Giancarlo Esposito Can’t Save Netflix Experiment

Jan 15, 2023

There is a lot of promise in Eric Garcia’s Kaleidoscope, a heist miniseries that is the latest release from Netflix to try to allow for some form of viewer interaction to its experience. No, it isn’t quite like 2018’s Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, which was built as being a choose-your-own-adventure story with branching storylines whereas this has outcomes that remain fixed. Still, there are plenty of variations to the experience in how you chose to watch it. This is because the series bills itself as being watchable in any order, a pledge that is largely true even as there are a whole host of ways that would be bizarre to do so.

It is entirely up to you, but putting some of the climactic episodes at the beginning will most certainly render much of what precedes it tedious. Its best differences come from how the various pieces speak to each other beyond just scattered twists. A flashback episode coming later can serve to fill in the gaps of what was left unspoken by characters yet was still weighing on them. Put that episode earlier in the chronology and, while you take away the mysterious edge, you are also placed more fully in the mindset of the characters. If you’re wanting to take the way that perhaps makes the most sense, there is the set order that you’ll get of “Yellow,” “Green,” “Blue,” “Orange,” Violet,” “Red,” “Pink,” and then “White” if you just let the streamer autoplay. Still, taking away the novelty of the narrative approach, the story leaves much to be desired.

No matter which way you end up slicing it, the show itself is quite derivative in its writing and unimaginative in its characterizations. It all ends up amounting to an interesting idea that works far better in theory than it does in execution. This isn’t to say the potential for a show to be tackled in random order is a total wash. There could be intriguing future takes on such a narrative format, but they’re going to need to be a lot more inventive than this one is. What we do get here is a saga of sorts spanning several decades about the troubled Leo (Giancarlo Esposito) who, in the main timeline, brings together a ragtag team to pull off a daring heist. There is Bob (Jai Courtney), Ava (Paz Vega), Stan (Peter Mark Kendall), and Judy (Rosaline Elbay), all of whom bring their own particular skill sets to the table. The target is Roger (Rufus Sewell) and a highly technical vault he has built that holds immense wealth from a powerful group of people known as The Triplets. It is the type of job that feels ripped right out of an early Mission: Impossible film where even a single mistake can spell doom for everyone involved. Why are they taking this on? Well, for most of them, it is for the money. However, as we come to learn, the job carries a more personal significance for Leo and a tragic past that he carries with him. Unfortunately, regardless of whether that past comes later in the watch or early in it, the way it all comes together is never as sharp as it is striving to be.

Image via Netflix

RELATED: Giancarlo Esposito and Tati Gabrielle on How You Can Watch ‘Kaleidoscope’ in Any Order

If there is one element that the series is worth seeing for, it is the performance of Esposito. Getting to see him recently in the incredible final season of Better Call Saul only reaffirmed how any show is better off with him in it. While Kaleidoscope is not nearly as compelling or well-constructed as that show, he never misses an opportunity to give it something more. Whether it is when Leo is planning out the heist or grappling with his own fears about the job, Esposito brings the character to life with just the right amount of grizzled grace. The moments where he gets to sink his teeth into the character and just let us observe him without all the extra noise shine. In particular, the interactions he has with his daughter Hannah (Tati Gabrielle) are the show at its best. Though we only get glimpses of their relationship, it is clearly a fraught one that makes for a more compelling core and gives the story greater stakes beyond just getting the money. Even though there is a supporting cast of characters who all have their own respective relationships with each other, this is the strongest one of them all that had the greatest potential in where it could have gone. One wishes that it had been more focused on their characters which, despite being central in both a thematic and narrative sense, can increasingly feel like they are getting lost in the drawn-out setup and planning phase.

Of course, one could arrange their viewing experience to sprinkle some of these meandering episodes around a bit, though that would likely only call more attention to all their flaws. There isn’t much of any joy in actually seeing the pieces come together as the process of actually figuring out how to pull it all off isn’t ever all that clever. Instead, it is rather blunt and lacking in anything approaching greater thrills. There will be a backdoor to a seemingly insurmountable problem, followed by a closing of said backdoor, only for another solution to happen to just fall into their lap. Some obvious music choices that try to give everything a slick and energetic rhythm only work in small increments, like an early diamond heist used to finance the main operation. There is even the introduction of a strange storyline surrounding an FBI agent looking into the crew that the series gets so caught up in that much of the whole purpose of its presence gets lost. Instead of making the most of the abundance of excitement to be found in seeing the heist unravel before us, this oddly ends up being one of the shorter episodes and largely devoid of tension, regardless of the order you watch it.

Even if you are to view Kaleidoscope chronologically, it wouldn’t work either as it would reveal too much information that the other episodes rely on for any remaining investment we have in where it all goes. Without giving away too much about any one point (as any part of the show could in theory be either the beginning, middle, or end for those who watch it), it seems to want to be more of a character-driven tragedy than anything else. There is a potentially interesting narrative throughline about how, even with this group trying to take from those in power, the balance of the world will always be stacked against them. In a more mature story that actually grappled with this, this would have made for a potentially memorable genre entry. Unfortunately, when the characters aren’t given as much attention as they should have and the story they’re in isn’t all that engaging either, any ending arrived at falls flat. Any haunting revelations just aren’t baked in enough to pay off in the way that they could and should have. For all the flickers of intrigue felt in its narrative form, Kaleidoscope is an experiment that proves you will always need a good story to ascend above mere gimmick.

Rating: C-

You can watch all eight episodes of Kaleidoscope on Netflix.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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