Alex Rider is the first original show on Amazon’s AVOD service IMDb TV; it streamed on Amazon Prime in the UK earlier this year. Based on the novels by Anthony Horowitz, the series is about a highly-skilled London teen recruited by the secret government agency his uncle worked for when he was killed. Yes, it sounds like Spy Kids: UK. But what if we told you that it’s better than the average spy thriller? Read on for more.
ALEX RIDER: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
Opening Shot: A picture of the New York skyline. A man with a scar drives a van to a building with the sign “Roscorp Media.”
The Gist: That man manages to somehow override the building’s security systems and create a hologram of the interior of an elevator in the penthouse office of Michael Roscoe (Steven Brand), who plummets to his death. His son, Parker (George Sear), who used to pull YouTube pranks on Michael until he was sent to a school called Point Blanc, is poised to inherit his father’s massive fortune.
Back in London, we’re introduced to a prep school kid named Alex Rider (Otto Farrant). He and his buddy Tom Harris (Brenock O’Connor) are planning on going to a party where Alex hopes to run into his crush Ayisha (Shalisha James-Davis). But when Tom’s phone is confiscated by one of their teachers, Alex uses his considerable skills to break in and get it — and gets caught. He’s punished by his uncle Ian (Andrew Buchan), a “boring” banker who took Alex in after his parents died. Ian orders Alex to hand over his friend’s phone, which he puts in the glove box.
Also living in the Rider house is Jack Starbright (Ronke Adekoluejo), Alex’s longtime caregiver, who is on the verge of quitting now that she’s graduated University College London and wants to set off on her own. Alex often tries to sway Jack to his side but she’s busy pretending the takeout she got is homemade — and she thinks Alex is wrong, anyway.
We soon find out that Ian is a secret agent of some sort, and he’s called by his colleague Martin Wilby (Liam Garrigan) to meet a Russian contact named Yassen Gregorovitch (Thomas Levin). In the process, Martin betrays Ian, and Yassen shoots him with his own revolver.
Alex doesn’t believe what representatives from the “bank” tell him, that his uncle was speeding and died in a car crash. He was curious why his uncle was interested in Point Blanc (Alex knew Parker Roscoe’s story because of his YouTube videos), and manages to trace Tom’s phone, and his uncle’s car, to a warehouse. Once he follows people working on the car back to a subterranean garage, he comes face to face with Alan Blunt (Stephen Dillane), the head of the Department of Special Operations, who Ian worked for. They’re even more secretive and deadly than MI6, and, over the objections of his deputy, Mrs. Jones (Vicky McClure), Blunt thinks Rider is the perfect person to help them figure out what’s going on with Point Blanc.
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? There was a 2006 film adaptation of the Alex Rider novels by Anthony Horowitz, called Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker, so there’s that. This might be considered a more serious, action-oriented take on shows like M.I. High or films like Agent Cody Banks.
Our Take: During some of the first scenes of Alex Rider, adapted from the novels by Guy Burt (The Borgias), we were thinking that IMDb TV’s first original series was going to be some low-rent spy thriller with a dumb plot and dumber dialogue. The idea that a hologram of the inside of an elevator is enough to kill someone seemed outlandish. But once we got over to London and started to see Alex Rider in action, the show got a whole lot better. And, once the first episode was over, we were pleasantly surprised with how well-paced and well-acted the first episode was.
Within the first scenes with Alex, we have established that he has a great relationship with his tough but loving uncle, an even closer relationship with Jack, who doesn’t necessarily need to take care of the teenager anymore, but has loyalty to Alex and Ian, and a friendship with Tom that’s so solid that he pulls his buddy along when he tries to find his uncle’s missing car.
Establishing those relationships goes a long way towards informing who Alex is; he’s adventurous and very skilled at spycraft given his age, and he simply won’t accept the explanation he’s given about Ian’s death. The idea that he’s going to work with this top-secret organization, despite being as impulsive and “wild” as any teen might be, sets up stories where he has to do double duty, both as troubled everyteen and super spy, all wrapped up in one. And the first episode left us intrigued to see what he does, instead of rolling our eyes at the prospect.
The other part of this equation is how insidious the Department of Special Operations is; they somehow manage to get found out by a teenager but they also are able to send immigration after Jack and Child Protective Services after Alex, all in an effort to get Alex to join their investigation. Seeing how they operate will be interesting. Can this show devolve into a teenage version of The Blacklist? Sure. But just a little discipline in sticking with the story of Alex and Point Blanc will help this show rise above other messy spy shows of recent vintage.
Sex and Skin: Nothing.
Parting Shot: Alex is driven away from his house in a black car, having agreed to join the Department of Special Operations. Immediately, immigration and CPS are called off.
Sleeper Star: We loved Ronke Adekoluejo as Jack; she’s loyal to Alex and Ian but only to a point, and we’re curious to see how he involves her in his spy activities going forward.
Most Pilot-y Line: At the party, Tom is talking to a girl about X-Men. She puts her hand on his leg, tells him how hot he is… then throws up. He walks away, but tells Alex, “I think I’m hooked!” It’s a funny scene but felt like filler to us.
Our Call: STREAM IT. Alex Rider is definitely an above average entry in TV’s spy genre; it takes its main character seriously and develops him enough that we can actually believe he’ll do a good job as an agent. That’s saying a lot.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.
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