Incorporated premieres this week, on Wednesday November 30th. This is our spoiler-free review of the first few episodes.
Any show executive produced by politically bent Matt Damon and Ben Affleck and set in a not too distant dystopian future where the world has been ravaged by climate change and is now run by powerful corporations is going to be full of social commentary. What’s frustrating about this is that Syfy‘s newest series, Incorporated, touches upon those ideas not with a deft and thoughtful hand, but by smacking them on the nose with a big red hammer.
The basic premise is that “Ben,” played by Sean Teale, has infiltrated one of the world’s governing conglomerates Spiga Biotech, not just through his position in management, but by also marrying the daughter (Laura played Allison Miller) of its ruthless and calculating CEO (Julia Ormond). They live comfortable lives in one of the company’s Green Zones, which are highly guarded and protected from the destitute lives of most people who reside in what are known as the Red Zones.
If it sounds a lot like Neill Blomkamp’s Elysium (which starred Damon) that’s because Incorporated borrows so much from that movie that amazing. The film’s fancy outer space rich enclave is relocated back down on Earth. Life-saving medical treatment is available, but kept from the world’s poorest. The line between the very few haves and the many have-nots is quite literal here.
That doesn’t have to be a problem though, nor its remiscence of other films like Dredd, Interstellar, or Blompkamp’s District 9. However, instead of exploring these same concepts with nuance or depth, which should be easier with a television show instead of two hours on the big screen, all of the potentials evils of both unchecked corporate power and the inaction of humans are direct and obvious: New York City is underwater, Anchorage is now beautiful beach front property, eating a single tomato is like eating a fancy steak, how the “markets” will respond is of great importance. All of these types of scenes or lines feel forced, like they need us to be quickly immersed in this world instead of just letting us get lost in it.
Incorporated finds more success when we first get to leave the sterile safety of the Green Zone and Ben’s office building and travel to the seedy underground of the Red Zone. The series lets us see this part of the world for ourselves free of a lecture, upping the strength of its allegory. It’s okay if we don’t know right away just how bad things are outside the ominous corporate offices of Sigda; we know we’ll get there eventually. That’s how sci-fi works.
On the other hand, the show’s fast pace and many moving parts provide a constant drive forward, all while conveying a sense of claustrophobia from an all-seeing state and the accompanying dangers of living in it. The cast, too, is strong, and with enough connections between the characters to keep storylines fresh and interesting. Ben seemingly loves his wife Laura, who herself has been born into a life of luxury, but who seems to be the show’s moral center as she struggles with the unfair reality of the world.
Ben is also risking everything he has in an effort to find and save a former love by getting a spotlight shining promotion. So much so that he does something horrible in the name of getting that job, no matter how many innocent lives it ruins. It’s the show’s most interesting development and one that makes Ben a far more complex leading protagonist. The girl he is trying to rescue just so happens to have a brother, the pugilistic Theo played by Eddie Ramos, who is one of the only people who (for now) knows Ben’s true identity. We get to see life in the Red Zone through his eyes, and Ramos plays him with the type of intensity you would imagine one would need to survive in that world.
Dennis Haysbert rounds out the main cast as Julian, the high-level head of security/henchman/torturer at Spiga. While I will never complain about getting more Haysbert in my life, he does feel underutilized thus far. I can see why he was cast, as Julian requires a strong presence and intimidation factor just by being in the room, but I hope to see Haysbert get a chance to do a lot more.
There is a lot for Incorporated to build on here-compelling characters, in both the Green and Red Zones and in-between, trying to survive a dangerous and broken world, at a time when real life issues like climate change and corporate power are on the minds of many Americans. This show should and could have a lot of smart, insightful things to say about all of it, all while crafting interesting stories about characters we can care about and root for.
They just don’t need to say it so loudly.
What are you looking forward to with Incorporated? Tell us in the comments section below.