Judge Brett Cullum, inspired by Jim Profit's corporate ladder-climbing technique, is moving up in the DVD Verdict hierarchy after arranging for his editor to have an "accident" involving an unfortunately loose 45th floor window and the laws of gravity. Hmm... that Chief Justice job looks awful cushy, too...
Jim Profit: [Voice over] Anyone who thinks controlling people is a science is dead wrong. [Spoken] It's an art.
Profit got the ax in America after merely four episodes as part of Fox's mid-season replacement line up on Sunday nights in the spring of 1996. The show was a dark, noirish thriller about a psychopath working his way up through the ranks of a major corporation. It was a wildly ingenious mix of American Psycho, The Talented Mr. Ripley, and Richard the 3rd. America wasn't ready for the likes of Jim Profit (Adrian Pasdar, Top Gun, Near Dark), but a decade later the world looks an awful lot like his creation. CEOs from major companies, such as Enron or Worldcom, have now made him look like a pussycat. Anchor Bay has resurrected Profit: The Complete Series on DVD; and now we know, unfortunately, that the show wasn't pure fantasy. Profit was the best reality show ever produced…and nobody watched.
Facts of the Case
Jim Profit (Pasdar) is a good-looking young executive who has just been plucked out of the auditing department to work in the mergers and acquisitions division of Gracen and Gracen. He's ambitious, hard-working, and completely psychopathic. He was raised by an abusive, uncaring father who placed him in a cardboard box, which had a small hole cut out so he could see the television. Jim spent years naked in his own waste, sitting in a corrugated box, plotting his way out. It was the perfect upbringing for a corporate mogul. Murder, embezzlement, incest, blackmail, and coercion aren't just recreational endeavors, they are the tools of his trade. Jim Profit hides behind an immaculate mask of civility and acumen, but not everyone is fooled. Joanne Melzer (Lisa Zane, Bad Influence, Billy's sister) is the head of Gracen and Gracen's corporate security, who quickly realizes Jim is a manipulative son of a bitch who is hiding far too many secrets from his co-workers. Unfortunately, the allies she has in the firm are few in number, and never seem to last long in their jobs. The CEO of the company, Charles "Chaz" Gracen (Keith Szarabajaka, Holtz from Angel), seems to know that Profit is dangerous, but doesn't care. As long as Profit makes the company money, he's fine. Caught in the middle is Profit's assistant, Gail Koner (Lisa Darr, Ellen). She's a mostly innocent woman whom Profit blackmails into doing things against her moral code, at least at first. And then there's Profit's mysterious stepmother, Bobbi Stakowski (Lisa Blount, Dead and Buried, and an Academy Award winner as a short filmmaker). She bursts onto the scene to both extort her successful son and seduce him whenever she can. You gotta have the loving support of family when you're rising to the top. Can a creature like Jim Profit survive in a corporation? Hell, he'll be running it in no time. And best to not get in his way. Every night after a tough day of lying, manipulating, and twisting his fellow co-workers, he snuggles up naked in his good old box for a night's rest. And the capper? Gracen and Gracen made the box.
Last month, a business magazine named Fast Company ran a cover article entitled "Is Your Boss a Psychopath?" What researchers have found is that people who engage in sociopathic behavior excel at large companies, because they are willing to mix a sense of ego with business purpose. They are able to cast aside morality to succeed by any means necessary, and they rarely care about other people. Corporations by their nature are psychopathic. They exist to make money, and fiscal survival is their only goal. So Profit was visionary, and stated what Fast Company would take almost a decade to uncover. Psychos thrive in the board room.
Profit is perhaps one of the smartest piece of dirty, evil, wicked fun to air on network television. At the center of all the shows was Jim Profit, an absolute monster of a man. And as if that wasn't enough, he was surrounded by equally dark, twisted souls who were mostly as smart, vicious, and troubled as the lead. Profit: The Complete Series is nine hours of watching sharks feeding on other sharks. Where American Psycho let Patrick Batman keep his murderous rage completely out of the office, Profit makes the psychosis an asset to the character's work life. The show was easily six or seven years ahead of its time. Today it would certainly prosper on HBO, or perhaps even Spike TV (the network for men), but back in the middle of the '90s we didn't really know the true nature of the evil inherent in corporate America.
David Greenwalt (who helped shape Angel and Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and John McNamara (a writer for Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, and creator of Eyes) came up with the idea for the series, and began their attempts to sell it in 1992. The Fox network bought the rights that year, but a regime change put it on the back burner and left it in limbo. Stephen J. Cannell (producer of Silk Stalkings, The A Team, and The Greatest American Hero) picked it up, and was excited to produce the show. He marveled, after reading the pilot, "I feel like I've been sitting with a cobra on my desk for the past two hours!" By 1996, another regime change at Fox meant Profit would finally be green-lit as a mid-season replacement series. Four years after they conceived it, Greenwalt and McNamara were suddenly going to be able to make real a dream they thought long dead.
Casting centered around finding people with scary voices, and any working actress named Lisa. Adrian Pasdar was a dark horse for the lead in the series, since he was mainly known for playing lighter fare, like his role in Top Gun. He was wary of even auditioning, since he told the creators it would be hard to get the nuances of the part in a cold reading. But surprisingly, he turned out to be absolutely perfect. He had piercing eyes, a great body, and a deep timbre to his voice that worked well for Jim Profit. Lisa Zane had just come off another canceled series, Middle Earth, and had the right combination of charisma and sex appeal to make her the perfect foil for Pasdar. Lisa Darr would later become known more for her comedy, but she was pitch-perfect as the put upon assistant. Lisa Blount originally read for Darr's role, but was the perfect embodiment of the sexy Southern sleaze needed to pull off the wicked stepmother. As the head of the evil empire, Keith Szarabajaka (who's name means "Dark Tale" in Polish) had a menacing voice, and seemed to be the perfect father figure to head up the fictional corporation Gracen and Gracen.
