It’s not quite optimism and it’s not quite contentment. But whatever fresh sentiment creeped into the third and final season of “Corporate,” its arrival was both a little surprising and totally logical.
Series stars Matt Ingebretson and Jake Weisman (who, along with director Pat Bishop, created the series) have always faced down the vein of drudgery inherent in the Comedy Central show’s premise with a helpful counterbalance. As Matt and Jake, the two conveniently-named upper-middle management executives at the world-devouring corporation Hampton DeVille, the pair have found sparks of energy in an environment that could have slid into sameness. Those tiny flickers initially sparked from simmering rage against a crushing force, but the prevailing attitude guiding this farewell season came from a slightly different place.
“The system wins. That’s the truth. And then, so what do you do with your life when you know that? I think that’s sort of what we’re trying to get to,” Weisman said in an interview with IndieWire. “It’s not necessarily being resigned, but there’s a level of acceptance there. That being said, the world is headed toward an explosion. So it’s a little confusing.”
“We’ve maybe evolved a little each season in the sense that Season 1, we were really angry and nihilistic,” Ingebretson said. “Maybe I’m wrong, but the seasons have maybe gotten a little lighter, or at least our approach toward the show, and even life, have lightened up a little bit. So I think in this season, we wanted to just do what we typically do and do it better: tackling dark subjects, but making it silly enough that they go down smooth.”
In Season 3, that starts out with an episode that eventually turns its focus to the unsettling world of algorithm-inspired children’s programming. The fictional kid’s show “Pickles 4 Breakfast” is, like so many other “Corporate” absurdities, a bizarre Hampton DeVille creation that has both a satirical edge and a kernel of things to come.
“We just feel like everything’s speeding up. I think it’s how we felt about the season. If things are speeding to a doom, with corporations and crazy children’s entertainment and stuff, it’s very scary how fast they’re taking over the world,” Weisman said.
Within the trio of seasons of “Corporate” is a kind of spiritual trilogy of episodes that glide along an impossibly delicate tonal balance. The Season 1 finale looked at how business interests can commodify retrospective grief, while an episode from Season 2 looked at how that process evolves when responding to a tragedy in real time.
Nestled within Season 3 is a story about depression that wrestles with all of that external anxiety and centers it in Jake’s experiences. Juggling past family trauma, social pressures, and — in true “Corporate” fashion — the arrival of Matt as a Mary Poppins-inspired self-help expert, “Black Dog” looks at how the ripple effects of one person’s mental health challenges are rarely confined to single individual.
“Part of the problem with depression is that affects everyone around you. It’s not just about you, it is about the people you love,” Weisman said.
“The goal for us is never to make any broad sweeping generalizations about depression, but rather to show one story within that kind of larger narrative and what works for this character,” Ingebretson said. “This episode is partially coming from real-life stuff; [from] Jake being depressed in real life with me yelling at him to meditate every day for four years straight and realizing maybe that’s not the best solution.”
It’s a testament to “Corporate” that the show has found that depth in Matt and Jake as characters and still maintained a flexible approach to reality. So many developments on the show are rooted in real-world parallels, but playing with the internal logic of the show at key points has helped keep things fresh even in dire moments.
Tonight’s finale — which includes the exclusive clip below — features a long-awaited power grab. Still, it’s in a potential change in leadership from CEO Christian DeVille (the always-welcome Lance Reddick) that Matt and Jake still try to hold on to the DeVille they know rather than the one they don’t. It’s part of the philosophy of the show that approaches each episode as a self-contained slice of corporate life, whoever happens to be in it and whenever it happens to take place.
“I think we always liked it being a thing that kind of reset each episode and always went back to square one, in an attempt to reflect life as not ever really feeling progress and often feeling like you’re always starting over,” Ingebretson said. “The thesis of the show was, ‘Work is a prison, capitalism is hell, and there’s no escape.’ As seasons went on, we ended up doing episodes about how it sucks to go to a concert once you hit 30. But in wrapping up the whole show, we wanted to kind of go back to the start and try to answer some of those questions.”
Again, those answers are centered on individuals. Even in a smaller third-season run of six episodes, it’s admirable how much “Corporate” has been able to give the rest of the small cadre of Hampton DeVille regulars their own last hurrahs. Company HR rep Grace (Aparna Nancherla) and the two-person psychological minefield of Christian lieutenants Kate (Anne Dudek) and John (Adam Lustick) all have their moments throughout Season 3 that crystallize their characters, even if it’s not in a traditional series wrap-up style.
If series finales are a time for reflections, Ingebretson offers up this bit of wisdom to anyone working on developing a show: “I’ll probably take away the fact that you better really fucking love the idea that you just pitched as a TV show because you’re going to spend 80 hours a week doing for the next five years.”
One helpful way to make that hard work pay off is to find collaborators who can help bring that idea to life in unexpected ways. Weisman credits executive producer Nate Young for bringing in a number of key contributors (both at the outset and as the seasons progressed), including a person who helped guide the show’s distinct visual palette.
“Our cinematographer Christophe Lanzenberg was a pretty key component we added to the show early on when we shot the pilot,” Ingebretson said. “Christophe was a guy who had mostly worked in commercials but who had a much more specific aesthetic and really hadn’t shot much TV. And so bringing him on as someone who would bring a totally new approach, especially to a half-hour comedy, was pivotal for making the show what it is.”
“Christophe, and also our grip and electric department, they work so hard and they’re so talented. And again, they just make us look better than we are and we love that,” Weisman said.
“When you’re watching the crew move at light speed, shifting the entire set around constantly throughout the day, it’s really embarrassing to be acting because it feels completely pitiful the contribution you’re making to the show — when strong men and women are lifting shit and doing real work for you to come on and say some dick joke that somehow also makes fun of capitalism,” Ingebretson said.
With the force of an impressive team and a real-world awareness for what leads to the most fulfilling story threads, the prospect of filling up a six-episode final season sometimes brought some pressure. But part of ending the show the way they wanted to was returning the instinct that made the first two seasons one of TV’s best comedies.
“When we when we first started writing it, we were putting a lot of pressure on ourselves,” Ingebretson said. “Every idea we came up with, we were sort of vetting that question of, ‘Right, but is this good enough for the last season? Is it perfect for the final season?’ There’s a lot of episode ideas that we love that we didn’t put into the season because there wasn’t enough time or room, but we ultimately just chased after the ones that made us laugh or were exciting to us, regardless of whether or not they belong in the last season.”
“I feel like it’s extremely rare that people know their show is going to end so they can end it how they want to,” Weisman said. “Not only that, you don’t feel the anxiety of trying to get something else from the experience besides the experience. So it really was something that we enjoyed more because we knew it would end. It’s just so satisfying to end it exactly how we wanted to. It’s so rare, and it would have felt so bad if it just ended and then we didn’t get to say what we wanted to say to end it. It’s really amazing that it happened.”
The “Corporate” series finale airs Wednesday, August 26 at 10:30 p.m. ET on Comedy Central.