Adam DeVine, Blake Anderson, Anders Holm (Comedy Central)
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There’s a moment at the beginning of “Dorm Daze,” Workaholics’ fifth season premiere, where the guys—the morning after their annual AVN Awards viewing party—march into the offices of TelAmeriCorp, happily and filthily jabbering away about their favorite “pornogs” (12 Inches A Slave was obviously a lock for best picture), where it looks like the show is making a course correction. So much of last season’s overall shakiness stemmed from the guys abandoning the workplace setting that gives them—and the show—an identity. Ders, Adam, and Blake were conceived as a three-headed monster of slacker anarchy in the heart of the most soulless of corporate environments—a shady telemarketing firm—which colored their crude, juvenile, destructive antics with just enough shades of relatable rebellion to make them sort of endearing.

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The gradual drift away from that environment last season (the guys are party clowns, the guys steal beer, the guys open a burrito joint) made them less distinct, and less relatable. Sowing chaos in a corporate office that treats them badly gives their actions a patina of improbable heroism, one harder to maintain if they’re unleashing their nonsense on the public at large. So it’s heartening when Alice (Maribeth Monroe, her contempt for her employees warring as ever with her barely concealed self-loathing at being their boss) interrupts Adam’s typically graphic description of his masturbation techniques to order Ders to go gather signatures at a college job fair. Equally encouraging appearances by Erik Griffin’s Montez and Billy Stevenson’s Bill follow, suggest that the new season will get back to basics as well, which makes the episode that follows such a letdown. (None of the TelAmeriCorp team reappears, and it’s unclear if we’ll ever see Jillian Bell again.)

Adam DeVine, Blake Anderson, and Anders Holm are funny guys—their obvious familiarity and comfort with each other creates a uniquely loose, improvisational conversational style, peppered with in-jokes, callbacks, and endearingly idiosyncratic phrasing. But their comedy is always verging on the undisciplined and self-indulgent. A scene in tonight’s episode with Adam—after ditching Ders to seek out the dorm room where he’s sure his favorite porno was shot—pantomiming a series of JFK-style porno reenactments only hints at endless minutes of unused DeVine air-humping. Blake’s accidental foray into dorm-based amateur porn features a sequence of the poor guy all greased up and trying not to cry while he resists taking off his boxers—some of the outtakes of which play over the end credits. Ders, antagonizing the Coast Guard jocks at the neighboring job fair booth, attracts an appreciative crowd with a run of gay jokes at their expense. (“Did one of you fart? I just smelled salty dick” is the big crowd-pleaser.) Even if these three stories were hilarious, they’d be worrisome to anyone looking for a Workaholics resurgence, relying as they do on the three stars simply doing slapdash bits in isolation.

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There’s a reason why a show like It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia (which similarly trucks in irresponsible, anarchic behavior) is still operating at a high comic level entering its tenth season while Workaholics is sputtering out of the gate for its fifth. Comedy that traffics in crudity requires discipline, or it devolves into boorish spectacle for its own sake. Workaholics at its best finds that sweet spot where gross, offensive insanity is at the service of a clear comic goal. In this episode (and much of last season), the show wants things both ways, making the final result unfocused and grating.

Ders’ gay jokes are supposed to be okay because the Coast Guard guys are jerks (and not gay). But it’s also supposed to be triumphant that Ders puts them in their place and that the college audience (analogous to the Workaholics audience) thinks his gay jokes are hilarious. Then Ders gets his comeuppance when he’s sexually assaulted by the Coast Guard guys with a Big Gulp and a French Bulldog named Officer Petty Tailwags, and he likes it. (The “code red” pun that necessitates the Big Gulp is as clever as it is labored.) Similarly, Adam’s predictably disastrous foray into a Women’s Sexuality class is intended to please viewers who find DeVine’s motormouthed horndog homunculus shtick—here braying about “sweater meats” and “big dick jeans”—hilarious, while his professor-aided realization that “mommies shouldn’t make ham sammiches for their little boys with ejaculate on their fingers” is supposed to walk his character back to palatability. (Blake’s infatuation with pretending to be Australian—auditioning for a production of Hamlet with a scene from his unpublished screenplay Crocodile Dundee 4: The New Class—only serves to let Blake Anderson do his deliberately awful Aussie accent for a long time.)

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There is a blueprint for “Dorm Days”—Adam’s “pornographic memory” is set up right from the pre-credits sequence, and the guys’ separate adventures all hook up in the final solution to everyone’s dilemmas (the Coast Guard dudes get to bang, the amateur porn company gets a Coast Guard gang bang to replace Blake’s legendary micropenis, Adam learns that porn actresses are often exploited but then some are not, so he can go back to enjoying porno.) But overall, “Dorm Days” is a sloppy, self-indulgent opening to the fifth season of Workaholics, one that suggests the show intends to follow its laziest instincts. In a comedy TV landscape where shows like It’s Always Sunny and Broad City are shooting higher from the same road, Workaholics is in danger of falling off the map.

Stray observations:

  • Pretty sure I’m clear on three-fourths of “MMFTPATM.” I’m fine with that ratio.
  • “I had different juices flowing. Semen.” Adam’s inability to allow any ambiguity in his double entendres is always funny.
  • North Rancho College is the setting for 24 of Adam’s favorite 36 college pornos.
  • “TelAmeriCorp—where the frontline is the landline. Because phones. We make phone calls all day.”
  • “My butt hairs are all fizzy now!”
  • That’s Seth Morris in the small role of the porno director, lending a low-key deadpan sleaziness as welcome counterpoint to all the noise.
  • Welcome to the A.V. Club’s weekly coverage of Workaholics season five! My name is Dennis and I’ll be your reviewer. You all know where the comments are, I trust.

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