RogerBW's Blog

Incorporated season 1 29 May 2017

2016 cyberpunk drama, 10 episodes. Ben Larson, corporate climber, is secretly a climate-change refugee under a false identity, trying to find and save the woman he grew up with and lost.

This show has a split personality. On one side, the production values are great, with well-realised shiny future tech everywhere and a "Red Zone" outside the corporate enclaves that's a suitably grungy contrast to generic safe suburban living; this in turn does a good job of showing the viewer what this crapsack world is like rather than telling them. (I particularly enjoyed the "give food to a starving American child" advertisement, in Mandarin I think, that opens episode 4.) And the performances, while mixed, are generally good, particularly from Julia Ormond as the top corporate boss and Ben's mother-in-law, Tahmoh Penikett in a small role as the sort of local crime boss who wants to look after his neighbourhood, Stephanie Belding as a domestic servant turned something rather more subtle, and Dennis Haysbert as a security chief with a heart (in a jar on his desk).

On the other side, however, the actual stories are predictable and clichéd. Here's a secret; it'll be discovered, but Ben will do something to prevent that from being a problem. When he finally catches up with his dream-girl (now a corporate sex slave, even if she does get pretty dresses), of course it's not going to be as simple as his fantasy of taking her away from all this. And although we can work out immediately more or less what Ben's history is just from what he's doing now, there are endless flashbacks that fill in the details that we'd mostly already guessed.

The writers managed to add a bit of subtlety, though: while Ben's mission to find Elena is clearly his overriding motivation, other people do gradually notice what a vile person he's become along the way. Eventually, he may even find out for himself.

A B plot, of Ben's refugee friend (and Elena's little brother) trying to break into the Red Zone cage fight scene, is rather less successful because it's all too thoroughly clichéd. The promoter doesn't have the fighter's best interests at heart! Who knew? (Though a juxtaposition of scenes, of what you do when they have a gun to your sweetheart's head, is remarkably effective.)

It's the small plots, like Ben's wife trying to help people she knows who've fallen out of corporate favour and ending up opening a Red Zone clinic, that work here. The main stories are almost irrelevant. That, in the end, was what I really enjoyed about Incorporated, which in spite of a traditional "set up lots of future conflicts" ending was not renewed.


  1. Posted by Ashley R Pollard at 12:26pm on 29 May 2017

    As we watched the link, and then the series promo that YouTube brought up in the sidebar, we were struck by how similar the premise was to Almost Human, in that there's a wall and beyond the wall all is not well with the world. Thematically one could draw a link to Continuum too, but even though that was also cancelled in favour of 12 Monkeys, it at least ran for four seasons.

    As you say, the common link in failed series is the predictable series development that falls back on side-stories to tell the viewer stuff that's meant to be character development but, instead, ends up as boring stuff that gets in the way of the 'story' arc.

    Or, conspiracy theory time, perhaps it's because the corporations don't want viewers watching stories about the future that's unfolding today in case people rebel.

    Nah, that's not it, the corporations just want to make money, and if a show doesn't get enough viewers it's cancelled, from which one might be able to infer that hardcore SF&F viewers are in the low millions.

    The point being SF&F is still very much a niche thing and only survives when it can appeal to a wider audience, and I suspect that stories with depressing messages are not that appealing to viewers, but admit my supposition could be wrong.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 02:29pm on 29 May 2017

    There are definite hazards when a production company tries to make SF appeal to the mass market by giving it a recognisable other genre as well – see my recent review of Frequency for example, which I think was too cop show for the SF fans and too SF for the cop show fans. (I think Almost Human had a similar problem.)

    I don't know about episode budgets, but this show looked as though it had had a lot of money thrown at the production design, and the producers may have been hoping for crossover viewers to get the audiences up.

    Ratings were generally around the half-million mark, which is a bit lower than most current Syfy series (typically about 0.6-0.7); but 12 Monkeys got renewed after lower ratings.

  3. Posted by Chris Bell at 03:23pm on 29 May 2017

    I have been being told on the radio of late that Twin Peaks, which is "the template for television shows since it was first aired", is SF (or what they call SciFi) as well as being whatever else it is. Not having a telly I have no idea whether this is accurate or not, but it has been a comment made more than once in R4 programmes during the past few weeks, no doubt because it is being brought back and they are drumming up interest as much as they can.

  4. Posted by RogerBW at 03:32pm on 29 May 2017

    Twin Peaks is much closer to magical realism, or a low level of explicit supernaturalism combined with lots of weirdness that may end up meaning nothing. (Contrast with the puzzle-solving mode of SF, where the reader/viewer is challenged to work out what is going on in a world; that's something that puts off a lot of people who aren't regular readers/viewers of SF.) So far the new series is getting about half a million viewers on Showtime, which is distinctly lower than most shows on that network manage (1.5 million is typical).

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