Maintaining anarchy for five seasons isn’t easy. Workaholics was founded on the idea of Anders, Blake, and Adam being the locus of workplace rebellion, and the show ran on that engine quite happily for a time. But when inspiration runs low on anarchic comedy, it veers into mere loudness, and edges into cruelty. At times, especially last season, that was more and more Workaholics’ tone, a gradual tonal drift that made the show a chore to watch.
But this season—after a premiere episode that seemed to promise more of the same— has seen the show find its comic feet again, with tonight’s “Ditch Day” being the fifth straight episode that can stand with the show’s best. Even if it’s not up to the standards of its immediate predecessors “Gayborhood” and “Menergy Crisis,” “Ditch Day” finds the Workaholics’ comic sweet spot where the guys’ anarchic nonsense is grounded in something like humanity.
It’s not that the guys should be learning, and feeling, and growing all the time—the show’s comedy depends on Ders, Blake, and Adam remaining creatively infantile. But, this season especially, the creators appear to have realized that grounding the guys shenanigans in something approximating human feelings yields a richer result. In fact, there are little moments tonight that continue the trend of having the guys act almost like adults.
When Karl starts a nonsensical screaming fight with the guys’ neighbor (who not unreasonably saw Karl’s unloaded pile of junk on the guys’ lawn as a yard sale), Ders and Blake come out to calm things down. (Adam sees the commotion first, but, after a calming shot, just goes back to bed.) Ders’ longstanding disdain for Karl is a constant, but it’s strangely grown up of him to apologize to the neighbor for the disturbance‚and that he knows the neighbor by name. And Blake, always Karl’s staunchest defender, joins in, admonishing Karl, “It’s too early for this, man.” Blake has another moment later on when he responds to one of Adam’s profane rants by slowly raising the book he’s carrying over his face in apparent embarrassment. And another where he admonishes Ders for spending the money Karl gave them, “You should have told us.”
Which isn’t to suggest that the guys are going to fundamentally change who they are. The plot and title of “Ditch Day” is about as Workaholics as Workaholics gets, with the guys—exhausted by boss Alice’s recent uptick in short-temperedness—organizes a group walkout so everyone can blow off steam at their house. Additionally, their party is about what you’d expect—Ders tries to micromanage things (with a keyboard player, caterer, and rented chairs), before they just break out the booze and let everything get messy. (Tonight’s highlights: Bill and Gary in a nut-grabbing fight, Waymond running wild in a luchador mask, and Adam trying to prove his manliness by eating hot peppers and rubbing them into his eyes.) What’s different—and most gratifying—about all this is how the episode (written by Craig DiGregorio) gives everyone a touch of motivation—dignity, even—for even their silliest actions.
So when Montez freaks out and kidnaps the mystery box Karl left with the guys for safekeeping, it’s revealed that he’s under stress at work because his wife is making more money than he is. (And, again, Blake asks him what’s wrong in something like genuine concern.) And Bill’s obnoxiousness in hitting on Jillian at the party is set up with Alice’s earlier taunting revelation that he’d been asking her for love advice. (Luckily, Gary’s helpful words to the waitress about Bill’s supposed huge penis results in Bill and the woman happily screwing in the guys’ bathtub). Jillian’s boozy love-triangle manipulation of Gary and Bill is explained by her confession, “Alice craps on me a lot and I just wanted to see what is was like to do the crapping!” And when Alice herself, run ragged by the mass exodus from TelAmeriCorp, tears into everyone at the party, even she confesses that she’s been so awful to everyone at work because of sales pressures from corporate. It’d all be too well-adjusted, if the everyone’s heartfelt rationales weren’t meant to excuse some typically ridiculous behavior.
Workaholics has gotten back to its roots in another important way this season, with the guys’ TelAmeriCorp workplace and coworkers being brought back into their proper place as Adam, Blake, and Ders’ loopy comic foils. Tonight, while Montez, Bill, Waymond, Bill, and rising weirdo Gary all have some good moments, it’s once again Maribeth Monroe’s Alice who steals the show. Alice’s mix of weariness, self-loathing, and just plain loathing at working where she does erupts hilariously in the conference room scene, where her furious impressions of Tez and Bill are as cruel as they are funny, with Monroe landing every line with ultimate contempt and razor-eyes. Alice’s role should be a thankless one, but Monroe’s always brought such layered contempt to everything she does that her position in the Workaholics hierarchy is enriched by it. The show’s premise is that everyone hates her job—Alice’s willingness here to admit that everyone at TelAmeriCorp is in the same boat makes her perpetual exasperation with the guys’ constant nonsense part of the show’s continued evolution.
- Sure, Ders got rimmed by a dog against his will in the season premiere, but this season’s general avoidance of toilet humor has been much appreciated. (Not that you can’t have shit in your show—but you’ve gotta earn your shit.) In an illustrative shot tonight, the guys are all huddled around the toilet—but they’re flushing the dismembered doll parts they assume are filled with dope (they were left there by Karl), and not feces. This means something…
- Jillian Bell’s rising star in Hollywood threatens to steal her away from the show, but thankfully she’s getting more screen time than she did last season. Here, her ongoing, complex devotion to Alice continues to yield rewards. The Mr. Burns/Smithers relationship between the two women brings out the best from both actresses, with Monroe’s weary disdain subtly melting under Bell’s intense weirdness.
- “This coffee is ice cold!” “Like your heart…”
- Montez, after objecting to Alice’s impression, concedes, “Aw, this job is a jizoke. Oh, I do sound like that.”
- Adam: “I figured out why my cool points are dipping. I need a hip new name.” Blake: “Yeah, it’s pretty bad. I’ve been meaning to tell you about it.”
- Workaholics keeps working spooky-eyed Gary (Gary Buckner) into the supporting rotation. Tonight, Jillian sums him up: “I can’t tell whether this guy wants to fuck or kill me.”