“Corporate slavery” sounds like a very insensitive word, but it’s probably one of the most accurate ways to describe the current state of salaried jobs. That is the case because, despite the abundance of talent and specialization in every field, there is a frightening lack of individuality, unity, and courage. Before the pandemic, there was at least a semblance of work-life balance, and CEOs were at least a little ashamed to totally exploit their employees. But after the pandemic, it seemed like it was open season for employers to make everyone feel expendable and cross all kinds of boundaries under the garb of increasing productivity. And since these employees—mostly millennials and zoomers—had loans, mortgages, rent, and many other bills to pay, they had no other option but to play their bosses’ petty little games. The sickening and infuriating feeling of being stuck in that cycle is really difficult to describe, and one can only understand it if they’re in the midst of it. However, since nobody should experience that even for fun, you can get a taste of nu-corporate life with Tony Basgallop’s “The Consultant.”
Based on Bentley Little’s novel, the series follows a fictional gaming company called Compware, which is headed by its 20-year-old CEO, Sang (Brian Yoon). Sadly, he meets his end when a group of schoolchildren comes to visit the company’s Los Angeles office, and one of the kids pulls out a gun and shoots him to death. Obviously, the office is completely shut down, and the employees are in a state of disarray. But when Craig (Nat Wolff) and Elaine (Brittany O’Grady) sneak back in there to get weed (for Craig) and retrieve some hidden cameras (for Elaine), they find themselves in the presence of Regus Patoff (Christoph Waltz). He says that he is the titular consultant, and he is there to take charge of Compware in Sang’s absence. However, with every corporate decision that Regus makes, it becomes more and more clear that he is not only unaware of what the company does, but he is also hiding some nefarious secrets of his own.
Although the official website profiles for “The Consultant” present it as a “dark comedy,” it’s actually quite horrifying and triggering, especially for people who’ve traversed the corporate minefield, thereby putting it squarely in the horror genre. Without giving away any spoilers, Basgallop and his team walk a very thin line between evoking reality and going into absolute absurdity. The display of manipulation, power hierarchy, internal politics, apathy, lack of unity, and general fickleness that exists in modern workplaces is frighteningly accurate. I genuinely had chilling flashbacks from my time as a salaried employee at offices that were headed by outright man babies. But thankfully, all that is contrasted with a healthy dose of science fiction, and I am talking about bonkers and over-the-top sci-fi. So, less “Her” and more “The Terminator.” And the reason I’m using those two examples is that the show is ultimately about the harmful effects of using cell phones and relying on apps to keep us engaged instead of forming healthy relationships with our fellow human beings. In addition to that, since the text is loaded with holy imagery, the showrunners are likely insinuating that our efforts to establish a digital presence are taking us away from the “light of God,” i.e., everything that makes us human.
From a technical point of view, “The Consultant” is truly perfect. The music by Jeff Russo, the cinematography by Elie Smolkin, Eduardo Enrique Mayén, and Jess Hall, the editing by Dan Briceno, Jonathan Eagan, Lara Johnston, and Wendy Hallam Martin, the production design, the art direction, the set decoration, the costumes, the make-up, the SFX, the VFX and CGI, and the sound design are undoubtedly top notch. And all of it is working in tandem to highlight the talent of one person: Christoph Waltz. Ever since his spectacular turn as Dr. King Schultz in “Django Unchained,” I think that Waltz’s abilities have been wasted to such an extent that I was skeptical about an 8-episode show with him as the titular character. But as soon as he started to channel his oh-so-familiar mixture of charm and menace as Regus Patoff, I began to realize that the showrunners and Waltz had struck gold. He is so cheerfully evil and so seductively awful that you can’t decide if you should revere Patoff or construct a plan to kill him. He is the warmest person you’ve ever met in one moment and the personification of your worst nightmares in the next moment. So, it won’t be an exaggeration to say that Waltz’s Patoff is one of the best on-screen villains of 2023.
The rest of the cast of “The Consultant” is phenomenal. The performers Brittany O’Grady and Nat Wolff are the linchpins of the series. Their stress, their ambition, their panic attacks, and their urge to simply survive are palpable. I think that those who have been through the kinds of scenarios that Craig and Elaine face will find them to be very relatable. But Wolff and O’Grady go that extra mile to ensure that even those who haven’t been in a corporate setting get an idea of what it feels like to have no work-life balance. Aimee Carrero, as the Jesus-loving Patti, is amazing. I think the show needed more of her. One performance that is probably going to be overlooked is Emily Berry’s as Dana. However, please don’t let that happen, and notice the subtlety with which she portrays this incredibly subservient and innocent character. In fact, the entire supporting cast functions on such a level that, after a point, you forget that you are watching a show that’s populated by actors. You feel like you are in an actual office because you know someone like Raul (Sydney Mae Diaz), Rosie (Sloane Avery), Iain (Michael Charles Vaccaro), Amy (Erin Ruth Walker), Ghislane (Dianne Doan), and Janelle (Tatiana Zappardino) in real life. In that case, Rachel Tenner deserves a shout-out for her immaculate casting.
It’ll be wrong to talk about “The Consultant” and not bring up its L.A.-noir vibes because it is reminiscent of so many stories that are set in the City of Angels, like “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” “Collateral,” “The Big Lebowski,” “Pulp Fiction,” “Heat,” “The Nice Guys,” “Inherent Vice,” “Under the Silver Lake,” and “Brand New Cherry Flavor.” Although I’ve never been there, the on-screen depictions of Los Angeles give off this feeling that it’s a place that is laid back and warm on the surface, but there’s something sinister and hungry underneath it all, which will consume you if you are slacking off way too much. Since all modern organizations seem to be very inviting with their pool tables, co-working spaces, and “flexible working hours” while harboring an insidious penchant for labor exploitation, the city does feel like the perfect setting for a show like “The Consultant.” And since it highlights the importance of workplace unions and boldly warns people not to dedicate their lives to an institution that doesn’t value them, I’ll be recommending it to anyone and everyone around me.