You will be extremely hard-pressed to find a negative review of “The Queen’s Gambit”, a Netflix series about a chess prodigy. So let me do my best.
We are living in a cinema-free pandemic period with limited choices. Important major international releases are frozen, production of new ones restricted seriously. Netflix can sit at a table with the producers of the new 007 and ask for it at a ridiculously low price because it is going stale and they don’t have many options. So let me start another way around. How did I hear about the Queen’s Gambit?
It was on Netflix’s reccomendations. We all know that it is a bad reccomendation engine but what other options do we have? Check it out on IMDB? That is getting worse every day as Amazon hasn’t spent time improving it in ages. First reviews? Always gloating for any old crap. So we take the bait, the Netflix promo on Netflix makes it look better than others, you see the first episode and then, well, the rest, because you are on the binge machine that is Netflix. Worse still, friends and family are also stuck in the same rut so we are not even cross checking. The Emperor has no clothes but, meh, let’s wait till the parade is over before saying it. And when you have invested eight hours on the parade of the mini series you are highly unlikely to admit it was wasted on mediocrity.
I will go further than that. The Queen’s Gambit is downright insulting and dangerous. Take for example the topic of substance abuse. The way it is presented we are left with the impression that it is a) easy to control b) useful for chess playing and c) with no long term consequences. Or maybe let’s see how the series portrays a woman entering a male-dominated realm: a) everything is polite b) nothing particularly nasty happens to her and c) grandmasters lose to her and immediately offer to help train her for her next challenge. This level of lying is insulting to millions of women of that era and even today. Women’s rights organizations should be an uproar.
In fact all the topics touched by this series are done in such a superficial way that it is problematic. Take the scene where she visits a hippy house to enjoy marijuana for example. It is the cleanest and least messy den ever shown on television to represent a hippy household. My daughter didn’t even understand the point of the scene as our heroine hoovered and tidied the place after a one night stand , also confusingly presented. This isn’t political correctness, it isn’t the opposite. It is just terrible movie-making that fails to really touch the audience in any meaningful way.
The Queen’s Gambit is an insult to so many great chess movies, so many true chess stories, to the heroes that battled hate in the Cold War. It isn’t just bad TV, it has a negative impact. People won’t start playing chess because of it, they will start pretending to play chess for a while maybe.
So my movie review would be like this: “If you are really bored with the pandemic in lockdown and have no access to anything else other than Netflix, if you want to mindlessly waste 8 hours of your life without learning anything of consequence, don’t miss it!”
The serious social and technological problem remains: how will we fix recommendation engines? If we introduce a social aspect to them, can we as a society, ensure we hold ourselves up to any level of intelligent critique? Or do we just want to have fun? Well the Queen’s Gambit is not even fun.