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When Comedy Central’s Corporate debuted in 2018, it offered a tart but necessary rejoinder to one of TV’s most comforting fantasies. Work is where the heart is, argued sitcoms like 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation and, of course, The Office, where characters could find not only personal fulfillment but future spouses and/or lifelong friends between meetings and sales calls. Corporate, with its oppressively gray set and strictly nine-to-five camaraderie, probably resembles the weekdays of many more Americans than those of the fuzzy workplace “families” all over TV. Its bleakness is its gift.
That same quality gives this hidden gem of a series, which returns Wednesday for its third and final season, a niche appeal; my colleague Dan Fienberg correctly assessed in his Season One review that Corporate is “the perfect new series for people who like to unwind after a day of workplace drudgery by seeing how things could always be worse.”
But the show isn’t about how the daily grind of white-collar toil and moral compromises — in service of a nefarious multinational conglomerate called Hampton DeVille that “makes everything” — saps the specialness of Jake (Jake Weisman) and Matt (Matt Ingebretson), two 30-something junior executives-in-training.
Cynical Jake is always quick to remind the impressionable Matt that the world isn’t missing out on anything by having a pair of basic white bros behind a computer all day. Even their dreams are painfully ordinary. When Matt briefly quits his job in the second season and goes drinking, he realizes he’s one of several identical-looking unemployed white guys sitting at the counter musing about opening his own bar.
Corporate is at its best when it’s parodying the small absurdities that maintain the requisite veneer of professional office civility. In a Season Two episode, for example, a broken exclamation-point button on Matt’s keyboard wreaks havoc as his over-reactive bosses, Kate (Anne Dudek) and John (Adam Lustick), become convinced that, without the enthusiasm for work tasks implied by the punctuation mark, all of his emails to them are surly or sarcastic.
That makes the fourth episode of the new season a particular highlight, with Lauren Lapkus guest-starring as a personification of those ubiquitous survey requests that follow any and all interactions with a corporation.
The series’ loopy, out-of-office larks tend to be hit-or-miss, depending on the strength of the satire undergirding the antics. One of my favorite episodes involves Matt taking a vacation in a fictional Italian city that nearly every other Hampton DeVille employee has visited and recommended. Their gushing nostalgia and his sky-high expectations set him up for an inevitably disappointing trip — and the crushing realization that he’s just replicating the itinerary of a bunch of people he doesn’t even like.
The curtailed third season, which comprises just six episodes in lieu of the earlier seasons’ 10 installments apiece, is unfortunately lighter on the office lampoons and lacks a stronger showcase for one of Corporate‘s not-so-secret weapons: Aparna Nancherla, whose dry but unexpected line readings gave the show some contrasting levity and charm.
But Season 3 does provide another great “vacation” plot that underscores one of the show’s recurring themes: the ways capitalism thwarts human connection. Matt and Jake are entrusted by Hampton DeVille’s CEO (Lance Reddick) to deliver a suitcase to a former business partner, and a bellhop (Martha Kelly) at their chain hotel continually inches toward a bond with the two men until she sees an opportunity to take advantage of them.
There’s no getting around the fact that a pandemic, when so many are unemployed and desperate to get back to work, is just about the worst time for a new season of a white-collar office satire to debut. But Corporate‘s dystopian vision of capitalism seeping into every last corner of society — like exploiting the climate-change crisis as an opportunity to come up with more products that “don’t do anything but make customers feel morally superior for buying it” — feels sadly evergreen.
Corporate may be the opposite of the comfort TV most of us are currently craving, but if you’re in the mood for an icy splash of truth, it’ll be waiting for you.
Cast: Matt Ingebretson, Jake Weisman, Anne Dudek, Adam Lustick, Aparna Nancherla, Lance Reddick
Creators: Pat Bishop, Matt Ingebretson, Jake Weisman
Premieres Wednesday, July 22, at 10:30 p.m. ET/PT on Comedy Central