Alex Rider Review – Great start, but will it go further?

A great show, but did it have enough to merit a second season? Credit Amazon

Rating: 4 out of 5.

We were impressed with the first few episodes of the new Amazon Prime exclusive based on early 2000s novels by Anthony Horowitz. But how did the rest of the show fair? Let’s take a look at season one and consider; what is the future of Alex Rider?

In my review looking at the early stages of Guy Bert’s Alex Rider series, I emphasised just how refreshing it is for a hot new show to appear on streaming, without months of hype and expectation attached to it. Indeed, going through the early part of the season it was a pleasant blend of nostalgia for an old favourite fiction character, and the curiosity of seeing something new, untarnished by months of speculation over just how good (or bad) it would be.

Inevitably, as each instalment went by this novelty wore off. It wasn’t enough that the show was a happy surprise, to continue being enjoyable it had to stand on its own feet and be a credible, watchable experience. Was it?

On balance, and for the most part it is easy to say Alex Rider is a good show. It looks great, the acting quality is high, the story is a winning formula which can appeal to old and young alike. As someone who read Point Blanc, the entry of the Alex Rider that season 1 is based on, it was a wonderful nostalgia trip, but more than that, the show writers managed to do capture something special.

A trait of the Alex Rider series that I remember fondly is how Horowitz took the premise of a teenage spy, and transposed it so well into a world that didn’t feel too unlike this one. Unlike many spy and action thrillers, Alex is not an expert marksman, or a combat specialist (early on at least) and so he faces a real danger. He can’t just James Bond out of every sticky situation by shooting the rope or jumping in his pimped out Aston Martin. He is a teenager. Skilled yes, but not invincible or so skilled that he trivialises every challenge.

Alex faces real, tangible problems and though suspension of disbelief is necessary for the odd fanciful predicament, he really does struggle at times. It isn’t all easy, and he rarely wants to be there in the first place, but it’s the drive of the character and his motivations that push him forward. Indeed he is often burdened with extraordinary responsibility and impossible odds, but through determination and wits he wins out. A character like this is very easy to get behind.

The series has captured this aspect perfectly. Too often young characters in films or TV can come across as petulant, entitled or smug. Perhaps this is by design, as crusty old executives imprint their view of todays youth onto their product. Rider on the other hand comes off as a well brought up and likeable kid, played to perfection by Otto Farrant in one of his first acting roles. He is humble and awkward, resilient when he needs to be, and shows great maturity in conveying the damage and recovery after his ordeals.

Through a mixture of writing and performance, Farrant’s Alex comes off as just another kid, and when the action really starts to kick off, he does look out of his depth until he finds the courage to rise to the challenge. In addition, (and no mark against the lad) it is refreshing to have a fairly normal looking actor play the protagonist in a production. Farrant isn’t ugly for sure, but his rather plain look only furthers what is at the core of the Alex Rider series. This is a young man, just like you are/were and he makes heroic decisions not because he is special but because someone has to. It’s a strong message, and portrayed far better in this series than many others that have released in past years.

Throughout the season, the show stays largely true to the source material, though a few details, characters and the like change. Bert’s writing is strong throughout, and when you stop and think there really wasn’t much action on the whole, but you are never left feeling as though nothing is happening, which is a big plus.

I really enjoyed this series, but in truth there are a few niggles which hold Alex Rider back from being a really standout show.

The most jarring factor of the series by far is just how oddly paced and cut it is. There are eight episodes in season 1, with the first three serving solely as set up for the main plot. Episode 3 was particularly out of place, and felt a little drawn out with hindsight. We didn’t learn a huge amount about Alex and no recurring characters were established, so it could easily have been replaced with a short scene at the end of episode 2 to achieve the same thing.

When the main plot kicks off, it does go up a gear, which is really where the thriller element of Alex Rider excels. The problem, is of an 8 episode series only 4 really serve the core plot of Point Blanc, which felt a little short when unnecessary time was given to other areas. This is prevalent in final episode, which was really out of place and adds unnecessary complication to the conclusion. What occurs is faithful to the books, but like episode 3 it is too drawn out and should really have come as a snappy, dramatic end to the series. As it is, all of the suspense peters out and though the last 10 minutes of the finale rally a little, by that point I was a little fatigued after the high of episode seven. It is a hard thing to translate a book to over 6 hours of television, and at times it was evident.

Due to the continuous nature of the series, as oppose to an episodic series, it also lacked a bit of variety and the ups and downs that come with that. It never quite becomes amazing despite the overall quality staying steadily high, which is not a criticism as such, but it would have been nice to have one or two show stopping episodes. The penultimate episode was certainly the highlight, but if the 8th instalment had been compressed into the final scene of 7, I feel it could have made for a really memorable finale that would have defined the Point Blanc story.

I am scratching around here, because Alex Rider is an easy recommend for anybody with an Amazon Prime membership. The fact that a series this cinematic in nature can be released so casually is a sign of the under appreciated advances in the professional quality of mass media in 2020. This is the kind of show which would have pushed boundaries just a few years ago, and I would love to see a Season 2 of Alex Rider.

But will we get one? Alas, there has been no word yet on whether Rider will be making a return to our screens (be it tv, monitor or phone). Unlike Picard or Grand Tour, Alex Rider was not made by Amazon, but instead a collaboration of Sony, Eleventh Hour and ITV, and so it may be that this was a one and done production that Amazon bought without a further run in mind. The finale does leave unanswered questions though, and there is certainly a hook for the next season if the powers that be deem it’s feasible, but it is harder to tell with streaming content. Somewhere a number cruncher will be running viability calculations and correlation between membership increases to viewership… hopefully they can make the numbers work.

Next up in Anthony Horowitz’ Alex Rider series is the very enjoyable Skeleton Key, which in my opinion is the best of the first four books. If you are the kind of person to read the book before the movie/tv show comes out, its definitely worth a read. It would be a real shame to kick of such a well constructed world to stop before the best instalment, but until then we will keep our ears to the ground for any intelligence that might tell us what is next for Alex Rider.

Would you love to see a Season 2? Have you read Skeleton Key? Tell us in the comments below!

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