INCORPORATED: Wednesday 10PM on Syfy – Change the Channel
INCORPORATED is one of Syfy’s periodic big swings. Although produced in Canada, it’s backed by the CBS and Syfy in-house studios, rather than a low-cost pick-up or license arrangement like the ones that finance Z Nation, Van Helsing and the like. Enough money has been put behind it that the Executive Producers include Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, the crowd scenes have actual crowds, and the sets aren’t swathed in darkness to obscure how sketchy they are. Unfortunately, not enough of those resources went into the script by Alex and David Pastor (they also directed the pilot), whose previous major credit was the lightly regarded sci-fi thriller Self/Less, and who haven’t brought much to the dystopian table.
As the title suggests, this particular dystopia is a corporate one, set in a 2074 where climate change has eradicated governments and put power into the hands of a few multinational business entities. Those employed by the company (the local one of the story is called Spiga) live in comfortable if antiseptic Green Zones, while the rabble live in uncontrolled bordertown Red Zones that look like cut-rate Blade Runner locations. Our protagonist Ben (Sean Teale) is a rising Spiga employee, married to high-tech cosmetic surgeon Laura (Allison Miller), who is also the estranged daughter of powerful Spiga executive Elizabeth (Julia Ormond). But does Ben have a secret? You bet he has: he’s actually a Red Zone dweller with a false identity, who appears to be at Spiga to find a missing girl who’s the sister of Theo (Eddie Ramos), although why she’s important enough to justify such an extensive and lengthy mission is as yet unclear. Ben ruthlessly rises through the Spiga ranks to get information about the girl’s whereabouts while trying not to run afoul of relentless security chief Julian (Dennis Haysbert).
The evil corporate future trope dates back at least to Aliens, with the flop Elysium a more recent example. That’s not necessarily fatal–much of pop culture sci-fi builds on previous models–but the Pastors don’t appear to have any original spin on the concept, which despite its topicality still needs some kind of spark to work as drama. Their character writing and dialogue are particularly weak–Teale makes so little impression in the lead that it’s not even clear why he should be the main character–and their direction of the actors is stilted and colorless, lacking the specifics that might make these people interesting. The corporate skullduggery part of the plot is sub-ABC, and the political point of view is no different than in a million other insurgency thrillers. Even the future tech feels tired, like the ultra-cosmetic surgeries that allow a person to duplicate the face and body of a completely different person. (Another gadget will provide any audience member with all the on-screen vomiting they could possibly want.) Even compared to B-level sci-fi like USA’s Colony, Incorporated is nondescript, and it’s certainly not in a league with the network’s one standout show The Magicians.
Syfy has so many low-rated shows on its air that it’s hard to know what the network considers a ratings “success” at this point, although Incorporated will have much higher costs to recoup than most of those. In terms of network branding and quality, though, Incorporated is starting out distinctly undercapitalized, and threatens to swiftly go under.