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Another guest star steals focus on a fitfully funny Workaholics

Anders Holm, Ski Carr (Comedy Central)
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Workaholics is a show where ambition is the enemy. I don’t mean just for Adam, Blake, and Ders, whose attempts to extend their reach beyond the next bong hit or office prank invariably end up exploding in their faces, sometimes literally. The series itself is at its best when it concentrates on staying close to home, be it the guys’ grubby pad or their stifling workplace, TelAmeriCorp. The series’ strength is its three leads, whose riffing looseness and obvious comfort with each others’ rhythms can, at its best, create a concentrated, giggle-inducing vibe that can carry an episode briskly along on a wave of inspired silliness. When there’s too much plot, or when, as in “Meth Head Actor,” the trio splits up for much of the episode (and cedes too much time to a guest star), things get attenuated.

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Things start out as they should, with smoke billowing out of the sunroof of Anders’ ’Vo, followed by the guys, excitedly jabbering about what sounds like the movie they can’t wait to see. Ders assures them that it’ll have everything they want out of their entertainment (“blood, sugar, sex, magic”) while Adam says one of those things that are funny and sort of sad when you think about it, as ever attempting to hide his shortcomings with bluster. (“If you guys figure it out, do not tell me, because I want to be surprised. Sometimes I don’t figure it until the ride home, or until a few hours later, or, honestly, sometimes it helps if you guys just tell me what happened.”) The fact that they, instead, are walking into a courthouse to watch a murder trial while carrying a bong, and are summarily arrested by the quite reasonable officer on duty because he can’t ignore that fact (or the joint behind Blake’s ear, or that they reek of weed) is, again, right in the show’s comic sweet spot. We’re here to watch Anders, Blake, and Adam get high and blunder into something stupid, so—promising setup.

The guys’ shenanigans always play best against solid straight men, and both Gary Kraus’ almost apologetic cop and Brett Rice as the stern judge who sentences them to attend Narcotics Anonymous meetings provide just the right tone of exasperated reason for them to bounce off of. There’s an echo of Animal House’s Dean Wormer in the way Judge Brownton (called, of course, “Judge Browntown” by Adam) runs down each of the guys in turn—like the late, great John Vernon before him, Rice conveys just the right tone of bewildered pity along with disgust at how the guys spend their lives. It gives Anderson, DeVine, and Holm just enough give for their characters’ specific idiocy work with. Adam innocently responds to the judge’s accusation that he has more DUIs than his grandson can count up to with a concerned, “Oh no, did he have, like, an accident?” Blake thanks the judge for thinking that his t-shirt is cool, plucking out the one positive he registers from the judge’s description of him as a “self-centered, dope-smoking kid with your cool t-shirt and your pervert mustache.” (“It looks weird when I shave it off,” Blake confides.) And Ders, praised for being the most clean-cut of the bunch, interprets the judge’s advice to straighten up as a call to use the N.A. meeting to infiltrate Rancho Cucamonga’s drug underworld for the police. Rice’s emphatic, “Do NOT do that” has no effect, as Ders immediately dons shades, a cholo shirt, and the best streetwise patter a pasty dum-dum of Norwegian descent can muster.

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Again, so far, so good. But the episode quickly splits all three into separate stories which—while they do come together in agreeably nonsensical fashion in the end—diffuses the episode’s energy, especially since, for the second episode in a row, a guest star is allowed to steal focus.

Andy Dick, as Blake’s former acting camp teacher (and current unemployed burnout) joins the season premiere’s Dane Cook and Pauly Shore as Workaholics one-offs who are allowed to do their schticks to the detriment of the show. While perhaps not in the same class of comic untouchables as Cook or Shore, Dick’s routine, too, is pretty predictable, and he doesn’t bring anything new here to the self-important, self-indulgent Mr. Buckley (who was fired from the Rancho Playhouse for striking costars in what appears to have been a children’s production of Hedwig And The Angry Inch). As with last week’s guests, Workaholics is reveling in its ability to pull mid-range celebrities prone to overacting—and then allowing them to overact. Here, Dick gets as much airtime as the stars, his signature mugging seeing him recreate Buckley’s terrible original play MacBreath (no relation to the Shakespeare), go undercover as the bug-eyed meth dealer Mr. Glass in order to derail Adam’s plan to get himself featured as a meth head in a Vice reporter’s article, and finally mount another original play (Attention Whore: The Adam DeMamp Story) which is clearly just an excuse to mock Adam. (Adam is just flattered to be the inspiration, beaming, “This… is my legacy.”) Dick’s tiresome “Adam is mentally challenged” bit runs over the end credits, too, displaying the ongoing truth that very few comics can fit into Workaholics’ world without becoming insufferable. (And that, once invited, those comics are given free rein to do their thing.)

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Andy Dick, Blake Anderson (Comedy Central)

So, for the second episode in the young season, the guys themselves don’t get enough to do, a flaw compounded by the fact that they’re on their own for most of the episode. Blake’s attempts to buck up Buckley see him eventually employing him to call Adam’s bluff by demanding oral sex in exchange for what’s obviously (except to Adam) rock candy at the same bar where Ders is being menaced by infamous Rancho drug lord Zippo (he likes to light people on fire). Ders’ obsession with helping out the judge (who, it at first seems, is on Zippo’s payroll before we find out Ders’ idiotic machinations have ruined a major undercover operation) sees him immediately made as a cop and kidnapped. (He’s flattered they think he’s a policeman.) It’s a neat way to bring the guys back together, but the fact that they were in separate stories up ‘til then is the real problem.

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When the guys are hauled back in front of Judge Brownton, his lecture that their assorting bumbling has blown a major drug sting and all but guaranteed Rancho Cucamonga will be beset by a bloody drug war is met with the kind of uncomprehending solidarity that resets the guys’ existence back to square one. Blake’s “We were just smoking weed. You could have wrote us a fine instead of this whole stupid shenanigans” is an apt summation of “Meth Head Actor”’s messiness itself. Here’s hoping they get back to some more focused and entertaining stupid shenanigans soon.

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Stray observations

  • The show goes out of its way to remind us of both Blake’s acting dreams and Ders’ city council aspirations. Adam’s fine.
  • Another indication that the guys are stronger together is that DeVine, Holm, and Anderson’s solo bits in the episode are more annoying than hilarious. Adam butting in on a real addict to impress the Vice reporter (episode writer Ben Rodgers), Blake butting in on a community theater and forcing Buckley onstage, and Ders approaching an N.A. attendee with his inept attempt to score drugs all become obnoxious. (Although Anderson’s commitment to playing MacBreath’s Angela is pretty impressive.)
  • Adam, trying to convince the reporter of his drug-fueled depravity: “I ate a puppy, sucked a bunch of dicks. I’m really good at it, so I can really get in there.”
  • Blake’s understanding of civics: “I don’t think so, man. I did not vote, so I don’t think I can be arrested.”
  • “What that guy wants is a crazy meth-head. All you do is occasionally smoke weed.” “Except for every day, all night also.”
  • “Do you know how he got the nickname Zippo?” “From his two best friends that he lives with?”
  • Ders, trying to convince Zippo’s gang he’s not a cop: “I work at a job with an outdated business model!”
  • Zippo, expressing his sense of betrayal as he’s being dragged off: “I got your daughter a bounce house, man!”
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