The review of The Great Amazon Heist explores how a prankster challenged the dominant online company and achieved partial success.
The once-popular tradition of British pranks is fading away. The days of constant fake interviews, prank phone calls, bogus anti-drug campaigns, and giant fake mobiles are long gone. This decline is not just a result of a change in national attitudes; a Channel 4 executive recently stated that new Ofcom regulations make it nearly impossible for programs to intentionally deceive viewers. It seems that the consideration for the well-being of the public has been taken to extreme measures.
The current state of TV comedy is a relief for those of us who cannot bear the humiliation of unsuspecting individuals, politicians, or celebrities. Oobah Butler, a self-proclaimed “professional chancer,” gained notoriety in 2017 when he manipulated Tripadvisor into ranking his non-existent restaurant, The Shed at Dulwich (a literal shed in his south London backyard), as the top dining destination in London. Butler’s pranks typically target institutions or algorithms rather than individuals, making them relatively harmless and oddly satisfying. His methods also allow him to showcase his pranks on television.
The first ever show of the internet stuntman will focus on Amazon, a company known for avoiding taxes and being accused of exploiting workers. This is a target that even the most sensitive and empathetic person would have a hard time objecting to. The show opens with a shot of Butler sniffing discarded bottles of urine outside a delivery center. This image serves as a memorable reminder of his main motivation: Amazon has been blatantly disregarding regulations for a long time, so why shouldn’t Butler do the same?
However, there is no explanation given for the delay. Instead, Butler decides to experience working at Amazon firsthand. When employees refuse to talk out of fear, he resorts to going undercover. Disguised as a bespectacled brunette named Paul, he secures a job at the Coventry fulfilment centre and successfully sneaks a camera through the strict security measures by claiming to have a medical condition. The footage reveals dangerously high working temperatures and physical strain for even new employees, along with allegations of the company using questionable tactics to prevent unionization (though Amazon denies these claims). Unfortunately, Butler’s cover is blown when he is recognized by his superiors (likely due to accidentally introducing himself as “Oobah” on his first day), forcing him to make a quick exit.
It’s not as bad as it could have been: Butler’s dry and comedic style and tendency to act foolishly don’t seem like a natural fit for a serious expose on human rights. However, his own revelation allows him to move onto more lighthearted topics. He starts off with his usual tactic: manipulating Amazon’s product rankings by using a discarded container of urine (a result of delivery drivers not being allowed bathroom breaks and not being allowed to have bottles of urine in their vehicles) to create a #1 ranked drink on the site (under the category of Bitter Lemon). Then, in a particularly hilarious segment, he enlists the help of his very enthusiastic four- and six-year-old nieces to order multiple knives, saws, and packets of rat poison through an Alexa device (the four-year-old exclaims, “It’s a knife party!”). The outcome is a disturbing collection of items that suggests Amazon may not be following laws for age verification on hazardous products.
The collection of minor inconveniences in this assortment has a haphazard feel, and it becomes clear that despite the title, there is no actual robbery taking place. Instead, the protagonist is engaged in a clever battle with an elusive opponent who cannot be held accountable. However, the stunt involving a knife party does prompt Amazon to reclassify four products, claiming to take age verification very seriously. The highlight of Butler’s story is still quite satisfying. According to Labour MP Nadia Whittome, if the company did not utilize Luxembourg as a tax shelter, there would potentially be more funding available for schools, hospitals, and road maintenance. After all, how would the deliveries take place without government-funded roads? In response, Butler orders pothole filler from Amazon, hires a builder to repair the potholes, refills the boxes with sand, and receives a full refund.
Butler seeks legal advice before carrying out his elaborate pranks. While it may seem contrived, the end result makes it all worth it. Although Amazon can press charges for Butler’s scheme to obtain pothole filler, he has one last surprise in store to teach them a lesson. Even the overly dramatic lawyer can’t help but smile at Butler’s clever retaliation.
This is a minor victory, a very minor one. These accomplishments will not significantly impact Amazon’s dominance or pose any real challenge to them, and Butler is aware of this. In return for an hour of entertaining and clever but not particularly impactful content, he urges viewers to consider where their purchasing power is going. The Great Amazon Heist may not have uncovered any surprising atrocities, but with a mix of humor and unique cons, it does make it more difficult to dismiss our existing suspicions.