Alex Rider: A sleeper hit?

Watch Alex Rider - Season 1 | Prime Video
Not bad for a show that came from left field. Credit – Amazon

You can find our full review of Alex Rider Season 1 right here!

When I were but a young lad, fresh off the first couple of Harry Potter books, slowly getting through Lord of the Rings and truly starting to discover that there was more to media than TV shows and movies, I came across Stormbreaker by Anthony Horrowitz. It was enticing; I, a young adult going through the usual ups and downs of school and teenager life was embracing escapism, and whether it be a wizard, a hobbit or a teenage spy it was simply a case of right time, right place. Stormbreaker was good, Point Blanc and Skeleton key were better and though my interest waned, the character of Alex Rider was certainly a fun and interesting one. We even got a movie for the first book Stormbreaker in 2006, which despite some good casting, ended up being a bit generic and worse of all, forgettable.

So imagine my surprise when the Alex Rider Amazon Prime show popped up during a bit of lockdown shopping. Indeed there had been some promotional material for the show. A couple of trailers in January and some talk about the show late last year, but with everything going on in the world it still came as a bit of a surprise. Almost no fanfare and an eight episode series appears Amazon. Contrast this with the very different Amazon prime exclusive Piccard, which seemed to have a continual marketing campaign for almost a year and one thing that struck me almost immediately; how much expectations can alter your perception of quality.

Because Alex Rider is not incredible, but with no expectations and in a time where we haven’t been to the cinema in months, it has been thoroughly enjoyable. The whole concept of Alex Rider is very early 2000’s. The titular teenager (played by Otto Farrant) is living his typically teenage life with his friends, love interest, Aupair and banker uncle who adopted Alex when his parents died. When his uncle dies under mysterious circumstances, Alex gets sucked into a world of espionage, because child spies were all the rage at the turn of the millennium, just ask Spy Kids. In simple terms? Alex is a teenage James Bond.

How does this concept work in 2020? It can feel a little off at times. Several characters spend a bit too much time reminding the audience that teenage spies are ridiculous and morally wrong (political correctness gone mad I tell you), which is fair enough but drawing attention to the fact so often doesn’t help the audience gloss over it. That being said it’s doing a decent job of balancing the dark, insidious tone posed by the murkier world that Alex descends into with the wholesome and believable relationship he has with his best friend (Bennock O’Connor) and Aupair (Ronke Adekoluejo). It’s an interesting take, and the first few episodes particularly shine as we see the contrast between these two worlds grow and grow, whilst the interactions between Alex and those around him remain realistic.

The show starts off in London, and there is something very BBC about the first few episodes. Lots of British actors with that cockney accent that nobody seems to have in real life London, but is common amongst english actors that went to drama school. That’s not so bad though, and the acting standard is generally very good, with the odd recognisable face (such as Spymaster Alan Blunt played by Game of Thrones’ Stephen Dilane) adding some quality and gravitas to proceedings.

In general it looks very good. Not much in the way of action happens early on, but the cinematography and rare fast pace moments are polished and nicely stylised. It treads a fine line between mature and family, and though there is no gore or excessive bloodshed, you do see the odd cut and the violence isn’t hidden in its entirety. I would say it is very accessible for a young teen, but maybe not a great show for kids.

Not much of the story has taken place in the first three episodes as it has mainly been establishing characters and the world around them, so the pacing has felt a little slow. For readers of the books the first few episodes are precisely what you are expecting, but interestingly enough they have skipped ahead to the second book Point Blanc (which infuriatingly everyone keeps pronouncing with a hard K) as oppose to kicking off with the storyline of Stormbreaker. I’m pretty happy with that myself as I believe it tells a far better story, but completists or big fans of the first book may be a little disappointed.

The writers do a good job of meshing the origin story of Rider which takes place in the first book with the main story of the second, but perhaps it feels a little unearned if I was being harsh. In the book it felt though there were enough little hints as to what Alex’s uncle was, and the secret preparations he made for him, whereas in the Amazon series much of this is taken for granted.

Alex Rider is by all accounts, a well made and accessible series that can appeal to a wide range of audiences, from people who were of the right age to get into the books (some twenty years ago, eek) and young adults now who want to find the next streaming binge to get them through lockdown. It is refreshing in todays world of social media and focused marketing to not see a new series coming, and it did wonders for my expectations going in. The strong execution and likeable characters made getting through the first three episodes a breeze, and I am well on the way to chewing through the rest.

What do you think of Alex Rider? Great adaption or just another thriller series? Let us know in the comments below.

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