AMC’s latest hour-long series Loaded is not quite the typical business drama one would expect from the network behind Mad Men and Halt and Catch Fire, two shows defined by their observations on various aspects of American culture. Both of those shows – and shows like Silicon Valley on other networks – are driven by decidedly American ideals, specifically how money and prominence both fuel our culture, but catalyze changes in the way we approach our relationships, our sense of self-importance, and our tenuous grasp on being morally consistent throughout life. All of these elements make these shows – and many shows of other genres, like Game of Thrones and Power – fascinating to examine, a series of stories playing out across different generations and realities, all examining the fundamentals of 20th century Americanism.
Loaded, an eight-episode dramedy AMC is co-producing with the UK’s Channel 4, doesn’t quite have the same concerns; though calling it a British counterpart to Silicon Valley wouldn’t be completely inaccurate, Loaded‘s promising, if uninspired, pilot examines the shell shock of fame and fortune from completely different angles, exploring similar ideas to its spiritual counterparts, but presenting issues in different, occasionally more exciting and dramatically satisfying ways. It’s by far the strongest element of the first few episodes I’ve seen, the quiet musings on how one’s entire approach to life changes based on money are much stronger than the character moments the show’s built around them, at least to this point.
Thanks to a cast of fairly archetypal characters, Loaded‘s first few episodes are a bit weighted down by uninspired personalities. There’s Leon, the brash man ready to flaunt his new money and power in front of those who doubted him; Ewan, the classic “nerd” who is extremely white, awkward, and technically savvy; Watto, the chubby slob who is actually a creative genius; and of course, the main character, Josh, a milquetoast man whose limited range of emotions and grasp of the world make him a meek, passive presence on screen. In the first few hours, these guys are mostly left as reactive devices to the world around them; arguably the strongest personality in the early going is their new lawyer/corporate handler Casey (the show’s lone “truly” American character), whose personality and sheer volume dominate the screen whenever she’s around.
That being said, a weak cast of unique characters is a common problem to any new series, British or American. What Loaded does accomplish in its first few hours is offering a different take on a life of money in modern times than say, Ballers or Entourage (sorry, HBO) – instead of being an hour of worship at the Temple of Misogynists Whose Money Brings Them Drama, this show takes a decidedly more British look at those who have come into wealth; that is, it watches their ambitions and behavior with a side eye, and exposes much of their gratitude and attempts to understand their sudden wealth as completely wrong-headed. There’s a pair of particularly powerful scenes in the pilot that expose some of these ideas; one where a character tries to send his parents – who are looking forward to a mortgage-free lifestyle – on a trip around the world to experience “culture”, all while they’re barely able to comprehend how he made his money (300 million quid on a game called Cat Factory, a fact which the show and its characters both view as completely ludicrous). Another features a main character being continuously admonished for buying a lavish sports car as his first purchase; while that is still celebrated, and often expected, in American culture, the concept is exposed as a laughable waste of money even the most short sighted people unfamiliar to having money – aka the other three characters – have no interest in. Instead of being a celebration of wealth, Loaded‘s strongest elements lean into the existential underbelly of suddenly being removed from the normal societal worries of home mortgages and car loans; what does one do when there’s nothing left to strive for financially, after earning so much money for something so utterly ridiculous.
Loaded‘s strongest elements can’t entirely keep a cast of cookie cutter characters and predictable jokes afloat, but when it slows its pace to explore some of its deeper musings on money and notoriety in the modern age, there’s a certain philosophic spark that can’t be ignored. Whether Loaded can cultivate that into something lasting and meaningful remains to be seen; certainly the addition of Mary McCormack as the corporate lawyer from the US guiding the new millionaires will pay dividends, as her first few appearances give the narrative an entry way into examining the dichotomy between the US and the British on a number of financial ideas. I’m hesitant to say Loaded is a sure fire thing, but there’s a number of intriguing moments in the first few episodes that suggest this series might be more than some of the more trite office humor and bombastic comedy, and might be worth a longer look.
Loaded premieres on AMC on Monday, July 16th at 10 pm