The Biggest TV Trend in 2021? Capitalism

·3-min read
Photo credit: Getty / Esquire UK
Photo credit: Getty / Esquire UK

While Ted Lasso would have you believe that we are living in a golden age of comfort TV, the most talked about shows of the year suggest this is perhaps the epoch of discomfort television, as series which explore the corrupt nature of modern capitalism continue to hold our attention.

The runaway success story belongs to Netflix's Squid Game, the Korean drama in which broke contestants compete in children's games in the hopes of clearing their debts, but with fatal consequences should they lose. Following in the footsteps of last year's best picture winner at the Oscars, Parasite, Squid Game is a pitch-black satire of the bleakness of late capitalism. The show's depiction of the desperate lengths people living on the edge will go to in order to free themselves from a cycle of debt feels part of the same world as the videos of gig-economy workers wading through flooded streets to deliver takeaway food to their richer neighbours.

Photo credit: Netflix
Photo credit: Netflix

The success of the show suggests perhaps instead of pining for escapism, what people really want is to see our rotten reality reflected back at us; maybe all there is left to do is laugh at how truly terrible things are.

In September Succession returned for its awaited third season, and judging by the adoration the show's most unscrupulous characters receive week-in, week-out on Twitter, its fans are as enamoured with the morally corrupt as ever. Thus far, this season doesn't even have the envy-inducing yachts and country retreats serving as wealth porn but instead is like watching hyaenas in Patek Philippes hyperventilating as the company's share price – and by extension their stock portfolio – plummets. If Squid Game is an exploration of the desperation of the have-nots, then Succession shows that for the extremely wealthy money can make you (nearly) as miserable, even if it is harder to have sympathy for the afflicted.

Photo credit: Graeme Hunter
Photo credit: Graeme Hunter

There is something monstrous about watching the lengths that people will go to to amass more and more money, something especially true in Hulu's new series Dopesick. The drama series, which starts in the UK this week, tells the story behind America's opioid epidemic and the family who went to great lengths to hide their involvement in Oxycontin, while profiting wildly from pushing the addictive painkiller.

While Dopesick feels like a dystopian parable of capitalist greed spun from the mind of Charlie Brooker, it is rather depressingly an entirely true story, one that is still going on as the Sackler family evade any real comeuppance. But while chief racketeer Richard Sackler earns plenty of ire – even occasionally straying into cartoon villain territory – arguably the real evil is the greed that consumed the family so much that they twist themselves in knots to avoid confronting what their cash cow drug is doing to the country as they rub their hands at soaring profits.

Photo credit:  Antony Platt
Photo credit: Antony Platt

In keeping with what we know to be true of real life, those who try to speak truth to power are met with resistance, and there is no level of office so high that money doesn't talk, even if it's just a whisper.

When Billions came out in 2016 it felt as though the power player money men were exaggerated, but having lived through a pandemic where service industry workers wear masks to wait on the mask-free wealthy, and a American senator purchased stock in body bags after being warned of what was to come, the greed and blithe indifference of the rich no longer feels so fictional.

In the same way that the vogue for films about scamming indicates we have accepted living within a rigged system, the small screen's continued preoccupation with capitalism is reflective of the grotesque economic disparity which the pandemic has laid bare. Whether looking at the top or the very bottom of the ladder. it's clear there's a great distance between the two, and nobody makes it to the top without stepping on a lot of people along the way.


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