Okay, so I’m a little behind the times for the premiere of Alex Rider. Amazon Prime dumped the first 8 episodes on their site back in November, and to be honest, I wasn’t rushing to see it. First, I keep thinking it is by James Patterson (Alex Cross) and I’m not a big fan. Second, when I do realize it’s actually Anthony Horowitz, I’m still not “sold”. I liked The Magpie Murders and The Word is Murder, but more as something to read when I don’t have anything else pressing. I haven’t read any of the YA Rider series, so all I knew was it was kind of like “James Bond, Teenage Version”.
I had even thought it was likely to be somewhere between The Kingsman, Agent Cody Banks, and Spy Kids. Not even close, and that’s a good thing. Maybe even a great thing.
I decided to try it out, even with low expectations mainly because it has a series of books, there’s some mystery to them, and my 11yo son is always open to new series. I gave it a go. As I said, I wasn’t expecting what I got.
Instead of light fluff, I feel like it is a younger version of either Jack Ryan or Condor, and way less violent than Hanna. The main character, Alex Rider of course, is living with his uncle after both his parents were killed when he was young (they don’t dwell on the details much), and he thinks his uncle works at a boring job in a bank. Nope, he’s a spook, working for an ultrasecret British Ops group. He goes out one night looking into a connection between a couple of supposedly accidental deaths, and he gets killed. Alex doesn’t accept the answer he’s given — traffic accident — so he manages to track the car and find out that there’s a giant cover-up operation at the scene.
He tracks one of the men back to the HQ, and all is revealed. But there’s a reason for the reveal — his uncle found a link to a private school in France where troubled kids go off to be rehabilitated, but only specific types of kids. Scions of captains of industry. HQ wants to look at the school but can’t get in; Alex Rider however could impersonate a son of a wealthy family and see what he can find out. Everything goes sideways starting with the first day at the school, and increasingly so over time, with Alex forced to improvise along with a few of his bunkmates. If that sounds like Scooby Doo, or something child-like, it isn’t. It’s definitely got serious adult vibes going on. Nothing sexual, some swearing, just “heavy” content. So, no, my son wouldn’t enjoy it.
But I was hooked. I binged the whole 8 episodes in one night rather than sleeping!
Otta Farrant plays Alex Rider, and while most of it is well-done subdued or extreme agitation, there are some “lighter” moments that seem like the wrong tone until the final scenes of the season. The rest of the time it just seems like “ill-at-ease attempting to be light and carefree” (perhaps intentional to seem like a younger teenager). I’ve seen him in nothing else, but I like him here.
His handlers include Stephen Dillane as the head of the HQ operation, Alan Blunt, awesome job as a nice British gentleman who has no qualms about forcing Alex to do what he needs done. Alex’s actual “handler” is Mrs. Jones, played by Vicky McClure as a quietly angry agent who thinks Blunt’s call is reckless and immoral. She is best known recently for the British series, Line of Duty, and I’m almost willing to give it a try just to see her in another role.
The big bad guy is played by Thomas Levin, who has a lot of acting roles in foreign productions, but he is borderline perfect here. Quiet. Ruthless. Conveys menace without trying to do so. He’s great. Haluk Bilginer and Ana Ularu, a few others, round out the “baddies” but they’re nothing spectacular.
He has other people around him, but none are that significant to the story (they reveal info several times, not knowing to keep it a secret)…a housekeeper named Jack (I don’t understand her official role, maybe part-time guardian or nanny), and she is the “adult” that’s left when his uncle is killed and the closest thing he has to family and a best friend, Tom. Yawn. The characters are mildly important as Fifth Business, but the actors are not. Anyone could have played them and you wouldn’t have noticed a difference.
I have one exception, Marli Siu, playing one of the other kids at the school. She has some intensity, which seems a bit like an one-trick pony until about Ep 6-8. There’s a bit more depth there, and I was wishing we had seen it earlier.
Normally, when I do a premiere review, I estimate whether it will get renewed or not. There’s not much “question” here, it’s an Amazon Prime show and they’re committed to it. But regardless, I’d be betting on renewal. As I said, I had low expectations, and just like Condor, Jack Ryan, and Hanna, I binged the whole season pretty quick. Heck, I even liked an “in-joke” at the end where one of the characters was wearing a shirt that said “the book was better”.