'Loaded': TV Review

Doesn't get rich, but also doesn't die trying.

AMC's British co-production about new tech millionaires isn't as funny as 'Silicon Valley,' but offers some amusement if you can avoid that comparison.

Few genres have generated more unearned confidence from TV executives than the "Winning the lottery isn't as glamorous as you expected it to be" drama.

Remember NBC's Windfall or ABC's Lucky 7?

Perhaps viewers at home are more enamored with the unrealized prospect of striking it rich than watching people who have struck it rich complain about their newfound wealth. Maybe that's why 2 Broke Girls ran an unfathomable 138 episodes.

In terms of long-term success, if not content or critical reception, AMC probably won't mind my referring to its new dramedy series Loaded as almost an inverted 2 Broke Girls in which the main characters aren't broke, aren't girls, there are four of them and it's an episodic race from wealth back to poverty. Loaded is also significantly better than 2 Broke Girls, though it's never quite as funny as it clearly thinks it is.

Adapted for AMC and Channel 4 from the Israeli format Mesudarim by Jon Brown, Loaded focuses on the four founders of a London-based app called Cat Factory. In a matter of seconds, their bank accounts go from empty to holding 14 million pounds apiece. Newfound mogul status means fancy cars, helicopters, a new home and all manner of profligacy, but the fun is short-lived because money brings out pre-existing insecurities aplenty. Josh (Jim Howick) rushes back into a relationship with Abi (Aimee-Ffion Edwards), the woman who broke his heart a year earlier. Admittedly petty Leon (Samuel Anderson) commissions a barbershop quartet to literally sing a harmonic rendition of "Suck My Balls" to everyone who ever doubted him. Watto (Nick Helm), a recovering addict, discovers that when you have cash, drugs and alcohol are only the start of the things you can abuse. And Ewan (Jonny Sweet) finds himself suddenly all-too-visible after years of keeping in the background. Those insecurities are only amplified when their new American boss Casey (Mary McCormack) drops in for an extended visit.

Loaded doesn't quite go full 2 Broke Girls with an episode-by-episode bank statement showing each of those 14 million figures dwindling, but it's hard to watch the four episodes sent to critics without pondering that it's a good thing British TV does fewer episodes per season — because at the rate these characters are burning through cash, we can probably expect a bankruptcy filing by the end of the second season, if not sooner. Most of the purchases are simple jokes, but every once in a while the writers land on a truly good lucre-squandering idea, like a murky basement swimming pool that's a good enough visual metaphor that I hope it appears more across the eight-episode first season.

"There's never been a more insensitive time to be a millionaire," Josh observes in the premiere. It's a smart sentiment and one that speaks to what the show does best, which is to avoid rubbing the money in the audience's face and also to avoid playing this off as some sort of wish fulfillment fantasy. Without sympathizing, we're supposed to see how quickly the money comes and goes when you lose that ingrained desire or need to monitor it. So as Leon campaigns to humiliate people who said he'd never amount to anything or as Ewan persistently hands out bonuses so that underlings will remember him and as Josh wastes cash to convince Abi that he's become spontaneous and fun, you're not supposed to go, "Man, being rich looks awesome!" but rather something more like, "Yeah, that's a trap I'd probably find myself in, too."

Maybe that's why Loaded is more effective as a drama with comedic elements than as a comedy with dramatic undertones. Early storylines with Josh's parents, who he sends on a world tour that they don't particular want, Watto's mother and a particularly dismissive teacher from Leon's past are less about how money causes problems and more cleverly focused on the limitations of money to fix flaws that were already there. Doctor Who veteran Anderson is particularly good when it comes to finding the hollowness of being a slick salesman, making the sale of your life and then struggling to figure out what you're supposed to do next.

In comedic mode, Loaded is much more familiar, and the comparisons to Silicon Valley verge on unavoidable, especially any time Sweet is onscreen. While you could work to make Silicon Valley connections to each of the main Loaded characters, the link between Sweet's perpetually uncomfortable and underestimated Ewan and Zach Woods' perpetually uncomfortable and underestimated Jared are close to uncanny. It happens that Sweet is the only part of Loaded that I found especially funny, but there aren't more than five characters on all of TV who are funnier than Jared on Silicon Valley, so that's tough. When Ewan is just a collection of ticks and neuroses, he's a chuckle, but it's the fourth episode that actually makes him human and Sweet thrives (just as Woods is always excellent when Jared gets to tap into his dark backstory).

One place the Silicon Valley comparisons might benefit Loaded is that in only four episodes, it has several female characters with more dimension than the HBO comedy has developed in four seasons. This mitigates the monotony of the "boys will be boys" shenanigans at least somewhat. Describing herself as a "sexy Darth Vader," Casey lets McCormack enjoy a lot of ball-busting dialogue, though the American/British culture shock she facilitates is almost all superficial and lame. Edwards makes sure Abi has a spine and keeps her from being one of those sitcom exes the other guys hate, but our hero can't seem to quit. Abi is amusing and smart in her own right. The show also gets a laugh or two from Lolly Adefope as Naomi, Casey's assistant. 

Directed in early episodes by Ian Fitzgibbon (Moone Boy) with the sort of energy and flash that suggest he'll likely be hired for American network pilots in the near future, Loaded moves along quickly and even when the subject matter gets dark, it doesn't hit very hard. Don't expect too much hilarity, but there are some smiles of recognition, some solid performances and a little bit of currency (both topical and financial), making Loaded one of the better examples of a not-particularly-great genre.

Cast: Jim Howick, Samuel Anderson, Jonny Sweet, Nick Helm, Mary McCormack, Aimee-Ffion Edwards, Lolly Adefope
Creator: Jon Brown
Premieres: Monday, 10 p.m. ET/PT (AMC)