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Netflix reboots 'Cowboy Bebop' starring John Cho


A beloved anime series gets rebooted as a live action show in Netflix's "Cowboy Bebop." NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says the revival, which debuts today, ticks all the right boxes but still loses something in translation.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: As a bona fide sci-fi action nerd, I should like Netflix's "Cowboy Bebop" a lot more than I actually do. The very first episode starts with an epic fight featuring star John Cho in a sleek blue suit, his hair long and flowing, tossing kicks and martial arts moves at a roomful of bad guys over a super cool soundtrack.


DEGGANS: Cho, who you might remember as Hikaru Sulu from J.J. Abrams' "Star Trek" movies, is playing an intergalactic bounty hunter in the year 2071 named Spike Spiegel. He's teamed with an ex-cop named Jet Black who wants to visit a dangerous colony called New Tijuana to nab a criminal worth enough to buy a rare toy for his daughter's birthday. Spike is not convinced.


JOHN CHO: (As Spike Spiegel) Do you know what I got the last time I was on TJ?

MUSTAFA SHAKIR: (As Jet Black) Herpes.

CHO: (As Spike Spiegel) Stabbed. You know what I was doing? Buying a churro.

SHAKIR: (As Jet Black) My daughter's turning 8, and I can't afford to buy her a present because of you. Now, this is my ship. We're going to go after the bounties I say we go after.

DEGGANS: Netflix's series takes the odd couple as bounty hunters vibe and mixes in touches of 1950s-era detective noir, 1970s-era cop dramas, Westerns and a gonzo, grittily absurdist science fiction sensibility leftover from movies like "The Fifth Element." Here, bounty hunters are known as cowboys, and Jet Black, who's a fan of sax legend Charlie Parker, has named his ship the Bebop. To bend the genres even further, these cowboys find out about which criminals are on the run through a TV show announced by two overly enthusiastic hosts dressed like, well, cowboys.


LUCY CURREY: (As Judy) Punch and I've got a good one for you today.

IRA MUNN: (As Punch) That's right, Judy. A mad bomber is terrorizing Venus.

CURREY: (As Judy) He's blown up not one, not two, but three public buildings in the last 10 days.

DEGGANS: This should be heaven for a serious fan of "Doctor Who" and "Guardians Of The Galaxy." But for me, the writing isn't sharp enough to match the concept of this show, which unfolds like a series of special effects-packed action sequences interspersed with banter that sometimes feels empty, like this moment where Jet Black, who has a metal arm, is still grousing about buying his kid a doll.


SHAKIR: (As Jet Black) Kimmie has a birthday coming up and you wouldn't believe how much a kid's doll costs.

CHO: (As Spike Spiegel) Oh, yeah. (Imitating Jet Black) You're overdue for some good luck. Am I right?

SHAKIR: (As Jet Black) That's right, smart guy.

CHO: (As Spike Spiegel) That sounded like you. Admit it. Come on. They can't grow you a new arm, you know.

SHAKIR: (As Jet Black) Sometimes when you lose something, there's just no getting it back.

DEGGANS: Oh, yeah, I forgot about the foreshadowing you can see coming a mile away. The show's deficiencies are a surprise considering the legendary series it's based on.


DEGGANS: The original "Cowboy Bebop" aired on Japanese TV in the late 1990s and is considered by some to be one of the best anime series of all time. It helped introduce American audiences to the form in the early 2000s. In fact, Netflix's version features a lot of the same story points as the original anime series. But even when this show takes big swings, the effort is undercut by a story so predictable, you know what's coming long before the characters do. The result is a series packed with strong visual images and attitude but woefully short on substance - not a great look when you're recreating one of the most admired anime series around. I'm Eric Deggans.


YOKO KANNO AND SEATBELTS: I think it's time we blow this scene. Get everybody and their stuff together. OK. Three, two, one, let's jam. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.