If you’ve checked your email inbox in the past, you’ve probably seen messages from individuals who claim to represent a cash-strapped Nigerian government that’s in search of money. Unbeknownst to the more naïve among us, these “representatives” are actually cunning criminals who implore their would-be targets to give them their dough – and personal information – in exchange for what is really a non-existent monetary reward.
Unfortunately, those who decide to buy in to the offer end up finding out too late that they’ve been the victim of a deceptively elaborate con: the notorious Nigerian e-mail scam. As has been documented by the U.S. Department of State, it’s a scheme that has resulted in massive financial losses and identify thefts. Worse, the scam has even cost the lives of several who’ve been taken in by its false promises of wealth.
For the scammers who’ve finally realized that their illegal activity is no way to make a living, going straight means trying to live a respectable life while avoiding the ongoing temptation of criminal regression. The same challenge is faced by a group of sly grifters in season 1 of the compelling drama series CON$EQUENCES, which premiered its first of 7 episodes this past April on YouTube. An additional 6 are scheduled to stream on both that platform and its Facebook page (see additional links below) beginning November 9th.
Created by Tony Tambi, CON$EQUENCES stars Tambi (who also starred in episodes of NCIS: LOS ANGELES and NIP/TUCK, among other series) as Tito, the level-headed chief of a meticulously organized Internet scam operation built to swindle unsuspecting people through shameless emotional manipulation.
Their latest con is centered around ex-NFL star Damien Miller (Jarvis George, THE WIRE, CRIMINAL MINDS), whose altruistic charitable deeds are merely cover for his insatiable greed. Little does he know that his wife, Kathy (Samantha Stewart, DAYS OF OUR LIVES, HOUSE) is secretly plotting to marry Tito – provided that he kills her husband.
Working under Tito’s purview is Sebastien “Seb” Masse (played by Bambadjan Bamba, THE GOOD PLACE, Marvel’s upcoming feature film BLACK PANTHER). Part skilled con man/part Robin Hood, the no-nonsense Seb takes from his more financially secure targets and gives their cash to the poor. Iminathi (Eboni Adams, GANGSTER SQUAD) combines her talent for thievery with a powerful sense of charm to lure new victims into taking the bait of each scam.
Tito recruits two talented men to help ensure the success of his latest con: veteran scammer/de facto advisor Shabazz (Tony Okungbowa, ECHO PARK, HBO’s BALLERS) and downtrodden bank employee/tech brain Jack “The Hack” Hanson (John Tague, THE ROLLING SOLDIER, THE BLACKLIST), who already has an “in” of sorts to Tito’s world through his marriage to his ex-grifter sibling Isabel (Constance Ejuma, SCORPION).
Tambi first explored the devastation that online-based financial crimes can cause in his 2012 short film, CHAPTER ONE (which he produced, wrote and starred in). The film was told from the perspective of a woman who tries to lure her boyfriend, an immigrant (played by Tambi), to murder her husband so that she can marry him, and that he can become a naturalized American citizen. Ultimately, her plan is shockingly thwarted as she ends up getting ripped off by her boyfriend’s confidence scheme.
Tambi discovered for himself how disturbingly close to home such schemes can be. “The ‘woman wanting her husband killed’ storyline actually happened to the brother of a friend of mine here in the U.S. and I knew a bunch of internet scammers back home in Cameroon,” he says.
With CHAPTER ONE, and later CON$EQUENCES, art would gradually imitate life. “I knew them (the scammers) well enough to understand what, how and why they were doing what they doing. I felt merging the two would make for good storytelling.”
Even though those cons have unfortunately become commonplace, CON$EQUENCES takes the time to understand the true motivations of email scammers, and how they eventually try to rehabilitate themselves after living a dangerous lifestyle.
“As characters, they are familiar and intriguing, but never fully explored on TV, movies or a web series,” Tambi adds. “Our goal is to find out more about these internet scammers, while making it clear that they saw the error of their ways and want to use the skills they learned for good.”
Though most crime dramas present their stories primarily through the prism of law enforcement officials, CON$EQUENCES sets its dramatic focus on the perpetrators of white collar Internet cons and their victims. Unlike such glamorized TV “antiheroes” as Tony Soprano (THE SOPRANOS), Walter White (BREAKING BAD) and others, several of CON$EQUENCES’ protagonists face clear moral conflicts while they ultimately try to become good people.
“Maybe Tito and Iminathi are antiheroes, but the idealism of Sebastien and the moral code of Isabel and Jack Hanson make them very heroic in my opinion,” says Tambi. “Most of the characters do make some questionable choices as the series progresses and we do find out that there’s a very thin line between good and bad in this world.”
