Telemarketers Review 2023 Tv Show Series Cast Crew Online
It’s hard to imagine professions more widely hated than telemarketers — the people, and more recently robots, who call you up at all hours of the day, asking for money. But what if I were to tell you that telemarketers aren’t the problem? Like any service industry job, the customer-facing employees are rarely the ones deserving our ire. (Try to remember this next time you’re dealing with an airline, I beg you.) It’s the executives who set their quotas, write their scripts, and pay for the call lists with your phone number — they’re the ones who should catch an earful of vitriol every time they interrupt family dinner. But what if it wasn’t just these uncaring, overpaid executives who were to blame? What if it’s also the so-called charities themselves?
“Telemarketers,” a three-part HBO documentary series produced by Danny McBride along with Benny and Josh Safdie, dares to defend the cussed-out, poorly paid, part-time workers who spend day and night dialing up strangers under the guise of accruing much-needed donations. With two cubicle mates leading the investigation, “Telemarketers” not only outlines the predatory employment practices that ensnare each phone salesperson, it also brings to light an industry-wide, highly profitable scam that’s been conning well-meaning citizens for decades. And it does so under the inviting, often raucous, guise of a buddy comedy.
It’s the early 2000s, and Sam Lipman-Stern needed a job. At the age of 14, the only place he could find that would hire a high school dropout was Civic Development Group. At first, the gig seemed fine. Sam believed he was raising money on behalf of law enforcement, firefighters, and other charities. More importantly (especially as he got older), there were virtually no rules beyond making your calls. Other employees would drink beer, smoke joints, hook up in the bathrooms, shoot heroin, and plenty more. So Sam started bringing his video camera to the office, recording all the outlandish behavior as well as the actual job: making calls.
Soon, Sam’s camera found its star. Patrick J. Pespas, a wavy-haired 30-something with the mustache and energy of a benevolent cartoon character, was already considered a “telemarketing legend.” He’d lead the team in sales, even when he was drunk, high, or otherwise encumbered. One scene shows Pespas nodding off while on a call, only to stir at just the right intervals to complete the sale. He talks about using heroin like an energy drink, just another way to elicit more donations. Perhaps most importantly, he loves being on camera — not in an off-putting, fame-starved way, but as if the machine is just another one of his rowdy office mates.
Between Pespas’ jovial charisma and Sam often speaking directly to camera — as if the viewer is the other caller, about to fork over some cash — the early footage is among the series’ most compelling. Everything set at CDG (a bland, stereotypical early aughts office filled with sparsely decorated cubicles and based in a strip mall) is both familiar and astonishing. But interspersed among the chaos are interviews Lipman-Stern conducted years later, after he was let go from CDG and grew ever more curious about how the business was run. Using Pespas as his inside man, keeping him abreast to policy changes and office gossip, Lipman-Stern began looking at where all that money he raised was actually ending up.
“Telemarketers,” as the kids say, has receipts. Not only is the original footage indicative of absent, uncaring management, but Pespas, Lipman-Stern, and their former co-workers save and share a treasure trove of memos, logs, and other incriminating documents. They’re able to mark CDG’s shift in policy from ordering call operators to state they’re calling “on behalf” of a charity to stating they actually work for the charity — and when that charity is the Fraternal Order of Police, pretending to be a cop really pays off.
“But wait,” you may think. “Isn’t that illegal? And wouldn’t the cops be pissed about phony police officers soliciting boatloads of cash in their name?” The answers shift over time, but “Telemarketers” lays them out cleanly and clearly. With Lipman-Stern behind the camera and Pespas conducting interviews, they reach out to other telemarketers, managers, and even a founder of an active company to better explain how the industry got greedier and greedier over 20-plus years.
Both men aren’t exactly professionals. After one awkward interview, Lipman-Stern admits he never worried whether they’d be good at getting people to speak on camera. But even when their plans go awry, the filmmaking’s amateur nature is often made up for by the filmmakers’ dedication and enthusiasm. A good chunk of “Telemarketers” only works because of how invested it gets in Pespas’ personal journey. But they both want answers. They both want the industry to change. You may wish a professional reporter was sitting across from key subjects, especially later in the series when Pespas gets time with a few powerful people, but each meeting is still eye-opening.
In the early days, they talk about going after CDG “Michael Moore style,” undoubtedly remembering recent hits “Bowling for Columbine” and “Fahrenheit 9/11.” And in the end, they uncover enough to make the Oscar winner proud. A.I. robo-calls, defund the police movements, white collar crime (and its dearth of consequences) — it’s all part of the show. While it definitely should’ve been a movie — the three hours are a bit baggy, plus the episode breaks deploy a few unearned and unnecessary red herrings — “Telemarketers” crafts a pivotal examination of a profession most people actively try to ignore. That it does so this thoroughly, and with high entertainment value, only goes to show that while hanging up is good advice, it isn’t the ultimate solution.