The puzzle-like gimmick at the heart of “Kaleidoscope” – watch the episodes in any order that you want – can’t conceal how otherwise uninspired this “Ocean’s Eleven”-esque heist series actually is. Chalk that up in part to stiffly written characters, familiar situations and drawn-out logistical sequences. It’s moderately watchable, but all told, color me unimpressed.
Color plays a prominent role in this limited series, since each of the eight episodes corresponds with a color – red, orange, white, etc. – instead of a number, allowing the audience to essentially choose their own adventure. Details thus unfold differently depending on when they’re consumed, which in theory personalizes the viewing experience.
The big picture, however, is pretty drab, in a story that plays out over a quarter-century: Leo Pap (Giancarlo Esposito), an accomplished thief, spent nearly two decades in prison, and has now assembled a team to pursue an elaborate heist that will also provide him with a measure of revenge.
His target: Billions in bonds (as someone notes, the stuff they were after in “Die Hard”), held by a former associate of Leo’s, Roger Salas (Rufus Sewell), so hence the personal connection. Leo is joined by his partner Ava (Paz Vega) and an assortment of specialists assembled to carry out various specific tasks, although their squabbling (and worse) risks derailing the plan at practically every juncture.
The episodes take place at various key points, from events before Leo went to prison (which requires youth-ifying the principals) to a few weeks before the heist, the big day itself and its aftermath.
Created by Eric Garcia (who in addition to heist movies has cited “Pulp Fiction” and “Memento” as sources of non-linear inspiration), the freedom to snap the component parts together in different ways joins interactivity, a la “Black Mirror’s” “Bandersnatch,” among TV tricks employed to try serving what amounts to old wine in a new bottle. Yet it also has the unintended effect of blunting interest in the characters, who certainly go through some things – there are extremely violent moments – without evoking much of a response.
Nor does it help that there’s an element of sappiness to the underlying story, which has Leo pining for the daughter who grew up without him. While the meticulous planning of the heist adds zest to something like the aforementioned “Ocean’s” series, those intricacies yield less satisfying results when spread out as they inevitably are in this more expansive series format.
Ultimately, consider this another one of those exercises that exhausts most of its ingenuity on the basic concept, hoping that – coupled with Esposito’s steely charms in a leading role – would provide enough of a payoff.
Netflix might well achieve that in terms of people opting to sample the series with its holiday debut, but the rainbow-hued vision behind “Kaleidoscope” turns out to be more intriguing than the pictures that come out of it.
“Kaleidoscope” premieres January 1 on Netflix.