‘Dirty Money’: The most money-grubbin’ shows on TV
“The best things in life are free,” said no one ever. Or at least not by those chasing the American dream, for which the pursuit of wealth sits at the center.
Lauren Greenfield, director of well-known documentaries The Queen of Versailles (2012) and The Kingmaker (2019), offered a hard-hitting portrait of materialistic, image-obsessed American culture in her 2018 production, Generation Wealth.
Speaking to a number of subjects, Greenfield set out to discover why our obsession with lucre has grown and how a fictitious lifestyle in a post-Kardashian world fuels a sense of inadequacy, subsequently making people yearn for infinite amounts of money.
“If everybody knows that money doesn’t bring us happiness, why do we devote our lives to trying to get more of it?” asked Greenfield. “This conundrum is the principal question I try to answer in my film Generation Wealth.” The film points an accusing lens at materialism to expose how a society has generated a civilization of rich narcissists.
We’re taking a look at the most money-obsessed shows today because whether it be gambling, business, planning a heist, or selling a sex tape in a claim to fame (ahem), society’s obsession with money continues to prove fascinating for storytelling. Here are the most $$$-lovin’ shows on TV.
Money Heist (2017 – )
One of the most understated shows on TV right now, Money Heist is a Spanish TV show from creator Álex Pina, titled La Casa de Papel in the original Castilian. The Netflix series is a small-screen version of a classic crime caper page-turner.
An addictively pulpy watch which stretches the tropes and narratives of a heist thriller across a number of episodes, Money Heist sees eight thieves take hostages and lock themselves in the Royal Mint of Spain while a criminal mastermind manipulates the police to carry out his plan.
Trust us on this one – from the well-written characters, to the complexity of the story itself, Money Heist is the page-turner you won’t be able to put down.
Keeping Up with the Kardashians (2007 – 2021)
Keeping Up with the Kardashians is the epicenter of all that is sh%t in pop culture. The Kardashians are poster girls for narcissism and superficial drivers of the “being famous for being famous” generation. Whatever your view on Keeping Up with the Kardashians, there’s no denying the influence this reality show juggernaut has had on modern-day society, all centered on none other than Paris Hilton’s BFF Kim K and the “leak” of her sex tape with Ray J.
The power of the show is evident with the rise of the “baby” of the family, Kylie Jenner, who at 20 is on track to become the youngest ever self-made billionaire, thanks in part to her “lip kits” and her overwhelming social media presence. According to Variety, Keeping Up With the Kardashians will be coming to an end after its final season airing in early this year. After twenty atrocious seasons on air, we can’t rejoice enough.
As Greenfield herself put it, “Keeping up with the Joneses has become Keeping up with the Kardashians, and the American Dream has morphed from an attainable goal, the result of hard work, to a fantasy way of life characterized by self-indulgence, celebrity, and narcissism.” What a time to be alive.
Billions (2016 – )
The clue is in the name – Showtime’s Billions is about cash, and lots of it. Starring Paul Giamatti as U.S. attorney Chuck Rhoades, who goes after hedge fund king Bobby “Axe” Axelrod (Damian Lewis) in this battle between two powerful New York figures, Billions highlights & dramatizes the high-stakes corruption of Wall Street and sees mainstays Giamatti & Lewis at the top of their game.
Dirty Money (2018)
Ever wonder how the rich always get richer? It’s not always legal or moral methods – many of those who have floated to the top have had to use dirty tactics to reach the top 1%. Netflix recently released a six-part docuseries by Alex Gibney exploring corporate malfeasance via the stories of scandal in big business, exposing the nastiness and ruthless nature of greed & corruption with stories from the viewpoints of the perpetrators and their victims.
Subjects range from the deception of otherwise trusted brands like Volkswagen to ploys by companies in despised industries. And of course, what would this series be if it didn’t focus on the shady deals in Donald Trump’s business empire and the dirty dealings of king d-bag, Martin Shkreli?
The Real Housewives (2006 – )
The overriding message of The Real Housewives franchise since its birth back in 2006 is that it doesn’t matter where you are: the ugliness of superficiality and throwaway wealth will always prevail.
The success of the first installment, The Real Housewives of Orange County, resulted in spinoff series located in New York City, Atlanta, New Jersey, Washington D.C., Beverly Hills, Miami, Potomac, Dallas, and more with each season focusing on a fresh batch of not-so fresh brats. Each group of privileged housewives reside in the wealthiest areas of America and show off their meaningless, self-absorbed lives.
UnReal (2015 – 2018)
UnReal is a sharp satire exploring the nature of the aforementioned reality TV shows and the money / fame obsessed culture they breed. The show offers a behind-the-scenes look at the production of a Bachelor-style dating reality show called Everlasting and the manipulation taking place to make the show a hit. UnReal has a strong cast of women at the helm, including Shiri Appleby (Roswell) and Constance Zimmer (Agents of Shield) as the central characters.
The Apprentice (2014 – 2017)
What day could be better to reminisce about Donald Trump’s abysmal reality TV show than the day he’s kicked out of office by President Joe Biden. Before Trump’s turn in the Oval Office, the self-made billionaire headed the U.S. version of The Apprentice – a reality show that saw business wannabes fight like dogs in a bid to bag a job with Trump himself.
The show was eventually taken over by Arnold Schwarzenegger, who quit after just one season, blaming the poor ratings on Trump’s political baggage. Or it could just be that viewers would much rather see Arnie shouting “do it now” while hanging off a helicopter than telling suits whether or not their reusable corn-plastic cups are a viable business idea.
Ozark (2017 – )
In Netflix’s Ozark, Jason Bateman stars as a man on the run with his wife and two kids in tow after a money-laundering scheme goes horribly wrong, forcing him to pay off a substantial debt to a Mexican drug lord in order to keep his family safe.
However, simply relocating his family to the Missouri Ozarks when his dealings with the drug cartel go awry doesn’t spell the end for his struggles. Martin and his family are left dealing with the fallout of the deal while facing even bigger problems among the residents of Missouri’s not-so-sleepy town.
The show is worth a punt for its tension-building, its skill in burrowing into the dysfunctional characters and their backstories, and for Julia Garner, who is glorious as ever as the foul-mouthed, scene-stealing Ruth Langmore.
Succession (2018 – )
HBO’s Succession is one of our greatest obsessions – a series centered on a dysfunctional American global-media family (that’s definitely not, we repeat not based on the Murdoch empire).
Jesse Armstrong’s drama is full of salacious scandals and rich kids doing very bad things, as aging patriarch Logan Roy (Brian Cox) is left contemplating what the future holds for his international media conglomerate, Waystar Royco, and the relatives who so desperately yearn for his position within it.