The show was shot in Canada, and was set to premier on American television on Sunday, April 8, 1996. Time magazine and Entertainment Weekly hailed the show as the best program for adults since Twin Peaks. All the critics were in love, and the show was creating a major buzz. Eight million people tuned in for the two hour debut. An hour and a half later, only three and a half million remained for the final moments. It was a well-praised atomic bomb. Southern affiliates of the Fox network cried foul when they realized the anti-hero show had a gutter trash mentality and little regard for morality. How could they center a show around a villain who slept with his stepmother? People buzzed around water coolers proclaiming the show either "One of the greatest things I've ever seen!" or "The raunchiest most offensive crap ever aired!" You either loved the show or hated it. Rarely had television sparked so much passionate debate about art and exploitation. No matter that it was a critical darling, Fox cowered in the face of outrage—coupled with low ratings—and pulled the plug on the show four episodes into its run.
Profit would be a hard sell even today, after the success of dark antihero series like Angel and The Sopranos. It walks a fine line between dramatic corporate suspense and serial-killer satire. There are moments of impenetrable psychotic darkness, followed swiftly by wry humor. Probably the closest analogy I can make is this: imagine Fight Club becoming a television series. It's the kind of show I lap up like ice cream; but when I forced the pilot on a friend, he ran out of the room screaming in horror. There are hardly any characters with redeeming values, and the ones who are truly nice people get squashed with exquisite efficiency. I think my days of working for Bernie Ebbers at Worldcom made me hard enough to enjoy the show. It's Shakespeare set in a boardroom, and you're going to find it will divide your family and friends right down the middle.
If you loved it, then Profit: The Complete Series should be irresistible. It includes eight episodes, four of which were only seen on the cable channel Trio and in France. Anchor Bay delivers a nice surprise—they give us the entire run of Profit's first season, but they don't let it go at that. There are five hours of commentary provided by show creators David Greenwalt and John McNamara, joined by lead actor Adrian Pasdar. The tracks are priceless—the three have a true passion for the show, but also are not afraid to poke fun at it. The commentaries are lively and fun to listen to. Also included is a feature-length documentary, Greed Kills, which features the creators, the lead, Lisa Zane, Lisa Blount, and Stephen Cannell all chiming in with their memories of the show. They all seem just as excited today about what they did. All in all, it's a dream package for fans of the show. You'll leave knowing every detail about the fights to get it on the air, and the bloody mess that resulted in it's sudden demise. There is also an Easter Egg found on Disc Three. To access it, simply click on the words "Disc 3" on the main menu, and you will be taken to David Greenwalt talking about trying to deal with a spider for a promo.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Technical problems abound throughout the set. The transfers are problematic. They are grainy full screen treatments with a lack of color clarity. In many scenes, it looks like there's a sepia smear spread across them. That may be a stylistic choice, but it renders the show muddy. Profit was meticulously designed and well-shot, but this presentation makes it look a little shoddy. I could clearly see make-up on the men, which was a little distracting when you're watching a series about alpha males in a board room going for each other's throats. I do know some CEOs that wear lipstick, but they are mostly of the female gender. I did notice that the four episodes that were aired by Fox were in better condition, so perhaps the last four did not receive as much post-production attention. What a shame Anchor Bay couldn't go that extra mile to give us a restoration of the series, especially when you look at the fine work they did with Wonderfalls: The Complete Viewer Collection. It's hard to look at these transfers and not pine for what could have been. There are no chapter stops in any of the episodes. Want to flash quickly to a scene at the end of the pilot? Good luck—you have to visually surf the entire episode to get where you want to go. Also there are no subtitles, and only a simple stereo mix for the soundtrack.
I'm the guy who championed American Psycho: Uncut Killer Collector's Edition, and I have to lavish the same praise on Profit: The Complete Series. The two could be bookends, but I have to admit the fact this material was on television shocks the hell out of me. It's way too dark, and far too smart, to be broadcast fodder. Intelligent television is widely seen as an oxymoron, but here's one that proves the medium can be just as visceral as film. Profit creates the ultimate noir. It seems only logical that after this Greenwalt would crank out Angel, while McNamara resurrected The Fugitive. Profit is a brilliant show that rivals either man's best work. It's a dark vision, but one so deliciously well-executed that you can't help but cheer it on. It rivals any show on television, including Lost, Twin Peaks, or the new Battlestar Galactica. Profit: The Complete Series is a set you will have to pry out of my cold, clammy, dead hands before I let it go. It's seductively intelligent television. What a shame America wasn't ready to embrace it back when it aired. Could they now? Probably not, but thank God for DVD, so the ones who are awake enough to realize what the show means can finally bask in its full glory.
Guilty of being far too brilliant to ever last, Profit: The Complete Series is required viewing for noir fans, or those who long for intelligent television. Anchor Bay is forgiven for some technical gaffes, because anybody who unleashes this beautiful beast on the market deserves some modicum of respect. In this age of the wasteland of reality shows and tepid sitcoms, Profit: The Complete Series is guilty of giving me hope that television can actually be smart and visceral. And, of course, it was immediately canceled.
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