Quickfire round: Speed Cubers

I caught this brief documentary on Netflix because it’s always fun to watch what people can do when they get nerdily obsessed with something – like solving a Rubik’s Cube. What I discovered, however, is that Speed Cubers is about something else entirely.

Feliks and Max together at a tournament – both clearly enjoying themselves

You see a documentary about people that solve Rubik’s Cubes really fast. So you watch it, thinking you’ll get some kind of history into the word records of solving them, known as cubing (participants are called cubers). Maybe it’ll explain the different world record categories, the little placemat you need to use to accurately record your time, or why they get an opportunity to inspect the cube before the timer starts running.

You don’t really get so much of that.

Instead, Speed Cubers is the story of an incredible friendship between two of the most successful cubers in history: Australian Feliks Zemdegs and Korean-American Max Park, who has autism.

We hear from the parents of both kids – Feliks became a national hit from a fairly young age and appeared on many an TV show in his native Australia. For Max, it was a different upbringing. Diagnosed at a young age with autism, Max struggles with communication and has the social skills of a person much younger than him. What Max really likes, however, is to solve a Rubik’s cube as fast as he can. When his parents discover this skill of his, it ends up having fantastic developmental benefits for Max. They take him to his first in-person tournament, and he does quite well. But his parents are less bothered about his speed cubing and more excited by the fact that this was the first public event they had taken Max to. And, according to his mother, he displayed traits that day that he had never displayed before, allowing him to develop those social skills that he lacked before.

Max is a really good cuber, and eventually beats most of Feliks’ records. Feliks isn’t salty, though. He in fact befriends Max and is always super supportive of him. They always hang out at the world championships (yes, this is a thing) and Feliks is regularly in touch with Max’s parents. He truly is a role model – not just to Max as a cuber, but to us all as a person.

So, in this 40-minute documentary you do get an insight into the world of speed cubing. But you also get so much more.

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What I thought about: Trying

When is a comedy not a comedy? How relatable should it be, if it doesn’t make us laugh out loud? This cute little show about a couple in their 30s navigating the adoption system is sometimes funny, sometimes heartwarming, but never large doses of either.

It’s all smiles – perhaps too much smiling, considering their underlying issues.

What’s it about?
Jason and Nikki are 30-somethings living in Camden, London. They’ve just failed a round of IVF and have been told the prospects of any subsequent rounds succeeding are poor. Not wanting to miss out on the ‘joys’ of having children, as all their friends are now doing, they apply to adopt. The show follows their progress, as well as touching lightly on the lives of their friends and family. Nikki’s older sister is dating a jobless ‘creative thinker’ type, Jason’s best friend has just had his second child and isn’t taking it well. Meanwhile, Nikki’s Tinder-equipped younger colleague is there to remind her of her lost youth.

What do I like about it?
There are some funny moments in this one. Jason is a natural joker, and often comes out with the best lines in the show. I also really liked the small montages at the end of each episode where we see just a few seconds into the life of some of the more minor characters in the show, such as Jason’s boss Googling for things to do in Geneva after quitting her job, and their social worker cleaning her jacket at the laundrette (I won’t spoil why). Speaking of the social worker, it’s a stand-out performance from Imelda Staunton, nicely capturing the well-intentioned scatty-ness of the character.

What do I not like about it?
Sweet as it is, I have a number of concerns with this show. I’m not sure how relatable it’s going to be to many people. They’re a young couple living in central London – one might dismiss them as stereotypical Millennials. I feel as though the show is going to appeal mostly to young adults with kids, or young adults living in London looking to get kids. For everyone else, I worry they won’t see what the point of the show is at all. It’s certainly not funny enough to stand out as a comedy in its own right.

There are random bits and pieces that I think are supposed to have some kind of meaning, like Jason’s meeting with his ex, but either they are scripted poorly or they just don’t go far enough, because I didn’t get the point. Many of the show’s elements, from the couple’s parents to their day at the approval panel, lack sufficient context or depth, and it affects the flow of the show.

One thing I really disliked is the strange blur/aberration at the top and bottom of the screen in most of the shots. Sometimes there’s also a fish-eye lens effect going on. I suppose it was a creative choice, but to me it was an unnecessary and unsightly distraction.

Worth a watch?
Watch the trailer, and don’t set your hopes any higher than the impression it gives you. Still interested? Then go for it, it’s nice. Otherwise, no need.

By the way…

  • A cameo from The Mash Report‘s Rachel Parris was a surprise.
  • This is the first British show to come out of Apple TV+. More, please!

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