My experience with television genres can often be described as somewhat diverse — period pieces, medieval fantasies, one too many teen dramas and 18 binges of “House.” It was when I was just about to embark on my 19th “House” binge that I saw the banner for Prime Video’s newest release, whose title was vaguely recognizable. As I would later find out, the show is a television adaptation of the “Alex Rider” book series written by Anthony Horowitz, whose works I unfortunately never read despite hearing about them as a kid. Regardless, the words “teenager,” “MI6” and “spy” in the description were enough to make me abandon the four-page speech outline I was working on and start the first episode.
It’s understandable that some fans of the series may find the act of watching the show before reading the original source material as blasphemous. But going into the series with no prior knowledge of what to expect works considerably well with “Alex Rider.” However, there’s a lot that goes into making an action-packed production. And while there’s nothing for me to point out adaptation-wise, “Alex Rider” doesn’t get away with being an above average spy thriller without the mention of its not-so-secret flaws.
These flaws seem to manifest from the beginning, the first three episodes of the show being admittedly slow. They introduce bright-minded English teenager, Alex Rider (Otto Farrant), who has an unusual knack for breaking into classrooms to retrieve the confiscated cell phone of his best friend, Tom Harris (Brenock O’Connor). The foreshadowing was obvious, but it set the scene for Alex’s eventual recruitment by MI6, the same department his uncle worked for just before his untimely murder.
We then watch Alex get kidnapped and tortured by an unknown group of military personnel, who are later revealed to be part of MI6. Nevertheless, Alex persists, singing to Jake Bugg’s “Seen It All” (an excellent song choice) as death metal music is blared into his ears and cold water is doused upon him. Although it makes for a cool scene, I didn’t see how it’d be realistic for a boy — a teenage boy, at that — to immediately be able to withstand interrogation. Then again, not much of the happenings within this series are meant to be realistic, considering the synopsis revolves around an adolescent super spy. So, I just decided to roll with the fact that Alex Rider was born with the natural talent of being an agent.
Once he starts his first mission of infiltrating the mysterious Point Blanc school, Alex is met by five other classmates, who happen to be the only students at the institute. He has yet to figure out the school’s true intentions, led by its sole two administrative figures. Eva Stellenbosch (Ana Ularu), the Dean of Students, makes her intimidating presence well-known at Point Blanc. Despite her chic fashion sense, Stellenbosch’s ability to establish authority in a cruel demeanor catches the attention of audiences more than her monochrome outfits. And when she is not assuming control over her students, she is usually seen conversing with Point Blanc’s iniquitous director, Dr. Hugo Greif (Haluk Bilginer).
Things started to pick up by episode four, particularly when Greif’s collection of acclaimed tyrannical role models becomes relevant. He makes this stance clear during a classroom lesson, saying, “Too many people crammed into one small world. Just imagine that we could have a wand and remove 99% of those people.” One doesn’t have to be a spy in order to see the red flags that accompany that quote. After all, what else would you expect of a guy who takes facial hair inspo from Stalin?
By episode five, I was already hooked. While there were definitely moments of poor acting and substandard screenwriting, they were ultimately overpowered by the show’s enticing plot. Its immersive action sequences seemed to fluctuate my anxiety levels, the likely reason why I managed to finish the rest of the series within three days.
My overall opinion of “Alex Rider” is not extraordinarily astonishing. It has its imperfections, but surely not so many to be considered bad either. I actually managed to grow attached to our noble spy hero — who Farrant does a wonderful job of playing — after following him around the unfamiliar world of top secretiveness and British Intelligence. As a spy thriller, “Alex Rider” consists of all the right action and plot devices, with the exception of a youthful twist. Considering my first time dabbling in television espionage was far from disappointing, it succeeds in earning a recommendation.