March 13, 2006TV ON DVD
Shades of Grey in Profit
Charming sociopath Jim Profit (Adrian Pasdar) will manipulate, blackmail, extort and murder on his climb up the corporate ladder. No one knows it, but Profit is a man of intense ambition, and will stop at nothing in his pursuit for power. He also has sex with his mother. (Okay, stepmother since age eight, feel better?) Oh, and by the way, at the end of each episode, our protagonist strips naked, crawls into a cardboard box and looks creepily through the TV to say, "good night" to the audience.
|Can you imagine successfully pitching that to network television?|
Set in the morally vapid offices of multinational corporation Gracen & Gracen, Profit is a wonderful combination of soapy intrigue, psychological thriller, corporate satire and Twin Peaksesque weirdness. This hodgepodge makes for a truly original TV series. Profit may have been influential, but still it is incomparable.
With The Monkees, Davy Jones once sang, "There is no black or white / only shades of gray." The same can be said of Profit. If a protagonist as the personification of man's inhumanity to man is off-putting, you'll find few others to sympathize with in the supporting cast. There's Charles Gracen (Keith Szarabajka), the CEO who will overlook moral transgressions in the name of money, alcoholic, wife-beating Pete Gracen (Jack Gwaltney), Profit's philandering stepmother (Lisa Bount) and host of other slimy capitalists.
Sure, there are a few characters classifiable as the good guys to Profit's bad. But even to the omniscient viewer, Jim Profit's act is so assured and his charm so genuine that when security specialists Joanne Meltzer (Lisa Zane) and Jeffrey Sykes (Sherman Augustus) attempt to justly thwart Profit, their vendetta seems to be a product of their own pathetic neuroses.
|But while American Psycho's Bateman revels in the chaos of violence, Jim Profit's is a thoughtful and cunning psychosis.|
What makes Profit such a unique character is his sense of purpose. He occasionally does good things; it's just that he never does them for the right reasons. Goodness in and of itself is worthless to Profit — but so is badness in and of itself. Never without motive, Profit isn't crazy. He's just utilitarian. At one time, getting what he wants necessitates framing his co-worker for murder; but at another time, he gains the aid of his secretary through charity — providing accommodations for her invalid mother. Also note that Profit merely plots the demise of those who get in his way; he never acts as the mechanism. The only person Profit ever kills directly is his deserving father, and even then he does so in a relatively painless manner. In the 66-minute making-of featurette "Greed Kills," Adrian Pasdar aptly says of his role, "I don't see him as a moral or amoral individual... He has a superior set of moral values that enables him to act with relative impunity."
Profit's precarious grasp on humanity is what is most compelling about the show. Even the creators disagreed over Profit's capacity to do good. Again in "Greed Kills" co-creator John McNamara (Lois & Clark, Eyes) admits that he always saw Profit as one-hundred-percent evil while his writing partner David Greenwalt (Buffy, Angel) "sought out that which was recognizable as a person." Even as Profit does such awful things, it's hard not to root for him. This is in large part due to Profit's gravelly voiceover. Because he serves as the viewer's point of entry, we can't help but identify with him. This technique was inspired by Shakespeare's Richard III, in which the eponymous character tells the audience the wicked things he's going to do before he does them.
Also worth mentioning is Lisa Darr's magnificent performance as Gail Koner, Profit's secretary. More than anyone, Gail knows Jim Profit is engaging in some unscrupulous activities, but at the same time there's something about him that she likes and she admires his ingenuity. In this way, she is the audience's foil. Na•ve but knowing, Gail may be the most likable character on the show.
|Some episodes, particularly the pilot, showcase Gracen & Gracen's "advanced" computer system: a primitively rendered 3-D office-scape that is so outdated it looks more like Star Fox on Super Nintendo than the latest in sophisticated technology.|
Finally, the biggest strike against Profit is its tragically short length. The best way to deal with this is to acknowledge your good fortune. You get to spend a whole nine hours with Jim Profit; if it were a movie (and of all TV shows, it'd make a pretty good one) you'd only have two hours at the most. Take pride in knowing that Profit is part of the tradition of brilliant TV shows cancelled by FOX after four episodes (see also: Wonderfalls, Pasadena).
(And if you're still having withdrawal after you finish the last episode, know that David Greenwalt, with Joss Whedon, would explore similar themes in Angel's Wolfram & Hart — a corporation of a much more literal evil. In fact, Greenwalt tried to get Adrian Pasdar to cameo as Profit, but alas, schedules never allowed for it.)
The commentaries and features on the DVDs have a lot of talk about Profit being ahead of its time. The producers suggest that the series would fit perfectly in today's climate of edgy niche programming and premium cable. I don't know if I agree with that. Even today, it's hard to imagine even niche audiences embracing a program with such a remorseless protagonist. Frankly, I'm amazed there was enough of a following to even warrant this DVD release. Is Profit still ahead of its time? To me, it seems like it's outside of the timeline altogether.
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