gallagher, shirt-less Chris Gorham, Sendhil Ramamurthy… who could also be shirt-less once in a while). Piper Perabo is not my favorite, but I don’t have anything against her either.
It is fairly easy to draw comparisons between both shows since both are about a female CIA agent going around the world to complete secret missions. However the two shows are SO different in tone and everything else that it almost seems unfair to compare them…but I am gonna do it anyway!
One of the main reasons I think I will never be obsessed with Covert Affairs as I was with Alias is that Annie Walker is simply not as engaging as Sydney Bristow… granted, both are pretty and kick ass… and both lost their boyfriends and… both work for the CIA and… that is pretty much it. Now let’s see why Annie Walker will never be as cool as Sydney Bristow:

Annie is a mediocre spy at best, Sydney was a project Christmas baby
Sure, Annie is getting a little better but in the beginning she didn’t even know how to use a gun. Plus she always disobeys orders, gets too emotional and sucks in pretty much everything spy-related except for speaking many languages. Sydney was a super-spy since the beginning (because she was programmed to be a spy when she was a kid, remember?). She could do it all, fight with five guys at a time, shoot any type of weapon, hack computers, parachute into parties, breath underwater from a tire, deactivate bombs, climb walls, memorize binary code, destroy giant red balls… you get the picture AND like her partner Dixon she could also speak at least nine languages (although techno may not be one of them).

Sydney had cool wigs, Annie has… sundresses?
As Sydney, Annie often travels around the globe to complete missions. She gets involved in high speed chases, steals merchandise, infiltrates parties and flirts with foreign dignitaries in several languages. Sydney did all that too… but with wigs! And let’s face it, wigs are cool. How iconic was the ‘Run-lola-run-like’ red wig of the pilot? And while we are on the subject of proper spy attire, what’s up with Annie wearing an endless collection of girlie sundresses? They aren’t practical or professional. I really don’t get why the wardrobe people would decide to make a CIA spy look like Zoe Deschanel.  

Annie’s love life is all over the place, Sydney had a tragic yet compelling love life
OK, Sydney had a disastrous love life. She got one of her boyfriends killed, she killed another and the last one faked his death… but for the most part of the show Sydney had Vaughn, her dreamy French handler/love interest. Their story line progressed as needed going from forbidden, to sweet to tragic. The romantic aspect of the show took a back seat to the other storylines, but it was there in service of giving depth to the characters. Annie doesn’t really have a handler and her sexual tension with Auggie is criminally underused. Instead they keep showering her with love interests each week one more inappropriate than the next and not in the “it’s so wrong it is hot” way. It just makes me not care who she hooks up with and frankly she comes off a little slutty.

Sydney had family drama that we actually cared about, Annie has a sister
Sydney’s parents screwed her up in so many ways that it is hard to pick the most significant one. Her reclusive father seemed to have an endless pit of secrets; her mother was a murderous KGB spy who faked her death when she was a child. Needless to say, her relationship with her parents was deep, complex and heartbreaking at times. Annie’s big family drama usually involves her sister bitching about her cheating husband or something (and don’t get me started on how Anne Dudek could be doing something much better). Sydney had to rescue her sister from a mental institution in Croatia where she was pretending to be a vegetable… just saying…

Annie doesn’t have a nemesis, Sydney had to take on her own mother
Covert affairs is a procedural, so it is pretty formulaic. There is a case of the week, the sympathetic character, the evil character and some recurring characters; usually foreign ally spies. But I can’t really think of one recurring adversary or some sort of nemesis worth mentioning. Neither a person nor an organization. On the other hand, Sydney had plenty of nemesis. First, her goal was to destroy SD-6 from the inside, but she also had to worry about other organizations like K-directorate and their star operative Anna Spinoza (Gina Torres). She later found herself occupied with Sark and Andrew Khasinau, all working for the ultimate enemy “The Man” who turned out to be Sydney’s own mother.

Sydney had an awesome evil boss, Annie’s bosses are married
Due to the intricate plot of Alias, in addition to being a legit CIA operative, Sydney was also a double agent inside SD-6 where she had an evil boss in the form of Arvin Sloane (the awesome Ron Rifkin). Sloane was one of the most complex and interesting characters. He appeared to be pure evil, greedy and manipulative, yet he had a soft spot for Sydney, a true sense of friendship for Jack and an undying love for his wife Emily and his long lost daughter Nadia…. Until he pushes her into a glass table and kills her anyway. On the other hand, Annie is not a double agent or anything, and her CIA office life looks pretty much like when I used to work at a bank… no cool underground headquarters, flashing scanners or complicate sequences to access the building. In her more than boring office, Annie has two bosses Joan and Arthur, one more boring than the next. Oh, and they are married to each other. For some reason, they seem to think that giving them mundane married couple bits every once in a while makes them well rounded characters… it only makes them annoying! Some terminal illness, backstabbing and fake dying would go a long way for Joan and Arthur…

Sydney was the subject of a 15th century prophecy, Annie has a lot of shoes
By now, it is quite clear that Covert affairs follows a pretty simple pad, while Alias was rich in complexities of all sorts. In addition Alias had a veiled Sci-fi element in the form of Milo Rambaldi. Sydney was the subject of a prophecy which stated she “would render the greatest power unto utter desolation”. Yes, it was a little preposterous, but it generated some of the coolest story-lines. The watchmaker dying, page 47, breaking into the Vatican, eternal life and so on. Annie wasn’t really of much interest to 15th century prophets and that is just not cool. In all seriousness, the problem with Annie is that she doesn’t really have anything that makes her special. She is just a nice enough woman that speaks a lot of languages and has a lot of cute shoes.
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TVEmpress

The TV Empress is a Media Management graduate, screenwriter in the making (and financial engineer in the meantime). She has serious plans to take over global television. You can follow the TVEmpress on twitter @TVRepublik

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11 comments:

  1. I completely agree with this article! I have been thinking along the same lines while watching episodes of "Covert Affairs". Annie is so lame when compared to Sydney. I had to laugh at the mention of Annie's many sundresses and shoes: funny but accurate observation. They say that imitation is the best form of flattery, BUT... If "Alias" was a 10 (and it was!), then "Covert Affairs" is a probably just a 5. Or less?

