TV Review: Aim High

Aim High (not to be confused with the Taiwanese romantic-comedy television series of the same name) is an American action-comedy/spy-drama web series which began airing in October 18th 2011. The first season originally premiered on Facebook (later being released to YouTube), and the second season was made exclusive to the streaming service, Crackle. Full disclosure, I have not been able to watch the second season. It seems to only be viewable in the United States, and I haven’t been able to find it anywhere else.

The series follows Nick Green, played by Jackson Rathbone (noted for his role as Jasper Hale in The Twilight Saga series) who attempts to balance his life as a high school student, with his other secret life as a spy. As I mentioned above, it’s a mixed genre, in broad strokes I’d say it’s actually very similar to the NBC series Chuck which aired from 2007 to 2012, which also featured someone trying to balance their ordinary life with spy stuff, but I would say that Rathbone’s Nick Green is far more like Bryce Larkin than the titular Chuck Bartowski. It has comedy elements, but also some pretty strong fight scenes, and some heavier stuff. For example, I was impressed by the coldness that Rathbone was capable of injecting into his character, he genuinely seemed like he had no real objections to the potentially immoral acts he might have to do as an agent of the United States Government. 

I think the fact that they were able to weave such a complex and riveting narrative in six relatively brief episodes, with various plot points cascading into one another for a thrilling finale was truly impressive. I really enjoyed the balance between the typical high school drama, and the spy stuff, particularly when both start to collide as they obviously would. I don’t think there was a weak member of the cast, it was all really sharp, really well done. A particular favourite was Johnny Pemberton’s character Marcus Anderson, he is Nick’s first, and closest friend at Fairview High School, and like Nick, he has a secret, that he runs the Nightly Intruder blog, which is a paparazzi type site which shares secrets about the students of the school. He’s awkward and a little nerdy, which meshes well with the much cooler character of Nick, and reminds me a lot of the relationship between Chuck and Bryce in Chuck, which as I mentioned above is thematically and cosmetically similar.

I do want to state just before moving on that while there are similarities between both shows, it’s not a carbon copy, they just happen to work in a very similar niche. 

So I first watched Aim High back in early 2012, a few months after it had been out, I cannot for the life of me remember to recommended it to me, but despite the relatively short length of the season, and the episodes, clocking in at 6 full episodes, the longest being just over 12 minutes and the shortest being just under 8 minutes. It immediately caught my attention, because of the short nature of the project, I do not feel like a second was wasted in the production, and much like the creators on Vine did, the people behind Aim High managed to get far more out of such a short filming structure that it genuinely didn’t feel that brief, if that makes any sense. Okay let’s move on to what I thought, on an episode by episode basis. 

Episode 1
I think the first episode sets the tone really well, and we immediately see a demonstration of Nick’s capabilities which make him such a capable operative, and it’s not just his combat skills, but his ingenuity, his acting skills and all the other things that go into being a spy. I will say though the opening fight scene is not only awesome, but surprisingly brutal and violent, it’s not just people getting knocked out, and it’s weirdly refreshing to see action which isn’t overly cleansed. Oh and it’s well lit, and shot with a minimum of cuts, so that you can actually make out what’s going on. I think direct to camera narration can be risky, and I think Deadpool kinda ruined the fourth wall break for me, but having Nick talk directly to what is essentially the camera really worked for this show. And as I said in my overall summary above, this episode both cements his backstory expediently and does so in a fun and interesting visual way. It doesn’t stop to give you time to question anything, the information is just presented and then it moves on. I also touched on his coldness, and Rathbone, does an excellent job of making Nick seem detached, and occasionally thrilled in a sort of school boy way by his job, which includes assassinations, but without going too far and making him seem like a bad person, or just some sociopath. He has a James Bond feel, someone that has an excellent command of violence but isn’t necessarily a violent person. I think perhaps if Rathbone weren’t so likeable Nick himself might not be either, but they obviously cast him really well. Moving away from that, I also really liked the flashy little graphics, they added a lot to the whole episode without being gimmicky or overused like the similar graphics in BBC’s Sherlock. Also I want to touch on the comedy element, Nick himself can be funny, and the cast around them lend themselves to humour, especially his teacher and his best friend, but overall I think it’s the counterpoint between his two lives which has the most comedic potential. I mean in one scene he is killing a guy with a ballpoint pen, and the next he’s being asked to solve algebraic equations at school. I think overall, this episode easily earns a 5/5

Episode 2
I think one of the highlights of this episode, and the series as a whole is the relationship between Nick and Marcus, they have a very genuine relationship, which is kind of ironic considering Nick was so close to killing him the day they met. I think their relationship feels so authentic because they both seem like they like each other, sure they rag on each other a little but that also rings true for most of my friendships, but unlike male friends on TV that isn’t the totality of their relationship. I don’t know why I like Nick’s blasé towards violence and killing, I can’t work out if the detached, almost jovial way he approaches things is a carefully cultivated mask to deal with a deep inner turmoil, or if he views killing someone like playing a video game, and doesn’t fully recognise the scope of the actions he’s committing, either way it’s strangely interesting to watch, especially as the story continued to unfold. The direct to camera parts especially, he’s eating a cheese string, like talking about how he almost killed a classmate with a shoelace, and still as I talked about above, manages to come across likeable rather than terrifying. Although maybe I’d feel different if he had a gun on me. I also like the burgeoning relationship between him and Amanda Miles (played by Aimee Teegarden), because she’s pretty and popular and likes to sing, and she’s dating the Alpha Male Jock, it’s all typical high school material, but she seems nice and genuine and obviously there’s a spark between her and Nick, and I found myself rooting for them. In this episode I especially liked the back and forth with Vice Principal Ockenhocker, it was super funny, especially since it came right off the back of Nick and Marcus talking about Glee. Seriously though, I’m sure I’ll talk about it more as we progress, but this balances humour and a macabre violent undertone really well. I think this episode also totally deserves a 5/5

