“King of Stonks,” the 2022 German series, even before entering the precarious territory, asks for a license of unaccountability, as it anticipates that there is a high possibility of similarities being drawn, as the genre of subject matter it deals with has become a hot favorite among production houses these days. Of late, with series like “The Dropout” and “WeCrashed,” OTT platforms have found potential in stories of entrepreneurs who lurked in the gray areas of the law and tried to take advantage of the loopholes in the legal system, until they were caught and branded as fraudsters. “King of Stonks” talks about the biggest financial scandal in German history.
With the advent of OTT platforms, the demand for realistic stories and intriguing narratives has increased. The comparatively young OTT audience, fatigued with the mundane content, were looking for something beyond just insubstantial entertainment. It posed a threat to the production houses as there was always a possibility that the film or series would be subjected to harsh criticism, as the audience was exposed to quality content from all over the world. So the major film studios, OTT platforms, as well as independent producers, cracked a formula where a veritable narrative could be put forth, by adapting real-life events or documenting the lives of controversial or prominent personalities. Every second film or series made in the last couple of years seems to be inspired by true events, and that’s why, to set itself apart from the hoard, the makers of the Netflix series, “King of Stonks,” state the obvious before any judgment is made against them. The series has been created by Philipp Kassbohrer and Matthias Murmann, who have taken the mantle of developing authentic character arcs, even when they delve into a pretty familiar world. The key to maintaining the originality of content in such cases depends heavily on the perspective of the writer and director, and the manner in which they approach the character dynamics and the story. The skeleton of the story is almost identical in most cases, but the eccentricity of the characters and their nitty-gritties is what brings about a much-needed freshness.
Though Felix Armand was the Vice President of Technology for CableCash, he was hopeful that he would soon be made the CEO. He had dreamt about that day when he would be given due credit for all his hard work, and now, as the company was nearing its Initial Public Offering (IPO) date, he was ready to receive the good news at any moment. Felix was anxious about the technological expo where they were supposed to give a presentation and elucidate the public about their goals and how this online payment gateway was going to revolutionize the digital landscape. They wanted to tell everybody that electronic payment transactions are the future and that physical money will eventually become obsolete. But everything was not so plain and clear, and the company had its share of controversies. Fabian and Till Hermann, owners of an adult website, were the oldest and most important customers of CableCash. The issue was worsened even more when they released an adult film in which an actor played the role of the digital minister. The film was shot in the real office of the minister, and Desiree Maletzki, who held the coveted position, used to get irritated when asked about the same thing again and again by the media. Cable Cash was looking to close a federal deal, and it was important for them to be in the good books of Desiree Maletzki. The digital minister makes it very clear that she didn’t want the presence of the Hermann brothers in the party organized after the expo. But how to ask the brothers to not come without offending them? Dr. Magnus Cramer, the CEO of the company, conveniently put Felix in all these tricky situations and took a backseat himself. Cramer had close links to the mafia, and Felix was getting worried about these associations he had, as he had to always clear the mess that Cramer made.
There was a stark difference in the ideologies, personalities, and modus operandi of Felix and Dr. Cramer. Felix was the mind behind the innovation, but he was not somebody who had expertise in public relations and often got anxiety attacks if put on a podium to address the general public. On the other hand, Dr. Magnus Cramer was a showman. He often had no clue about what was happening in the backend, but the conviction with which he spoke made sure that people had faith in his credibility. That is why even after all the accounting irregularities and failure to adhere to the regulations, when he promised a 30 percent quarterly return, the investors and the public believed in it. But Felix knew that they had to be very cautious because the fraudulent means and methods that they had resorted to would land them in deep legal trouble. That was the sole reason why Felix didn’t want Cramer to give a speech at the World Economic Forum. They had a major disagreement regarding the matter. Cramer had got the slot to speak after putting in a lot of effort and using all the contacts he had. He was adamant because he thought that his appearance at the forum would be great for the branding of the company. On the day when he had to address the forum, Dr. Cramer was nowhere to be found. Felix was put in a compromising situation and had to face all the embarrassment. After the debacle, he had made up his mind that he had to plot against the so-called innovator, Cramer, who was taking all the credit for the work that he didn’t do and, even more, acting in a reckless manner that put the reputation of the company in jeopardy. Moreover, things became more complex when a short seller named Sheila Williams arrived on the scene. She was pretending to be Amira Wallace, daughter of a rich Nigerian businessman, and she placed a bet against CableCash, as she knew about the shaky foundations on which it was standing.
The most intriguing aspect of “King of Stonks” is the dynamics shared between Felix and Cramer. It is intriguing to see how gradually Felix grows tired of living his life in obscurity while Cramer steals all the limelight. He was not made the CEO by Cramer, as he had expected, and the latter stalled him for months before offering him a compensatory position as the Chief Operations Officer. That had sown a seed of discontent inside him. But still, if Cramer hadn’t totally sidelined Felix and ignored his advice, he could have restricted Felix from taking any adverse step and breaking their alliance. Mathias Brandt as Magnus Cramer and Thomas Schubert as Felix Armand, are able to steer you towards a build-up, while keeping you intrigued about their next move. The writers have stayed cautious while adding a comical tinge to the whole narrative. There is always a high probability that if the writers go a bit overboard with the execution and resort to a more slapstick approach, then the portrayal of any character looks gimmicky and, moreover, it loses its grip completely. Though Mathias Brandt does opt for a more caricaturish representation of his egocentric, narcissistic character, he is able to recoil just in time, and then goes on to display diverse emotions, that not only add more depth but also abstain the character arc from becoming monotonic. “King of Stonks” might delve into familiar territory and might not offer something absolutely authentic, with respect to the storyline, but an aptly paced and thrilling narrative, together with some noteworthy performances and an enthralling backdrop of a financial fraud, makes it worth a watch.