Quickfire round: Alex Rider

Fourteen years on from Stormbreaker, the film adaptation of the first Alex Rider book that I absolutely loved watching (when I was 10), comes this TV adaptation of the second book, Point Blanc. Nostalgia, hit me!

Alex looking less than impressed after essentially being forced into being a teenage spy.

The first thing to note about this show is that, although it’s adapting the second book in the series, it’s been heavily modified to restart the story from before Alex became a spy. The death of Alex’s uncle and his recruitment into the special branch of MI6 is completely re-told and folded into the plot of the second book, which sort of makes sense. Newcomers get some crucial backstory, and fans of the books don’t have to sit through a second adaptation of Stormbreaker.

The plot of the Alex Rider series was always a bit over the top. He’s a teenage spy, somehow able to out-wit and out-fight quite a number of supposedly experienced bad guys. So, you know, just suspend your disbelief while you watch. In Point Blanc, Alex attends an academy of the same name, which claims to operate a highly successful rehabilitation school for troubled teenage children of wealthy and influential parents. In reality it’s a tool for worldwide domination dreamt up by Dr Hugo Greif, a neo-Nazi and head of the school.

Dr Grief is aided in his operations by SCORPIA, the terrorist organisation that isn’t actually revealed until the fifth book. Working for SCORPIA, top tier assassin Yassen Gregorovich performs a few contract kills on some parents of former pupils at Point Blanc who became suspicious after their children returned from the academy. Yassen is a key figure in the series and fans of the books will enjoy having him bump into Alex at the academy, telling him they may meet again.

Enough plot – was it any good? Yeah, it was. It was heavily adapted though. It takes place in the present (everyone has the latest iPhone), Alex has half the gadgets from the book, and (although this is a very good thing) the academy is half girls, whereas in the book they were all boys. But the action scenes were good and I was genuinely hooked even though I already sort of knew what was going to happen. It is very appropriately rated 12 – you’re not going to see some grisly death scenes and excessive swearing in this show.

Otto Farrant was fantastic in the leading role, and I really hope we get to see him reprise his role for a second (and third, and fourth…) season. The Alex Rider series, which is still being written, was probably my all time favourite fiction as a kid.

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What I thought about: Upload

As long as you try not to think about the questionable wide-arc plot in this show, Upload is a funny, romantic, but also sobering look at the potential technological advances of the next 10-20 years.

That’s a talking therapy dog, by the way.

What’s it about?
Nathan Brown is badly hurt in a car accident at the prime age of 27. As his vitals are dropping, his wealthy girlfriend hastily arranges his ascension to heaven – digital heaven, that is, in the form of a consciousness transfer to Lake View, a premium virtual afterlife in which her family has ‘unlimited data’. It takes Nathan a while to get used to his new living situation, and he’s having some trouble recalling what he was working on in the weeks leading up to the accident. With the help of his ‘Angel’ (customer service representative Nora Antony) he begins to settle in and see what digital living has to offer.

In the living world, Nora starts to develop feelings for Nathan and, suspicious of the corruption of his memory files, helps to uncover the truth behind Nathan’s death.

What do I like about it?
The little details that are scattered in the show are really quite fun, and serve as an unexpected treat whenever they crop up. When certain things in Lake View cost money to use, a literal button for ‘in app purchases’ appears. When the servers temporarily lose power and kick into backup mode, the uploads (what they call dead people in the virtual afterlife) turn to blocky, Minecraft-like characters, which seems obvious but caught me so off guard that I laughed out loud.

The underlying romance that develops between Nathan and Nora is also cute, and the show makes good use of the setting to demonstrate this. Nora invites Nathan to walk on water, ‘I just activated the feature’, she says, before he eagerly steps forward and plunges straight in. She was teasing him. There’s also a particularly poignant moment where Nathan’s memories of his time at Lake View – including his time spent with Nora – are at risk of being erased. I genuinely felt sad for them in that moment, so you know the show is doing something right.

What do I not like about it?
The plot – the part of it where Nathan tries to find out why he died – is a little sketchy. I think the writers held back too much, letting slip so little in this season that this part of the story felt meaningless overall. I know where they’re going with it though, it’s the sort of onion-style plot we’ve seen in shows like Orphan Black. What I mean by this is, in Season 1 there’s a bad guy, but in the season finale he’s revealed to be small fry in a bigger operation. This will probably repeat until the show gets cancelled and, in the final season, the last super-super-super-evil person is revealed to have been the actual mastermind all along.

Worth a watch?
Sure. It’s funny and it’s a cool (if slightly dystopian) insight into what life could be like fairly soon.

By the way…

  • We’re getting a second season, thank goodness.
  • The show sat in development limbo for about 2 years after it was ordered until filming finally began in Vancouver in May 2019

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