Kaleidoscope just became Netflix’s new No. 1 show — with a big twist on how to watch

Giancarlo Esposito as Leo Pap in Kaleidoscope
(Image credit: Netflix)

There's a new top show on Netflix, as the new series Kaleidoscope's just toppled resurgent favorite Wednesday. But while the latter returned to the top of the charts after debuting in November, Kaleidoscope is a brand-new series that just debuted on Sunday (January 1). And Kaleidoscope’s been an instant hit, reaching #1 on the Netflix Shows in the U.S. list the next day (Monday, Jan 2.) — and it’s still there today.

Kaleidoscope — a heist series — bears a peculiar and unique format: as it has no real "order" for how you should watch it. Yes, Netflix isn't listing the series with episode numbers, but instead with names of colors. So you'll first see an episode called "Black," which is the first episode you're supposed to watch. 

Then, there's Blue, Green, Orange, Pink, Red, Violet and Yellow in the middle — and most users shouldn't see those episodes in the same order, as Netflix shuffles the episodes for every user. Lastly, there's the finale, "White."

But none of this explains the biggest questions surrounding Kaleidoscope. Should you watch it? And how should you watch it? So let's break both of these queries down right now. We're not sure if it's one of the best shows on Netflix, but it sure is buzzy.

What is Netflix's Kaleidoscope?

Netflix's latest big heist series is actually an epic, in that its story crosses 25 years for the crew that looks to steal $70 billion USD in bonds. How you follow the gang through those two and a half decades, is up to you.

The crew is led by Leo (Giancarlo Esposito), whose made his career in crime. He's aided by Ava (Paz Vega) a dual-specialist, with expertise in the worlds of law and weapons, a smuggler named Stan (Peter Mark Kendall), an explosives expert named Judy (Rosaline Elbay) and safe-cracker Bob (Jai Courtney), who just so happens to be Judy's husband.

Also factoring into the Kaleidoscope are Leo's former partner Rufus (Roger Salas), who runs the SLS security firm. Hannah (Tati Gabrielle), Leo's daughter, also works at SLS, where she heads up digital security.

Since Kaleidoscope has a plot heavy on twists and turns, we'll keep synopsis to a minimum. Except to note that a historically-memorable storm may throw a wrench in the plans.

Kaleidoscope episodes in chronological order — and other ways to watch

There are only supposed to be two solid truths about how you watch Kaleidoscope. "Black" is the premiere, and "White" is the finale.

Kaleidoscope's chronological order — Black, Violet, Green, Yellow, Orange, Blue, Red, Pink and then White — is interesting, because you're going to keep Black and White in their premiere and finale positions, even though two episodes happen "after" the heist. 

LaToya Ferguson of The Wrap (opens in new tab) notes that critics were given Kaleidoscope in the below order: Black, Yellow, Green, Blue, Violet, Orange, Red, Pink and (of course) White.

Kaleidoscope reviews: What the critics say

(L to R) Paz Vega as Ava Mercer, Giancarlo Esposito as Leo Pap in episode “White” of Kaleidoscope.

(Image credit: Netflix)

This looks bad. Currently, Kaleidoscope currently only holds a 20% score on the Rotten Tomatoes (opens in new tab) review aggregator site. This score is only generated from 6 reviews, though, which may be due in part to its January 1 release date (we're not sure when screeners became available, but late-December availability would not help anyone).

That said, its positive review does come from a critic I hold in high esteem. Over at The Wrap (opens in new tab), LaToya Ferguson wrote that "Esposito and Sewell anchor the series with their strength on opposite sides of the chessboard, and Courtney’s Bob is so blisteringly ignorant and toxic that it’s hard to look away."

She also noted: "These eight episodes, above all else, make a strong argument for Kaleidoscope to continue to exist as an anthology series, following a different heist or big caper that can be even better highlighted through this particular presentation strategy."

(L to R) Giancarlo Esposito as Leo Pap, Tati Gabrielle as Hannah Kim in Kaleidoscope

(Image credit: Netflix)

For The Hollywood Reporter (opens in new tab), Angie Han writes that Kaleidoscope "suffers from a lack of commitment to the bit," because "the installments actually lend themselves to a fairly straightforward linear progression." Most damningly, she wrote "Kaleidoscope feels like a slick but forgettable two-hour movie puffed up into a jumbled six-hour saga," and that "scattering [the characters'] chronology only makes it more difficult to track these journeys, thus blunting their impact."

Erin Brady at Slashfilm (opens in new tab) declares that Kaleidoscope "feels too safe for its risky and intriguing structural hook, making it feel like just another forgettable Netflix show." She also notes that "there really aren't any characters besides Leo and Hannah that you're going to care enough about to want to see them succeed. The other accomplices in the heist feel too one-dimensional, even if the actors in these roles try to elevate the material given to them."

Should you stream or skip Netflix's Kaleidoscope?

Kaleidoscope, in a macro sense, has two big things going for it. First and foremost is the fact that it stars Giancarlo Esposito. Fresh out of Better Call Saul's final season, the beloved actor is always a reason to watch.

Secondly, Kaleidoscope's gimmick is probably enough to encourage folks to try and see if they can watch it in a "wrong" way. 

Still, it sounds like Kaleidoscope has some of the standard Netflix struggles — as it seems to be over-extended by a few episodes. That said, since some characters are a bit underwritten (much like with The Witcher: Blood Origin), it seems like Kaleidoscope could have also used a balancing in that order as well. 

Henry T. Casey
Managing Editor (Entertainment, Streaming)

Henry is a managing editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.