Although CON$EQUENCES’ characters grapple with trying to change themselves and their lives, many of the issues we face in our lives are poignantly examined in Tambi’s series. “Needless to say, CON$EQUENCES isn’t just a web series about reformed con artists. It deals with familiar themes like love, friendship, betrayal, revenge, family and cultural identity. Everyone who relates to those themes will want to watch the show.”
With immigration as divisive of a political issue as it’s ever been in society circa 2017, CON$EQUENCES realistically shows the struggles faced by people who risk their lives to achieve a greater quality of life for themselves and their families. “With Africans as leads, the show is unique in that it provides a different perspective of the immigrant experience in the U.S.,” says Tambi.
Another cornerstone of CON$EQUENCES is its realistic, non-stereotypical portrayal of minorities in America.
“Many people say traditional forms of media don’t give them the representation they need and I think this is very true. As an African-born American, I consider myself a minority of a minority; and my goal as a filmmaker is to create three dimensional characters like myself that we don’t see on TV, movies and other media.”
As part of that goal, Tambi hopes that CON$EQUENCES will challenge the media’s often negative representations of Africans. “I want to depict a different side of the African story, and show that we are more than (child) soldiers and refugees,” he adds. “Many times Africans are associated with internet scamming, so go with that, but flip it and bring in the Robin Hood aspect.”
CON$EQUENCES’ usage of unique storytelling tools helps to enhance the arcs of its equally unique characters. “The main difference between CON$EQUENCES and other similarly themed shows is the fact that this one is anchored by adult Yahoo Boys (think “Nigerian Prince” type email scams),” responds Tambi. “There are also quite a few artistic liberties I took with the show, like breaking the 4th wall and multiple character voiceovers.”
Those techniques aside, much of the traditional aspects of dramatic series are present in each episode of CON$EQUENCES. For Tambi, the obvious limitations of doing a low-budget indie drama are exceeded by the limitless artistic potential that a new media-based episodic series provides filmmakers and actors alike.
“Apart from the obvious differences, a web series definitely gives you a lot more creative freedom to tell the story how you want, but at the core we’re all storytellers,” Tambi replies. “My goal with CON$EQUENCES is to make it very similar to any serialized TV show out there. Cliffhangers, intriguing characters and various twists and turns.”
While CON$EQUENCES depicts the dangers of getting caught in a sickeningly simple ruse, it also provides a unique public service meant to help viewers prevent themselves from falling for today’s modern scams.“By breaking down how most cons work, we hope that the audience will realize how easy it to get scammed, but also how easy it is to stay clear of these scams,” Tambi says. “We show that if it’s too good to be true, then it usually isn’t.”
CON$EQUENCES also features actual demonstrations of such scams, combined with crucial tips on how to watch out for them.
“When the characters break the fourth wall, it’s usually to warn you about something or drop a little nugget of wisdom. We hope the audience pays attention to them,” adds Tambi. “In addition, you’ll find characters giving you reasons why they feel many internet scams succeed and how most scams are about diversions and distractions.”
With its IndieGoGo fundraising drive completed, CON$EQUENCES’ 9 day shooting schedule proved to be just as prosperous.
Though the series’ production budget was extremely meager, Tambi fervently praises the commitment and encouragement that his collaborators – namely co-stars/co-producers Bambadjan Bamba, Constance Ejuma, and Eboni Adams, plus associate producer Francis Onelum – expended on the project.
“I got to work with people I’ve always wanted to work with and admired, many of them friends,” recalls Tambi. “Shooting was hectic, but tons of fun; I received tremendous support from family and friends, especially during the Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign. There is really nothing more rewarding than creating something from scratch, seeing it come to life and doing it with family and an extremely talented cast and crew.”
With funding currently being sought to complete post-production of season 1, a second season of CON$EQUENCES is also in the works. Before Tambi can even think about continuing the story he’s started in the show’s first six episodes, he realizes that the success of CON$EQUENCES is solely predicated on the audience’s response to it.
“As a creator, my greatest wish is that we find an audience that loves the show and is willing to support us and help us make more seasons of the show,” Tambi explains. “Ideally, this would translate to a couple of seasons of the web series, then a network (Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, Facebook, etc.) pickup that enables us to relaunch the web series as TV show. It’s becoming a cliché to say this now, but yes, we hope for something along the lines of the Issa Rae journey with the HBO hit INSECURE.”
Even for those who’ve damaged themselves and others through criminal behavior, it’s never too late to make a new start in life. Yet, as CON$EQUENCES shows, the power to do what’s wrong can have as much of an impact on people as the power to do what’s right. “The message (of the show) is that if we make better choices as individuals, we become better human beings,” says Tambi. “All the characters are faced with choices throughout the series. Choices lead to actions, and those actions typically have consequences – hence the title.”
(NOTE: Tambi says that while CON$EQUENCES will be closed-captioned, subtitles will not be available for each episode.)