How the Uber founder’s misunderstanding fueled the show

  • “Super Pumped” follows the rise and fall of Uber co-founder and first CEO Travis Kalanick.
  • The show’s showrunners told Insider why making Kalanick likable to viewers isn’t an issue for them.
  • The series begins on Sunday, February 27.

In Showtime’s upcoming anthology series “Super Pumped: The Battle For Uber,” creators Brian Koppelman and David Levien, along with showrunner Beth Schacter, dive headfirst into how the ride-sharing goliath revolutionized transportation like that we know him.

But to take us on this journey, they put us in the hands of company co-founder Travis Kalanick (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt), whose ego and hot temper fueled Uber’s meteoric rise when he was its first CEO in the mid-2000s. However, his behavior also got the company in hot water after stories surfaced that he knew of sexual harassment allegations at Uber and did nothing about it. He resigned as CEO in 2017.

Gordon-Levitt plays Kalanick as a fast-talking instigator who likes to hold grudges as much as he likes to throw a wild party. This makes the character unlikable from the first episode.

But Koppelman, Levien and Schacter all agree they were less interested in making Kalanick appealing to viewers and instead wanted to use it as a way to show off the company’s unconventional disruption of the transportation space.

Travis Kalanick

Uber co-founder and CEO Travis Kalanick.

Wikimedia, CC

“Sympathy matters a lot less to us than trying to figure out what it’s all about – often men like that – that allows them to show us who exactly they are and yet as a culture we not only follow them , but we put our money with them,” Koppelman told Insider, who along with longtime producing partner Levien (the duo also created Showtime’s hit “Billions”) adapted the series around the Mike Isaac book of the same title.

“We thought about humanity,” added Schacter, who has collaborated with Koppelman and Levien since becoming producer of “Billions” in 2020 (she is now its showrunner). “This guy is a very human person. He’s not a monster, he’s not from a Greek myth or a comic book. He’s not from a Marvel series, he’s human and has flaws humans and human forces.”

The trio said Gordon-Levitt was their first choice to play Kalanick. Instantly they found it – along with the rest of the cast, which includes Kyle Chandler as Uber

angel investor

Bill Gurley and Uma Thurman as board member Arianna Huffington – could go along with their fast-paced dialogue style.

“They can wear so many things,” Schacter said of the cast. “We like people who use language. To convince people to do things or talk people out of it.”

Joseph Gordon-Levitt screaming

Joseph Gordon-Levitt played Uber founder Travis Kalanick in “Super Pumped.”

Show time

But “Super Pumped” doesn’t just focus on the rise and fall of Kalanick. The show also examines the friction between Kalanick and Gurley, the plight of underpaid Uber drivers and the sexual harassment allegations that have plagued the company.

“Over time, the stories that remained revolved around what interested those in the writer’s room,” Levien said.

The result is a fast-paced and hugely entertaining series (a second season is already greenlit which will focus on Facebook) filled with Pearl Jam needle drops and narration by legendary filmmaker Quentin Tarantino.

“We’re drawn to powerful people behind desks making cataclysmic Titanic-sized decisions,” Koppelman said. “It was a story made for that.”

“Super Pumped” airs on Showtime at 10 p.m. on Sunday, February 27.

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