Review: Video kills the cinema star with huge captive audience

VIDEO streaming services are having their moment in the sun – in direct proportion to the burgeoning number of viewers denied access to the shiny thing in the sky courtesy of lockdown.

With an incarcerated population increasingly drawn to laptop screens for relief, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney +, Hulu, and the surprisingly expensive YouTube TV have pushed some of their better quality through more swiftly than they would perhaps have liked. While Hollywood blockbusters, series, specials and international TV shows draw most of the attention, documentaries are getting a look-in as viewers riffle greedily through content in search of distraction.

Planet of the Humans - Wind Turbines
Planet Of The Humans: An appalling knife-in-the-back surprise from Michael Moore

Even the free-to-view version of YouTube is upping its game with recent offerings, including a general release of an appalling, knife-in-the-back surprise from one-time people’s hero Michael Moore. His Planet Of The Humans is a jumbled, disconnected, inconsistent and outdated diatribe against all that is right and just in the world of sustainability and alternative energy, and it has rightly knocked from beneath him whatever public pillar he was counting on to support him.

But enough about Moore. Netflix – no favouritism here, simply the streaming service that I subscribe to – is providing more interesting fodder on the topics of environment, business and finance. While much of the content is not new, the messages and issues are surprisingly perennial, and the delivery often artful and gripping.

Season Two of Dirty Money is a case in point. The Netflix original TV series covers corporate corruption, securities fraud, and creative accounting in all their shameful glory. The first batch of hour-long episodes began streaming in 2018, and the show’s executive producers include Oscar-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney.

Each episode focuses on an example of corporate corruption, with interviews with key players. The second season premiered this March, and while there is a sense of elastic stretching – ‘twas ever thus with series that have no fixed end-point – it provides an entertaining watch for those who feel they should be imbibing something more intellectually stimulating than Walking Dead, 72 Dangerous Animals: Latin America, or the LBGTQ-friendly remake of the early ‘80s soap Dynasty.

Each Dirty Money episode showcases the vision of a different director, tackling issues as disparate as the luxurious excesses of former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, a satisfying pot-shot at Trump-puppy Jared Kushner, the universal, ubiquitous and unpunished worlds of money laundering and illegal mining, the legislated abuse of America’s elderly, and the amoral use of toxic chemicals in modern manufacture.

Good news and heartwarming viewing all round, then, but someone had to take a pin to the more noxious bubbles from the capitalist stew perking away unnoticed on the back-burner. While the content makes for often unpalatable fare, the ugly facts hung out to air are grimly fascinating for the barefaced bravado and heartlessness of the perpetrators.

Accountability is the one thing shown to be most lacking, but the increased transparency afforded by this series should go some way to elevating public awareness of the many wrongs routinely committed in the pursuit of profit.