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The Top 10 Best TV Series About Compliance

Here are our ten favourite TV series focusing on the issues of whistleblowing, ethics and corruption.

by Niall McCarthy 5 min

    From Snowden to Erin Brockovich and The Wolf of Wall Street, there’s no shortage of exceptional compliance movies and we compiled a list of some of our absolute favourites which you can check out here. Movies were more important to generation 56K and given that we now live in the era of streaming and binge-watching, what about TV series exploring the outer reaches of morality? The global pandemic has only fuelled the streaming revolution and, unsurprisingly, there are some brilliant TV shows that delve into the realm of ethics, morals, corruption and whistleblowing. In no particular order, we have compiled a list of our top picks here.


    1. Bad Banks

    German-Luxembourgish series Bank Banks is a fast-paced and complex financial thriller which opens with a glimpse into a future of riots, pandemonium, and financial collapse. It isn’t long until the viewer is transported back to two weeks prior and a world of relative normality. From the glass and concrete jungle of downtown Frankfurt to Brussels, Luxembourg and Leipzig, good guys and gals are hard to find in this world of murky financial practices. Adding in corporate espionage and blackmail makes for a rollercoaster ride that brings the world to the brink of catastrophe. On this journey, morals are fleeting as bankers abuse cocaine and frequent strip clubs. While it’s just a drama, Bad Banks lingers long in the memory for its sheer levels of amorality.

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    2. Ozark

    Ozark is a white-collar middle-class crime series revolving around a talented accountant who is forced to relocate his family from Chicago to the Lake of the Ozarks in order to launder vast sums of money for a drug cartel. Noteworthy as much for its scenery as its gritty storyline, the series is populated by complex and ambiguous characters, most of whom have a questionable moral compass. Marty Byrde, the central character, does carry out questionable acts but he does not display the selfish and cold-hearted nature of other people in the series. From an ethics perspective, Ozark certainly provides an interesting introduction to the world money-laundering and when the dark moral principles of its cast are added in, it makes for a rewarding binge for compliance enthusiasts.

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    3. Good Manager

    Korean dramas (known as k-dramas) have become increasingly popular around the world with Squid Game taking streaming platforms by storm this year. It has been part of an emerging trend where the dramas showcase ongoing societal issues in Korea. One might actually be forgiven for thinking that corruption is rampant in Korea, given the extent to which the topic is covered by k-dramas. Good Manager is a nice example of a solid k-drama focusing on corporate ethics and bribery. It revolves around Kim Sung-Ryong who used to manage money for gangs before accidentally getting the opportunity to work as a middle manager in one of Korea’s best-known companies. As he attempts to pull off a heist and embezzle money, he becomes increasingly attached to his colleagues and starts fighting for their rights. Quite the moral quandary…

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    4. Berlin Station

    Berlin Station follows Daniel Miller who has arrived at the CIA station in Berlin with a clandestine mission: to track down and uncover the source of a leak who has supplied information to a now-famous whistleblower. While Berlin Station is a contemporary spy series at heart, it does delve into the high stakes world of whistleblowing. Thomas Shaw, the show’s famous whistleblower, is fictional but his name is mentioned in the same vein as Julian Assange and Edward Snowden. As Miller gets to grips with life as a field agent in Berlin, he finds himself immersed in a dark world of deception and moral compromises as well as a plot that stretches all the way back to Washington DC.

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    5. Ted Lasso

    At first, a series about an American Football coach enlisted to take the reigns at a professional soccer club in England might seem like a surprise. However, Ted Lasso goes far beyond sports comedy and it upholds the importance of values such as humility, friendship, leadership, courage and ethics. Easily underestimated, Ted is a man of fundamental decency who cares about his team as people first and players second. Perhaps he puts it best himself when he says that “doin’ the right thing is never the wrong thing’. The series has attracted extensive praise not just for its comedy but also its lessons on leadership.

