Amazon Studios spent $8.45 billion to buy MGM, which includes the James Bond film franchise. Their first project using that IP is 007: Road To A Million, a reality TV competition.
Given a character with a 70-year history, 27 films, and an epic cinematic sandbox to play in, they’ve produced the world’s most excruciatingly boring game show.
007: Road To A Million is Who Wants to Be A Millionaire? combined with The Amazing Race in a pool of molasses.
To take the fantasy of James Bond and drain it of absolutely everything except spectacular locations and musical cues is a bizarre, brave choice.
The show opens with a pair of brothers walking across the Scottish Highlands, and we watch them take step after step, like it’s in real time. Eventually, they wade into water, pull on a chain, and retrieve a briefcase.
Inside is a screen and a recording of Brian Cox reading a trivia question and its three possible answers. Yes, this is multiple choice.
Answer it correctly, and they win £5,000. Get it wrong and they’re out of the competition.
The brothers spend four long minutes debating the answer. They select a corresponding smoke bomb, and the smoke’s color reveals if they’re right or not.
It’s slick production design, a gorgeous location, and entirely dreary.
It took me several days to finish episode two, and I gave up during episode three. There are eight hour-long episodes; I did jump ahead to the final moments of the final episode, and let’s just say I found it infuriating even though I had not spent six more hours watching.
Besides the brothers, there are eight other teams. Sometime later—maybe in the same episode, maybe not—they’ll appear and do the same thing, maybe.
Their questions are different, and they’re in their own universe, never interacting with the other teams. Locating the briefcase and answering its question gets slightly more challenging as time goes on, but these are challenges for children.
I imagine there are off-camera producers offering guidance and support, such as pointing them in the right direction, providing safety gear for a climb up a crane, or perhaps sharing guidelines and rules for the task.
The production obviously helps the contestants get from location to location, since they just appear in new places: Scotland, Italy, Chile, Jamaica, and Switzerland. All of that production is invisible.
Also invisible: any sense of the thrill and tension of James Bond. There’s no urgency, except when there’s suddenly a clock.
007: Road to a Million is not technically bad, in terms of its cinematography or production design, but the concept and structure is mystifying. Fetch briefcase, answer question, travel to a new location is a structure, but jumping from pair to pair doing this does not create any kind of momentum or narrative arc.
I started to wonder if 007: Road to a Million is actually genre-bending so much that it defied expectations, short-circuiting my brain’s neural pathways.
I like the idea of people wandering across the countryside, given just scant information, and having to do the rest on their own: wade into water, pick up a boa constrictor, weigh a spider.
But why are they doing this? I don’t need a show to have the whirlwind speed of The Amazing Race or the strategy of The Traitors. But I would like it to make sense.
Not having contestants play spy is a good decision. Other competitions have attempted turning their contestants into pseudo spies, and it’s clearly easier with screenwriters.
Barbara Broccoli, who still controls the Bond franchise despite Amazon’s ownership of MGM, told The Guardian, “We make the Bond movies for the big theatrical screen and everything about the Bond movies is for audiences to see around the world on that format, so we’ve not wanted to do television.”
I wonder if we’ll see any 007-branded television after this misfire.
Succession star Brian Cox—who actually thought he signed up for a James Bond film, not a reality show—is wasted as 007: Road to a Million’s pseudo-host. He sits in a fake control room and looks at footage of this game playing out. If Brian Cox had to watch any of this in real time, and there’s no way he did, he’d deserve all £9 million for himself.
He offers some light snark—”We?! That’s generous” he says after one half of a pair does something dangerous, and the other gives both credit—but it’s neither Bond villainy nor Brian Cox. His McDonald’s commercial line readings have more verve.
Cox has a notebook in which he keeps track of winnings—which are pre-printed in the notebook, so he just writes “banked” next to them. It’s the Who Wants to be a Millionaire prize ladder; Cox also takes long, pregnant pauses before revealing whether an answer is correct or not, just as Regis Philbin did.
007: Road to a Million executive producer David Glover told Reuters, “The idea is really to put ordinary people into a James Bond adventure and we didn’t quite know how that would work out.”
It didn’t. Perhaps viewing a James Bond picture or two might have helped, to see how James Bond’s adventures have purpose, urgency, and an actual story.
007: Road To A Million
James Bond has nothing to do with this sedate misfire of a competition. D-
What works for me:
- Allowing contestants to figure their way through a challenge
- Pretty locations
- Not having them pretend to be James Bond
What could be better:
- Any connection to James Bond other than the title and music
- A narrative arc
- Making this make sense