If you haven’t heard of the Comedy Central series Corporate, that’s totally understandable and you do not need to explain why to anyone — including the show itself. Corporate gets it. At least, that’s the biggest takeaway from last night’s Season 3 premiere, “Pickles 4 Breakfast,” which, in 22 minutes, delivers not just one of the most savage satires of today’s streaming culture, but brings with it a new layer of existential dread.
In the episode, Hampton DeView, the streaming service operated by evil corporation Hampton DeVille, has hit a crisis point, driven by poorly received premium original series and a reliance on algorithm-driven children’s programming that is actively programming children to become unhinged. The below clip is only the beginning, not to mention barely a taste of Lance Reddick at his most committed and thus his most hilarious:
And the chaos only ascends from there, including a Game of Thrones finale-inspired subplot and an extended run where characters muse about how they “keep meaning to check out” shows like The Danish Dutch Oven Show and Jew Pope (“I’ve heard it’s one of the better Pope shows”). It’s a tightly-paced, joke-packed look at where streaming culture stands today, and without spoiling the ending it’s one of many Corporate episodes to avoid pat resolutions and instead end on a darkly resigned note.
Of course, you may not know that, because the tragic irony of “Pickles 4 Breakfast” is that like the rest of Corporate it is restricted to cable subscribers, an increasingly dying breed. All seasons of Corporate, in fact, are behind a cable paywall or require some sort of additional payment to watch, despite the fact that this is the final season of the show (total 2020 move). Because right now, the only thing that can be counted on when you try to understand the media landscape is confusion.
The streaming era can’t be defined by just one block of years — there have been waves and phases, driven by the increasing availability of new series (or lack thereof), or the launching of new services. Pre-2016, when most users were weighing the pluses and minuses of Hulu versus Amazon, things seemed pretty complicated.
Now, of course, it’s utter chaos. None of the business models make sense. At least six new streaming services have launched over the last year, but none of them are easy for users to actually use. What even is a Quibi, the joke goes, but the bigger question is why is a Quibi? Does a film’s viewership need to have actual numerical value to be considered a success? Sometimes yes. Sometimes no. The reasons why Peacock and HBO Max aren’t available on Roku are tied up in deals over ads and data, though my aunt says she can watch HBO Max on her Roku device, something which is theoretically impossible and I’m very curious about it, but while she only lives about 30 minutes away it is not a good idea right now for me to go to her house and find out what’s happening. HBO Max, at the 11th hour, launched in May with all eight Harry Potter films, but they’re apparating away only four months later… to where? Whatever lucky platform might get the Harry Potter movies, it’ll undoubtedly issue a press release to announce it and dozens of sites will report the news, because a significant portion of entertainment journalism these days is simply spent helping people fucking watch movies and television.
For whatever it’s worth, I’m pretty sure the reason my aunt can access HBO Max via Roku is that she’s actually using the basic HBO app, which will stop working on August 31. I should remember to tell her that during the next family Zoom chat.
See, on Sunday mornings, my mother, her sisters, and their families all sign on to catch up with the world. Because we’re cooped up at home, a lot of those conversations revolve around what we’ve been watching lately, and those moments of “I watched Palm Springs!” echoed by a ripple of agreement unite us. We are more than the content, as human beings. Yet we still need it. We want it. Because of what it gives us: thrills, laughter, tears, distraction, illumination, or even just the ability to say “Oh, I liked that too!”
The content is good. Some of it is even great. Like Corporate, airing on Comedy Central now, though if you have someone’s cable login (perhaps even your own) you can watch it now with ads. Someday soon you might be able to watch it on Netflix, or Hulu, or Amazon, or Peacock, or HBO Max, or Disney+, or Apple TV+, or whatever CBS All Access is allegedly going to morph into soon. That might even be a time of peace, when the world makes sense, when we can go outside again.
To watch Quibi on our phones, of course.