As Workaholics wraps up its fifth (and possibly last) season, the show goes back to the beginning. Well, not to the actual beginning, when Adam, Blake, and Ders first met each other—they’ve done that one already—but back to the beginning of their time at TelAmeriCorp, the world’s worst telemarketing firm. And it’s a funny trip back to the heady days of 2008, allowing us a glimpse into the fashions, internet memes, and B-list rock stars with a penchant for oral sex of that magical time. That the episode doesn’t take much advantage of the gimmick to delve into the guys’ relationship (as have others in this impressive season) isn’t a surprise, or even a disappointment. Workaholics—should this indeed be the last episode ever—isn’t meant to have a drawn-out season (or series) finale. The small revelations and insights about Adam, Blake, and Ders sprinkled throughout this season have been improbably affecting—and effective—but that’s where they belong, unexpected little flashes of humanity in the childishly agreeable mess that is the guys’ existence. That tonight’s capper is also a bit of a mess makes perfect sense. And at least it’s got plenty of Alice.

Maribeth Monroe, Jillian Bell (Comedy Central)

Maribeth Monroe’s TelAmeriCorp boss has always been a perfect foil for the guys’ anarchic, ill-considered workplace rebellions, in that her annoyance with her employees’ shenanigans comes from a place of barely concealed complicity. Alice hates her job, knows it is deeply pointless, but plays her role to keep (as we find out tonight) her “72K a year, plus full medical and dental.” From the first episode, Monroe’s contemptuous energy has kept the workplace comedy alive in the way that a more traditional hard-ass foil wouldn’t. There’s always been a simmering craziness to Alice to go along with her self-loathing (and plain old loathing), and tonight’s episode zips back seven years to explain why, as Alice is revealed to have been essentially a female version of the guys.

After she’s forced to fire the guys for leaving a weed cookie in their cubicle for an unsuspecting coworker to find and pilfer (the poor lady runs through a glass door), Ders smugly launches into Alice’s origin story, confident that she’ll remember when she, too, was a stoner rebel, slouching through the TelAmeriCorp halls with nothing but contempt for authority—and everything else. Kicked off by a Boogie Nights tracking shot (set to “You Sexy Thing”), the whole flashback, which takes up the bulk of the episode, is an amiably scattershot collection of gags that rely on familiarity for most of their humor. Tez (with a high-top fade) is the office funny man, exclusively through the deployment of purloined internet jokes. Bill’s wife is a porn star, leading the guys to believe the copiously mustached and ponytailed Bill to be the similarly well-endowed “Mole Man.” Jillian’s a homeless person living outside the building with a stash of pot and a stuffed animal named “Larry the Ferret Guy.” And the boss is the unassuming George Burkeman (played with endearing restraint by Tom Arnold), who takes a shine to the guys’ enthusiasm on their first day at TelAmeriCorp, something he’ll naturally come to regret. And then there’s Alice, first seen emerging from the limo of Sugar Ray frontman Mark McGrath after a night of debauchery.

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The number one sales person in the office, this Alice is also the weed-happy, disdainful office baller that the guys imagine themselves to be, smoking up with pal Jillian in the bushes and casually telling Adam, “Anyway, we should fuck before I leave.” Monroe’s terrific as this ur-Alice, obnoxiously embodying every anti-establishment, anti-work ethos with the enthusiastic dismissiveness of a spoiled teenager, right down to her mouthful of braces. (She bought them on the company dime and can’t have them removed because George cut off her dental coverage.)

As for the guys themselves, they’re not fundamentally different in 2008. There’s a hint of Ders’ signature overreaching, as he, having graduated from college, tries to reinvent himself as “Ice Holmvik,” rapper, fashion mogul, and all-around cool guy. (“I used to swim, and my rhymes were so cold that the water froze,” brags Ders to the impressed George at his initial interview.) But the old, present-day Ders is still in there, his frustrated speech to Adam and Blake (who’ve unexpectedly tagged along to work with him), tellingly revealing the insecurity underneath: “This is where I am supposed to be to become the man that I am supposed to be!” Adam and Blake, meanwhile, have dressed in their approximation of business attire. In his shiny suit and inflated coif, Adam looks like a used car salesman from the future, while Blake’s slicked-back hair and soul patch make him look like The Wolf Of Wall Street starring Jason Mewes.

In all, the flashback conceit isn’t especially revelatory—the guys are the guys (although Adam hasn’t embraced the internet yet, making him think that Tez is the funniest guy in the world for his “dramatic chipmunk” bit). The fact that the guys, desperate to keep the super-cool Alice from quitting, come up with a scheme to get the likable George fired isn’t anything different than what they do every day in the present. (The fact that their plan involves getting George to make a nearly identical remake of Michael Scott’s “Lazy Scranton” orientation video—with a little “Chocolate Rain” thrown in—is just the right sort of hacky, and shows how poor George really would have made a good boss for the guys.) Mostly, it’s just funny hair, trying to see Bill’s supposedly enormous dick, and business as usual.

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Which means that after the guys’ plan goes destructively right (although I’m still unclear on how they got the video of George having sex with Bill’s wife that causes his departure), things then go predictably wrong. Alice, lured into respectability by those 72K and bennies (she can get her braces off, at least), turns immediately into the snappish martinet we’ve come to know and love—Monroe makes the creative insult “jacknards” truly her own right off the bat. There’s something sad about Alice’s transformation, too—at least her old self seemed to have some fun in her life. And, in her transformation, there’s the depressing explanation that 72K and bennies is enough to extinguish the spark of life from even the most fun-loving reprobate. The ending—with Ders blackmailing Alice into giving them their jobs back by reminding her of the time she desultorily banged him in her office—is even sadder. For someone who’s given away everything for comfort, the warm, distant glow of who she was can’t compete with the threat of what she’s got being taken away.

From the title on down, Workaholics has always been about the universal desire—embodied in three arrested, juvenile dudes—not to knuckle under to adulthood. That TelAmeriCorp, being its exemplar of the most soulless, pointless manifestation of adult responsibility, successfully seduced even the fun, sexy, free-spirited (and, yes, kind of gross) Alice is the episode’s depiction of the tragic inevitability of growing up. That Blake, Ders, and Adam will seemingly go on gleefully (if crassly) resisting that deadening change is oddly heartening.

Stray observations:

  • That’s Lauren Stamile (Community’s Professor Slater) as the desperately chipper TelAmeriCorp rep trying to keep things on track during the guys’ presentation. Stamile’s great in a small part, the way she runs straight over awkward moments with glassy-eyed corporate-speak (“Bill, why don’t you take the rest of the day off—tough day”) landing just right every time.
  • While I thought Tom Arnold was quite effective underplaying here, I do question (as I did in Austin Powers) the effectiveness of the “Tom Arnold interrupted on the can” comedy trope.
  • “I’m not good enough for Youtube, but thanks for saying that.”
  • “Can you fire Montez real quick?”
  • Adam, on dropping out of college to work at TelAmeriCorp: “It’s Steve Jobs, not Steve College!”
  • “My aunt drove her car off of one of the bridges of Madison County and in the wreckage they found, like, three whatchamacallits—Milky Way candy wrappers.”
  • In the original college origin story, we see Alice working the TelAmeriCorp job fair booth sans braces and with a good attitude, so either that happened before the place turned her, or she was on Ecstasy that day.
  • Well, that’s it for season five of Workaholics, gang. Thanks for reading—it’s been fun, as ever. Not “hang out and smoke weed and play video games all day with your two best friends fun,” but pretty fun, nonetheless. Back to work, I guess.

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Episode grade: B

Season grade: B+