The Buzz: ‘Corporate’ Puts a New Spin on the Workplace Comedy
The workplace has been a surprisingly rich source of laughter in the modern day. From cult films like Office Space to acclaimed shows like The Office and Workaholics, the notion of slacker characters breaking out from their rigid cubicles and cutting loose appeals to the dreamer (perhaps even the anarchist) in all of us. Corporate is the latest addition to this growing sect of comedy, and while it may look conventional on the surface, the dry, at times surreal humor of showrunners Pat Bishop, Matt Ingebretson, and Jake Weisman ensure that it is anything but. Think of Workaholics if it was reworked by David Lynch.
The series revolves around Matt (Ingebretson) and Jake (Weisman), two junior executives at the prestigious multinational corporation Hampton DeVille. The kind of corporation that seems as though it ought to be headed by a James Bond villain (their motto is “We Make Everything!”). Matt and Jake are at the bottom of the totem pole at Hampton DeVille, which means they get last dibs on everything from breakroom snacks to the attention of their CEO Christian DeVille (Lance Reddick)-- a man who’s intimidation factor it out-matched only by his steely greediness.
I’d elaborate on the narrative (this isn’t the kind of show where spoilers are a concern), but there really isn’t much else to add. The episodes that have aired just far, including the pilot (“The Void") have seemed content in the limbo state of its premise, watching Matt and Jake struggle to earn so much as an ounce of respect. The thing is, it's incredibly entertaining. The clueless duo and Bishop (who directs the entire season) have an uncanny ability for finding humor in humdrum, often uncomfortable workplace encounters. There are no overarching narratives or character arcs to worry about when pressing matters like filing data, reporting fellow employees for violating the conduct code, and, in one particularly hilarious sequence, firing a social media intern after an insensitive tweet of his goes viral.
Informing each of these encounters is a merciless cynicism that cuts right through the fat of most Comedy Central originals. Corporate is the kind of show where a line like “"I don't have a 401K, so as of now my retirement plan is to overdose on drugs” seems positively quant when compared to the general outlook of schlubs like Matt and Jake. The further they pine for a promotion at Hampton DeVille, the more they succumb to the twisted, dystopian nightmare that is upper management. Ingebretson is the ringleader of the two, showing off a wider range of talents (in some instances, it can be said that he seems “happy”), but Weisman’s crude killjoy attitude is a nice foil, and it stands to reason that the exclusion of either one would derail their careful chemistry. I found myself doubled-over with Weisman's obscene mantras, which he repeats during particularly stressful assignments.
That said, the scene-stealer thus far has been Reddick, who absolutely revels in his slimy role as DeVille. He imparts his trademark stoicism (seen in shows like The Wire and Fringe) with maniacal outbursts, leveling everyone else in the scene and establishing himself as a genuinely terrifying villain. If this were a dramatic series, DeVille would still be a formidable threat. That he’s able to bring the laughs in succession with these aspects ensures that whenever he’s onscreen, our attention is his for the taking.
As a stylist, Bishop surrounds Matt and Jake with cramped cubicles and washed-out fluorescent tones. Where aforementioned workplace comedies made a point of depicting sterile environments that were harmless, Corporate aims to make you squirm in your seat, eliciting the same discomfort that the people onscreen are made to feel. This aesthetic works twofold; it forces us to empathize with characters who can often be tough to love, and it expresses their crushing gloom in a visceral, tactile manner that’s rarely reached in comedy.
Now Corporate is certainly an acquired taste, and some of the meaner jokes may be off-putting to the casual listener, but the show has so many brilliant putdowns and left turns that to skip it would be to deprive yourself of one hell of a comedic detour. It’s not often that you get to see Lynchian hallucinations, Dr. Strangelove references, Trainspotting montages, and Aimee Mann cameos (!) crammed into a story that never technically leaves the office. If that sounds like the right kind of escape, than I suggest packing your bags right away and heading off to Corporate.
Episodes of Corporate air on Wednesdays at 10/9c on Comedy Central.