What is Incorporated? Well, foremost it’s a television show on Syfy you’ve probably never heard of. The only time I’ve seen anything about this was at New York Comic Con in the form of intense ads with no buzz. Its main main claim to fame is that it’s produced by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck.
It’s the year 2074. The world has been ravaged by catastrophes, both environmental and economic. Corporations have taken the yolk as political powers. The USA is divided up into Red Zones and Green Zones. Green Zones are essentially independent states controlled and protected by corporations. Outside of these areas are Red Zones, no-man’s-lands of anarchy and vice. Ben Larson (played by Sean Teale) is working for one such corporation. But we find out in the pilot that he’s living under an assumed name and is trying to rescue a woman who is not his wife.
Should you be watching the show? At the moment it’s four episodes in but I still can’t give it a hearty recommendation. It’s not bad but it’s not that great either.
Most of the A stories take place inside the green zone. These are basically high-end suburbs and sleek corporate office spaces. It has the just unwrapped and still clean antiseptic look of a Canadian science fiction show. Which is funny, since this part of the plot feels like Continuum with the time travel removed. Continuum also took place in a corporate-controlled future where the government had become privatized. That show also dealt with the problems of the practicality of a functional society against the issues of rights and representation. As far as Incorporated goes, it doesn’t feel like it has much more to say. And while Continuum sometimes felt a bit heavy-handed, Incorporated feels like it’s just cribbing from shared notes and hoping the production is sleek enough to keep you coming back. But it probably won’t, because you can get a similar iFuture aesthetic from the subterranean offices on Westworld.
The Red Zones are similarly plagued with a sense of familiarity. The controlling powers of organized crime are a bit too organized. The underworld seems to consist of a single city block, and the same street urchins keep showing up again and again. There are no utilities and yet cleanliness and electricity aren’t really issues, just set decoration. There’s supposed to be a chasm between the worlds of the Green and Red Zones, but smuggling seems to be oddly easy in a surveillance state. Everything about the show is just too thin, the social circles too tight. It’s as if this were developed from a short story or a movie pitch rather than planned to be an ongoing series. Ben’s co-conspirator against Spiga happens to run into him constantly while working in a corporation the size of a state.Ben’s wife, Laura (Allison Miller) also happens to be the daughter of Spiga Biotech’s CEO, the company Ben works for.
There are two things the show seems to have going for it, and one of them is Laura. She is a doctor who, in the second episode, gets a client who wants surgery to look just like his new (older) wife’s ex-husband. It turns out that the wife is established with housing in the Green Zone and the new husband is essentially a mail-order-spouse who doesn’t know English. This sort of back door into the ethical dilemmas of a corporate state, both from the perspective of medical professionals as well as the problems of the citizens, is exactly what the show needs. That kind of specific peek into the lives in the Green Zone can set this show apart from being yet another “corporations are bad, freedoms are good” science fiction. When stories like these come out, they turn out best when they offer a mixed message. Rather than preaching, they can investigate. So far this has only been hinted at but I hope that the showrunner will pick up on the potential there. So far her story has grown to incorporate marginalized characters living on the fringes between the two worlds. As rote as Ben’s story of corporate espionage and childhood friends can be, Laura’s line keeps getting better.
The other thing that works in Incorporated is the setting of the FEMA camps shown in flashback at the tail end of the government’s existence. The camp we’ve seen, where Ben (then still known as Aron) is settled in before managing to get hired into a Green Zone, fascinates me. His is set up at a converted airport where even the planes are used for housing amidst the tent city. Those in charge are getting extra rations while those living there are getting less than what they need to survive. But we see that the food is dispensed by machines that use pretty advanced technology to recognize who gets what. That mix of poverty and technology is a perfect place to dig into what happens when refugee camps start to integrate privatized management solutions. That slow encroachment, the grey area when the government starts to hand out power piecemeal, is the place that this show can go that doesn’t feel stale. Combine that with the setting clearly being a refugee camp where the people have nowhere to go, and you have a show that can really cut into current events in a way that hasn’t really been done since the Battlestar Galactica reboot. Unfortunately it seems that the camps have been relegated to short flashbacks that fill in current backstory rather than a fully fleshed out parallel story-line. Hopefully the writers will have the camps return in a stronger fashion sometime during the rest of this season since it’s one of the most promising aspects of the series.
The fact that the best parts of this show are potential areas for them to shift focus to isn’t very encouraging though. The show feels very invested in the corporate world and the Red Zones. Rooting for where a show could go rather than where it appears to be going is never a good sign. I’ll probably stick with it for the rest of the season; Syfy has ordered a 10 episode season to start and that’s not too much of a time-hole for me to invest in. But if your TV dance card is already full I’d recommend waiting to see if the premise goes anywhere fresh.