'Incorporated' Imagines Dystopian Future Where Corporations Run The World

Nov 30, 2016
Originally published on December 1, 2016 10:13 pm
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The nightmare of unchecked corporate power has long provided inspiration to writers and filmmakers from Kurt Vonnegut to Ridley Scott, who made "Alien." "Incorporated," a new TV show on cable's Syfy channel, joins that tradition. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says the show definitely taps into fears about income inequality, global warming and corporate supremacy.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: The year is 2074, and TV reports are filled with news like this.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "INCORPORATED")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: In other news, the Canadian prime minister today announced the construction of a new high-security fence after 2073 became a record year for illegal immigration. It is estimated that already 12 million U.S. citizens live in Canadian territory illegally.

DEGGANS: At a time when Donald Trump has just been elected president, it takes some guts to air a TV series where Canadians are building a wall to keep illegal American immigrants out. But that's the cheeky pleasure taken by producers of "Incorporated," which imagines a future where global warming has either flooded America's cities or turned them into deserts. The timing could not be more perfect for a show like this.

Corporations run everything, more powerful than governments. America's middle class is long gone. Executives live in lush green zones - gated communities on steroids with self-driving cars and armed security. Everyone else suffers in slum-like red zones. If they're lucky, they get to work as servants for the executives.

Julia Ormond plays the ruthless head of U.S. operations for a firm called Spiga. She often takes to addressing employees with a huge, "1984"-like video screen to remind them of their obligations.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "INCORPORATED")

JULIA ORMOND: Spiga Biotech is a generous mother. It will feed you, dress you, protect you. In exchange, it only asks for hard work and loyalty.

DEGGANS: Right, that's not too ominous. The plot centers on Ben Larsen, an up-and-coming executive with a secret. He's a hacker prodigy who grew up in the red zones. He's used technology to manufacture a new identity for himself as a 1-percenter, which explains his hesitation when his wife who knows nothing about his real past delivers this news over dinner.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "INCORPORATED")

ALLISON MILLER: (As Laura Larson) The permit - it came through.

SEAN TEALE: (As Ben Larson) The permit?

MILLER: (As Laura Larson) From Spiga. I'm going to make an appointment with our OBGYN who's going to remove the IUD. Pawn the goalie.

DEGGANS: Yup, Spiga even tells employees when they can have children, and Larson worries his past will be revealed through his medical history. The plot here is a conventional one. Larsen takes the risk of exposing himself trying to rescue a long lost love - not his wife - who works in one of the corporation's executive brothels. But what really makes the show resonate is the world it creates.

In our divided times, it's a nightmare shared by voters of all stripes - a future where the middle class is erased. Corporations run the world with Orwellian efficiency, and most Americans live in the kind of poverty seen in the developing world. The special effects are impressive and lend texture. Desks are also touch-screen computers. Invisible mobile screens float in your hand, and those self-driving cars can display the news while driving to work.

"Incorporated" is executive produced by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, which makes sense. Their work on films like "Good Will Hunting" has often centered on scrappy, smart, working-class guys who somehow game a system rigged against them, Ben Larson's ultimate story. "Incorporated" suggests that those who hold on to their human values can subvert any system that seeks to take their freedom from them. And that's a welcome message anytime. I'm Eric Deggans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.