'Cowboy Bebop' review: A retread in more ways than one

John Cho stars in so-so Netflix series, an update on the popular anime title.

Tom Long
Special to The Detroit News

John Cho deserves a better show.

Not that “Cowboy Bebop” is awful. It isn’t. It’s just typical. A sci-fi western series with the now standard balance of “Blade Runner” neon decadence and “Star Wars” ramshackle dustiness, it has so many familiar traits — a dyed blond villain, a shadowy conspiracy, a beauty from the past, the requisite rickety spaceship — that it feels like you’ve seen it before.

John Cho in "Cowboy Bebop."

And perhaps you have, since it’s a live-action remake of an influential anime series. And certainly people take comfort in the familiar. But Cho — best known for “Star Trek” and the "Harold & Kumar" movies — is such a fascinating blend of cool, charm and action chops he should be in the running for the next James Bond, not stuck in a static Netflix series.

But here he is, playing a futuristic bounty hunter who apparently only has one suit to his name (on the other hand, it’s a cool suit). Meet Spike Spiegel, partnered with a disgraced ex-cop, Jet Black (Mustafa Shakir). They banter and bark at one another and grouse in the way of all buddy shows while traveling the universe and bagging bad guys. 

Well, some bad guys — most of their schemes go wrong and they’re always broke. Oh, those wacky bounty hunters.

All of which might be OK but the show is seriously weighed down by Spike’s backstory. He used to be an assassin working for a crime syndicate called, imaginatively, the Syndicate. His former co-worker, named (no kidding) Vicious (Alex Hassell) wants to kill him. Oh, and Vicious (again, seriously?) is shacked up with Spike’s great long lost love, Julia (Elena Satine). That’s way too much baggage.

It also doesn’t help that the dialogue is uneven and stilted at times. Smooth talking characters need to talk smoothly.

The duo join forces with another bounty hunter, the amnesiac Faye Valentine (a bright Daniella Pineda), which adds some bounce to the proceedings, but the actors can only do so much. We’ve seen this spaceship before.

Tom Long is a longtime contributor to The Detroit News. 

'Cowboy Bebop'