Showtime’s Black Monday opens on October 19, 1987. A rich white man is weeping after the worst day in stock market history — the stock market dropped over 500 points, which is basically a Thursday in the Trump era, but in 1987, 500 points represented a whopping 25 percent of the market. Someone leaps out of a building to his death, landing on the roof of a Lamborghini.
“To this day, no one knows what caused the crash,” the title card reads. “Or who. Until now.”
Knowing very little about either the Showtime series or the 1987 stock market crash, I paused the show and did some quick research to find out if Black Monday was going to be another The Big Short. It is not. The events in Black Monday are entirely fictional, although it is true that no one knows exactly what caused the stock market crash (a cascading series of factors, including computer trading, are attributed to the crash).
Black Monday, which picks up a year before the crash, is a comedic, fictional account of what led to the crash, centering around an outsider trading firm led by Maurice Monroe (Don Cheadle), a brash coke-fiend trying to outflank Wall Street’s typical fat cats with an “impossible” hostile takeover of a company called Georgina. “It’s been the same Monopoly-men-looking motherfuckers at the top of Wall Street for a thousand years.” While Maurice came from nothing and now owns robot butlers, a Lamborghini, and a “fuck pad” penthouse, he’s also got a more romantic eye on one of his traders, Dawn Darcy (Regina Hall), who is already in a relationship.
Meanwhile, Blair Pfaff (Andrew Rannels) is a hot-shot business school grad who steps onto the floor of Wall Street with a number of job offers … until he accidentally bumps into Maurice and Maurice’s baggie of cocaine explodes all over the place. Out of spite, Maurice blackballs Blair, making it impossible for anyone else to hire him. At Blair’s lowest point — after it appears that his girlfriend (Casey Wilson) is going to dump him — Maurice swoops in and offers Blair a job.
Blair, by the way, is wearing the same tie tack we see on the unknown guy who plummets to his death on Black Monday in the flash-forward at the beginning of the episode, landing on the Lamborghini owned by Maurice. After Blair is hired, we find out something that I won’t reveal here, except to say that Black Monday is more Trading Places than it is The Big Short. There is a long-con afoot, and it immediately transforms Black Monday from a fun comedy into an addictive must watch.
The half-hour comedy comes from producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (who also direct the pilot) and creators David Caspe (Happy Endings and Jordan Cahan (and writer/producer on Caspe’s Marry Me), and the sensibility of Black Monday is basically a blend of Happy Endings and Rogen’s more profanity-fueled brand. It plays on a lot of ’80s underdog and Wall Street tropes, but even in the early goings, viewers will probably detect that there’s some heart coursing underneath it all, not to mention an Ocean’s 11 style stock market caper at play amidst what is also essentially a workplace comedy. Cheadle is fantastic, naturally, as is Rannels as the comedic foil. Those two characters are at the center of the pilot, but Regina Hall and Paul Scheer will undoubtedly play bigger roles in future episodes.
I wasn’t expecting much out of Black Monday, to be honest, but by the end of the episode, I was hooked, and perhaps a little frustrated that I couldn’t binge this one to completion in half a day.