Review: Jett 1×1 (US: Cinemax)

Chapter one of an Elmore Leonard novel


In the US: Fridays, 10pm, Cinemax
In the UK: Not yet acquired

The writing genre known as ‘Elmore Leonard’ is very hard to emulate. Leonard was a blackly comedic but gritty crime writer, but if you get try to do Elmore Leonard and are too comedic, you end up doing ‘Quentin Tarantino’ and if you get too gritty, you end up doing… everyone else.

Small wonder then that even projects based on Leonard’s own work have failed to capture his style, by moving a gnat’s wing in either direction. Indeed, both Get Shorty and Get Shorty failed to embody the essence of Get Shorty.

Interestingly, though, Jett is possibly the closest we’ve seen to a true small screen Elmore Leonard production, despite not being based on any of Leonard’s work.

Carla Gugino in Jett
Carla Gugino in Jett

Jett sexy

Carla Gugino (Watchmen, Roadies, Wayward Pines, The Haunting of Hill House) plays Daisy “Jett” Kowalski, a world-class thief recently released from prison who has every intent on staying out of prison.

Unfortunately, former boss/pal Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad, Revolution) has a big job that only she can do and he’s willing to pay her $500,000 to do it. All she’s got to do is go to Cuba with no back-up and switch for a duplicate a ring currently residing in a safe in Eastern European criminal Greg Bryk (Bitten)’s house.

Needless to say, not everything goes to plan. However, everyone has their own plan, including Esposito, Bryk and Gugino, and no one’s quite what they seem, so exactly whose plan does go to plan and whose doesn’t is debatable…

Jett black

Most of the first episode of Jett involves establishing characters, their relationships and the show’s eventual set-up. However, since even discussing who’s a character, what their relationships are and what the show’s eventual set-up will be is such a spoiler-laden proposition, I can’t really talk about any of that.

What I can do is talk about how it does all of that. Jett winds stylish between Elmore Leonard and Tarantino with a certain assuredness. The characters are all strangely literate and measured in their conversational style. Gangsters are sensitive, while Gugino’s “natural-born criminal” is more often emotionless – at least seems to be, but there’s always a lot more going on beneath the surface.

Being a Cinemax show, there’s a certain degree of sex and nudity to be expected, but the show is far more interested in the emotions behind the sex and nudity. There’s also a fair degree of humour, some of it involving a jiu jitsu instructor that feels very much like a certain scene in Pulp Fiction.

Indeed, while the direction and its frequent use of the split-screen owes far more to the 70s thriller and the glamour of its (apparent) Cuban location to the 50s, there is also a frequent crunchiness and humour to the dialogue that comes via Tarantino. And there’s an obvious debt being paid along the way to Tarantino’s Foxy Brown with its obvious debt to Elmore Leonard.

Giancarlo Esposito and Carla Gugino in Jett
Giancarlo Esposito and Carla Gugino in Jett

Jett shorty

However, even if I could tell you what the show’s set-up was without spoiling it for you, I couldn’t. Because by the end of the episode, it’s not exactly clear what the show’s set-up is. There’s a definite outcome to events, but what happens next is very open-ended.

So open-ended, in fact, that I couldn’t even tell you without looking very closely at who’s a ‘regular’ and who’s ‘recurring’ on the cast list as to who’ll even be in future episodes. Even that doesn’t help because at least one of the characters in those two lists is dead at the end of the episode, and one character doesn’t even appear in the first episode.

Needless to say, though, I expect Foxy Jett will be doing more top class stealing wearing slinky dresses in later episodes.

All of which makes Jett feel even more like a Leonard novel, albeit only chapter one so far. Will the rest of it be worth watching/reading? I actually couldn’t say. There are good performances throughout. There’s good writing and good direction in (apparently) exotic locales. All of which, if it continues, would be worth sticking around for. But I’ve not been hooked. It’s all too open-ended at the moment.

Nevertheless, I’m intrigued enough to tune in for episode two, just to see who else turns up.


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.

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