Profit: The Complete Series

Dan Devine

A TV show with an interesting premise, crisp writing, darkly compelling protagonist, and loads of critical praise usually generates thoughts of Emmys, Golden Globes, and long-haul success. Instead, Profit was canned after four episodes.


Distributor: Anchor Bay Entertainment
Cast: Adrian Pasdar, Lisa Zane, Keith Szarabajka, Jack Gwaltney, Allison Hossack, Lisa Darr, Lisa Blount, Sherman Augustus
Subtitle: The Complete Series
Network: Fox
First date: 1996
US Release Date: 2005-08-09
Amazon affiliate

A TV show with an interesting premise, crisp writing, darkly compelling protagonist, and loads of critical praise usually generates thoughts of Emmys, Golden Globes, and long-haul success. Instead, Profit was canned after four episodes.

Profit: The Complete Series compiles the eight-episode run of one of television's most bizarre disappointments. The sinister boardroom drama created by John McNamara (Fastlane) and David Greenwalt (Angel) drew raves for its depiction of soulless businessman Jim Profit (Adrian Pasdar). But its lack of viewers led to its sucker-punch cancellation in the middle of the 1996 fall season. The set recaps the show from pre-production to post-mortem, with creators and stars patting themselves on the backs and pondering what the hell went wrong. In their eyes, they did everything right and the audience just didn't "get it." In mine, they never gave the audience much reason to try.

In their somewhat daunting two-hour commentary track for the series pilot, Greenwalt and McNamara emphasize that they never intended to demonize capitalism or the corporate culture of '90s America. Rather, they wanted to explore the nastier bits of the "human condition," and they decided (after flirtations with making Profit a doctor or lawyer) that focus on a multinational corporation would offer the best shot at getting their hands dirty.

If all this sounds familiar, it's probably because the choice to trail a sociopath from boardroom to back alley parallels ground Bret Easton Ellis covered in American Psycho (1991). We meet Profit on his first day as a junior VP in the acquisitions wing of Gracen & Gracen. His job is simple: protect G&G's reputation and make its shareholders stacks of money every day, by any means necessary. Profit's extreme utilitarian worldview enables him to act without conscience or prejudice -- he lies, cheats, steals, blackmails, and even murders to drive the corporation's stock and his career through the roof, always covering his tracks well enough to keep out of cuffs.

(It's worth noting that Profit's creators never mention Ellis' novel in any of the set's numerous commentaries and interviews. In fact, on the third disc's making-of featurette, Greenwalt and McNamara claim they conceived the show in the late '80s, and assert that the main influence was Shakespeare's Richard III, which McNamara loved because the titular character tells the audience all the heinous things he's going to do and then actually does them. He felt that the madman "opening up" to the crowd resonated with viewers.)

As Greenwalt, McNamara, and producer Jo Swerling all point out, Profit aired before cable networks pushed the envelope with edgy, explicit fare like The Sopranos. In 1996, a show whose main character pursues an incestuous relationship with his stepmother (it was supposed to be his birth mother, but even Fox couldn't let that happen) and induces a fatal heart attack in his father -- in the pilot -- had no precedent. It's no shock for the first of anything to fall short.

Still, it's too easy to say that Profit was "ahead of its time." It's not like promiscuity, blackmail, and violence were foreign concepts in the mid-'90s; Melrose Place relied on the first two, and Congressional rumblings about the negative effect of the third in games like Doom and Quake were already being televised. Why did we hyper-consume those products and hang Profit out to dry?

The creators suggest that it was because people couldn't deal with an evil and amoral primetime "hero." While that may be partially true, it's simplistic. Profit was so dynamic and so perfectly portrayed that he made you feel a little sick for acknowledging the dirty business inside your own head, but at the same time convinced you that you were somehow more human for its presence. (I consider myself a well-adjusted guy, and by the fourth episode, I was rooting for Profit to murder aforementioned step-MILF Bobbi, played by Lisa Blount, if only to put an end to her awful Southern accent.) Besides, we were only three years away from Tony Soprano becoming the poster child for small-screen artistry. Did the culture really swing that drastically from abhorrence to acceptance between 1996 and 1999?

I think the show's failure lies in a major difference between Psycho and Profit. While Bateman remains a blank slate (you can infer whatever personal or sociological explanation you want for his behavior), the creators grant a wide-angle insight into Profit's profound psychological problems in the pilot. This becomes something of an apologetic framework for all that comes afterward: the man who becomes Jim Profit was once a boy named Jimmy Stakowski who was horribly abused throughout his childhood. Details of the abuse are often alluded to but rarely explicitly stated, with the exception of one major mindfuck: Jimmy's father made him live inside a cardboard box with a small cutout facing directly into a television set that was his only window to the outside world. There he sat, mostly ignored, utterly absorbed by the characters he saw on TV. Years later, after abandoning his former identity and using the lessons he learned to become a businessman, Profit still goes to sleep at night in that same box, hidden away behind the bookshelves in his high-rise apartment.

