Incorporated on Syfy is painted in shades of Gattaca, Minority Report, and even that old Max Headroom show that almost nobody watched in the 80s. In a world where the haves and the have-nots live separated by a huge wall and high-powered weapons, one man tries to subvert the system. He’s out to save the woman he loves from sex slavery at the hands of his corporate overlords. No, really. That’s the impression you get from the pilot. It makes for a heck of an ambitious new show and something you should probably watch if you like old school science fiction as metaphor for current events.
A warning to those who don’t like spoilers – Stop Reading. The Incorporated pilot is on YouTube now, but if you plan to wait to watch it on a real, cable-connected TV when it airs on November 30, and don’t want spoilers, this is where you should get off.
How the ‘Incorporated’ World Works
It’s 2074. The world’s governments are bankrupt. Corporations control what’s left of the world. Their employees live in future-modern luxury inside walled cities and enclaves protected by the aforementioned high-powered weapons and private armies. These are the Green Zones. Everyone else lives outside the walls in Khayelitsha-like slum areas known as Red Zones.
The worst predictions of global warming came true apparently. Much of the world (including New York) is underwater. Crops won’t grow where they once would. It’s up to the biggest companies in the world to create bio-engineered seed and other stuff to make life tolerable. The haves work for those corporations. What’s left of the government is funded by those companies. Those corporations now fight wars with each other with private armies.
Green Zone Versus Red Zone
While the Green Zones sport Gattaca and Minority Report-like future tech, the Red Zones are slums. You know immediately that it’s a slum because of all the rusty oil barrel fires and abandoned car husks that TV shows use as shorthand for “poor and downtrodden future.” The trope actually predates the old Headroom-universe wasteland, but that show wallowed in it like no other before or since.
There’s also a touch of border-town vice in an area called “Southgate” just on the Red side of the south gate that leads out of the city. There you can find all sorts of debauchery including a drug called Blur, apparently invented by an asthmatic who wanted to make inhalers seem cool.
Deplorable Characters of ‘Incorporated’
Sean Teale, from Reign and the later seasons of Skins, stars in Incorporated. Teale’s Ben is what passes for a hero in a basket full of deplorable characters. He is, at first blush, an average corporate flunky. He lives in his beautiful home (solar shingles, video screens on every glass or mirrored surface) with his beautiful wife and his very efficient day-laborer slave from the Red Zone. Each day Ben takes his self-driving car from his razor wire-topped walled community, past the slums (tastefully hidden behind a highway hologram of trees) and into the belly of the corporate beast.
Ben is married to Laura, the daughter of a corporate executive at the company. She is also a self-harming plastic surgeon. Some trauma befell Laura at Southgate and she is still not okay about it. Allison Miller, who you might recognize from short-lived sci-fi shows like Terra Nova and Kings, is Laura. She does barely-holding-it-together crazy in amazing fashion.
The supporting cast is a mix of newcomers and veteran actors. You’ll probably recognize Stargate’s David Hewlett and Mad Men’s Julia Ormond. Dennis Haysbert, the president from 24, and the ever-present Allstate commercials has a small role as an intense and dangerous security head and chief torturer. Teen Wolf’s werescorpion Lucas, Eddie Ramos, is a Red Zone tough connected to Ben in some way.
Is ‘Incorporated’ Worth Watching?
Should you watch Incorporated? Well, you should definitely watch the pilot at least. The first episode sets up a few interesting threads to follow in subsequent installments. At work, Ben develops a device that can read minds so the company can better root out rival corporate spies and terrorists and make sure that the wage-slave class isn’t up to something while they sleep. The pilot jumps right into the fact that Ben isn’t really who he appears to be. He does secret facial recognition searches trying to find a mysterious woman and basically poisons his manager to get a promotion. He also meets with a mysterious guy in a park. Mysterious guys in parks always equal some kind of conspiracy.
While it boasts superb special effects, Incorporated is really just another nighttime soap with a corporate setting. Its success hinges on the characters and plot which, so far, feels very familiar in a lot of ways. Syfy is full of surprises this season with a crop of very watchable new shows including Van Helsing, Channel Zero, and Aftermath. Incorporated may not be the best of the new bunch, but it’s very pretty to look at and has potential.