Workplace is the heart of thrilling series ‘The Consultant’
By Mark Kennedy
Think your boss is bad? The one in the new TV series “The Consultant” phones his workers in the middle of the night, nixes all remote work, fires people with long-term illnesses, invites himself to after-work staff drinks and clips his nails at his desk. He might also be a murderer.
That’s what awaits the nervous employees of the fictional Los Angeles-based gaming company CompWare every day as a new consultant steers the firm through tough economic times. The new boss is deeply weird and secretive, and likely to throw a gagged person into your car and tell you to just drive.
“There is a sense of just being off balance the entire time. You never know what to expect,” says executive producer and pilot director Matt Shakman. “You don’t know what to expect character-wise, story-wise, or even tone and style. And that’s what really drew me to this. This felt like a world and a show that I had never seen before or been a part of creating before. It feels wholly original.”
Creator, showrunner and executive producer Tony Basgallop started the series by wanting to do a work-based thriller and someone recommended Bentley Little’s 2015 novel “The Consultant.”
Basgallop started adapting it just before the pandemic really hit and was left wondering if he was too late. Was anyone ever going back to work? Would anyone want to see a TV series about work terrors?
“I was thinking, ‘This is crazy. I’ve actually taken on something that’s never going to get made.’ But then I just made the choice: You know what? When we go back — if we ever go back — it’s going to be worse than it was before,” Basgallop says.
“So I took very much the premise of the book — very much the feeling of this evil presence, lurking over everyone and no one knowing whether he’s the devil or just the boss from hell.”
Starts Friday on Prime
Starring Christoph Waltz as that boss, the Amazon Prime Video series which lands Friday also features Nat Wolff as a game developer, Aimee Carrero as the developer’s fiancee and Brittany O’Grady as an aspiring executive.
The cast seems to have had a fine time despite the weirdness. “For making a show about such a toxic work environment, it was actually probably the most lovely work environment I’ve ever done,” said Wolff.
The series comes at a tumultuous time for the tech world, with thousands of job layoffs driven by the biggest names in tech like Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Yahoo and Zoom.
The workers at CompWare are feeling the strain, obligated to do as the boss demands no matter how inconvenient. The days of just jumping to another tech firm are gone, leaving a trapped and nervous employee base.
Work not a safe place anymore
The series plays off the sense that work is not a safe place anymore. “If something goes wrong, you’re going to have to fix it. You’re going to have to compromise. You have to take the bullet, in a sense,” Basgallop says.
It’s up to the CompWare employees to determine what their boss is really up to and uncover his murky past. In many ways, he’s a satire of a modern business leader who manipulates others and is quick to expose and manipulate weaknesses. One song that plays is Elvis’ “You’re the Devil in Disguise.”
Part of the chill of the show has to do with Waltz, the Oscar-winner with memorable roles in films like “Inglourious Basterds” and “Django Unchained.” He is equally charming and menacing.
“There is a sense of humor about him that is unique. He is equally good at comedy and drama. There is no one better at fixing you with a stare and making you feel just uncomfortable,” says Shakman.
Waltz took a leap of faith on the show, having only been sent the script for the pilot and not knowing where the character would end up. But based on conversations with the creators, he dived in. “I considered it risky,” he said. “As an actor who actually lives in the moment, the prospective result almost becomes secondary.”
The irony is that Waltz — whose last TV project was on the phone-based Quibi platform — is now playing a man who is leading a tech company, yet, the actor himself is anything but tech-savvy.
“In a Zoom situation, I’m usually the one who doesn’t find the connection, who doesn’t find the unmute button, who has the little lens covered — all of that,” he said, laughing. “I’m not a digitally educated person.”
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