Since The Office wrapped in 2013, no one show has taken its place. Instead, its legacy has reached near-ubiquity. Michael Scott's jokes are modern memes, people self-identify and peg others as Jims, Pams, Kellys, Stanleys. Surveying the dismal ratings for contemporary workplace comedies like Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Superstore in 2016, Kristen Hunt proclaimed in GQ that "we may be watching the death rattle of workplace sitcoms as we once knew them." (She caveats, and I concur, that though successful shows like Workaholics, Silicon Valley, and Veep occur in professional contexts, they are less workplace comedies than they are narrative adventures or narrow satires.)
The workplace comedy is dead as we once knew it. Shows based on unique job environments (from Taxi to 30 Rock) feel escapist, while those built atop optimism and aspiration (from Cheers through The Bold Type) seem downright unrealistic. For a show to succeed in this genre, it must weaponize The Office’s piercing disenchantment with corporate life more aggressively than that show ever did, and resist the temptation to soften that cynicism with comforting familiarity. In other words: no real-world references, no hopeful allegories, and maybe most importantly, categorically unlikeable characters.
It’s a tall ask, and unsurprisingly, there haven’t been many notable attempts to answer it. But there are a few. Consider two recent entrants into the genre: Long Haired Businessmen, and Corporate, picked up by Comedy Central for a second season this past summer. The two shows vary in format, scope, and style, but both clearly attempt to portray American office life with unsparing bitterness. Only one does it well.
Corporate fails for the same reasons that Long Haired Businessmen succeeds. LHB is a merciless portrayal of American office life, but it’s not a humorless one, unlike Corporate's despairing and soulless mega-corporate setting called Hampton Deville -- an obvious amalgam of real corporate behemoths like Apple and Amazon -- relying on dreary plot devices (suicide scenes, nightmare sequences, etc.) and composition that winds up coming off as gloom for gloom’s sake. LHB, for one thing, has the playful absurdity of the wigs. Celebrities who make cameos, like J.K. Simmons and J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr., are not exempt from participating. The wigs have no relevance to either the plot nor the characters; they’re never explained or even acknowledged. That visual gag sets the tone for the entire show. Divorced from distinguishing context and unburdened by likable characters, Long Haired Businessmen is able to ruthlessly lampoon the infuriating and intangible purposelessness and hypocrisy of corporate culture.