You might think you’ve had your fill of dramas about con artists, grifters and the gonzo behaviour of tech geniuses. There was a glut of such series earlier this year and some had much less to deliver than promised. But there’s one gem, largely unheralded, that puts a new spin on the genre and adds a fresh perspective. That’s mainly because it’s a story from Germany.
King of Stonks (streams on Netflix) is loosely based on a real financial scandal there. In 2019, the company Wirecard AG, which offered seamless online payment transactions, was accused of financial malpractice. In 2020, it was declared insolvent when the company acknowledged that almost €2-billion was unaccounted for. Here, the company is called Cable Cash, a fintech startup company that processes online payments and is ahead of the game in that arena.
Mainly, this fast-paced and funky miniseries is about the young Felix Armand (Thomas Schubert) the tech brains, and the middle-aged Magnus Cramer (Matthias Brandt), the brash salesman at the head of the company. Felix wants to control things and Magnus keeps fighting him off, but both are engaged in selling a pack of lies to investors and the German government.
We meet Felix on a plane when there’s turbulence. He’s just realized that he’s lost the USB stick that has a presentation for investors. Told to sit tight, he starts scrambling to find the stick. “If I don’t find it, we might as well crash,” he tells the appalled flight attendant. Then there’s Magnus, who is older but a born “tech bro,” manipulative and barely able to hide the sleaze behind his alleged success. His wife tells him to masturbate in order to relax before the big presentation, advice which he tries to go along with.
What happens at first revolves around Felix and Magnus trying to hide the fact that their existing clients are selling pornography or doing money laundering. Most of them are criminals, and this has to be hidden from the government officials highly interested in backing the company. There’s a lot of partying, outrageous behaviour and arrogance. “There are more important things than rules” is the motto for these guys. They are surrounded by crooks and naive new employees, the latter being stand-ins for the entire German population entranced by brash new tech moguls.
What separates the rather awkwardly titled miniseries – six episodes in German with English subtitles – is the sheer buoyancy of it. It’s sardonic but also rueful, and humane in its treatment of the main characters. They carry a jaunty charisma, and they don’t seem entirely sinister. Instead of cynicism, there’s an air of strangely soapy melodrama going on here.
Also airing/streaming this weekend
The Rehearsal (streams on Crave, new episodes Fridays, HBO, 11 p.m.) has been written about much in advance. Probably too much. This vehicle for Canadian comedian Nathan Fielder, famous for his awkward persona, is frustratingly overdone and before you’ve reached the end of the first half-hour, actually about 44 minutes long, you are asking, “What is the point?”
Here, Fielder undertakes strange exercises with real people. The first is a man who exaggerated his education to his friends in a trivia-competition group, and wants to make amends. Fielder helps him rehearse multiple scenarios with the help of actors. The idea is that everything in life is a performance and we must train for it. But, before you’ve even got to that point, you realize it’s neither funny nor insightful, and Fielder has empathy for no one as his weird persona overtakes everything. It all amounts to an eccentric comedic experiment, but this might be for comedy nerds with intellectual pretensions only.
There are several one-offs to note this weekend. Nikki Glaser: Good Clean Filth (Saturday, HBO, 10 p.m., streams on Crave) is the stand-up comedian and reality host doing what she usually does. As she says herself, “I’m 37 years old and all I do is talk about my vagina onstage.” CNN Special Report: Steve Bannon: Divided We Fall (Sunday, CNN 8 p.m.) promises to “explore former White House strategist Steve Bannon’s urge to tear down American institutions and replace the government at all levels with people who follow his own far-right beliefs, primarily through his daily show, War Room.”
Finally, POV: Wuhan Wuhan (Sunday, PBS, 11 p.m.) is directed by Canadian Yung Chang and documents the first period of pandemic lockdown, February and March of 2020, in Wuhan, China, where the coronavirus was first discovered. Frontline medical workers, patients and ordinary citizens are front and centre, to give meaning to the frightening early days of the then-mysterious virus.
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