Blake Anderson, Jillian Bell (Comedy Central)
Workaholics dabbles in darkness, but it doesn’t live there. This season has seen the show delve deeper than ever before into the essential decency beneath the bluster and weed and juvenile bro vulgarity of its protagonists, to surprisingly successful effect. Without changing who Adam, Blake, and Ders are fundamentally (or at all, really), the show has allowed them opportunities to reveal their profound need for each other, and their fundamental lack of malice, regardless of the chaos their comic fecklessness brings about. Unlike the similarly destructive Gang at the heart of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, Adam, Ders, and Blake aren’t bad people.
So, in “Blood Drive,” when the parallel schemes of the guys end in them graphically destroying the entire haul from the TelAmeriCorp blood drive, their irresponsibility in depriving sick people of desperately needed blood—and the show’s use of the final, literal bloodbath as a punchline—rests uneasily alongside the show’s current baby steps toward humanity. Which isn’t to say that Workaholics has become Modern Family—the guys’ nonsense is frequently (if not exclusively) ruinous to those around them. It’s a matter of comic tone, something that the show has always struggled to find.
Maybe, there’s just too much Ders in me. The plot sets up that Ders has hemophobia (“It’s 2015,” misunderstands Karl, brought in to help Ders out with some decoy blood, “Gay dudes exist—deal with it”), which makes the reveal of Adam, Jillian, and Blake—each caught up in their own ludicrous plans—drenched in blood in the back of an ambulance the sort of big, comic payoff the episode was building toward. It’s an example of the show going for it, a huge, gross, literally splashy payoff. Does it work? As over-the-top gross out—which still manages to tie all three of the episode’s storylines together—yeah, it does. The problem is that it’s also too cruel a joke for these guys. It’s not that Blake’s motive for destroying the blood is cruel, or is Ders’ substitution of surely toxic Karl blood in place of is own—it’s the show’s casual cruelty in making the wasted blood a punchline that throws the humor off-kilter.
The point, to head off any misunderstandings before they start, is not that any subject is out of bounds for humor. The organ donation scene in The Meaning Of Life, for one example, has ten times this much spurting plasma, but it’s placed firmly in a consistent comic context. The Pythons recognized no limits to comedy and, in that scene, were forcing the audience to come somewhere they weren’t prepared to go through the liberal application of gore. Here, when the stoned out of his mind Blake is stabbing the blood bags the equally looped Jillian has hoarded under her blouse and then stomping on the five pints Adam has just drained from himself in order to win the drive, the show, as it’s currently constituted, can’t sustain the joke.
That all being said, “Blood Drive” has a funny, throwback Workaholics silliness going for it. Credited to first time Workaholics writers Zoe Jarman and Sarah Peters, the episode makes ample use of the TelAmeriCorp setting and its supporting cast of assorted nutjobs. The show is always better when it takes advantage of its workplace context, and especially when Jillian Bell’s Jillian is at the center. Here, teaming with Blake to uncover the conspiracy the weed-addled Blake insists is behind action star Dolph Lundgren‘s association with the contest, Bell‘s unique energy, as usual, sparks with funny weirdness. Urgently summoning Blake to her computer and showing him a heart-filled Dolph fan video, she responds to Blake’s query about its relevance with an unapologetic, “What? I made this.” Jillian dances to her own singular vibe as a rule, but stoned, her leaps of logic go to some truly rewarding places. When she, trying to protect the blood from Blake (she and Blake both think Dolph is trying to clone a race of Universal Soldier soldiers—only Jillian’s into it), Jillian’s panic-eyed quicksilver resolution to hoard the blood is the sort of inscrutably passionate craziness always lurking under her compliant office drone exterior.
Similarly, Adam’s maniacal need to have the office win the blood drive (he needs Dolph to co-host his ongoing series of exercise videos DeMamp Camp, featuring his patented “muscle perplexation technique”) allows Adam DeVine to apply all his manic energy to a series of dangerously stupid capers. It’s safe to say that DeVine is Workaholics’ breakout star at this point, and while his grinning, motormouthed sex monkey act can be trying when he’s left to his own devices, here, playing off the ever silent Waymond (stealing his sweater vest and rubbing himself all over the poor guy to get his scent), and enlisting DeMamp Camp acolyte Bill to drain him of most of his blood, DeVine’s energy works well enough to drive the episode’s frantic silliness. Ders’ concurrent scheme with Karl (resulting in an Evil Dead remake-worthy tongue wound to Karl), dodging the needle while trying to get the company to win so he can ask Lundgren the burning question he’s been holding onto since he was 15, adds another lane of comic traffic, all heading, pell-mell, to that moment in the back of the ambulance. The buildup to the blood-phobic Ders volunteering to save the nearly bloodless Adam with a transfusion is another touch of the humanization of the guys this season—and his immediate faint at the unveiled, bloody tableaux in the back of the ambulance is a deftly deployed demolition of Ders’ noble gesture.
- Adam’s obsession with Billy Blanks-style exercise guru stardom naturally involves him insulting his friends’ physiques, referring to Blake’s as “like a great-grandma” and Ders’ as “a bowl of porridge.” Ders’ objects that he has “the normal shape of an aging mesomorph,” while Blake, referring to his torso, claims to have “the little things that Usher has.”
- Blake, munching on his homemade marijuana energy bars does seem to back up Adam’s view: “I don’t like to exercise so I’m gonna eat ‘til I’m strong.”
- Panicky Blake, to Jillian: “Does this Internet have computer capabilities?”
- Curious Blake, to the nurse he’s sure is the pretty homeless woman he used to give returnables to: “How long have you been un-homeless for?”
- I agree with Blake and Jillian—Multiplicity is a pretty good movie.
- Maribeth Monroe’s Alice has a great Alice moment, deadpanning her way through a faux-sincere celebration of Ders’ claim to have given blood, before slapping her yogurt lid on his forehead and storming off. The twisted shapes that Alice’s utter loathing of her job/life are always entertaining.
- “I think I figured it out like a little detective!”
- And yes, Dolph does turn up at the end, introduced in a funny bit where Adam’s rant against him twists nicely:
Adam: He’s right behind me, isn’t he?
Bill: No he’s right behind me. You’re looking right at him.
- And the question Ders has always wanted to ask? In Showdown In Little Tokyo, yes, those were real naked ladies Dolph ate sushi off of. One off the bucket list for Ders.
- And Jillian’s not wrong—if the world were truly a meritocracy, the absurdly accomplished Mr. Lundgren would indeed have his own clone army. Or at least have a better movie and TV career.