Kaleidoscope is more than just a gimmick, and a fun heist experience

A fresh spin on a ‘choose your own adventure’ story, Kaleidoscope is the latest attempt from Netflix to reinvent the way we consume media. The series centres around a crew of thieves gearing up for an enormous heist, taking place over a 27 years period set both before and after the heist’s execution.

I was in two minds in the lead-up to this series. On one hand, the concept had me very intrigued and eager to see how it’s all pulled off, while on the other hand I was concerned it would become another lifeless gimmick. The concept reminded me of Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, a film that presented you with a pretty interesting ‘choose your own adventure’ story, but turned out to be a cheap gimmick that only gave you the illusion of choice. After personally selecting a rainbow of colours and ordering the series in a random manner, I can say that this is one gimmick that is pulled off very successfully.

Despite being successful, I don’t think it’s perfect – I can see certain episodes that might fail as a pilot if chosen first by the viewer. However despite my chosen order jumping through time quite a bit, I never really felt like I was watching a series in the “wrong” order. What I mean by that is – if you watch any other series out of order, it just won’t make sense from a storytelling perspective (understandably so). In this series, the bulk of the episodes are self-contained just enough to not feel like you’re missing crucial information. Any information you are missing is played like a bit of a mystery, knowing the next episode may go back and fill the gaps. As a downside, there’s a few scenes set late in the timeline that feel like they’d play better in a more structured order. But we’re talking about only a couple of moments, which I’d say is an achievement.

I’m actually surprised how much the experience can change based on the order you view things. For instance, my pilot episode gave me a key piece of information that I held on to through every other episode, changing my perception of certain characters. While on the other hand, I know someone who viewed the episode in question towards the end, which acted as a big revelatory episode. For the most part, everyone’s understanding of the episodes is going to be relatively similar, but there are a couple of notable moments and episodes that have the chance to make a strong impact when seen in the right order.

With my personalised experience, I found the overall narrative really engaging the entire way through. I gained something valuable from every episode and was very invested in finding out more about this elusive grand heist. It was strange getting answers to questions you never knew you had until the ‘question’ itself is raised in a later episode. You’d think seeing the outcome of something would spoil the event, but it doesn’t. Instead, it makes you eager to find the episode that fills the gaps and reveals the “how or why” behind something that happened. It’s strange how it all works, but it just does. I can only describe this series as a riddle – sometimes you get a piece of the answer, while sometimes you get a piece of the riddle, but it’s only when you put it all together that it makes sense.

The handling of the finale is by far the toughest task that creator Eric Garcia had ahead of him, and I feel like it was executed really well. Going into the finale, you’ll have seen all episodes set both before and after the big heist in question. In my head I was wondering what could possibly be left to glean from the heist itself that wasn’t established outside of it… the answer is, quite a bit. It reminded me very much with how the original run of Prison Break ended. You had the final season and then an epilogue which showed our characters some time after the finale. Then you also had a film which slotted right in before the epilogue to provide some extra closure. And that’s the situation here, the finale is used as a way to provide closure, and it’s all very satisfying.

Being a heist series, you’d be expecting to get some gripping heist content. Now, the heist sequences aren’t the best I’ve seen in film or TV, but they’re all very fun nonetheless. There’s some good bouts of action and tension surrounding the heist sequences that make them each engaging in their own ways. I’d have liked to see a little more of the preparation for some of the mini heists, but I understand they’ve had to keep them all mostly contained to a single episode. I also admire that there are enough heist-like scenes in here to where no matter which order you go in, you’re not going to be met with a dry spell of consecutive heist-less episodes. So yeah, through some good fast-paced heists and a variety of action sequences, there’s a lot of fun to be had.

Another element that really strengthened the series was Giancarlo Esposito’s leading performance as Leo Pap. The man is a powerhouse in front of the camera and he’s captivating through every episode. Especially in the episodes where he’s the sole focus (as in not part of the larger ensemble), he commands the screen and sucks you in to the story and his character. He’s accompanied by really good performances from Rufus Sewell, Tati Gabrielle, Jai Courtney and Paz Vega, who round out the series well.

In the end, Kaleidoscope is an experiment gone well – a fun experience that paves the way for more of this style of content. It’s not groundbreaking by any means, and there are some flaws in the format that maybe can’t be ironed out, but it’s an enjoyable ride for heist fans. The heists themselves aren’t the most innovative, but every episode has something heist-like to keep you engaged. Adam Garcia had a vision and he executed it about as well as you could. If you’re curious about the order I watched in, here it is: VioletGreenRedOrangeYellowBluePinkWhite. Just note that White needs to be last, since it’s the finale.

8/10

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