In the new drama starring Giancarlo Esposito, however you mix them up, the first seven episodes work. But this success has its price.
It seems like forever ago, but in the early weeks of 2020, the then-CBS All Access show titled “Interrogation” launched. The ten-episode season starred Peter Sarsgaard as a detective investigating a brutal murder in which the accused killer was the woman’s son (Kyle Gallner). With a decent cast and a grumpy, decade-spanning saga, the idea was that viewers could join in the detective work and watch the show in any order. You could follow the clues at your leisure, hopping between different years, suspects, and investigators to find out what really happened that night in the early 80’s.
Fast forward a few years and the beginning of 2023 brings Kaleidoscope, a show that offers the same promise of television freedom, this time centered around a massive ten-figure vault heist. Each episode is color-coded, giving each viewer a time-fragmented look at the pre-and post-crime robbery plot. Chapters range from a 24-year flashback to a “Where are they now?” look six months after the heist. The first seven of eight episodes can be watched in any order and lead to a finale that shows what really happened during the theft.
Part of the fun of Kaleidoscope is watching the Assemble the Team montage, which spans a handful of episodes. Eventually, ringleader Leo Pap (Giancarlo Esposito) recruits longtime confidante Ava Mercer (Paz Vega) and former employee Stan Loomis (Peter Mark Kendall) as two of the most important prongs for the biggest job of their lives. your goal? Roger Salas (Rufus Sewell), a high-profile security tycoon who claims to own one of the best-protected private storage facilities in the world.
It’s a simple premise, key, considering that a high-profile storyline probably wouldn’t pair well with the episode shuffling and flexibility this format demands. There’s jealousy, revenge, regret and redemption, all swirling around in a get-rich-quick bid where the criminals and the target all have something to hide.
“Interrogation” had an opening episode and a closing episode, between which interchangeable chapters were built, centered around suspects in a murder investigation. “Kaleidoscope” could easily have taken the same route, building 45-minute blocks around each person involved in the job. Instead, creator Eric Garcia and his writing team’s approach here has a higher level of difficulty in hiding details that remain satisfactory whatever order they are revealed.
Based on this reviewer’s quasi-scientific experiments, “Kaleidoscope” doesn’t just work chronologically. Watch multiple episodes back-to-back working backwards and there is still a satisfying chunk of spacing accomplished on the part of Garcia and the writing team. The show is billed as a jigsaw puzzle of which each episode is a piece. In practice, the show is more like a safe with a pinpad code, with each episode giving you a number to unlock the whole thing. Thematically, this intentionally fuzzy approach connects to a gang of smugglers and hired hands, some working under aliases, picked up after tragedies long since buried.
However, a distinction must be made between whether the structural gambit of “Kaleidoscope” works (it works) and whether some of the simpler pieces here succeed (less so). Part of that stems from the idea that the show is inherently vague about who all these people are and what drives them. Ray and Roger, in particular, feel like preludes to a backstory. They’re interesting in any version of the present, but there’s always a sense that something is being artificially held back as a surprise, not for the sake of the story but to maintain value for the order viewers choose.
As far as a piece-by-piece puzzle is concerned, each episode has a handful of details meant to serve as notches showing where they fit into the overall story. They arrive as oddly specific asides or non-sequiturs in conversations that can’t help but be clear clues or callbacks, depending on the point they arrive at. To the show’s credit, there are others that are more subtly inserted (including one of the series’ most effective twists, which happens entirely off-screen). But that “hidden in plain sight” element that makes the best heist stories so effective is drained of its power every time the show reminds you what’s being hidden. This includes the cheeky device in almost all of these episodes where the most important parts are the same color as the episode title. It’s an idea that’s fun in theory, but becomes a distraction in the episodes that do it most aggressively.
David Scott Holloway/Netflix
Aside from that chromatic importance, “Kaleidoscope” has a flattened aesthetic that robs the show of some of the time warp fun. With multiple directors here (including Robert Townsend), it’s up to the intro title cards to position the viewer where they are on the timeline at any given point in time. One thing that an effective, more traditional TV season offers that’s conspicuously absent here is the sense of gradual build-up and sense of evolution that comes with a deliberate sequencing of discovered details.
That extends to the character work here as well, particularly in relation to the members of Leo’s team. Each of them seems to have something other than the job itself that ties them to the team, but the floating nature of the show’s order means their subjects feel yielding at every moment. Romances get undercut, references get murky, and the heist itself loses the sense of specialization that makes the best of the “Kaleidoscope” peers seem like a magic trick. Instead, a lot of time is spent here with blunt objects (Jai Courtney’s brash, repetitive meathead Bob Goodwin is the inescapable poster boy) when such things require precision tools. And this isn’t even the best crime drama of the last five years, having a non-chronological timeline with color-themed episodes, fractal-based credits, and a supporting act by Esposito, in which he plays someone with a complicated relationship with a safecracker. (That would be “Jett”.)
As thin as these pieces may be at times, “Kaleidoscope” is still entertaining. Garcia and the team have enough misdirections up their sleeve that there are some fun surprises along the way, although some of them are telegraphed. It’s also admirable how much melancholy and foiled plans there is here, especially in a genre where people like to rely on empty popcorn fun. Some of that comes from what Leo and the team are striving for. In other cases, it comes from the stark expressions on people’s faces, realizing that their lives are about to change based on things happening completely out of their control. This is an approach that requires multiple leaps of faith at key points, and Kaleidoscope does a good job and deserves many of them.
A whole platform name change later and “Interrogation” is still available on Paramount+. Whether it was subscription caps at the time or confusion over how best to watch it, the show never garnered the kind of buzz that its two pivotal performances deserved. (Sarsgaard was seldom better, and Gallner’s onscreen transformation from lanky teenager to hardened prisoner makes for one of the most impressive technical feats in recent television history.) After no other high-profile television project has taken the bait in the few years since, the successes and Failures of “Kaleidoscope”, why. Even as this new Netflix show fills that gap, there’s still a trade-off when it comes to making fun modular TV and great TV.
Kaleidoscope is available to stream now on Netflix.
https://www.indiewire.com/2023/01/kaleidoscope-review-netflix-1234794855/ Kaleidoscope Review: Netflix Heist Show Swaps Drama For Format