Entertainment

Super Pumped Review: The drama about Uber’s former chief honcho is low-calorie entertainment at its best

“Are you an asshole?” This question is on the list of questions Uber founder Travis Kalanick asks potential “Uberettos” — his sweet nickname for the ride-sharing giant’s employees. And it’s not exactly rhetorical. Travis likes assholes. Apparently it takes an asshole to disrupt the status quo, act fast, destroy things, get things done, fail fast, fail often – insert your tech bro bombast of choice here. Assholes are very effective people for Travis.

That he has a contrarian streak deeper than Silicon Valley’s San Andreas fault line tells you everything you need to know about the man who broke up the cab business only to follow sexual harassment allegations against the company in Being ousted from his throne in 2017. “Are you an asshole?” is among the first things he comments on Super pumped: The Battle for Uber, a brazen new Paramount+ series about the dizzying rise and catastrophic fall of the CEO. When I heard that, I thought of Maya Angelou’s famous advice to Oprah: “When people show you who they are, believe them.”

Related to New York Times Reporter Mike Isaac’s 2019 report on Uber’s “work hard, play hard” culture, Super pumped is the first entry in a planned anthology of real-life economic drama billion Creators Brian Koppelman and David Levien. And it’s told in that idiosyncratic rapid-fire rhythm we reserve for Silicon Valley stories, with dialogue so aggressively pompous and unnecessarily cutting that it’s hard to resist Travis’ certain doom. Instead of real suspense, we get a grab bag full of gimmicks that make watching wonderfully unpredictable: a Quentin Tarantino voiceover, video game sequences, Joseph Gordon-Levitt in extended direct speech. If the dominant tone of Big Tech conversation is hostile, their lingua franca are pop culture name checks. Cult leader David Koresh, teamster Jimmy Hoffa, US President Andrew Johnson, Chicago Bulls coach Phil Jackson, Frank Sinatra, Gandhi and of course “Zuck” are just a very, very small fraction of the show’s wide ranging credentials.

There’s nothing subtle about Travis, played by Gordon-Levitt with a shark charm that fits the tech-bro archetype we first met in 2010 The social network. But Travis lacks Mark Zuckerburg’s patience. He’ll tell you exactly what defiant measure he has in mind, whether it’s an illegal scam against traffic regulators or a shady Vegas rage for the entire company. It’s not Travis’s ingenuity that amazes, but his willingness to deliver on his wildest promises.

The only people who see through his boast are Travis’ long-suffering girlfriend Gabi Holzwarth (Bridget Gao Hollitt), his mother (Elisabeth Shue), and Bill Gurley, the venture capitalist who funded Uber’s early efforts. Bill, played by friday night lights Star Kyle Chandler, with his signature gentle, avuncular appeal, represents who Travis could be with more maturity. Or maybe Travis is the brazen braggart that Bill would be if he had the ideas to change the world but not the money to make it happen.

The problem with the series’ short-sighted focus on Uber’s chief honcho is that the main characters need to evolve. Travis never comes close, even with worthy foils to expose his bad traits. Gordon-Levitt infuses Travis’ ruthlessness with boyish, almost playful panache, but ultimately there’s not much compelling about a 40-year-old man thrashing about like a toddler in seven episodes. He yells, he pokes fun at, he stabs in the back while touting Uber’s “smooth” user experience.

Like “uberettos” and “frictionless,” “super pumped” is another term in Travis’ personal glossary. He uses it to describe the perpetually hyper state in which he exists. At Uber HQ, it’s a core value that demands more and more from employees. But really, it’s sly gibberish, a made-up word that Travis uses to excuse his own worst impulses and get what he wants. The show resists the urge to humanize Travis’ selfishness, but it also fails to extrapolate what super pumped guys like Travis mean to Silicon Valley and the rest of us. The result is low-calorie entertainment at its finest, as flashy and empty as Travis’ self-serving rallying cry.

https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/reviews/super-pumped-review-joseph-gordon-levitt-b2105413.html Super Pumped Review: The drama about Uber’s former chief honcho is low-calorie entertainment at its best

JOE HERNANDEZ

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