What Works and Doesn’t Work With Flexible Viewing Options?


There is something so enticing about the idea of interactive viewing, and Kaleidoscope is the latest offering Netflix has released to provide a new type of viewing experience. Merging viewers with the dramatic experiences viewers engage in is an exciting prospect. Any form of power given to the viewer is unusual, and this limited series does provide an element of interactivity. Kaleidoscope revolves around a heist led by Leo Pap (Giancarlo Esposito). It gives each viewer the choice of what order to watch the show in, with each episode named after a different color. The heist takes place in the “White” episode and, despite the advertised liberation, is supposed to be saved for last.


Kaleidoscope offers an introductory episode, “Black,” that is less than a minute long and serves to explain the premise of this choice. A voice describes the purpose of the series setup and advertises the potential benefits of this gifted power. The voice tells the viewer each episode is a different piece of the puzzle and notes how they can watch it in whatever order they choose. Viewers will enter the crime at varying moments of time and will be able to answer questions about its planning, betrayals, and who ultimately gets away with it.

RELATED: The Best and Worst Ways to Watch ‘Kaleidoscope’


What Are the Drawbacks to ‘Kaleidoscope’s Unique Viewing Options?

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Image via Netflix

One standout problem with such a flexible viewing experience immediately stems from the viewer’s choice to start that journey in any one of the episodes, even if they ignore “White.” If each episode can serve as the first, then each episode has to consider its presentation of the characters to the viewer for the first time. Each time, the characters’ idiosyncrasies must be evident so that the audience can feel something towards them. As a show revolving around a heist, there is at least a consistent, common goal. At the same time, individual motives and character qualities still need to come through. This is a double-edged sword. To establish personality, Kaleidoscope must include scenes demonstrating a character’s traits in each episode. The obvious danger of this, though, is repetitiveness.

Bob Goodwin (Jai Courtney), for example, is a character who exposes just how deep this pitfall can be. As a generally dislikable character who irks all around him with his selfish and obnoxious behavior, Bob is consistent. He acts irritably and purely out of self-interest. Because the audience could be meeting Bob for the first time at any of these moments, Bob’s ego is not new between episodes, so each scene demonstrating his undesirable qualities becomes less effective, less poignant, and repetitive. The time relearning that he is annoying is almost as annoying as he is. If, on the other hand, the show opted to have Bob vary between episodes, annoying in one, likable in another, he would be instantly denounced as inconsistent and unbelievable, and there is little worse than a viewer unable to suspend their disbelief. It is possible to subvert the expectations of a viewer in this format. He could be annoying in one episode. Then in another, the viewer could learn an empathetic reason that gives reason to his frustrating character, and the viewer could learn from their premature judgment. But with a heist show and an ensemble cast, there are already enough moving pieces. There is hardly the time or possibility to complete audience expectation subversion for all the characters, which leaves Kaleidoscope unable to avoid flat scenes with old information.

What are the Benefits of Viewer Flexibility?

Kaleidoscope Giancarlo Esposito and Tati Gabrielle social featured
Image via Netflix

The simple fact that you can choose the order is nice. That’s about it. Seeing these characters in very different times and settings is rewarding, and putting the puzzle together as a whole has its moments of payoff. Characters undergo change, and our previous time spent with them in other episodes gives new meetings to subtle moments. However, that isn’t exclusive to this format. A chronologically ordered limited series would have the same strengths.

It doesn’t even take a watch of the show to know that there is little to be gained from the flexibility of the viewing experience. Taking the chosen analogy of the puzzle, is it any more satisfying to solve the puzzle in one order than another? No. All that matters is that the pieces come together at the end. Besides, regardless of order, by the end, you have the same conclusion and the same information, and there is no way of telling whether there was ultimately any difference in your enjoyment level as a result of your chosen experience. Furthermore, there is an autoplay experience on the series for a reason. Some episodes have more to reveal than others, and watching “Yellow” last would be extremely tedious.

Ultimately, ‘Kaleidoscope’ Feels Like Wasted Potential

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Image via Netflix

That’s not to say Kaleidoscope wasn’t on to something. If, for example, “White” was withheld from being released after all the other preceding episodes, all of a sudden, viewers might have predictions to talk about, fresh off of the information gained in the most recent episode they watched. Taking this a step further, it also seems as if the viewer could have benefited from acting upon their choices. Giving them a chance to predict the happenings of the heist in terms of likely betrayals and ultimate winners and losers could generate the tangible payoff that was promised to them. Having one random episode blocked from their view, giving everyone a different experience, and leaving it up to the viewer to decide if they want to unblock it, would at least offer an actually potentially unique experience that one could share with other viewers after.

If there had been appropriate time and effort, this could have been one of the most groundbreaking and talked about television shows that inspired conversation among viewers. As it is, the only way this format benefits Kaleidoscope is that the inclusion of any form of choice has sparked some discussion. The viewer does not benefit. The idea seems more like an effective marketing tool to differentiate itself from other shows rather than anything groundbreaking. The promised colorful experience ultimately renders bland.



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