Episode 3
I didn’t mention it in the last episode, but oh my god, Clancy Brown is in this, personally that man elevates everything he is in, so you should watch it for him alone. He plays a Russian (EX-KGB) spy/assassin. And he really brings something to the role. Also I don’t want to keep mentioning it but the action scenes in this are superb, much like Kingsman, they do an expert job of keeping everything clear, no obfuscation or distraction, it’s brutal and efficient, and just has a real volatility to it that makes it really engaging to watch. To continue the commentary on the excellent balance of violence and comedy, right after Nick’s fight with the Russian, he misses out on his chance with Amanda, and goes home to his parents who are zonked out in front of the TV watching an ‘America’s Next Top Model’ marathon. It’s little elements like that which create a show which feels fresh, and fun and engaging, it’s not all hyper violence, and it’s not just forgettable scripted comedy, instead it has a genuinely unique vibe to it. I mean as much as some stuff is formulaic, in the sense that it’s impossible to create something 100% unique, you can never really tell what’s going to happen. If I had to fault this episode for anything, it’d be that it was a little too short, I mean a lot happened, and as I said in the intro it didn’t feel rushed but I could have done with just a little more, so with that in mind I think this episode gets a 4/5.

Episode 4
As things begin to heat up, and Nick is attracting the wrong type of attention, the episodes begin to run together more, by which I mean, that they pick up directly where the previous one left off, it creates a nice tension, especially considering the shortness of the overall episodes. I really like that Nick seems to want a normal high school life, even if he discovers it doesn’t necessarily suit him as much as he thought it would. Additionally as something of a journalist myself, it’s good that even though Marcus is presented as a side-kick, and he doesn’t seem particularly confident or brave, he still stuck to his journalistic convictions and posted a story even if it would risk not only his relationship with Nick, but potential his life as well. As I’ve touched on, the show excels and balances things, unlike Nick himself, and so this episode actually focuses more on his civilian exploits, and normal life, and it’s fun. I think it’s not perhaps the strongest episode of the season however and so for that reason it gets a 3.5/5

Episode 5
I would like to say that as much as I really like the world presented in Aim High, I think it makes for scintillating viewing, it’s very disturbing, people are so casual about things. The Vice Principal, who also happens to be Nick’s handler, doesn’t even seem particularly concerned that Nick came close to drowning a student in a toilet. Also the two agents, Deuce and Terry just seem laughably absurd, not only do they look like Federal agents, but they also look like total dweebs. I can see why Nick thinks he can disrespect his handler, when all of the adult agents presented are totally lackluster, meanwhile he’s fighting toe to toe with an Ex KGB operative. As I said earlier, I’m a big fan of the relationship between Nick and Amanda, and they have such genuine chemistry, that I’m certain it’s not going to end well. Moving away from their relationship to the episode as a whole, and I just love the build up, and the gradual pay-off of the last couple episodes in this and the finale, how all of Nick’s mistakes, a result of him being overstretched, begin to culminate in what is sure to be an explosive climax. I particularly liked the pay-off of the senior prank, orchestrated by Scotty Winelin (played by Matthew Moy) because not only was it fun, but it showed Nick’s ingenuity, he’s not just a blunt instrument, he’s clever and that scene especially demonstrates that. This episode gets a 4/5.

Episode 6
This kicks right off from the last episode, and keeps the momentum going really well, and man even just in little bits and pieces, I really grew to like Clancy Brown’s character. Also speaking of pay off, this episode even finds a use for the red pointer from episode 2, bringing together seemingly inconsequential elements to create a really interesting story. And again, we get to see Nick’s creativity. Things hammer forward to their conclusion quickly, but with the perfect pacing, there’s no downtime, and you can see that on Nick’s face by the end, he’s tired and sore. The final fight with Boris, it’s another brutal beatdown for both of them, and it ends with Nick attempting a pithy Bondesque come back before dealing the final blow as it were. It was an exceptionally strong ending to the core narrative, and I like that it ended on something of a down note, he even gets detention, even though he technically saved the day. I won’t spoil it even though the statute of limitations for spoilers has to be done by now, but I especially liked the reveal at the end which was not only interesting but closed one last dangling plot thread briefly touched on in an earlier episode. This episode is superb and easily claims another 5/5

So that’s what I thought of Aim High, and if you want to check that out I’ve made a playlist for you on YouTube, which you can check out right here. If anyone knows where I can view the second season, please comment below or get in touch via the contact section of the site, as I have been waiting several years for the chance to watch it.

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