The Showtime TV series Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber is an anthology based on Mike Isaac’s best-selling book that paints a uniquely crafted story based on Travis Kalanick, the co-founder and former chief executive officer (CEO) of Uber. Now, before you run off and cash this one out as “one of those types” of shows that exaggerate an otherwise unremarkable story so that viewers who have no genuine interest in the context still find it tantalizing enough to binge watch, let me point out a few things. But before I do, I also want to clarify that Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber is precisely “one of those types of shows,” but does that make it wrong?
Consider the star power
First off, the star power for this series is pretty impressive, and not just as a matter of opinion. I got to give it to the casting department for this ensemble. There are Oscar winners, Saturn Award Winners, Emmy Winners, a ton of nominees, and a bunch of other highly decorated awards owned by the cast of Super Pumped. The main character, Travis Kalanick, is played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who got his start in a comedy sitcom titled 3rd Rock for the Sun. Since then, he’s been nominated for countless awards and racked up over 90 acting credits. Kyle Chandler, who played Coach Taylor on a popular Friday Night Lights series, plays Bill Gurley. This venture capitalist dream maker plays a pivotal role in transforming the ambitious business from a basic run-of-the-mill startup to the worldwide behemoth we all know it becomes. Quentin Tarantino, the legendary director Quentin Tarantino, narrates the film in a style that only he could bring to the table, and it’s one of my favorite things about the series. Coupled with fun and attractive on-screen graphics, the combination works surprisingly well. Uma Thurman, who appeared in a few Tarantino films herself, plays Arianna Huffington, cofounder of The Huffington Post and Uber board member. There are plenty of other talented actors on the show, but I covered enough here to at least give you a reason to check it out.
“One of those” shows
Ok. So, I already referred that said this is “one of those shows.” And if you genuinely aren’t familiar with what I mean by that, I’ll break it down to better explain my reasoning. It comes across as entertaining, but even by watching the two-and-a-half-minute trailer for the show, you should have no problem picking up on that over-exaggeration vibe I mentioned earlier. The characters in the series are written to be over-the-top, one-dimensional, and almost cartoon-like in the way they’re portrayed. The story seems way too “busy” or “made-for-tv” to feel natural, and the oddly worded (yet sometimes strangely enjoyable) overuse of dialogue will be a turn-off to most viewers. Especially if you’re not a fan of this style of movie or show. It’s also worth pointing out that this series doesn’t bring much new stuff to this over-the-top genre, and there are better choices to watch.
The show is just chock-full of over-the-top similes, metaphors, crazy stories, and many references to literature, movies, celebrities, etc. The conversations in the front are overly-theatric and sound nothing like a regular conversation, at least none that I’ve been part of. I wish I could say the show was a little deeper than this, but it pretty much sums it up. But again, in my opinion, it’s not enough to say it isn’t worth the watch.
If you’re familiar with the Showtime show called Billions, you’ll see a lot of it in Super Pumped. I should point out that I have never watched Billions, but I know a few people who have. A friend of mine told me that Super Pumped is essentially Billions reformatted. It has the same writers behind it, so it makes sense why it’s very similar. According to my friend, however, the show takes more than just the writers and undertones; he claims it also steals the same quote-laden dialogue that Billions was known for. Speaking of dialogue, here’s a line delivered by Jeff Bezos (the character based on the Amazon mogul, not the man himself) who appears in YouTube videos and provides business cues for Travis early in the series. “You Are Going To Be Misunderstood. And That’s Okay. People Not Comprehending Your Vision Is A Sign That Nobody Has Gone Where You’re Going. It’s Also A Sign Of Insanity…” I’ve also heard the show referenced as a Wish version of The Wolf on Wall Street. In my honest opinion, The Wolf on Wall Street is a way better watch, and while I see the similarities, I wouldn’t necessarily be so quick to write them off in the same boat.
But again, it is “that kind of show,” and as I asked earlier, is that necessarily a bad thing? Think about it, why do we watch TV shows and movies? To be entertained, and in the case of Super Pumped: The Battle of Uber, I can say that it, at times, does precisely that. It entertains.
But will YOU like it?
If you generally like shows about pretentious characters, their lavish lifestyles, odd habits, and over-the-top antics, then you’ll probably find some value in this one. If you are interested in Uber and its CEO, this series is for you. If you like exaggerated TV dramas, you may enjoy Super Pumped, but if you don’t fall into any of these three categories, the likelihood of you walking away with positive thoughts on the show isn’t the best. Joseph Gordon Levitt does a phenomenal job in his role, and the supporting cast is fantastic. I’d say this is worth checking out if you’re just in the market for a good story.
I didn’t know anything about Uber before watching the show, nor have I ever had to use the service. I live in an area where I don’t even think I know anybody who’s used Uber. So, I can honestly say that my opinions on this show are strictly based on the series, and I’m not some secret advocator for Uber or hold any stock in the company. I think the key to enjoying his mini-series is first to accept what it is. It’s a 7 episode story detailing Uber as a startup until 2017, when Travis Kalanick left. All of this is narrated by Quentin Tarantino and loaded with oddly amusing dialogue, all done in an over-the-top presentation. As for the strange conversation, here’s an example, Gordon-Levitt’s character has a line that reads, “This Truncheon Of The Crooked Establishment, This Object Of Fear, I Want You To Know This Is Not Our Death Warrant, It’s Our Goddamn Birth Certificate.”
I mean, who talks like that? Either way,I can say that I slightly enjoyed the series, I didn’t love it, but I enjoyed it. Would I watch it again? Probably not. Would I recommend it to a friend? Also, probably not, unless I knew they were into this kind of show. But is it worth a watch if you found any information I provided about the presentation engaging? Especially if you’re a fan of any cast members, which is what interested me about the show in the first place.