People seem to forget that, in the 6-episode first season of The Office, before hair-plugs transformed Michael Scott into a lovable sad sack, he was little more than a pile of rats personifying The Peter Principle. He labored to make tasteless jokes about anything and everything offensive, from race to sexuality. Of course, The Office quickly abandoned the obnoxious version of Michael in favor of embracing Steve Carrell’s natural charm and energy. His “that’s what she said” jokes and intrusiveness morphed from inappropriate comments from your sleazy boss into cries for help from a poor guy who just didn’t understand how to talk to people. But there was always something about this change that felt disconnected from reality. After all, working at Dunder-Mifflin would make you a cog in a soulless corporate machine.
Let me introduce you to Corporate, the Comedy Central sitcom from Jake Weisman, Matt Ingrebretson, and Pat Bishop which entered its second season earlier this week. It is utterly cynical, spraying cold water in the form of dark satire all over that glossy charisma of the workplace comedy. While we have always enjoyed hanging out with characters in their work environments (the workplace sitcom is as old as television itself), Corporate looks around the world we live in today, with so much space being consumed by huge companies, and throws its arms in the air, figuring that it’s probably marginally more fun to laugh than to cry.
In Corporate, work infects everything. The show focuses on the banalities of the workplace with observations that border on the Seinfeldian, but always through a dark and deeply cynical lens. Nothing is off limits or safe from the sprawl. The season 2 premiere “The One Who’s There” takes on how soul-sucking work can warp our very perception of love — er, relationships (Jake is quick to note “the best you can do is arbitrarily choose a partner you share a few interests with and hope their dormant personality flaws can be medicated”). Weekends are described as “cramming your life into 48 hours,” those intrusive bosses aren’t charming, and the fact that nobody knows what they do is a given.
It points out how absurd the modern corporate workplace/lifestyle is by painting it more or less exactly as is. Of course there are witty retorts and great insults (it is a sitcom after all), but the truly funny moments come not from characters making the best of a bad situation (think Jim passing the time by pranking Dwight for the 862nd time), but from characters observing the absurd weight and power that work holds over them, shrugging, and picking survival almost by default.
Millennials feel completely burnt out. As technology and economics slowly bring the venn diagram of work and life closer and closer to one big circle, Corporate speaks the truth. In 2019, for many people, work isn’t an extended family like The Office or Parks and Rec, it’s a group of people to share your misery with. That doesn’t mean Corporate is a depressing or difficult hang, it’s actually quite the opposite. It’s venting about all of the insignificant problems that rule your day over a shared drink with a coworker before you go home, cry yourself to sleep, and start the whole damn thing over again.