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    1. Yey, so glad you agree. I really don't think Covert Affairs is an awful show or anything like that. And I can see how... if you've never seen Alias you could think it's a good 'spy show', but I just can't! As unfair as it is I can't stop myself from comparing the two! I can't tell you how many times I've stopped watching CA and then I go back to it. I seriously want to like it, but all I can think is "not as good as Alias". And I love Chris Gorham... but... not enough. The one spy show I think may be a worthy Alias successor is "The Americans" (It's like the Irina Derevko prequel), they have wigs and everything hehe.

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  2. So, what show is the next "Alias"? I watched the entire series last year for the first time and thought it outstanding. Thanks for the heads up about covert Affairs, so I don't waste my time.

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    1. I am so thrilled every time I find a new Alias fan. I hope with Netflix more ppl get the chance to discover it. I am such a huge Alias fan that I don't think I will love another show as much. As for spy shows Nikita had some common elements, but it wasn't nearly as good. I think the closest for me is "The Americans". It has that old-school spy vibe. The cold war, undercover agents, wigs! So that would be my recommendation as far as spy shows go.

      There is another show I compare to Alias all the time, which may surprise ppl bc at 1st glance they have nothing in common. "Beauty and the Beast" That show starts ridiculously slow but it gets good by episode 6 of the 1st season. Again... not a spy show so it is not "like" Alias, but I keep finding parallels and some common themes (ppl being deceived into becoming killers, parents with secrets, coping with a secret life, etc). But it is a different genre (love story/sci-fi)

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  3. Well, Covert Affairs is SUPPOSED to be a lighter show, something more fun to watch than intense. Alias was great, but it was too "insane", and so many conspiracies became tiresome. Covert Affairs is not supposed to be the next Alias, and Annie Walker is not supposed to be the next Sydney Bristol; I actually think Annie's character and her preparation as an agent are much more realistic than Sydney's. No one starts doing something like a pro, realistically speaking. So really, when you say one show/character is better than the other, it's just your taste.

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    1. I agree with you for the most part. However you should note that Sydney Bristow did not just "start as a pro". The show did not start with Sydney first day on the job, she was doing it for seven years before.... so she was a pro before we started watching it.

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  4. HI all!, thank you tv Empress, 'anonymous', and Amanda, for your comments. I recently started watching Alias (only to the middle of the second season so far though), I bought all 5 seasons, because a friend of mine recommended them. I am stunned at how phenomenal the (1) acting is (the entire cast); (2) the writing is: (plot and plot twists; the dynamic between all of the characters). (3) the music score is and (4) petty much everything else, I even love the detail put into maintaining continuity. For example: Sydney Bristow's fathers face gets mangled. including a split open left cheek, the next episode you see him in a meeting with that wound partially healed less swollen but obviously a bleeding spot still. then several episodes later (a few months perhaps) you can see a healed scar across the cheek perfectly matching the dimensions of where the cheek. was split. etc

    I cant comment on Covert Affairs, my mother liked that show but I've never watched it. however, I do fully agree with all of 'TV Empress's descriptions of the strength of alias. superbly said. .

    There is one thing I wanted to say in response to TV Empress', and 'Amanda'

    Amanda said [Annie's character and preparation] 'are much more realistic than Sydney's. No one starts doing something like a pro, realistically speaking.'

    TV Empress' said: 'Sydney was a super-spy since the beginning (because she was programmed to be a spy when she was a kid, remember?). '

    my comment:, 'programmed since a kid' might be true. But, from Alias episode 1, season 1, Sydney is a veteran spy with at least 6 years experience at the point when her finance is killed and she goes to the CIA building at Langley, when interviewed there she talks about how she started with office work then, minor field work, bugging rooms or whatever and slowly developed the skills (had had lots of training also) to be the 'point man' field operative that we know her to be. sure she was a natural, but 'no one starts doing something like a pro'... she didn't either, she was a top field agent with 6 years experience even at the beginning of episode one, and not 'fresh out of the farm' like annie probably was.

    (Drakenkorin)----[me]

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  5. TV Empress , I meant to say also that your article is brilliantly written. Thank you for taking the time to craft something with such though behind it. I was looking for a comparison to those 2 shows because I've seen some of one and my mother has watched the other and what you wrote covered much of what I was wondering about Covert Affairs. I often read articles on the internet that the author was most likely not keeping his/her mind on while writing it. Definitely not the case with you.

    ----[Drakenkorin]

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    1. Thank you Drakenkorin. Alias is probably my favorite show ever and Covert Affairs is a show I watched. As a stand alone it wasn't a terrible show but I felt it lacked the elements that made Alias a cult-hit. A lot of this article was written in good fun, so it's not a serious "script analysis" but the basic idea is that CA is a procedural light show, Alias was an intricate, sci-fi-ish highly serialized series. I understand preferring one over the other (personal taste), but I'd argue Alias was a few steps forward where craft is concerned.

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  6. Say what you will but Alias was doing it's best to be la femme nikita. The late 90s show. If la femme nikita had the budget nikita the cw copy that was horrible had it would have been the most remembered spy show ever.

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  7. I love this article so much. It is hilarious. Annie Walker is a stuck up self righteous hypocritical prick.

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