The new Syfy series Incorporated—from executive producers Ben Affleck and Matt Damon—could easily be subtitled Everything I Needed to Know About Capitalism I Learned From Occupy Wall Street. If the Bernie Sanders campaign was a weekly hour-long science fiction drama, it would be Incorporated.
The show presents a future dystopia where corporations are in control of most of the planet. If you look past the preaching, you’ll see a show that promises an intriguing story, an attractive cast, and high production values. But the preaching is difficult to ignore. At times, the writers’ obvious desire that this show be seen as a serious cautionary tale will make you roll your eyes, groan, or laugh out loud. It will probably be a big hit with the people currently demanding an end to the Electoral College.
As the pilot episode opens, quietly sinister music plays while the transcript of an Al Gore TED Talk scrolls by and explains how everything in the future sucks because of capitalism.
The year is 2074.
Climate change has ravaged the planet, causing widespread famine and bankrupting governments.
In their place, multinational corporations have risen in power and now control 90% of the globe.
These corporations fight a covert war for market share and dwindling natural resources.
Those who work for them live protected behind the walls of Green Zones.
Those who don’t are left to fend for themselves in the slums of the Red Zones.
The story follows a young executive named Ben Larson who is conniving his way up the corporate ladder of the SPIGA Biotech corporation. Ben (not his real name) is from the Red Zone and has ulterior motives for trying to get promoted to “the 40th floor.” The funny thing is that it’s not clear what any of these corporate drones actually do. It’s almost as if the people writing the show don’t have any idea what actually goes on in a real business (but they know damn well it’s bad for the environment, women, and minorities).
SPIGA Biotech demands nothing less than absolute loyalty from employees who live under the threat of whatever horrific fate awaits “rats” in the mysterious “quiet room” at the hands of the Allstate Insurance guy (24‘s Dennis Haysbert). I won’t reveal any more of the actual plot. I don’t want to spoil it. As a story it has potential if they can refrain from turning the show into a Greenpeace infomercial.
The left wing cliches come at you frequently enough that we should probably invent a drinking game. They didn’t seem to make it into the trailer for some reason though.
The show throws affirmations to global warming cultists like fish to trained seals. A television news report warns of a category 5 hurricane making landfall in Rhode Island. A terrorist attack in Jakarta is blamed on Micronesian terrorists angry because their homes have disappeared due to rising sea levels. The sommelier at an exclusive restaurant recommends a fine Norwegian champagne. Elsewhere an executive’s wife raves about the beautiful beach resorts outside Reykjavik. Do you get it? The North Atlantic is the new Caribbean! Subtle it’s not. (Strangely, the climate wherever this story takes place seems perfectly lovely.)
For all the talk of food shortages, nobody in either the Green or Red Zones looks particularly undernourished, though one of the SPIGA employees gets busted for having “food porn” on his computer. The corporate employees are presented living lives of luxury but somehow we’re supposed to believe they are hungry enough to have fetishized eating. The corporate suits like to head outside the walls into the Red Zone for drugs and debauchery, like American frat boys road tripping to Tijuana. The Red Zone folks seem to be having a pretty good time watching cage fights at their rave clubs. Nobody told them that they’re starving, I guess.
We learn that in this future the federal government still exists and is still fighting (albeit futilely) for the little guy against evil corporate greed. A U.S. Senator pleads with an executive to call off SPIGA’s troops who are burning farms growing SPIGA engineered GMOs. The farmers hadn’t paid royalties, so SPIGA had to protect its intellectual property. It’s just business.
The show suffers under the juvenile notion that one can only gain wealth by making others poor. The size of the pie does not change in the Incorporated universe. Margaret Thatcher said that the problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money. Apparently Affleck, Damon, and company think the opposite is true for corporatism. Their show is based on the belief that corporations will always remain flush as long as enough people are kept in poverty. That may be true of government social programs but businesses can’t exist without someone who can afford their products.
As I stated above, the story itself has potential to be good. The problem is that it is weighed down with a back story that looks like it was outsourced to the staff at Vox.com. Given some of Matt Damon’s recent work, this isn’t surprising. Elysium had the same sort of simplistic binary society of haves and have nots. Then there was his anti-fracking propaganda flop Promised Land. On the bright side, I can’t find any relationship between Incorporated and Ben Affleck ruining Batman.
Incorporated premiers on Syfy on November 30 at 10:00 pm EST. Episode 1 is available on demand on YouTube or at Syfy.com.
I’ll give the show a few more episodes to convince me it’s not truly terrible. Maybe they got the propaganda out of their system in episode 1. If not, then I may give some more thought to that drinking game.