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New fu­ture-set TV thriller that looks at life when the big cor­po­ra­tions have taken over.

Bleak fu­tures are a science fic­tion sta­ple. Zom­bie apoc­a­lypses, vi­ral out­breaks and global dis­as­ters fre­quently serve as back­drops to put mankind un­der the mi­cro­scope. Syfy’s

In­cor­po­rated, from ex­ec­u­tive pro­duc­ers Ben Af­fleck and Matt Damon, taps into that dystopian vein. The 13-episode se­ries brings the in­trigue of big busi­ness to what showrun­ner Ted Humphrey calls “a very grounded fu­ture”. “I use that term care­fully,” Humphrey tells

SFX. “We joke that it means no laser beams or fly­ing cars. All the tech­nol­ogy in the show is be­liev­ably the next gen­er­a­tion of things that ei­ther ex­ist to­day or are on the draw­ing board. The idea of the show is that cli­mate change has wreaked havoc on the en­vi­ron­ment. Gov­ern­ments have bankrupted them­selves to a cer­tain ex­tent, while fight­ing the ef­fects of that. In their stead, cor­po­ra­tions have be­come the de facto power in the world. Big cor­po­ra­tions have sov­er­eign pow­ers. They have their own mil­i­tary ap­pa­ra­tus and their own ter­ri­tory. When you work for a big cor­po­ra­tion, you are sub­ject to their laws and sub­ject to be­ing tortured and even put to death for break­ing those laws.

“By the same to­ken, you are pro­tected,” Humphrey con­tin­ues. “We wanted to posit, ‘What does the fu­ture look like when ci­ties in the United States be­gin to re­sem­ble what we al­ready see in ci­ties in other parts of the world?’ That means well-to-do peo­ple, peo­ple who work for big com­pa­nies and have money, live in beau­ti­ful com­mu­ni­ties and nice homes. Those com­mu­ni­ties are gated and lit­er­ally pa­trolled by armed guards. They drive on pro­tected high­ways to beau­ti­ful sky­scrapers and ev­ery­body else lives in ran­dom towns.”

In­cor­po­rated fol­lows Ben Lar­son (Sean Teale), a smart, charis­matic up-and-comer at the Spiga Cor­po­ra­tion, an Agri-Tech gi­ant. He’s mar­ried to Laura (Al­li­son Miller), the daugh­ter of pow­er­ful cor­po­rate ex­ec­u­tive El­iz­a­beth (Ju­lia Or­mond). In the be­gin­ning, Ben ap­pears to be on top of the world – an il­lu­sion des­tined to come crash­ing down. Mr Won­der­ful, it turns out, isn’t all he’s cracked up to be.

“Ben is some­body who used his tech­no­log­i­cal skills to cre­ate an iden­tity for him­self, which has en­abled him to in­fil­trate the world of the cor­po­ra­tions in or­der to find the woman he loves,” Humphrey ex­plains. “She’s been forced to sell her­self into servi­tude to the cor­po­ra­tion. That’s the mis­sion he’s on, but the in­ter­est­ing thing we love is that his de­cep­tion is so com­plete. He’s been at it for sev­eral years now. He’s grown quite com­fort­able in his life

and prob­a­bly be­gan to think he might never find this per­son. The ma­jor in­ci­dent in the pi­lot is he thinks that he’s found her and that throws a mon­key wrench into his life.”

Ben strate­gises and ma­nip­u­lates to find his miss­ing love. In the pi­lot, he frames co-worker Chad (David Hewlett) for steal­ing com­pany in­tel. As a re­sult, Ben is pro­moted and as­sumes Chad’s po­si­tion where clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion is more ac­ces­si­ble. The move could also lead to an in­ter­ro­ga­tion or even Chad’s demise.

“He does some fairly ruth­less things and con­tin­ues to do so,” Humphrey con­firms. “Does that make Ben a clas­sic an­ti­hero? I sup­pose it does. The ques­tion of the show is very much, ‘How far is too far in pur­suit of a good and no­ble goal?’ So, how far will he go? And not only what dam­age will he in­flict on oth­ers, but what dam­age will he do to him­self? Ev­ery­thing he does takes a toll on him.”

dif­fer­ent worlds

It’s a breezy Septem­ber morn­ing when SFX vis­its the In­cor­po­rated set in Toronto. A tour of Cines­pace Stu­dios quickly re­veals the in­equal­ity of this world. The cor­po­rate­con­trolled ar­eas, where the rich thrive, are re­ferred to as Green Zones. One sound­stage rep­re­sent­ing that life­style fea­tures Ben’s sleek home, while Spiga’s mod­ern of­fices take over an­other. A lone chair sits in the mid­dle of the com­pany’s for­bid­ding Quiet Room, where Ju­lian (Den­nis Hays­bert) re­lies on tor­tur­ous tech­niques to in­ter­ro­gate his guests.

