The new Comedy Central sitcom “Corporate” tells mordant tales from inside the halls of a massive, wealthy corporation called Hampton DeVille — a thoroughly evil producer of agricultural products, pharmaceuticals, home appliances, and, you know, military-grade weapons. It’s sort of like if GE and Halliburton became some kind of ultra-mega-corporation — like “Mr. Robot’s” E Corp. The massive company is a warren of cubicles spanning a seemingly infinite number of floors, populated by every weirdo you are currently trying to avoid in your own office. And it’s all the same: Tepid coffee, office plants withering under fluorescent lights, awkward mingling around free cake, branding strategy conference calls. Work culture is the awful equalizer of the military-industrial-politico-media complex; we are a culture collectively doomed to endure PowerPoint presentations.
Junior executives in training Jake and Matt (Jake Weisman and Matt Ingebretson, who co-created the show with director Pat Bishop) are mid-level sellouts with a lot of self-loathing — but, of course, not enough self-loathing to quit. Unlike “Office Space” and “The Office,” which told corporate satire mostly from the perspective of the lackeys and peons, Jake and Matt are on track to become suits that take up space in board meetings, jockeying for the last bagel on the conference room table. Along with HR rep Grace (Aparna Nancherla), Matt and Jake are the audience’s windows into the peculiar, neutered incompetence of the C-suite — complete with the execs’ dumb fitness regimes, goopy faux-positivity, and artisanal hobbies. It’s uncanny: Like the worst people from every office you’ve ever worked in, all coalesced under the roof of the worst company in the world. And they’re all really goddamn rich.
“Corporate” is deeply, essentially cynical about everything — not just megacorporations, not just capitalism, but the whole modern ecosystem of Twitter outrage, cable news, bought politicians, and righteous protestors. (“Your entire personality is stolen from a thinkpiece,” Jake whispers to Matt during a meeting.)
In the fourth episode “Trademarq,” Hampton DeVille’s ruthless CEO Christian (Lance Reddick, in a casting coup) partners with a Banksy-like graffiti artist to profit off of marketing anti-capitalist art to the protesters currently demonstrating against Hampton DeVille’s super-fracking — which is to say, it’s negative both about the system and about any efforts to challenge the system. At the same time, it exposes the hypocrisies of capitalism with a rigor that is as shocking and invigorating as a dunk in ice water.
That’s especially on display in the excellent second episode “The PowerPoint of Death,” in which Matt — who listed the Microsoft software as one of his special skills — is tasked with making the slideshow presentation for Hampton DeVille’s sales pitch to none other than the Central Intelligence Agency. The CIA hopes to wage a secret war, but is first taking sales pitches from defense contractors. Naturally, that requires a really, really good PowerPoint. Matt channels every shred of his frustrated creativity into the slideshow’s transitions and font choices, with a single-minded concentration that is worryingly relatable, without fully realizing that the success of his PowerPoint will lead directly to facilitating an unjust war in a faraway land. The episode is bookended by two production montages that offer one of the most critical commentaries the show has to offer about the bizarre state of global dysfunction we are all complicit in. It’s delicious — scary and frustrating, but so satisfyingly honest, too, about the banal horror of the world.
“Corporate’s” main issue is that it sometimes relies on a highly mannered bit to cover for the fact that it doesn’t have a whole joke in mind. That’s most obvious in “The Pain of Being Alive,” the third episode, which moves the show’s lens away from idiots in power to focus on the essential degradation of humanity happening in the midlevel corporate shills all around Jake and Matt. Everyone is the worst in a way that becomes increasingly heightened when it turns out every single person in the office is jonesing for prescription painkillers — including peppy Peg, played by none other than Aimee Mann. At times, seemingly in order to undercut how serious the show’s criticisms really are, it feels as if sketches and bits are pushed far past their natural punchline to reduce everyone, not just the oligarchs, into stilted and ridiculous parody. It’s unclear based on the four episodes sent to critics if that’s just a midseason reprieve or evidence of things to come. But with so few out there to compare it to, even a broad parody of the workplace is a satisfying one.