Kaleidoscope review: Netflix’s jumbled episode-order experiment is the only interesting thing here

Paz Vega and Giancarlo Esposito in ‘Kaleidoscope' (Netflix)

So much can be ascertained about a show from its colour palette. Look at how the snowy whiteouts of Nordic noir, or the persimmon plains of the American West, use colour to orient the viewer. This is where you are. But in Netflix’s new eight-part robbery romp, Kaleidoscope, colour throws viewer expectations into a phantasmagorical blender. From the greens of prison escapes to the yellows of diamond heists, the violets of memory to the reds of betrayal, the whole Dulux paint chart is on dazzling display.

Giancarlo Esposito (of Breaking Bad fame) is Leo Pap, a preternaturally composed career criminal on – you guessed it – one last job. He’s a sort of budget Danny Ocean, and he puts together for the raid a knock-off 11: smuggler Stan (Peter Mark Kendall), chemist Judy (Rosaline Elbay), armourer Ava (Paz Vega), safe-cracker Bob (Jai Courtney), and driver RJ (Jordan Mendoza). And then there’s the mysterious Hannah (Tati Gabrielle), the woman on the inside, who has a long, difficult history with the burglars. Together they’re going to pull off the perfect heist, one that steals $7bn (£5.8bn) from “the triplets” (vague but nefarious Euro bankers) and humiliates Rufus Sewell’s security consultant, Roger Salas. But all is not quite as it seems – and the key to unlocking the full colour spectrum might lie in Leo’s murky past. “All ain’t alright with the world, not by a long shot,” he announces solemnly. “So we gotta stand up straight and make it right.”

Kaleidoscope’s working title was Jigsaw, and almost all the press for the show has featured the fact that the episode order is randomised. Each Netflix viewer sees the story slightly differently (albeit always with the same finale, “White: The Heist”). That means there are 127 unique permutations; 127 unique routes to the vault. I’m not overly enamoured with this sort of gimmick, which sits somewhere between the slog of ergodic literature (like Mark Z Danielewski’s House of Leaves) and the silliness of a Choose Your Own Adventure. And placing that final episode – which depicts the moment of the heist – as an enforced climax entirely undermines the conceit. Only truly random would be truly clever.

But gimmicks can also just be playful nonsense, and I’m inclined to give Kaleidoscope the benefit of the doubt here. This is a daft world in which characters spout garbage like “Success is 90 per cent inspiration and 10 per cent ammunition”, or “If you wanna stack real cheddar then you’ve gotta move real product!” It is a landscape of bright, glaring colours, where there’s not a lot of room for the greys of nuance. Characters are cartoonish, and the violence likewise; there is no real-world jeopardy here, just smoke bombs and stun grenades and hallucinogenic-laced oatmeal. So viewers put off by the extra effort required to piece the jigsaw back together needn’t worry. This can be viewed as totally normal, thoughtlessly linear television – but with the added frisson that maybe something clever is happening, just out of view.

That experimentation with format (a mechanism that Netflix, and other streaming services, have been testing with projects such as Black Mirror: Bandersnatch) is the only route by which Kaleidoscope ventures remotely outside the box. Watched in any order, the story that unfolds is a simple, pleasurable rollick through the business of ultra-tight security and the crooks who seek to undo that. And it’s an effective portrait, wholly enjoyable as a twisty thriller in the mould of The Italian Job or Gambit. It’s fitting, then, given all the timeline scrambling, that Kaleidoscope is best viewed as a throwback.

‘Kaleidoscope’ is streaming on Netflix now