Across the road, pro­duc­tion has trans­formed an out­side lot into the Red Zone. The peo­ple who are forced to fend for them­selves re­side in these slums. Run­down stores line the street and a mounted sign ad­ver­tises “Dou­ble Whammy Burger – Now with 10% real beef”. A bar hides a fight­ing cage for can­di­dates who want to duke it out in the ring for cash. It all feels very gritty and au­then­tic.

“We were ob­vi­ously in­flu­enced by a lot of fic­tion through­out the years, ev­ery­thing from 1984 to things like Chil­dren Of Men and Gat­taca,” Humphrey tells SFX. “I like to think we’ve come up with a unique look of our own, though. We’re also in­flu­enced by an enor­mous amount of non-fic­tion re­search that we’ve done. [Cre­ator] Alex Pas­tor has read ev­ery­thing there is on what di­rec­tion the world is head­ing. We’re work­ing with some re­search ex­perts from a va­ri­ety of places in­clud­ing the UN. Ob­vi­ously, it’s a fic­tional world, and it’s a spec­u­la­tive world. We wanted it to feel as real as pos­si­ble, like this is hope­fully not the fu­ture we’re headed for, but an ex­tremely pos­si­ble one.”

At the mo­ment, all the ac­tion is tak­ing place in Spiga’s White Room. Foren­sic techs – equipped with hand-held, iPhone-sized scan­ners – de­scend on a stripped-out car to re­trieve fin­ger­prints or DNA from the bloody in­te­rior. Ju­lian, Spiga’s head of se­cu­rity for the US branch, sur­veys the pro­ceed­ings as a gur­ney

It takes place in a fu­ture uni­verse, but it’s about the world we live in

car­ry­ing a cov­ered corpse gets wheeled in. Some­one has been mur­dered – and Ju­lian clearly isn’t too happy about it.

“Dur­ing the se­ries, Ju­lian is sus­pi­cious of Ben – there’s more go­ing on here than meets the eye,” says Humphrey. “What we’ll see as time goes on is he has an in­ter­est­ing and close dy­namic with El­iz­a­beth. He’s very loyal to her and that re­la­tion­ship goes back many years. As he works with Ben, their re­la­tion­ship de­vel­ops, but he con­tin­ues to be sus­pi­cious of him.”

fu­tur­is­tic look

Com­pelling plot and char­ac­ters aside, a huge draw with these types of projects lies in the fu­tur­is­tic tech. View­ers tra­di­tion­ally eat up the cut­ting-edge gad­gets and giz­mos in SF, af­ter all. Humphrey notes that al­though that el­e­ment seeps into al­most ev­ery scene, it hap­pens very or­gan­i­cally.

“In the pi­lot, you see lit­tle com­puter screens that pop up ev­ery­where. Ben comes down the stairs and there’s a big, float­ing screen in the liv­ing room. There’s a dif­fer­ence in the way peo­ple dress. We have fu­ture self-driv­ing cars in mass use. I don’t think that’s a big leap. It’s in­ter­est­ing that even when we were do­ing a test screen­ing for the show how much peo­ple re­sponded to that stuff. They love the tech­nol­ogy and were will­ing to over­look – al­most to a dis­turb­ing ex­tent – the dystopian ef­fects.” As for the im­pres­sive pedi­gree be­hind

In­cor­po­rated, it’s not of­ten Af­fleck and Damon cham­pion TV ma­te­rial. The cre­ative power cou­ple is, how­ever, nowhere to be seen to­day.

“They’ve been as in­volved as su­per­stars in this day and age can be,” Humphrey of­fers. “They orig­i­nally found the project. I came on board with them al­ready in­volved. They’ve weighed in in ways big and small – from giv­ing notes on the script when it was just a spec script – to giv­ing us notes in the cut of the pi­lot be­fore we de­liv­ered it. At the same time, of course they aren’t in the writ­ers’ room or on the set ev­ery day. A cou­ple of pro­duc­ers, who work for their com­pany, are much more in­volved on a day-to-day ba­sis and com­mu­ni­cate their com­pany’s thoughts that way.”

Humphrey feels they have some­thing spe­cial on their hands in In­cor­po­rated.

“It’s a show in the best tra­di­tion of science fic­tion,” he con­cludes. “It takes place in a fu­ture uni­verse, but re­ally it’s about the world we live in to­day. At the same time, it can be en­joyed as a story that ex­ists on its own mer­its. We ask some provoca­tive ques­tions, but our goal is to also tell a fun and ex­cit­ing story.”

In­cor­po­rated is on Syfy in the US from 30 Novem­ber. UK broad­cast TBC.

Ben (Sean Teale) is some­thing of an an­ti­hero. With a very smart of­fice.

El­iz­a­beth (Ju­lia Or­mond), a cor­po­rate ex­ec­u­tive you don’t want to mess with. Maybe the show will in­spire you to buy a new suit. Ju­lian (Den­nis Hays­bert) is head of se­cu­rity with a mean line in in­ter­ro­ga­tion.

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