Sunday, February 27, 2022

REVIEW: 'Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber' - Travis Brings In a Powerhouse Investor to Expand Uber's Influence in 'Grow or Die'

Showtime's Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber - Episode 1.01 "Grow or Die"

UberCab CEO Travis Kalanick sets his sights on landing an important partner for his fledgling company: VC powerhouse Bill Gurley. But Gurley's money might not be enough as UberCab employees take to the San Francisco streets to recruit & conquer and the support of his loved ones can't stop the stressed leader from cracking.

"Grow or Die" was written by Brian Koppelman & David Levien and directed by Allen Coulter

Travis Kalanick wants you to know he is a disruptor. He is the future and the antiquated world of taxis is the past. He has a vision and no one can deny him that success. He can't deal with any selfish and demented egos but his own. His mother has to come in at a certain point and explain basic human empathy. That's the kind of character at the center of this story. Its about his personality just as much as it is about the service his startup is providing. Bill Gurley's team can explain why this investment is a wise decision. They know something is going to pop in this space soon. Gurley makes his decision based on Travis. It's the personality of the founder that determines if the product will succeed. And yes, the world knows that Uber achieves the scale that is so enviable at this point in time. It's fascinating to see the journey getting to that point especially with the lawsuits and governmental disruptions. It's also meant to highlight how heinous this atmosphere can be. It's the cruel cynicism of companies knowing they can charge whatever they want as soon as they hook their users with a product. Uber doesn't have to ensure that its rides are safe. They just have to put in a legal disclaimer stating they've done everything necessary to provide the expectation of safety. They can't be accountable for every single action of each driver. Travis and the executives preach about the importance of both the drivers and the riders. They celebrate their riders for being loyal to the company. They incentivize the drivers to make the switch to this personalized schedule. It's the hustle meant to show the fight that has been lit within each of these people. And yet, it still builds to Travis yelling at his staff for not being as super pumped as he is. Again, he is a demented individual who prioritizes himself and looks down on everyone else. He is the CEO. He won't be forced out. He talks a big game and demands excellence. He requires disruption. That's the point driven home over and over again. The action is literally disrupted several times to feature Quentin Tarantino narrating the importance of it all while graphics pop up. That stylistic choice is too timid though. It's an idea in search of cohesion with the true life dramatization of this story. Disruption certainly occurs. It may not be in the way that appeals to a viewer hoping for the narrative to offer support as it lays out this story.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is appealing and strong in the manic, domineering quality that brings Travis Kalanick to life. Kyle Chandler offers sturdiness and determination to his characterization of Bill Gurley. They are the two titans coming together. Travis needs Gurley's money. He sees it as belittling and weak when he has to go back for more. Gurley knows how this system works. He knows the struggles of starting a new company. Nothing Travis has done should be concerning. Gurley wants him to succeed. He sees this as a true partnership. Of course, it's a dynamic where they are testing each other with their lies in order to create more opportunities. That's part of the pitch meeting. Travis shows the easy accessibility of his company. Gurley had to create an opening for that to occur. He set up the test. He may very well be doing that in the end as well. He brings in a dealmaker to help the company expand to other cities. He is immediately tested. That's a concise explanation for why the company changed its name from UberCab to Uber. It's all legal semantics. It's a way to avoid government oversight. Travis and the company are more than willing to exploit the public when it suites their interests. It's still all about the bottom line. They face an existential threat. One fiery speech from Travis is all that it takes to get people excited and onboard with changing the world. Travis doesn't even need to back up his words with anything. This is his leadership. It goes unchallenged. He's perfectly blunt in demanding assholes when he interviews people. That's his vision for revolution. It's not original or terribly imaginative. It's simply a way for him to gain ownership over something he deems important. This company is an extension of his entire identity. He is nothing if Uber doesn't exist. The people in his world know that he is demanding and requires so much attention. The show is glad to hand that over to him as well. Sure, that's a consequence of the show laying out its focus before the more challenging elements of the journey begin. The expectation is certainly strong to reveal more of the nuances of how toxic this world has become. Right now, Uber has free reign to do basically anything. Taxis are competition but Uber sets out to play by different rules. It exploits the public for profit. It provides a service though. That popularity can't go unnoticed. The toxic work environment is the point. It simply comes across as the show dictating the biographical details instead of informing the characters behind it all.