Imagine that you designed a silly app that enabled your start-up gaming business to be acquired by another company, making you an instant millionaire overnight. What would you do with that money?
If you’re anything like the four guys on Loaded, a dramedy that first aired on the UK’s Channel Four and debuts tonight on AMC, you would spend it on a helicopter, a Ferrari, a massive mansion to live in with your business partners, and a lot of hideous collectibles. Oh, and you might also willy-nilly promise £18,000 bonuses to several employees.
Loaded is not about the sacrifices entrepreneurs make in order to attain success. It’s about what happens when mildly competent men trip and fall into wealth, then make all the wrong choices about how to handle themselves and their money. After watching the first four episodes, the protagonists still seem defined more by what they do or possess than by their actual personalities, which is a problem. Another problem for a show that leans more toward comedy than drama: Loaded often strains to get laughs, although those do come a bit more easily as the episodes progress.
The app that becomes a cash cow for our British start-up, Idyl Hands, is called Cat Factory and it’s some sort of game involving feline characters that the show never bothers to fully explain. It was developed by Leon (Samuel Anderson, a.k.a. Danny Pink from Doctor Who), a big spender and show-off who never seems to do any actual work; Josh (Jim Howick), who says he’s the brains behind the operation and actually might be telling the truth; Watto (Nick Helm), a recovering addict who described his job title as artist-in-residence/office weirdo/human totem; and Ewan (Jonny Sweet), the meek one who gets stuck doing jobs no one else wants to do and/or nagging his friends.
Collectively, they do all the stereotypical guy things one would expect: They ride scooters around the lengthy hallways of their palatial residence, they send barbershop quartet serenaders to sing “Suck my balls” at investors who previously bailed on them, and they spend their leisure time playing video games and failing to keep their home in any kind of order. It’s as though someone took the guys from Silicon Valley, made them British, then demanded that they start behaving like the crew from Entourage.
Of those comparisons to other shows, Silicon Valley is the more apt and obvious one. While Loaded is set in the cockamamie, idea-driven world of gaming apps, it lacks the kind of tech-world specificity that makes the comedy on Silicon Valley land with such bite and credible detail. On that HBO comedy, as well as on another AMC series, Halt and Catch Fire, we get a window into how the minds of coding and development masters work. Even when they make colossally stupid mistakes — something that happens with more extreme, exaggerated frequency on Silicon Valley — we never doubt that the people working at Pied Piper or Mutiny are smart because we’ve watched them prove it.
On Loaded, it’s unclear whether any of these guys are truly gifted at all, so it’s harder to feel invested in their success, especially when it’s seemingly come to them so easily. The show works best when its humor stays as dry and self-aware as possible: “This is how all the great art was made,” Josh, the equivalent of Loaded’s Michael Bluth, quips during a brainstorming session that unfolds in a swimming pool. “By topless men, sitting on inflatable pretzels, free-associating.” Lines like that hit their targets perfectly.
Meanwhile, the women on Loaded are less passive than the men and often much more interesting. Both Casey (played straight and with absolutely no chaser by Mary McCormack), the American businesswoman who tornados in and out of conference rooms to smack a sense of purpose into her new employees, and Abbi (Aimee-Ffion Edwards of Peaky Blinders), a gamer ex-girlfriend of Josh’s, have more tenacity and vision than all the men with whom they are working. And then there’s Naomi (Lolly Adefope), Casey’s assistant, who quietly bounces between seeming professional and flying what is clearly the freak flag hidden inside her.
Loaded would be a better show if it widened its ensemble to spend more time with these characters while deepening our understanding of the male protagonists in ways that feel more surprising. There have been so many shows and movies about grown men trying to figure out how to stop being boys. The first few episodes of this series suggest that, at least in this case, it’s time to put away childish things.