Credit McNamara and Greenwalt for coming up with a major-league hook for their pilot episode, a completely unexpected turn that makes you shake your head and say, "Wait, what?" But this great twist submarines the entire point of the first-person connection between Profit and the audience. Now, we're not just rooting for him to see if he can really come out unscathed, like Richard. We also feel kind of sorry for Profit because he's basically playing the hand he was dealt. The pop psychologist in any audience member won't have much trouble drawing a connection between the messed-up childhood and the evil the man does, which eliminates the jarring detachment of Bateman's inexplicable sociopath.

The rest of the series was destined to be little more than a variation on that theme. Now, that might not be why most of America tuned out in the first place, but it's a damn good reason not to return now. Great stories always keep the audience wanting more; Profit gave the audience everything it wanted in the first episode, then failed to come up with anything of interest to bring them back. Revisiting the interviews and watching Greenwalt and McNamara complain about Fox giving up on the show too soon, I can't help but disagree. If anything, four episodes was probably three too many.






Great Peacock Stares Down Mortality With "High Wind" (premiere + interview)

Southern rock's Great Peacock offer up a tune that vocalist Andrew Nelson says encompasses their upcoming LP's themes. "You are going to die one day. You can't stop the negative things life throws at you from happening. But, you can make the most of it."


The 80 Best Albums of 2015

Travel back five years ago when the release calendar was rife with stellar albums. 2015 offered such an embarrassment of musical riches, that we selected 80 albums as best of the year.


Buridan's Ass and the Problem of Free Will in John Sturges' 'The Great Escape'

Escape in John Sturge's The Great Escape is a tactical mission, a way to remain in the war despite having been taken out of it. Free Will is complicated.


The Redemption of Elton John's 'Blue Moves'

Once reviled as bloated and pretentious, Elton John's 1976 album Blue Moves, is one of his masterpieces, argues author Matthew Restall in the latest installment of the 33 1/3 series.


Whitney Take a Master Class on 'Candid'

Although covers albums are usually signs of trouble, Whitney's Candid is a surprisingly inspired release, with a song selection that's eclectic and often obscure.


King Buzzo Continues His Reign with 'Gift of Sacrifice'

King Buzzo's collaboration with Mr. Bungle/Fantômas bassist Trevor Dunn expands the sound of Buzz Osborne's solo oeuvre on Gift of Sacrifice.


Jim O'Rourke's Experimental 'Shutting Down Here' Is Big on Technique

Jim O'Rourke's Shutting Down Here is a fine piece of experimental music with a sure hand leading the way. But it's not pushing this music forward with the same propensity as Luc Ferrari or Derek Bailey.


Laraaji Returns to His First Instrument for 'Sun Piano'

The ability to help the listener achieve a certain elevation is something Laraaji can do, at least to some degree, no matter the instrument.


Kristin Hersh Discusses Her Gutsy New Throwing Muses Album

Kristin Hersh thinks influences are a crutch, and chops are a barrier between artists and their truest expressions. We talk about life, music, the pandemic, dissociation, and the energy that courses not from her but through her when she's at her best.


The 10 Best Fleetwood Mac Solo Albums

Fleetwood Mac are the rare group that feature both a fine discography and a successful series of solo LPs from their many members. Here are ten examples of the latter.


Jamila Woods' "SULA (Paperback)" and Creative Ancestry and Self-Love in the Age of "List" Activism

In Jamila Woods' latest single "SULA (Paperback)", Toni Morrison and her 1973 novel of the same name are not static literary phenomena. They are an artist and artwork as galvanizing and alive as Woods herself.


The Erotic Disruption of the Self in Paul Schrader's 'The Comfort of Strangers'

Paul Schrader's The Comfort of Strangers presents the discomfiting encounter with another —someone like you—and yet entirely unlike you, mysterious to you, unknown and unknowable.


'Can You Spell Urusei Yatsura' Is a Much Needed Burst of Hopefulness in a Desultory Summer

A new compilation online pulls together a generous helping of B-side action from a band deserving of remembrance, Scotland's Urusei Yatsura.


Jess Cornelius Creates Tautly Constructed Snapshots of Life

Former Teeth & Tongue singer-songwriter Jess Cornelius' Distance is an enrapturing collection of punchy garage-rock, delicate folk, and arty synthpop anthems which examine liminal spaces between us.


Sikoryak's 'Constitution Illustrated' Pays Homage to Comics and the Constitution

R. Sikoryak's satirical pairings of comics characters with famous and infamous American historical figures breathes new and sometimes uncomfortable life into the United States' most living document.


South African Folk Master Vusi Mahlasela Honors Home on 'Shebeen Queen'

South African folk master Vusi Mahlasela pays tribute to his home and family with township music on live album, Shebeen Queen.


Planningtorock Is Queering Sound, Challenging Binaries, and Making Infectious Dance Music

Planningtorock emphasizes "queering sound and vision". The music industry has its hierarchies of style, of equipment, of identities. For Jam Rostron, queering music means taking those conventions and deliberately manipulating and subverting them.


'History Gets Ahead of the Story' for Jazz's Cosgrove, Medeski, and Lederer

Jazz drummer Jeff Cosgrove leads brilliant organ player John Medeski and multi-reed master Jeff Lederer through a revelatory recording of songs by William Parker and some just-as-good originals.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.