We live in a time that I’ve seen described as Peak TV, where there are these major shows that edge into cultural phenomena. Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, Black Mirror. Those shows that you’ve definitely watched or you certainly know people who have watched. There’s an almost cultish fanaticism to the whole thing; half the fun of following Game of Thrones was being up in the discussion around it, whether at work, at the bar, or in line at the grocery store. Everyone’s watching it, everyone’s talking about it.
But there’s not a lot of people talking about Corporate, a darkly comedic satire about, well, working. Corporate follows Matt and Jake, two workers in the very corporate head office of Hampton DeVille, a possibly-very-evil megacorporation. The show merrily skewers a variety of facets of modern life, like commercializing protest, the military-industrial complex, and company retreats. The episode “Society Tomorrow” turns the show’s piercing lens towards Peak TV — and a whole lot else besides.
In the episode, it seems like everyone at work is watching this hit new show Society Tomorrow. It’s an ersatz Black Mirror, and what we see of it features people trying to escape the controlling influence of a futuristic watch-like device — which happens to look a lot like the StrapIn Hampton DeVille is selling. The thing that makes this episode so delightful is that Corporate isn’t content to just go after one facet of this whole thing but instead take it apart from every angle.
Shots are taken at spoiler culture, where there’s an HR meeting over an employee slapping another for spoiling an episode. Since this is satire, it’s the spoiler who’s at fault and not the slapper (the HR rep is also watching the show, naturally). The way characters try to suss out how far each other is in the show is an amusing dance, often to the point of ridiculousness as people try to talk about what’s going on without ruining it for each other. In a day when the entire series is dropped onto a platform at once (see: Netflix’s Stranger Things and Good Omens on Amazon), it’s almost a race to keep up with what’s going on lest a spoiler ‘ruin’ the experience for you.
Matt’s an ardent fan of the show, going so far as to have Jake drive him to work not so they can chat and hang out, but so Matt can watch it on his StrapIn. When he tries to get the eerily-prescient ads off his fancy gadget it locks onto his wrist, and he suddenly feels like he might just be in the situation the show describes. The StrapIn seems to be spying on him, what with its targeted ads and all, and maybe, just maybe he might be beholden to it (as are the characters in Society Tomorrow). Ultimately, however, convenience seems to be worth the sacrifice of privacy and Matt, like so many people in real life, decides to dismiss privacy concerns because, hey, ain’t it handy to have a device that helps you with your life?
The third skewer is aimed square at people not watching the show. Jake, it seems, is the only person in the office not watching Society Tomorrow. As such he’s ostracized by others in the office, a superior going so far as to tell him to take the day off and watch the show. During a conversation with the only other coworker who doesn’t follow the show, Jake wishes there would be another mass shooting, describing the drama and suspense of it all in much the same way one would a prestige tv show. It’s a quick jab, but the barb here is that this guy who’s acting all above it all and would rather discuss current events and other ‘real’ subjects treats the real world like a tv show itself. Later on, when questioned by coworkers in an interrogation chamber, Jake confesses that the main reason he hasn’t watched the show is just to be contrarian. The point Corporate makes here is that you’re not more ‘deep’ for not jumping on the latest bandwagon.
Finally, there’s how people try to speak so authoritatively about aspects of the show. People remark on the show’s excellent score and cinematography. Matt eager to give off the appearance of knowing what he’s talking about agrees that, yes, the “cinnamon tography” is so good. It’d be easy to mock people’s superficial understanding of filmmaking techniques and criticism, but that’s too lazy for the show. By positing Matt’s misunderstanding of the very word ‘cinematography’ the satire is aimed straight at the tendency of people who to parrot the praise of a work – without understanding it – just to feel a part of the zeitgeist.
The brilliance of “Society Tomorrow” is in Corporate’s ability to satire all of this at once. It’s not just the way we can try and find connections between fiction and real life, nor just the way we’ll feign understanding to sound intelligent. By mixing it all together, the show hits at everyone involved in any of the buzz around a major tv show. Everyone is complicit in the ridiculousness in one form or another, but then, we’re all also absolved. The buzz and hype around peak tv is just a part of modern life, so let’s make fun of it. And, as Corporate does in “Society Tomorrow,” do a good job of it.