Kaleidoscope is a new show by Netflix’s, described as a ‘revolutionary new crime drama’, and featuring a classic heist plot. What makes it unique is that viewers have the chance to watch the episodes in any order (a bit like a pick your own adventure book for grown ups….?). We asked a couple of our writers to choose their order, settle in and let us know what they thought.
Warning: contains spoilers!
It’s become a lazy weeknight tradition in my house to raid the snack boxes for chocolate oranges and raspberry mini rolls (judge me as you see fit), load a heist series on the telly and point sticky fingers at the screen as we talk through the entire thing. It goes without saying that Kaleidoscope had me primed and ready. I even splurged on a pack of Fox’s Biscuits.
The non-chronological concept is cool, but falls short. Similar to Bandersnatch with its ‘choose your own adventure’ format, Kaleidoscope’s randomised episode order feels more like a ‘choose your own GPS determined route’ – it ultimately doesn’t impact on your destination. There’s plot twists a-plenty and secrets galore, so on the surface the series should tick the boxes for a good heist show. Based on my extensive hours spent horizontal watching fictional bank robberies, I’d say the randomised viewing order actually takes away from the audience’s enjoyment of the series.
The success of a heist series often comes down to three things: 1. you can follow the overall plot even if details are withheld until the end; 2. you’re invested in the morally ambiguous characters and; 3. there is a satisfying, high-stakes conclusion.
I don’t have a huge problem with the plot. Eric Garcia and the writing team do a solid job of making each episode self-contained. There are even some “oh shit” moments across the series, where a seed planted in one episode pays off in another. My favourite was the reveal of Ray Vernon’s killer being Roger Salas’s son. You can watch the ‘Pink’ and ‘White’ episodes in either order and the reveal holds up.
Now let’s dive into the problem territory. One major issue with no chronology is the removal of your characters’ capacity for growth. Each episode, the relationships between them need to be reintroduced and any character arch happens within one episode. This stagnates every single character. Bob is the perfect example of a stagnant character – he’s a terminator asshole the entire time. To a lesser extent, Stan is a butt-hurt puppy, Judy is consumed by her toxic relationship and Ava is Ray’s angel and saviour. When these characters stray from their path for half an episode, they immediately smack back with the start of another, leaving no time for any real development.
Above all else, heists need a conclusion. But is the conclusion the actual Heist (‘White’) which was the final episode I watched, or the chronological end (‘Pink’), or neither? It feels like the show runners are trying to make a grand point that everyone loses… so don’t do crime? Or maybe don’t seek revenge? Cool, got it, I guess. Unfortunately, this moral message isn’t prioritised because we’re too busy attempting to piece everything together.
As I was trying to form an intelligible opinion about Kaleidoscope, my thoughts returned to Bandersnatch. Whilst it is far from perfect, Bandersnatch succeeds in presenting a viable new format for entertainment as an interactive film. It succeeds because the theme of choice remains at its core – audiences choose their viewing experience, the main character is driven by guilt from a choice he made as a child, and the plot focuses on the development of a ‘choose your own adventure’ game. The bespoke element plays right into the emotions of the characters and progression of the plot. Even if you’re not a fan of the overall film, it makes sense as a prototype for Netflix’s new software.
Kaleidoscope on the other hand didn’t need the additional element. The unique selling point that they’re trying to go for isn’t intrinsic to the core story to elevate the series, so instead it holds it back. Even the Fox’s Biscuits couldn’t save it. I hope streaming platforms keep experimenting with interactive formats but really what we’re all looking for is a good story. Most of the time, that’s enough.
Kaleidoscope was a show I really wanted to enjoy. I was intrigued by the concept of being able to watch the episodes in any order, and I love a heist. However, while the idea of ‘putting
together pieces of a puzzle’ was a fun draw, the show’s lack of payoff and tendency to
over-explain left me feeling disappointed.
The first episode I watched was ‘Orange’ set three weeks before the heist. This felt like a good
place in the narrative to start, as the characters are actively preparing for the heist, leaving the
viewer wanting to know more. Other episodes set further in the past, such as ‘Violet’, which is set 24 years before the heist, wouldn’t have been engaging as a first episode. My choice of first episode ended with the reveal that one of the members of the team would be acting as an informant for the FBI. At the time I was excited to see how watching the show through this lens would impact my viewing experience, but there wasn’t really any payoff. This was a common theme throughout the show, as there were some revelations that I felt weren’t being given enough space, leaving me to feel like I was missing something.
But whilst some things weren’t given enough space, other parts of the story were given too
much. As any episode could have been the first one someone watched, the characters and their dynamics were re-introduced in each episode, which quickly became boring. Although the show tells you it wants you to figure out the ‘puzzle’ it does too much of the work for you, which ruins the point of the format.
There was one episode of the show that couldn’t be watched in a random order; the finale ‘White’. By the time I had reached this episode I was already finding the show’s format to be
pretty repetitive, so I was expecting it to be underwhelming. Whilst I did enjoy this episode more than the others with its unexpected reveals - such as Judy killing RJ and attempting to kill
her husband Bob, and Hannah betraying her father - it still didn’t grab me as much as I felt it could have.
However, while I wasn’t the biggest fan of this show, there were some parts I really enjoyed. I thought the acting was good, especially Giancarlo Esposito as Leo Pap / Ray Vernon and Rosaline Elbay as the character of Judy Goodwin. Some of the relationships in the show were really interesting. I found myself wanting to know more about the dynamic between Judy, Stan and Bob, and I wish the show had gone a bit further with exploring those relationships. Watching the development of Leo/Ray’s relationship with his daughter throughout the years was probably my favourite part of the show, and I think this format is a great way to explore complex relationships - if the show is renewed for another season I think that would be a good focus!
So overall I think the concept of the show is an interesting one, but whilst there are some good elements to it, I felt it just wasn’t executed as well as it could’ve been.
Edited by Milly