Make your next Netflix binge an educational one with these five shows about money, finance and capitalism.
Netflix is great for those times when you simply need to chill out with a good weekend binge. For a change of pace, why not make your next TV binge session one where you tickle your brain and learn a little more about money, finance and capitalism?
From investigations into the largest scandals of our time, to the dangerous allure of corruption, and even a peek into the lives of those blessed with ultra-luxe existences (spoiler: it’s not all glitter and rainbows), here are 5 entertaining Netflix shows that might just change your views about money.
1. The China Hustle
Duration: 1h 24min
One-line synopsis: An expose about one of the biggest financial frauds in America, happening right now.
Beneath its light-hearted, at-times comedic veneer, The China Hustle is a harrowing tale and warning about what is being called one of America’s biggest financial frauds that have victimised, and continue to harm, laymen investors in America.
The deceit is simple. Chinese companies are merged into defunct American companies and listed on the stock exchange. Then, American investors and banks recommend the stocks of these Chinese companies, who falsely claim earnings and revenue far in excess of the reality, as much as 10 times or more.
This drives up stock prices, letting traders, banks, brokers and the like earn profit from investors tricked into buying into these essentially worthless companies. It is sobering to imagine the fallout when the whole gig finally comes crashing down.
Even more chilling is the revelation that this fraud is still going on today, and financial institutions in America seem unable or unwilling to stop it.
How it’ll change your view about money: Among other things, this documentary will teach you to be more cautious in doing your research before investing, and only putting your money in trusted institutions and jurisdictions.
2. Dirty Money
Duration: 2 seasons, 12 episodes in total
One-line synopsis: Money makes people do funny things, just too bad they’re illegal.
Corruption, scandals, cheating, outright lies. Money has a way of inspiring the worst in people. And as this Netflix documentary series shows, it is not only criminals that give in to their base desires and commit illegal acts.
Rather, it is intelligent, highly-respected people, individuals we hold in high regard, that cannot resist the corrupting influence of money, making their moral failure and eventual downfall that much more shocking.
Pulling together investigations, reports and personal interviews (sometimes with the offenders!), each of the 12 episodes in Dirty Money narrates a financial scandal so large in scale and insidious in reach that you’ll be left wondering how much more corruption is going on in the backdrop of everyday life, hiding in plain sight.
Especially gripping is the Season 2 episode featuring the billion-dollar 1MDB scandal. With Najib now sentenced to a decade-long jail term, the interview segment where he calmly and confidently denies the allegations is satisfyingly ironic.
How it’ll change your view about money: You’ll become more wary about the ability of large corporations and powerful figures to do the right thing – for better or worse.
3. Bad Boy Billionaires
Duration: 1 season, 3 episodes
One-line synopsis: Ultra-rich men getting high off their own supply.
Focussing on three of India’s biggest money scandals, Bad Boy Billionaires stands out for its depiction of the heights of denial that corruption can inspire in those who fall under its poisonous influence.
The central characters in each hour-long episode – an airline magnate, a jeweller and an investor for the poor – start their stories off on ostensibly honourable footing.
However, as shiny facades crumble, ever more distasteful truths come to light. As more serious accusations prompt investigations, the guilty parties respond not with contrition but by railing ever louder, making even more extraordinary heights and pushing the increasingly incredible agenda of their innocence.
Each episode is a morbidly fascinating study in how far detached from reality the perpetrators become as their fabricated empires come crashing down.
How it’ll change your views about money: The pursuit of money is good, but there can be too much of a good thing.
4. Trump, An American Dream
Duration: 1 season, 4 episodes
One-line synopsis: How to create your own reality, all the way to the White House.
Thankfully, Biden and the Democrats have finally managed to put Trump away (for now) but you can bet your bottom dollar this won’t be the last we’ll see of him.
If you’re wondering how Trump came to be in control of the probably the world’s largest collection of nuclear weapons for four sweat-inducing years, this investigative documentary (and supervillain origin story) will help you understand the power of the Trump brand.
Like most villains, he wasn’t always like this. Young Donald Trump was seen to be deeply strategic, likeable and intelligent, but after seeing his name in the bright lights of Trump Tower, the once brilliant businessman took an unexplained turn that darkened his reputation and solidified his worst characteristics.
Somehow hitting upon a terrible mastery of the illusion of power and wealth, Trump continued to wield his malign influence culminating in the chilling revelation that he had always been aiming for the White House.
How it’ll change your views about money: Trump, An American Dream proves acting like you have money will get you further than actually having more money.
5. Bling Empire
Duration: 1 season, 8 episodes
Genre: Reality TV
One-line synopsis: Crazy Rich Asians have problems too, you know?
A fly-on-the-wall look at the lives of wealthy Asians in Los Angeles, Bling Empire is an unexpectedly addictive series you’ll want to binge-watch at one go.
The cast of characters are as diverse as they are memorable.
There’s the half-Japanese, half-Russian billionaire heiress Anna Shay; high-cheekboned former star of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills Christine Chiu and her husband Gabe – a direct descendant of the Song Dynasty; former equestrian and upcoming fashion influencer Jaime Xie; curvaceous and feisty Kim Lee, pipped to be EDM’s next biggest superstar; Cherie Chan, a denim empire heiress and former rising Japanese pop star; Kelly Mi Li, an influencer and Hollywood producer; and even Singapore’s very own Kane Lim, a self-made multi-millionaire, real estate developer, investor and philanthropist.
Fitness model Kevin Kreider is their not-rich close friend, whose sometimes endearingly clueless but relatable questions about “rich people culture” makes him an effective audience surrogate.
The eye-popping lifestyle of the ultra-rich is put on full, unfettered display here. The cast take turns booking out entire high-end shops, clubs and restaurants, even the iconic Rodeo Drive, just so that they and their friends can party in private.
But it’s the interweaving storylines and scene-stealing cameos that will keep you glued to the screen, which includes:
- The tit-for-tat cattiness of Anna and Christine’s social warfare
- Kim and Kevin’s heartstrings-tugging search for closure
- Christine’s sacrifice against the suffocating weight of long-outdated Chinese values
- Kelly’s see-sawing and potentially destructive love life
- Cherie’s slightly kooky if understandable beliefs about her dead mother
With all that, there’s plenty to keep you mashing the ‘Next Episode’ button.
With such a gaudy backdrop, you’d expect Bling Empire to be nothing more than a gauche display of privilege and wealth.
A lesser production crew would have set up the cast to fulfil classic TV tropes like scheming villain, righteous hero, long-suffering spouse, naive man-child – the characters are certainly ripe for the taking.
On the contrary, every character is given the time and space to tell their own stories. This results in fully fleshed, at times voyeuristic, portraits of people struggling with universal issues like acceptance, identity and love.
How it’ll change your views about money: Bling Empire proves that money doesn’t solve all problems. But we bet sobbing into thousand-dollar bedsheets in a million-dollar mansion is still going to be much more comfortable.
This article was first published in SingSaver.com.sg.