‘Incorporated’ Review: Syfy’s new drama is far from perfect, but feels relevant in 2016
Is climate change a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, as President-elect Donald Trump once stated? China has denied this, of course — but there is a palpable concern about what could happen to our environment, and by extension our planet, during a Trump presidency, given his rhetoric and troubling cabinet appointments. For those among us worried about the long-term effects of global warming, Syfy's new series Incorporated is less rooted in science fiction and more in dystopian horror fare.
The show is set in the year 2074 at a time in which global warming has ravaged the world so severely that a handful of gigantic, multinational corporations have an autocratic rule over the human race. These corporations fight for control of the planet's "dwindling resources." Real bacon, for example, is an expensive commodity that the wealthy elite save for special occasions (so if you really like bacon, this is also a nightmare). And literal "food porn," people eating non-synthetic food, is a thing.
Incorporated's main focus, however, lies on one of the world's big conglomerates, Spiga Biotech, and an employee who's trying to bring the company down from the inside. The protagonist, Ben (Sean Teale), is a rising star at Spiga — presumably with thanks at least in part to his marriage to Laura (Allison Miller), the daughter of the company's CEO (Julia Ormond). But Laura and the company aren't aware of Ben's murky past: He used to live in the poverty-stricken Red Zone.
Only the brightest minds among the impoverished can escape the Red Zone and live in — we kid you not — the prosperous Green Zone. But Ben's treachery is motivated by the search for a love interest from his adolescence, Elena (Denyse Tontz). Elena has also moved on from the Red Zone, but at a price: She's become a sex worker at Spiga's fancy corporate retreat, which only the company's higher-ups have access to. Ben's motivation is to, in a literal sense, climb the corporate ladder to reach the prestigious 40th floor in order to reconcile with Elena and, we presume, free her and sabotage Spiga in the process.
Unfortunately, Incorporated is hindered by narrative turns that, much like the tackily named zones of its caste system, are ultimately cliché. Ben faces a familiar mix of suspicious, double-crossing co-workers and a complicated work-life balance, all of which is all-the-more difficult to deal with when the company's CEO is your mother-in-law. Incorporated wants to be a corporate drama — basically, a take on USA Network's Suits set in the near future — but it comes at the price of disregarding a more interesting dystopian world outside of the office setting.
The show occasionally drops tidbits about global warming's geographic impact on the Earth, and each time it's fascinating (beyond just the food porn gag). The show's setting, for instance, is a technological metropolis that gives strong hints of New York — but it's actually set in a thriving Milwaukee, because by 2074, New York City is apparently completely underwater. Meanwhile, Anchorage, Alaska, is now a popular beachfront location.
The standout sequence of Incorporated is the cold open to episode four, in which a Chinese PSA is soliciting donations for American children — echoing present-day Feed the Children commercials — because America in 2074 is a starving Third World country inhabited by "climate refugees" who were forced to leave their homes due to climate change.
All of these world-building moments, however, are eschewed for Ben's meandering corporate drama. Syfy would've benefitted from exploring Incorporated's world in the same vein as the network's other futuristic shows like The Expanse, which brought several settings (and in the show's case, planets!) to expand its universe. Incorporated's premise is highly relevant in 2016, as it offers sobering glimpses of the worst-case scenarios for disregarding the present-day effects of climate change. However, by choosing to keep its focus on blasé office politics, Incorporated doesn't provide anything revelatory. Instead, it's the television equivalent of staying in the Green Zone.
Incorporated premieres Wednesday at 10 p.m. Eastern on Syfy. Watch the trailer below: