Kaleidoscope Review: Netflix's Heist Experiment Doesn't Elevate Itself

In a landscape where streaming services are operating more and more like cable networks, it is important for platforms to take risks. In theory, that could take many forms, from greenlighting an unconventional story to introducing features solely unique to that platform. Netflix has tried taking some risks in the past with its platform, but very rarely do they result in any substantial changes.

"Kaleidoscope," created by novelist and screenwriter Eric Garcia, is another risk taker. The show centers around an ambitious bank heist led by the mysterious Leo Pap (Giancarlo Esposito), a concept that sounds pretty run-of-the-mill on its own. However, it's the show's eight-episode structure that takes center stage. All of the show's episodes, excluding a brief intro and the heist-centric finale, are randomly ordered for each user, resulting in the story playing out in a uniquely non-linear fashion.

Unfortunately, "Kaleidoscope" doesn't take advantage of this unique method of storytelling, which already sounds cut down from its original "choose-your-own-adventure" pitch. It isn't a bad show from either a performance or technical standpoint. Rather, it feels too safe for its risky and intriguing structural hook, making it feel like just another forgettable Netflix show.

That's all it takes

The first episode provided to me was "The Green Episode: 7 Years Before the Heist," although watching this episode first isn't required. I bring this up not only for transparency but because it serves as a great acting showcase for Esposito. Whether he's crawling out of car seats or somberly writing a confessional letter, the acclaimed actor breaks beyond the emotionless tough guy image he's ended up cultivating throughout his career. His poignant and non-romantic chemistry with Tati Gabrielle's Hannah is great, and the two's tumultuous history allows for some stand-out moments. It's about time Esposito had a headlining show, and thankfully, he is given ample screen time to relish in it.

The problem, however, is that there really aren't any characters besides Leo and Hannah that you're going to care enough about to want to see them succeed. The other accomplices in the heist feel too one-dimensional, even if the actors in these roles try to elevate the material given to them. Perhaps the most effective is Peter Mark Kendall, whose performance as petty criminal Stan gives a potentially annoying archetype actually a little bit compelling to watch. That being said, there is only so much that a good performance can do to salvage bland direction and writing.

The heist of a lifetime, but in just another Netflix show

There is just something about "Kaleidoscope" that makes it feel incomplete. There are so many ways you can make a story with a revolving non-linear structure, but this simply isn't one of them. By not developing the core heist or characters beyond a few bullet points, the show doesn't reach its full potential. It's a real shame because the issues could have been solved if the writing took as many risks as the release strategy.

Thankfully, Esposito's committed performance, along with the fantastic score from composer Dominic Lewis, is enough to keep viewers invested for all eight episodes. It's hard to gauge whether the twists are effective or can even be considered twists due to the show's randomized structure, so that also serves in the show's favor. There certainly are worse things to watch on New Year's Day after a rambunctious night out, and those looking to just mindlessly binge-watch something will likely get entertainment out of "Kaleidoscope." Unfortunately, much like most of Netflix's original programming, you likely will forget all about it as soon as you hit play on something else.

"Kaleidoscope" is now streaming on Netflix.