There’s a fine line between inspiration and imitation but Syfy’s new series has plenty of untapped ideas to stand on its own.
The Show: Incorporated
The Network: Syfy
The Genre: Thriller, Science Fiction
The Challenge: Give a show four episodes with which to draw you in, impress you, challenge you, make you feel something deeply. Four episodes for the chance to find out if you care what happens to the characters you’re watching enough to become invested in the story. If after all that, it does none of those things for you? Then no biggie. You gave it a good shot and you can move on. But if you love it, you’ll be glad you stuck around.
The Premise: Set in a near-future where corporations have unlimited power, “Incorporated” centers on Ben Larson (Sean Teale), a young executive who conceals his true identity to survive as a company man. Married to Laura (Allison Miller), Ben has adopted a new persona befitting life in the Green Zone where he infiltrates the corporation lead by his mother-in-law (Julia Ormond). In an attempt to free his former lover, Elena (Denyse Tontz), Ben faces off against the head of security (Dennis Haysbert) and several power-hungry colleagues. Forced to compromise his position, the only person he can trust with his true identity is Elena’s brother, Theo (Eddie Ramos). The show is produced by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, backed by showrunner Ted Humphrey, who recently came off of The Good Wife.
#1: Incorporated is no Mr. Robot. (and that’s a good thing)
Syfy has been trying very hard to make their new show look like a Mr. Robot clone. Their advertisements exude an air similar to those of the USA-produced techno-thriller and their slogan (“A man attempts to thwart a giant corporation with seemingly unlimited power”) is so vague it might as well describe another show. In an attempt to draw in an audience captivated by Elliot Alderson, Syfy deceives potential viewers by failing to showcase the good things that make Incorporated unique.
Now that we’ve established what Incorporated is not, let’s look ahead and figure out what it is – and could be. Incorporated is a show that struggled to find its footing but prevailed nonetheless. Most screenwriters canonize the words “show, don’t tell” but the first episode seems to completely abandon that principle. The show opens with a twenty-five-second written explanation, stating the premise of the show. This is an especially bitter pill to swallow when you know that after forty more minutes, you still have no idea of what is going on – and you really don’t care. The show redeemed itself with a strong second episode, leading with a hook and providing more clarity as to what the overarching story will be. It went uphill from there.
#2: The weird, anachronistic tech won’t hurt your brain forever.
At times, the pilot was so involved with setting up a futuristic world that it forgot to tell a coherent story. Every so often, tough, the production value feels cheap and archaic with the vehicles being the pinnacle of second-rate set design. For some reason, the producers believed that the mere projection of data on walls and mirrors made for an innovative take on a subject that has been around for ages. Reminiscent of the tech first displayed in Gattaca and Minority Report, Incorporated’s interpretation of ‘the future’ would almost singlehandedly have kept me from tuning in for the second episode. A classic case of trying too hard.
Luckily for the viewer, the show’s pompous infatuation with its representation of the year 2074 is not a permanent obstacle. As soon as the second episode kicks in, we are presented with a much more subdued world. The corny tech is still there, but it is no longer a driving force when the show’s story finally prevails. For the first time, several smaller – and quirky – scientific advancements are introduced, making up for the show’s previous lack of inspiration. Like what, you ask? Let me just tell you that a non-disclose agreement is no longer a piece of paper…
#3: When you can’t figure out if the actor is good at their job, give them the benefit of the doubt.
Over the course of the pilot, the actors seemed uncomfortable as they struggled to make sense of the story and, at times, each other. Sean Teale, the show’s leading man, felt burdened and standoffish while his on-screen wife Allison Miller tried – but awkwardly failed – to make up for the imbalance. The superficial relationships that were set up in the first episode failed to create relatable characters but instead delivered a world inhabited by people devoid of free will acting like robots. It wasn’t until the last few minutes that the show introduced Eddie Ramos, a civilian living in the Red Zone (the zone devoid of luxury and tech) and we got a glimpse of its potential.
No one gets to senior management without the company learning everything about them.
After suffering through the pilot, it became clear that the actors’ performances were not just lacking because of a dearth of talent. The inauthentic and wooden portrayals actually helped convey the superficial reality of the Green Zone in which the characters now live. I’m confident the cast knows what it’s doing because of their ability to essentially play two roles. From the second episode onwards, the show makes use of flashbacks in order to delve into some backstory – offering a world unrestrained by rules. The buttoned-up characters we meet in the present are contrasted by their more adventurous and charismatic counterparts from the past. This disparity in behavior signaled an interesting journey up ahead while also providing some much-needed context.
#4: The episodes are character-centric.
Much like the ABC-produced mystery LOST, the individual episodes focus on showcasing different characters and their peculiarities. The second episode focuses on Theo (Eddie Ramos) and in a blink-and-you-miss-it moment reveals his character to be gay. The character’s sexual orientation is never explicitly mentioned or exploited, suggesting that in the year 2074 everyone is finally a-okay with this non-issue.
Subsequent episodes focus on Elizabeth (Julia Ormond), who proves that evil stepmothers still exist in the future and Elena (Denyse Tontz), who is undoubtedly the shows catalyst. If the trend of character-centric episodes continues, we will be treated to backstory for some of the more mysterious characters. The corporation’s head of security (Dennis Haysbert) had been a relatively low-key figure but something tells me that his visibility will increase once his employees start bending the rules.
Final Verdict: tolerate the pilot, enjoy the future episodes.
The pilot was a turn-off for many reasons: the story failed to deliver, the tech was outdated and it also failed to properly exhibit the skills of the main actors. Luckily, the show quickly recovered and redeemed itself by in subsequent episodes. While the first hour of Incorporated sold itself short, it was not a great representation of the true nature of the show. The characters do grow on you, the technology does become less cheesy and the story does start to make more sense. Once the show starts to feel like an ensemble rather than a display of vanity, the individual stories and interpersonal relationships become more interesting.
Final Verdict: DVR the show and binge-watch as soon as all of the episodes have been released.The plot gets complicated at times, so it’s best to enjoy Incorporated in one go. If you hate the pilot, give the second episode a chance nonetheless. You’ll know if the show is for you but if you’re still on the fence, I can tell you that it only gets better as the season progresses. A classic case of “don’t judge a book by its cover”!
Incorporated airs Wednesdays starting November 30 on Syfy.
“Incorporated” Final Verdict: 4 Episode Challenge