After a run of episodes in which Workaholics allowed Blake, Adam, and Ders an unaccustomed (and quite effective) measure of—dare I say it?—adult introspection, an episode about Adam attending his grandfather’s funeral might seem poised to continue the show’s journey into near maturity. Instead, “Gramps DeMamp Is Dead” is a throwback to the early days of the series, with the guys running roughshod over a respectable setting like a weed-happy Marx Brothers freed from the Hayes Code. Throw in a guest shot from Jack Black at his most boisterous as Adam’s irresponsible father, and the recipe for throwback Workaholics shenanigans becomes even more purely comic. A shame, then, that the script (by Adam DeVine’s House Party writer/executive producer Scotty Landes) isn’t sharper.
Jack Black is a talented guy, capable of more nuance than he’s generally given credit for (Bernie comes to mind), but that’s not the Jack Black Workaholics hired. No, in bringing him in for the role of Adam’s drunken wild card dad, the show wanted the motormouthed, braggadocious, wild-eyed Jables, which is fine—not every sitcom guest spot has to deconstruct Black’s comic persona the way Community’s did. The problem is—as seen in his brief bit on last week’s lackluster Oscars broadcast—an underwritten Jables can be a tiresome Jables, with all of his roaring vocal crescendoes and improbably balletic and precise movements coming off like someone doing an ever-so-slightly annoying Jack Black impression. Which makes sense for his appearance here as Adam’s father, since Adam DeVine’s signature schtick could uncharitably be described that way at times.
The episode begins with Adam promising the guys a blowout wake for the dead Gramps MeMamp, a prospect Blake and Ders are looking forward to thanks to their history with DeMamp family debauchery. There’s the exhibitionist aunt with inverted nipples, the exhibitionist uncle with a corkscrew-shaped penis, the morbidly obese beatboxing cousin, the insane cousin who’s way into his job as the Blue Knight at a Medieval Times restaurant—so the three are both crushed and baffled by the somber, respectable-seeming DeMamp clan that’s waiting for them inside the church. No one’s naked, everyone’s lost weight, the Blue Knight (Shameless’ Steve Howey) demands to be called Tony and denies he ever offered to knight Blake (or that they had fun that time they had “the other kind of swordfight” in the restaurant parking lot), and the whole family is gainfully employed in the pizza chain run by Gramps’ prim widow Annette (Amy Yasbeck), whose terrible influence is summed up by Adam’s “She took all Gramps’ money and blew it all on a successful pizza chain!” Suddenly, even Blake’s knight in shining armor t-shirt and Adam’s Hawaiian shirt and 12-pack seem inappropriate. At least until Black’s Pritchard show’s up, keg in hand, and dresses the DeMamps down for being so square just because a beloved relative has died.
The scene should be a showstopper, with Black’s manic energy igniting the episode like the “butt-ton of fireworks” he complains the family should be lighting off (while blasting some Offspring). Unfortunately, Landes’ script fails to ignite fully, instead fizzling along like a faulty butt-ton of fireworks, and only finding some pop through Black and DeVine’s combined energy. Part of the problem is the DeMamp family themselves. Built up in the guys’ stories as the Workaholics answer to It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia’s infamously insane McPoyle clan, no one in the DeMamp camp is fully committed to the roles the script gives them. Howey’s Blue Knight/Tony comes closest, the actor’s innate crazy eyes hinting at the bottled lunacy he finally lets loose when he and Blake are trapped in the pizza joint walk-in later in the episode. It’s as if Yasbeck’s Annette has done her job too well, rendering even the DeMamp’s eventual reversion to their wild ways at the climax (after a rousing speech from Adam) decidedly anticlimactic. But the biggest letdown is the pairing of Black and DeVine who, while not shy about going (literally) nose-to-nose with their individual schticks, don’t bring enough laughs along with the volume.
It’s not a complete failure—both Black and DeVine’s rants are always entertaining—but I kept watching them play off each other and waiting for the comic momentum to build. Instead, there are some funny lines, like Adam’s horrified objection, “This isn’t even a pizza family! It’s a cheeseburger family!,” and his similar accusation to the family, once they’ve gathered at the park where he and Pritchard have kidnapped Gramp’s half-charred (in a pizza oven) body:
We’re DeMamps! We don’t mourn, we mosh! We don’t cry, we crush! All of a sudden we get a little money in our pockets and were divided? We shouldn’t even have pockets!
Black, too, gets in some decent lines, underplaying the big reveal that he’s actually Adam’s big brother and not his absent father with, “There’s one thing I should tell you before I get drunker than you possibly could…,” and following up the reveal with, “Mom and I thought the most logical thing would be to lie to your face forever.” Additionally, there’s a crude music to the guys references to the odd aerodynamics of the aunt’s “whistle tit,” and Ders describing the unending pizza ransom he demands in return for telling Annette where the guys have kidnapped Gramp’s body as, “a lifetime subscription to pizza.” (When she reneges on the deal after he gives away the location, his outraged, “Are you squelching? Is this a pizza squelch?!” continues the show’s virtue of finding laughs in odd malapropism.) And while the guys’ schism about the corpse-napping plan is indifferently motivated, Blake’s increasing horror at Adam and Pritchard’s plans involve some funny outrage from Blake Anderson, “You’re burning your grandfather like a warlock!” vying with “Thats the same plan man, but, like, in a stupider location!” As a foray back to sillier Workaholics territory, “Gramps DeMamp Is Dead” is just funny enough to hint how it could have been better.
- Ders gets locked in a coffin and nearly cremated, a plot less clever than the little bit where his seemingly obscene finger and tongue gesture blackmailing Annette turns out to be his idea of the universal sign for a slice of pizza.
- “This doesn’t seem like a wake, this seems like asleep.”
- Blake, objecting to Adam and Pritchard’s plan to cremate Gramps: “This will haunt my dreams! And I’ve been having good dreams lately, okay? It’s me, Jessica Alba, and we’re dry humping, and I have walrus tusks!”
- And trying to reignite Tony’s inner Blue Knight with tales of former glory: “That’s unlike any intensity I’ve ever seen in any dinner theater performance!”
- “Guys, we got company! Specifically the owner of this company!”
- Adam, locking Blake in the walk-in: “Dad said you’re a liability and then he explained to me what that word meant and that’s exactly what you are!”