‘Incorporated’: Slick, Soulless Sci-Fi

Ken Tucker
Critic-at-Large
Yahoo TV
Photo: SyFy

Sleek and smoothly assembled, Incorporated is the Syfy network’s latest attempt to come up with a futuristic drama that will appeal to both hardcore genre fans and a general audience. In this case, it may end up leaving both factions as cold as the ice-blue offices in which much of the action occurs.

The premise of the new show, premiering Wednesday, is that we are in the year 2074, and — bad news for what I’ll assume will then be the ghost of Donald Trump — global warming has overtaken many efforts to forestall its devastation. It’s a dog-eat-dog world, with some superior canines ruling over others. There’s a so-called Green Zone, where the wealthy class presides in armed-guard splendor over the Red Zone, where a massive underclass scrounges for food, does the hard labor, and engages in cage matches for a sport that involves remarkably unchanged versions of the MMA fights you can see in 2016. (Does this mean that mixed martial arts is an unexpectedly enduring art form, or is it a harbinger of savagery to come?)

Anyway, Incorporated is set primarily in the Green Zone, where the leaders of multinational corporations are in cutthroat competition for rare natural resources, and the technology to refine and reproduce those resources. One such corporation is Spiga, and our central protagonist is Ben (Sean Teale), a buttoned-down type married to Laura (Allison Miller), whose mother, played by Julia Ormond, happens to be his boss and a Spiga bigwig (Ormond’s hair is actually attractively demure).

Incorporated — created David and Alex Pastor with producers who include Matt Damon and Ben Affleck — is basically a corporate intrigue drama set in the future. (In the future, hot shaving cream will come swooshing out of an extra bathroom faucet! Motorcycles can climb stairs so easily, some people prefer them to elevators!) The corporate culture of the show is so vicious that another executive, played by Dennis Haysbert, does his own torture work, in a so-called “quiet room,” on employees suspected of trading company secrets.

Ormond looks bored delivering lines such as “We live in troubled, uncertain times” (tell me about it, Julia), and she and Haysbert are really too well-established to be executing this sort of business-suited huggermugger at this stage of their careers. I think the producers thought that if they grounded the sci-fi elements of their story (translucent, see-through cell phones!) in a workplace drama, their tale might take on weight. But the makers of Incorporated also hedge that bet a bit. Scenes of cage-match violence are regularly inserted to break up the boring office scenes of people sitting across from each other at desks, jawboning about corporate strategies. The result makes the future seem like a more extreme version of the present, which, in turn, is simply depressing.

Incorporated airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on Syfy.