Four friends become millionaires overnight — but as this light dramedy depicts, stacks of cash have a way of coaxing skeletons out of the closet
“Loaded” tells the story of what happens after a small London gaming startup is bought out by a huge American corporation, making the four co-founders — who, are at the age of about 30, more or less manchildren — into multimillionaires. As you can imagine from four men who still regularly play their Nintendo 64, million-pound nerdy hijinks ensue. The first episode opens with the co-founders touring the London suburbs with a barbershop quartet singing a quaintly harmonized air comprised entirely of the lyrics “Suck My Balls.” Dapper Leon (Samuel Anderson) explains that they are visiting everyone who ever denied them funding with this very special message. Then he ushers the team back into his new candy-apple red sports car, sternly telling Watto (Nick Helm), “No, you cannot vape in the Ferrari.”
The show begins with a lot of silly reckless spending, but although there is no point where the foursome seems to understand the limitations of their wealth, “Loaded” quickly shifts its characters from lottery-winning euphoria to embarrassment-of-riches anxiety. Josh (Jim Howick), the head designer, tries to use a cushion of money as a salve for his parents’ boredom; Leon goes back to his old high school to tell off one mean teacher who never thought he had potential; Ewan (Jonny Sweet) is so wracked with guilt and awkwardness that he keeps spontaneously offering his employees unearned bonuses; and Watto, most tragically, has to battle the even more available temptations of recovering alcoholism. Meanwhile, acquisition has introduced other problems — like a new boss, Casey (Mary McCormack), a ball-busting suit who rains outrageous verbal abuse on the Cat Factory creators.
“Loaded” is a relatively low-stakes drama, but given its limited scope, it’s endearing and engaging. The characters have real affection for each other, which makes this show very different from HBO’s “Silicon Valley.” “Loaded” is “Silicon Valley” if Pied Piper ever managed to get acquired — and if the characters were better people who cared about each other. What ends up keeping the four afloat is their reliance on each other, and that makes for a nice safety net for the viewer. “Loaded” can be extravagant, and its characters can be selfish, but there’s both a floor and a ceiling to how emotionally involving it will be. The Cat Factory boys (for yes, that is their phone game’s name) are slowly and awkwardly learning how to be adults, but they will more or less be all right.
The solid framework of community also offers some space for genuine insight (and humor) about how inequalities of money and success can shape relationships. On one hand, they find that their friends and romantic partners are treating them a little differently. On the other, they’re realizing that they themselves are acting really strangely — and that money doesn’t buy everything they hoped it would. Ewan has to practice saying “I’m a really big deal” with a coworker until he can deliver it sincerely; Josh tries to get back his ex-girlfriend by donating £60,000 to her new boyfriend’s charity. (His new American boss Casey likes it. “People like people who quote ‘care about people,’” she observes, citing Bono. The Brits all try to explain to her that no one in the U.K. likes Bono, but she’s skeptical.)
“Loaded” is a nice summer offering, with lightweight humor and a British twist on the startup story that makes it a bit of a novelty. And every now and then there’s insight about wealth — or the lack thereof — that is a little funny and a little heart-rending in its stark truth.