Orphaned at the tender age of nine, prodigious introvert Beth Harmon discovers and masters the game of chess in 1960s USA. But child stardom comes at a price. -IMDB
I love a good miniseries. They’re long enough to get you really invested and get really detailed, but there’s no threat of it dragging on and on and ending way later than it should have, like a TV show might. My husband and I watched this in about a week. While it wasn’t one of my top favorite shows of all time, it was still worth the watch.
The first few episodes, especially, were really nice. I am a huge sucker for coming of age stories, so being able to see Beth learn chess and use it as a source of comfort was a great storyline. Mr. Shaibel, the janitor who taught her how to play, was her first real friend after the loss of her parents and gave her stability where she didn’t have any. I loved seeing Mr. Shaibel go to bat for Beth as he realized how good she was at chess. Even in fiction, it’s so wonderful to see opportunities given to a child who otherwise would have none.
I appreciated the relationship between Beth and her mother, as well. In a movie, it would have been easy to make the mother more of a flat character. But the miniseries format gave us time to really explore how Beth and her mother were both so flawed, but were still able to genuinely love and support one another. Their relationship captured a lot of the nuance there is in the human experience, and that story was told in a way that allowed the viewer to make their own judgments. Their relationship was my favorite part of the whole series, I think.
Maybe it’s for that reason the show dragged a bit for me at the end. There is obviously a lot of chess in this show, and though is it exciting, there are only so many ways you can do a chess tournament montage without it getting repetitive. There was also the subplot about Beth’s birth mother, which seemed to me to be a little shoehorned in. This show was based on a book, so maybe that backstory was explored more in print, but here it felt a bit like an afterthought. Jolene, Beth’s friend from the orphanage, also felt like an afterthought to me. She was the flattest character in the show, and I wish she had been re-involved in the plot a little sooner.
All in all, though, I thoroughly enjoyed this. It’s one of those shows where you have to know how it ends, and the sets and visuals are just beautiful. If you need approximately seven hours of entertainment this weekend, this is a good choice.