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Netflix's Experimental 'Kaleidoscope' Technically Works, But At What Cost?

By James Field | TV | January 10, 2023 |

By James Field | TV | January 10, 2023 |


Mild Spoilers

Kaleidoscope is the story of a heist 24 years in the making. Professional thief Leo Pap (Giancarlo Esposito, The Boys, The Mandalorian ) has done hard time ever since a robbery ended in tragedy thanks to his former partner, Roger Salas (Rufus Sewell, Dark City, A Knight’s Tale). Leo breaks out seeking revenge after receiving grim news from the prison doctor and plans to steal $7 billion in bearer bonds from Salas’s secure facility. They belong to the Triplets, shadowy billionaires with their fingers in a bakery’s worth of pies. Leo has a good plan and someone on the inside. Leo’s intricate plan is threatened by FBI agent Nazan Abassi (Niousha Noor), a recovering drug addict with a grudge. But any good heist requires a crew, and that’s where things go wrong, thanks to f*cking Bob.

Netflix’s experiment in nonlinear storytelling is a qualified success in that it technically works but the story and writing leave much to be desired. The episodes are delivered to your profile in a random order, save the heist coming last. For me, the suggested order was “Yellow,” “Green,” “Blue,” “Orange,” “Violet,” “Red,” “Pink,” and “White.” Each 45 - 60 minute episode is a self-contained story, but one that feeds into the others seamlessly. The time period begins 24 years before the heist and continues for 6 months after as the crew deals with the ramifications of their choices, all because of f*cking Bob.


The series had a lot of potential that is unfortunately squandered by odd choices. The largest issue for me has to be the change in tone as what begins as a cheerful homage to Ocean’s Eleven and similar heist movies shifts into the graphic violence and bleak humor of something like Fargo. The viewer expects glitz and glamor but instead gets whiplash as the tone careens from one end of the spectrum to the other. This is most apparent if you watch “Pink” before “White” (the heist) or “Red” (the heist’s immediate aftermath) and makes the latter two anticlimactic at best. Apart from the graphic violence it feels like something you’d watch on TNT or USA back in the Burn Notice and White Collar heyday.

The cast is solid. I mean, the protagonist is played by Giancarlo Esposito, a man with so much gravitas he distorts space around him. He and Rufus Sewell have a ridiculous amount of chemistry, and every scene with the two of them is a pleasure. They interrupt one another and bicker like the old friends they’re supposed to be, and it works. Oddly, Leo has significantly less chemistry with his lawyer and lover, Ava Mercer (Paz Vega, Spanglish, Rambo: Last Blood), though outside of their romantic interludes, both are great. Rounding out the crew are Stan Loomis (Peter Mark Kendall, The Americans, Girls), smuggler extraordinaire; RJ Acosta (Jordan Mendoza), handyman and driver; Judy Goodwin (Rosaline Elbay, Ramy), chemist and explosives expert; and Judy’s husband, belligerent safe cracker f*cking Bob (Jai Courtney, The Terminal List, Suicide Squad).


Here’s the thing about Bob. First off, Jai Courtney is fantastic in the role. That’s not a sentence I ever thought I’d use back when Courtney was the cardboard cutout of an overly muscled white man sporting permanent five o’clock shadow in Divergent and Terminator: Genisys. Like Sam Worthington and Charlie Hunnam, Hollywood seemed intent on turning him into the stalwart leading man even though it buried any hint of individuality. But as the grungy Boomerang in Suicide Squad and Steve Horn, tech entrepreneur and wannabe soldier in The Terminal List, Courtney shows his strength as a character actor. He turns that up to 11 for Kaleidescope. Courtney struts across the screen like a prize rooster in a colorful windbreaker, a swaggering parody of a 1970s porn star with his curly hair and bushy mustache. He’s a coke addict with no impulse control and a violent temper always on the verge of exploding. Courtney revels in the role. His face and body swell with repressed rage. He shows more believable, raw emotion in 30 seconds than he did in the first decade of his acting career. Judy and Bob are a package deal, one Leo reluctantly accepts because of how much they need Judy’s help entering the vault. It’s proven to be a mistake almost immediately when Bob’s lack of control nearly ruins a heist set on 47th Street’s Diamond District. Bob stumbles down a path of poor decisions and catastrophic violence that’s highly entertaining from the viewer’s perspective but proves to be the crew’s Achilles heel. Judy, intoxicated by sparkly gifts and passionate if unimaginative car sex, turns a blind eye to Bob’s many character flaws until a confrontation that feels like too little, much too late. F*cking Bob, man.

Kaleidescope ultimately becomes a morality tale about how seeking revenge leads only to tragedy and suffers as a result. Creator Eric Garcia (writer of Matchstick Men and Repo Men) can’t pick a tone and after a fun opening, the story is bogged down by a need to be taken seriously. Watching either “Pink” or “Red” before “White” will spoil multiple plot points, and it feels like Garcia wrote himself into a corner as he approached the story’s climax. I recommend taking a close look at the episode summaries on Netflix to decide in what order you want to watch them, regardless of how they show up in your queue. Leo, Salas, and Ava make Kaleidoscope worth watching through once, though I don’t foresee anyone adding it to their Top 10 list. Just don’t get too attached to anyone. Especially f*cking Bob.