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    6. Suburra: Blood on Rome

    Set in contemporary Rome, Suburra: Blood on Rome is based on real-life events involving power clashes between organised criminals, politicians and members of the church. The series explores how three ambitious friends sink ever deeper into the world of organised crime as rival factions battle it out for a piece of valuable land in the seaside town of Ostia just outside the Italian capital. As well as showcasing the friends’ sometimes difficult and testing loyalty to each other, it also shows just how far corrupt politicians will go for financial reward.

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    7. The Simpsons

    Throughout its long lifespan, The Simpsons has focused extensively on issues of ethics and morality, particularly in its earlier years. While many episodes could be mentioned, “The Boy Who Knew Too Much” from season 5 in 1994 provides a fantastic example of a tense (and of course hilarious) whistleblowing story. When Bart skips school, he crashes a party and observes an assault (about the pronunciation of chowder) that presents him with a dilemma when the mayor’s horrible nephew is wrongly sent to prison. Doing the right thing and testifying will ensure the man is released. On the other hand, then Principal Skinner will know Bart skipped school…a classic and well told whistleblower storyline.

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    8. Billions

    Another thriller set in the world of high finance, Billions tells the story of Bobby Axelrod, a hedge fund manager who accumulates tremendous wealth and power. Then there’s brilliant and brash attorney Chuck Rhoades, America’s most powerful and successful prosecutor, triumphing in 81 insider cases and losing zero. When criminal evidence against Axelrod emerges, both men are forced into a game of cat-and-mouse where the stakes are enormous. Viewers are given a choice early on in this series by picking their side – are they on Team Axelrod or Team Rhoades? As the series evolves, rooting for either of them becomes increasingly difficult as both the hedge fund manager and the prosecutor showcase their moral failings and develop highly irredeemable features. As it becomes more natural to root against both of them, the viewer is forced to look towards the series’ other characters for a sense of moral guidance.

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    9. Narcos

    Netflix drama Narcos initially documents the rise and fall of notorious Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar before tracking Mexico’s bloodthirsty cartels in its later iterations. The initial seasons also follow two US DEA agents sent to bring Escobar to justice and their struggles dealing with police and government corruption on top of drug-fuelled violence. While the sheer level of brutality shown by the cartels might prove the main takeaway for some Narcos viewers, the series does an excellent job at portraying rampant public sector corruption. Episodes have highlighted drug traffickers’ influence on elections in both Colombia and Mexico as well as detailing the brazen corruption across all levels of the police and military in the 1980s. While Narcos frequently shows what a world without compliance looks like, it also shines a light on some of the people brave enough to say no to corruption and do the right thing. From an ethics and morals perspective, it’s compelling viewing.

     

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    10. The Mechanism

    The Mechanism depicts Operation Car Wash, an investigation into what the press initially described as the biggest corruption scandal in the history of Brazil. Once a slew of foreign entities became involved, it was being described as the biggest corruption scandal in the history of the world. The story is told through the eyes of police officers tirelessly investigating the case and they uncover a massive money laundering scheme encompassing politicians, judges and executives at prominent engineering companies. The Mechanism is thrilling but it’s also educational, providing a fascinating look at Operation Car Wash while keeping you on the edge of your seat.

     

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    Bonus documentary: Dirty Money

    In addition to our top-10, Netflix documentary Dirty Money has to be given a special bonus mention. Despite the fact that it isn’t a drama like the productions above, the series still serves as one of the most informative and entertaining sources about corporate corruption out there. From HSBC laundering money for drug cartels to Volkswagen and Dieselgate, each episode delves into a high-profile case of greed and wayward ethics. The final episode is particularly fascinating given that it explores Donald Trump’s complex business entanglements and dodgy deals in the run up to his presidency. The series sets out to draw an angry reaction from the viewer and it succeeds in doing just that.

     

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    Niall McCarthy
    Niall McCarthy

    Niall is a Content Writer at the EQS Group. Originally from Ireland, he previously worked as a journalist, which included reporting on major corruption trends worldwide.

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