You think it's bad now? Just wait.
Syfy's Incorporated (Wednesday, 10 ET/PT, with pilot available on Syfy's YouTube channel) is the latest entertainment offering to imagine a miserable authoritarian future, this time with all-powerful corporations taking over from failed governments and ruling a planet decaying rapidly from climate change.
It's "the dystopian world that I see ourselves moving toward rapidly. To be able to take on the challenge of living in that world and trying to explore that world is very intriguing to me," says Dennis Haysbert (24, The Unit), who plays Julian, the intimidating enforcer for Spiga Biotech, one of the global giants.
Incorporated, set in 2074, centers on rising executive Ben Larson (Sean Teale, Reign), who advises Spiga boss (Julia Ormond, Mad Men, Sabrina) — she's also his mother-in-law — even as he infiltrates the organization on behalf of an opposition group.
Incorporated, produced by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, is one of a number of recent TV shows and films to explore an authoritarian, post-apocalyptic or environmentally degraded world. They include Mr. Robot, The Walking Dead, Divergent, Elysium and Snowpiercer, with The Handmaid's Tale coming to Hulu in 2017.
Haysbert expects more will come, as entertainment reflects cultural anxieties. "There's going to be a deluge of post-apocalyptic, dystopian films coming out, because we are headed toward that," he says. "It's always prudent to show you what the extreme negative can be so we can really try to push forward the positive in our real lives."
Incorporated, which was screened at the United Nations, connects to a long dystopian tradition that can be traced back decades to such films as Fritz Lang's Metropolis in 1927. It shares themes with many novels, films and TV shows, including:
Corporatism. In Incorporated, companies such as Spiga protect and provide for employees in a dangerous, ecologically diminished world while demanding unquestioning loyalty. (Similar themes explored in: The Fifth Element; Wall-E, Metropolis; Blade Runner)
Surveillance society. Spiga employees undergo electronic body scans upon arrival and departure from work and Julian asks Ben about a program that allows the Big Brother-like examination of people's dreams. (1984, Mr. Robot,Person of Interest)
Climate change/Environmental destruction. Global warming and pollution have wreaked havoc on Incorporated's Earth, with Iceland as a beach destination, a melted Arctic ice cap and limited food offerings under tight corporate control. (Snowpiercer, The 100, The Day After Tomorrow, Waterworld, A Boy and His Dog and Soylent Green)
Reproduction/Fertility issues/Eugenics. Ben's wife, Laura (Allison Miller, Terra Nova), needs corporate approval in order to become pregnant. (Children of Men, The Handmaid's Tale, Gattaca, THX 1138, The Lottery, Orphan Black)
Class division/Wealth inequality. Ben and Laura live and work in a safe, affluent, clean-bordering-on-sterile Green Zone, with thick walls and heavy security protecting it from the dangerous, decayed Red Zone. (Brave New World, Elysium, Metropolis, Dark Angel)
Decayed, forbidding urban environment. For happy-hour fun, Ben and his Spiga colleagues head to the lawless Red Zone, a grimy, neon-lit place with entertainment focused on sex, drugs and violence. (Blade Runner, A Clockwork Orange)
Human trafficking. As part of his secret assignment, Ben is searching for a woman he knew in his youth who may now be a sex slave available for the enjoyment of corporate overlords. (Dollhouse, Westworld)