Netflix's Kaleidoscope Review: A bold experiment, if nothing else

COVID has done a number on a lot of us. The entertainment industry in particular is reeling from low theater attendance, and so it's banking on the tried and tested rather than risk it all with experimentation. Luckily for Netflix, it doesn't need to put physical butts in enclosed, close contact spaces, and so it can dare to try something new, like its latest experimental series called Kaleidoscope.

Kaleidoscope is a heist series starring Giancarlo Esposito as Leo Pap, a way-past-his-prime master thief looking to land his biggest score yet: stealing $7 billion in untraceable bonds from the most secure vault in the world. The fact that the owner of the vault is his former partner in crime (played by Rufus Sewell) may be more than just icing on the cake.

The hook is that Kaleidoscope is being touted as a television series you can watch in any order. You can let the Netflix app dictate the episode order (which isn't the same for everybody) or you can experiment with your own sequence, and still get the whole story.  You might get to meet his crew, from smuggler Stan (Peter Mark Kendall) to weapons expert Ava (Paz Vega), in your first episode, or take a trip down memory lane and see Leo's past as a thief in the next. A bold experiment to be sure, but the end result would leave you wondering why they even bothered in the first place.

The "watch in any order" gimmick works because each episode is self-contained enough, and the characters one-dimensional enough, to be fulfilling. However, the entire story has a definite beginning, middle, and end, and so watching it in non-linear order feels like so much empty clickbait. I was hoping to see the story change in some way like how a real kaleidoscope changes colors when you twist and turn it, but absolutely nothing changes if you watch it all jumbled like or don't. It even feels a tad repetitive due to the writers treating each one as if it's the first episode you started on.

Even if you look past the non-linear legerdemain, Kaleidoscope is no Ocean's Eleven. Despite its excellent cast, the crew lacks the satisfying sharpness and competence you expect from good heist shows. Jai Courtney's character Bob in particular is an unnecessarily volatile loose cannon that it blows the mind to see the so-called criminal mastermind Leo even agree to even have him look at any blueprints. The story itself has some heart-stopping twists and turns endemic to heist thrillers like these, but it's only watchable on the back of Giancarlo Esposito's riveting performance and velvety timbre.

In a platform positively replete with heist shows, it's understandable that you'd want to stand out. But take away the bells and whistles and Kaleidoscope just crumbles under the weight of expectations, a show good for a one-off binge watch and not one more.

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