The Best Compliance on Television

Several weeks ago I posted a question on LinkedIn: What are some of the best representations of corporate compliance, business ethics, or regulatory issues that you’ve ever seen on television?

My only requirements were that the shows be fictional, and portray a legal business behaving in a corrupt manner (rather than an illegal business like a drug cartel). The response was overwhelming — nearly 28,000 views of the post in less than a week, plus dozens of suggestions. Without further delay, here’s a list that will fill your viewing queue for weeks on end.

Current TV

Bad Banks,  on Hulu. A German thriller set in the investment banking circles of Frankfurt, London, and Luxembourg. The protagonist is a young woman pulled into the seedy, high-pressure world of investment banking; surrounded by older, more cynical players who blunder into a global financial crisis. First episode is a bit cliche, but the rest of Season 1 becomes riveting. A Season 2 is supposedly in the works.

Better Call Saul, on AMC. A prequel to AMC’s Breaking Bad, which chronicles the adventures of a con man turned small-time lawyer, Jimmy McGill — who will eventually become Saul Goodman, the shyster who works with the drug dealers on Breaking Bad. Disclosure: I’ve never watched either show. Season 4 is happening as we speak.

Billions, on Showtime. A drama set on Wall Street, pitting a U.S. attorney against a hedge fund manager in a cat-and-mouse corruption chase. Now in its third season. I haven’t watched it myself.

Chief Kim, from KBS Drama. A comedy that aired on Korean television last year, featuring an accountant to gangsters who tries to go legit, and ends up in an embezzlement scheme at the bank that employs him. Apparently you can watch episodes online with English subtitles, and the cover art alone makes me want to watch it.

McMafia, on AMC. The son of Russian exiles, living in London, is pulled back into the corrupt family business. Alex, the protagonist, “is forced to confront his values to protect those he loves.” Couldn’t we say that of all tragic heroes, though? I haven’t watched this one yet.

The Mechanism, on Netflix. A series Netflix produced in Brazil, loosely based on the Operation Carwash money-laundering scandal that ensnared Petrobras, Braskem, Odebrecht, and pretty much every elected official in Brazil. I haven’t watched it, but compliance friends from Brazil say it’s excellent. A Season 2 is in the works.

Mr. Robot, on USA. A brilliant look at cybersecurity; supposedly its depictions of computer hacking were so accurate that IT security pros urged the writers to scale back the details. Seasons 2 and 3 are set in a second global financial crisis that the hackers, led by Mr. Robot, precipitated. Seeing characters who represent actual Obama Administration regulators (they’re in Season 2) is a hoot.

Ozark, on Netflix. A financial adviser laundering money for a drug cartel flees to Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri, where the cartel catches up with him anyway and orders him to repay millions his corrupt partner swindled from them. A great look at the mechanics of laundering money, including how it works outside of major financial centers. I’m still catching up on Season 1. Season 2 drops on Aug. 31.

Suits, on USA. A dramedy about a weed dealer who cons his way into an associate position at a boutique law firm and the firm partners who go along with it. Suits is in its eighth season now, and has gone downhill in the last few years — but Season 2, in the show’s prime, had a convoluted murder mystery that involved both the FCPA and the Alien Torts Act.

Older TV

Intelligence, on Netflix. A gritty Canadian show from the mid-2000s — well, as gritty as Canadians can get, anyway — that explores the complex relationship between a money laundering gangster and Canadian law enforcement agencies. Lots of good characters; cute to see again how crime used to work before iPhones.

Capital City, from ITV. A two-season show about British investment bankers that ITV aired in 1989 and 1990; 23 episodes in total. Some insider trading, some office politics, the occasional dawn raid — you know, the usual stuff before laundering money for the Russians became the go-to plot for everyone. You can watch some old episodes on YouTube, or order the DVDs online.

The Office, from NBC. A paean to bad management, absurd policies, and pointless procedures. The U.S. version aired over nine seasons from 2005 to 2013, and is currently available on Netflix. This is another one I never watched, although I’m all for send-ups of corporate policy and culture. Also a shout-out to the original British version, which ran over three seasons 2001 to 2003.

Profit, from Fox. Lasted less than one season on Fox in 1996. The story centers on a sociopath, Jim Profit, who works for a global corporation and engages in all sorts of misconduct. Critics back then apparently called the show ahead of its time, I guess because misconduct at large corporations is now taken for granted. Not sure where you could catch this one, other than the DVD market.

Dirty Sexy Money, from ABC. The somewhat mysterious, vaguely criminal dealings of the richest family in New York, and the protagonist is their Mr. Everyman lawyer trying to help them out of their jams. So kinda like the Trump family without the Russians, and if Michael Cohen were a standup guy. Aired on ABC for three seasons, 2007-2009.

And Future TV

And we still don’t know the answer to the most important question facing compliance officers in 2018: Will FX actually produce a whole season of its proposed comedy about compliance officers?

Last we heard, FX was shooting a pilot for the program, “Compliance,” starring Courtney Vance and Mary-Louise Parker. I continue to work my contacts in Hollywood and will keep close tabs on this pressing issue.

That’s all for compliance in television. Next week we’ll look at compliance in film. If you know of a program I’ve overlooked or have a recommendation, either email me at [email protected] or add your favorites to the LinkedIn post!

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