Last night – at midnight – I flipped on Netflix and binge-watched season one of Carl Icahn’s new show, The Danger Ahead. Some observations:
*I like the cast. Carl Icahn is a strong leading man and Carl Icahn is an excellent foil for him to play off of. I don’t know what it is about the single-camera format, but it just works. The animated charts were a nice touch, so we’re not just watching the actors deliver a monologue directly into the lens for the whole 15 minutes.
*The plot was riveting, you’re definitely going to want to finish the whole season in one sitting. A lot of the ideas on the show have already been discussed ad nauseum in the financial blogosphere for at least the last year now, if not longer, but Icahn’s presentation was really concise. If you’re not the kind of person who works in finance or eats and sleeps this stuff everyday, you’ll definitely come away with a good understanding of why junk bond liquidity and the bubbles fostered by endless ZIRP are troubling to the pros.
*The high school subplot, where Carl’s son Brett struggles with whether or not to turn in a cheating schoolmate, probably could have been left out. As with Homeland, Breaking Bad, Ray Donovan and so many other shows, the teenage subplot here felt like a distraction that I found myself fast-forwarding through. Get back to the killing and shooting! Nobody cares about the kids!
*I found myself agreeing with one point in particular that the characters made, which had to do with the idea of giving the patient medicine past the point where there are any signs that it’s continuing to work. There’s been a “diminishing return” to ZIRP for awhile now. Yes, the labor force tightened and home prices recovered, but that’s already been apparent for years. Meanwhile, we’re growing at 2% GDP and two things simply won’t budge: average wages and labor force participation. Icahn nails it here, I smell Emmy for sure.
* Every hero needs a villain and BlackRock’s Larry Fink is a sublime casting choice. Here you have one of history’s greatest stock-picking activist investors battling against a firm that’s accumulated trillions in AUM based on the idea that stock-picking is not worthwhile and owning shares passively in a company is the way to go, regardless of CEO pay abuses and other issues Icahn feels are worth fighting against. I really hope they don’t kill off Fink’s character too early in the series, there’s probably a lot of great stuff they can do with his backstory.
*The political subplot is also interesting. Carl Icahn is one of the most formidable protagonists in recent history. It would be an interesting juxtaposition to see him bring his Bronx-born sensibilities to the Beltway as Donald Trump’s Treasury Secretary. Icahn’s got some really good ideas about repatriation of corporate cash and evening out today’s booming economic inequality. There’s a perfectly dramatic conflict already built in to the plot as some of the things Icahn rails against in season one – stock buybacks, for example – were part of parcel of his strategy as an activist shareholder. His heart says that buybacks are a trick to allow CEO compensation to skyrocket at the expense of productivity but this certainly hasn’t hurt his fund’s performance in recent years.
Overall, I think the show has serious staying power. I’m all-in for season 2, highly recommend.