“Alex Rider” – A fun run [TV REVIEW]
“Alex Rider,” Amazon’s new series aimed primarily at a YA audience, is a fast-paced, character-driven spy drama. Creator Guy Burt has fashioned a cohesive and smart mystery/thriller adapted from the popular book series of the same name by Anthony Horowitz, prolific fiction and television writer. Besides the wonderful “Foyle’s War” television series, the Alex Rider books and some recent James Bond novels, he is also well-known for having stated that he thought Idris Elba was too “street” to play James Bond. Like his novels, the cast of “Alex Rider” is almost entirely white.
Alex is a normal British teen with a clueless and hormonal best friend Tom, prone to typical minor scrapes with authority. When Alex tries to break into his classroom to retrieve Tom’s confiscated cell phone, one with the address of a party above their place in the school hierarchy, he’s caught and sent home to his disciplinarian Uncle Ian. Ian has been raising Alex ever since both of his parents were killed in a car accident. Uncle Ian, who works at a bank, is a stickler and has grounded Alex for the near future, which may as well be forever. But Ian has been called out on a bank emergency, leaving Alex the opportunity to escape to the party with Tom who has found the address by other means.
But Ian is not who he appears to be. This becomes apparent when we see that his “emergency” meeting is with a colleague and a foreign adversary. Too late, Ian understands that he is to be dispatched. His death is covered up as a traffic accident by the British Secret Service. Ian was a spy and was betrayed by his associate who set him up for the murder.
But Alex isn’t buying any of it. The officers who have come to the house to break the news to him, explain that his uncle was killed in a crash because he was going too fast. And this is where Alex springs into action because he knows for a fact that his uncle would never ever exceed the speed limit. Alex is able to retrace his uncle’s tracks and discovers the warehouse where the assassination took place. He begins to do the math and concludes that this was a nefarious act. He is devasted not just because of his uncle’s sudden death but also because of the deception. Alex goes to work clandestinely and gets close enough that the British Spy Service plays hardball with him to cease and desist. They call out social services to take him away and bring in Immigration to arrest his caretaker on false visa charges.
Alex surrenders, but on what he thinks are his own terms. It’s tricky. Alan Blunt, the head of the agency, is hot on the trail of a conspiracy that involves a fancy Swiss boarding school for troubled rich kids, Point Blanc. He suspects that some of the boarders are being used as lures to target their despised but fabulously wealthy and important parents. The only way to find out for sure is to place someone at the school. Blunt wants to use Alex as his recruit, giving him a false identity. How Blunt achieves this and how Alex makes the game his own is the fun and engagement of the first episode.
In upcoming episodes we will follow Alex deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole that is the school and its ominous teachers. Alex is surrounded by insecure, devious, quasi-criminal teens subjected to psychological control. How can he both resist and appear compliant? That is the question, but there wouldn’t be a series if he couldn’t.
The cast is uniformly good. Otto Farrant (“Mrs. Wilson”) was an excellent choice for Alex. He is equal parts geeky, awkward, intrepid, smart, stubborn, and resourceful, all ideal traits for an undercover teenage spy. Andrew Buchan (“Broadchurch”) as Uncle Ian is gone too soon but makes an indelible and memorable impact. You never forget that he is Alex’s driving force. Stephen Dillane (“Game of Thrones”), the ethically challenged Alan Blunt, is pitch perfect as a spy chief who is out on a ledge. Brenock O’Connor (“Game of Thrones,” “Derry Girls”) is terrific as the rather unattractive, needy, and hormonal best friend Tom. He is a touchstone for how ordinary Alex should be.
Guy Burt has successfully tied the loose ends together and has written a compelling and swiftly moving narrative that is expertly directed by Andreas Prochaska and Christopher Smith, each directing 4 of the 8 episode series.
Although targeted for a teen and young adult demographic, particularly those who view gaming as their primary entertainment, there is plenty to enjoy for everyone.
Launching Friday, November 13 on IMBD TV, a free streaming service of Amazon.