The biggest problem with tonight’s episode, “Miss BS,” is that the guys win. Sort of.
It’s not that Anders, Blake, and Adam aren’t likeable, or that we root for them to suffer major misfortune. In fact, the guys are at their most likeable, and the show often at its most entertaining, when the guys are having a great time doing exactly what (or all) they want to do—getting high, getting drunk, and hanging out goofing on each other. As revealed sparingly throughout the series (the therapy sock puppet episode, for example), these three dopes genuinely like and care for each other and, on some, seriously unexamined level, need each other. They’ve banded together in search of security, and out of fear that they a) will have to grow up one day, and b) won’t survive if they do. Plus, they really like to get drunk and high a lot.
That essential harmless likeability takes some of the sting out of even their most destructive antics—it’s a necessary adjunct to the chaos they create, because if the guys’ actions seem guided by something more focused and malevolent than lack of impulse control and plain, old dumbness, then they are just assholes, and the show becomes mean-spirited and offensive. It’s a delicate balance, and one that the show is usually able to maintain well enough. But tonight’s episode suffers tonally from the fact that the guys’ traditional shenanigans are too well thought-out, too calculated. And they just come off like dicks.
Things start with the guys’ signature, trigger-happy half-planning as they become smitten with the local “gotcha!” hidden camera TV journalist (Children’s Hospital’s Erinn Hayes) after they see her don a very silly macho guy disguise to expose the sexism of a local muffler shop. Which naturally means the guys lure her to the TelAmeriCorp offices with the promise of a juicy scammer story, only to team-woo her with a newspaper-wrapped copy of Twilight (the book), and an invitation to attend a “charity” event (Ders’ car is in the shop, and they’re throwing a fundraising party). So far so good—the Workaholics formula is simple, but it works. The guys get a bee in their collective bonnet about a thing they must have, come up with a very counterintuitive plan to get that thing, and then destroy a lot of stuff. This time, however, the machine short-circuits.
For one, Hayes’ character makes no sense—she’s a funny lady, but, once the guys’ initial jig is up, there’s just no reason why her character would stay with them through their escalating prank war. Hayes’ plays the (admittedly energetic) prank montage as if she’s having a great time, despite that fact that she was brought across town under false pretenses by a trio of weirdos who are all awkwardly hitting on her. (She even seems delighted by the return of the poop dollar.) Sure, she might be somehow baiting the guys into revealing the devious inner workings of TelAmeriCorp, but, the way the sequence is shot, she just seems to fall into the story once the guys, desperate to impress her, start showing off their skills at conning the elderly and mentally unsound into giving out their credit card numbers. That the writers have no handle on the character is even clearer when Miss BS agrees to come to the fundraiser anyway, after the three scamming weirdos she just got fired show up at her place of work (!?) and invite her again. Miss BS is a plot stirrer, not a character, and her lack of agency really undermines the episode.
As does the aforementioned fact that the guys’ plan to fix the whole mess they’ve caused (their hidden camera dickery causes the whole branch to be shut down)—actually works. As filled with dumb plans as they always are in response to the dilemmas their initial dumb plans invariably cause, Ders, Blake, and Adam almost always fail. Sure sometimes they get almost what they want, but its usually by accident, of because of outside forces, or sometimes simply because Alice can’t be bothered to do the right thing and fire them because it would take too much damned effort. But this time, their diabolical scheme to capture Miss BS partying with underage kids and blackmail her into dropping the story… goes exactly according to plan. Sure, their initial plan to have the tough, tattoo-faced girl who terrorized them at the bus stop beat up the reporter was a bust—Miss BS knows her self-defense—but their ultimate victory, relying as it does on the character of Miss BS to act in ways that don’t make dramatic sense, comes off as too-pat, and mean. It’s the sort of thing the Gang of It’s Always Sunny might pull off—but that’s because the Gang is a hell of a lot meaner and more awful than the guys. They’re also more consistently conceived characters.
I’ve been accused in the comments here of “overthinking” Workaholics. To which I respond: a) That’s sort of my job. And b) I don’t think that’s true. Comedy is a damnably difficult trick, and “edgy” or “offensive” comedy is doing that trick while juggling chainsaws on a high-wire. Tone is central, as is the sense that the show’s comedic sensibility is solidly understood by the writers/creators. Workaholics works, when it does, because, while viewers might think the guys are funny and their irresponsible lifestyle in some ways enviable (who likes work, really?), we never really think that their world view should carry the day. Not to flog the comparison, but It’s Always Sunny works because it’s got a clear mission statement (these are the worst people in the world), and the show stays utterly committed to that. Workaholics is a more ramshackle, “all laughs are good laughs” enterprise, and often a lazy one.
After all, what did the guys accomplish, looking at this episode objectively? A news reporter discovered a legitimate news story that a telemarketing company routinely preys on enfeebled people, and then, accepting an invitation (out of pity) to say no hard feelings, has her career (and possibly her freedom—she was grinding pretty hard on a minor) threatened by the three men she got justly fired. Fuck you, strong, professional lady doing her job!
All that being said, there are laughs along the way. It’s largely Adam’s episode, with Adam Devine deploying his signature delivery—Adam bluffingly attempts to rewrite the history everyone has just seen to his advantage—to great effect. After wetting himself when the tough girl at the bus stop threatens them: “I wasn’t even scared of her dude—I was so brave right then…” It’s the way he shifts his eyes and sort of swallows his words as he’s putting them out there that does it. Also, while trying to push through the justifiably furious mob of his coworkers: “I’m stronger that most of you!” And sometimes it’s funny when he just forgets how to talk, as when he sees Ms. BS kicking the living crap out of their would-be hit girl and asks, “Are your guyses penises not soft right now?” Like the rest of the guys, Adam is most appealing when his spastic attempts to be a smug douche expose how little-suited he is for the role he’s chosen. When he, Blake, and Ders’ ill-conceived selfishness makes them actual, victorious smug douches? Not so much.
- Ders probably would make a damn fine weatherman.
- Montez, reliable as ever: “Well, well, well, if it’s not the cast of The Newsroom—except that Jeff Daniels didn’t try to fuck me in my ass!”
- “How’s your job? I remember before we met you, we had three of those things.”
- Adam, attempting nonchalance: ““She’s just a human celebrity—let’s be totally normal around her.”
- And always appreciate how Adam’s mind loses focus and goes down its own rabbit hole as soon as the possibility of sex enters it: “Just come over for 20 minutes and then you never have to see us again. Unless you want to, unless you want to have, like, an intimate thing with one of us. Then..we would be into that, but I don’t know! I don’t know if we have chemistry right now…”
- Bodily function count: pee (x2), farting, poop dollar.