007: Journey to One Million – In Bond’s extremely enjoyable reality show, Brian Cox delivers a deliciously evil performance as the villain.
Oh no, I have come across a clever chrome suitcase with three beeping kill-switch buttons inside, accompanied by a device emitting a disembodied voice. This is not what I wanted. “Greetings, Watcher,” the device coos. “I see you have been keeping busy.” I am not quite sure what that means, device. “I have a small task for you… try to watch a whole TV preview about a new Bond-inspired challenge show on Prime Video without falling into cliches.” I believe it may be too late for that. Yes, the suitcase has begun beeping at a rapid pace. I should probably hurry.
Amazon has done a new series where, for some reason, Brian Cox is torturing people who like James Bond. It’s called 007: Road to a Million (Prime Video, from 10 November) and, on paper, it makes absolutely no sense at all. Various teams of two (two brothers, or a married couple, or friends who work in a noble profession such as nursing) are thrown into lush spy-themed challenges – climb a mountain and retrieve a suitcase, say, or go into the jungle and retrieve a suitcase, or go to Italy and retrieve a suitcase. When they retrieve the suitcase they have to answer a fairly tricky trivia question, and if they do they win a staggered cash prize up to the fabled £1m.
Brian Cox, wearing a cravat, is observing the spectacle from an undisclosed underground complex, while quietly laughing to himself. There are numerous aerial shots of stunning landscapes, as well as scenes featuring planes, boats, and vintage cars. The concept is quite bizarre, resembling a mashup of game shows like Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, survival challenges like SAS: Who Dares Wins, and comical competitions like Taskmaster and The Crystal Maze. The whole production is overseen by the dramatic flair of Succession and accompanied by the iconic music of James Bond. It’s hard to imagine that the person who came up with this idea was not subjected to some form of torture before blurting it out to Mads Mikkelsen. “Please stop hitting me with a rope! Let’s take ordinary people and make them climb a giant crane! And for some reason, Brian Cox will be there!”
Nevertheless, this is incredibly enjoyable. We all have a fondness for Bond, don’t we? Even if you’re not a die-hard Bond fan – collecting magazines to assemble a model of his Jaguar, purchasing watches solely because Bond has worn them, and similar behaviors – even if you don’t have that level of love for Bond, we all secretly, quietly, truly admire him. In this instance, Bond is the underlying theme, but it’s not obvious – you may recognize certain settings from Bond films, but once our daring participants arrive, there’s no “A-ha, you may recall this scene from the climax of Skyfall”; it stands entirely on its own, visually stunning and never dull.
In addition to avoiding excessive discussion about Bond, the show successfully avoids the common reality competition tactic of trying to elicit sympathy for contestants by sharing their personal struggles. While I am aware that two of the participants come from divorced families and some may be married, I am not bombarded with attempts to create an emotional bond with them, unlike in a particularly masculine episode of First Dates. Instead, the show briefly recaps a challenge they completed and provides a general background before moving on to the next segment where two individuals are seen sprinting through an Italian piazza. Bond!
Brian Cox is enjoying himself immensely, and his presence ties everything together. Without him, the show would just be a Bond-themed version of Race Across the World with a slightly oversized prize. But with him, it becomes deliciously villainous and entertaining. He clearly relishes asking trivia questions from a suitcase to two cheerful brothers from Croydon, or shutting off a TV screen when a team is eliminated, or chuckling as someone struggles to swim to a buoy. It’s all so cool. Aren’t gadgets and boats cool? Maybe I should rewatch Casino Royale. And perhaps I should start collecting cufflinks and dressing in tuxedos. Wait, what if I search for James Bond’s watch? Oh wow, that is incredible. I might be turning into a Bond fan. Oh well, this will definitely make me less interesting at parties.