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Now this is more like it.

After a season of escalating, gross mean-spiritedness, the guys finally go back home to TelAmeriCorp where they belong—this time for a three-on-three basketball tournament with a company car and a trip to Reno on the line—and Workaholics re-establishes its tone, if not its entire raison d’être. This season has seen the protagonists drift away from the workplace, to the show’s detriment—Anders, Adam, and Blake are simply not as engaging when they aren’t acting in opposition to the daily grind of the office environment. That’s the very premise of the show (the title’s a dead giveaway), and the more the guys unmoor themselves from that milieu, the less distinct they become. Left to their own devices away from the office for much of this season, they’ve grown shriller, and more tiresome. Here, united against familiar foes and workplace rules, their antics are back in focus. Plus, we finally get some sweet, sweet Jillian.

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The way that being in a place where people will call them on their nonsense tempers the guys’ harsher edges comes through immediately when Alice (Maribeth Monroe, killing as ever with wearily furious, barely concealed disgust) pulls Adam up short after he riffs crudely on her dad’s former job with the Chicago Bulls. Her “Are you asking me if my dad got a blow job next to an NBA player in a bathroom and then told me about it?” elicits a sincerely taken aback “Oh, it’s inappropriate?” from Adam, a comic course correction which he, and Workaholics, desperately needs from time to time. Of course, reining in the guys is best done three-on-three as well, so it’s lucky that Alice is joined throughout by Erik Griffin’s Montez and Jillian Bell’s Jillian.

There’s no question that both the actors and characters of Adam, Blake, and Ders are funny. What is often in question, especially this season, is the degree to which all of them are funny left to their own judgment. Too often of late, the show has indulged the guys’ propensity for more and more broad, unchecked self-indulgence, leading to some of the worst episodes of Workaholics ever. By bringing the guys back into the orbit of TelAmeriCorp—and the very funny people who can act as foils while also bringing their own comic sensibilities to the table—everything just starts clicking again. Which isn’t to say that the guys aren’t funny—they are. But they’re funnier, and more palatable, when there are strong comic sensibilities which put their shenanigans in a context where they aren’t assumed to be the only funny guys in the world.

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Even the plotting of the episode is sharper than it’s been, with little details like Adam’s comically overenthusiastic passion for Dodge Darts making his lust to win the use of the company car that much more understandable and funny. So when, in preparing for the big showdown against Montez’ team (which includes comedian Leslie Jones as a formidable former almost-Olympian), Adam’s turn to both Karl and illegal Mexican steroids makes perfect sense (you know, for Adam). As does his signature overkill therewith, injecting himself repeatedly (including in the heart) and tying the sleeping Ders down Gulliver-style and sticking him in the butt. The same goes for Ders’ resulting fury in kicking out Blake’s cosplaying murder mystery guests—it seems sloppy and cartoonish that he’d go into ’roid rage so abruptly, but instead is just the thing when it’s later revealed that Karl’s “steroids” are in fact energy drink, ground up candy, and a whole lot o’ angel dust. Even Blake’s desertion of the team makes sense then, since the PCP-ed Ders and Adam don’t respect his need to get in good with his World Of Warcraft guild (into which he’s dragged Jillian who delivers the line “I’m sorry Blake, can we get nametags or something? Because you just called that guy Seafart Firetruck—I’m never gonna remember that” and makes me all happy inside.)

Throughout, the jokes are solid and numerous, alternating the guys’ regular riffing interplay with stellar support from Alice, Montez, and Jillian. Adam’s inexplicable, yipping excitement over the Dart leads to a disastrous, nut-crunching dunk over the Vo and Alice’s hysterical laughter and delighted, “What an idiot.” Blake’s committed, English-accented murder mystery hosting (loved the slow, clawing turn out of the lights) leads to Jillian’s scene-stealing one-liner. Ders’ inept attempts to get a rise out of Jones’ Lynette (“I hope little Darnell… dies”) leads to a sock in the face (and not in his Montez’s-iPad-protected breadbasket), and Montez trying to use his scout training to inspect Lynette’s broken hand. (“Just ’cause you light skinned that doesn’t mean you’re a doctor.”) And Adam, calling Jillian for updates on the game from his hospital bed, leads to some prime on-the-ground reports from Jillian World.

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I know I’ve been calling for the long-absent Jillian Bell’s return like Brandon De Wilde calling for Shane, but her incessantly enthusiastic weirdness is so specific and warm that her absence has left a hole in the show. Her ever-present affection for the guys, coupled with the fact that her mind is always somewhere chasing beautifully loopy tangents, makes the guys that much more appealing—anyone Jillian thinks is cool can’t be all bad. Here, she’s the only one to point out that TelAmeriCorp suddenly has a huge warehouse—and that it’s cold enough to see Alice’s nipples. And that Alice’s nipples are weird. When being held back from fighting Lynette, her legs seem to transition into The Running Man. And when Ders, Blake, and Karl shatter the backboard, inexplicably winning the game, her “Oh my God he won! There’s glass everywhere! This is the best moment of all of our lives!” is both laugh-out-loud funny and completely convincing. Because, in Jillian’s world, it’s absolutely true.

Having the guys be part of this wider company of funny supporting characters is what keeps them on the acceptable side of crazy. Unfettered by the office’s built-in conflicts and the leavening counterpunches (sometimes literally) of formidably funny figures to play off of, the chaos the guys invariably incite can too often become crude and cacophonous. Here, simply being back in that world introduces a vulnerability that’s almost endearing In that structured world of drudgery, rules, and commonplace indignities, their destructive hijinks are more relatable.

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Stray observations:

  • “Girls love a little squish—it reminds them of their dads. You know, and all girls wanna bang their dads but they can’t, because of laws.”
  • Adam continues his love for Chicago Bulls who were not Michael Jordan. This week—B.J. Armstrong joins Steve Kerr in his DeMamp hall of fame.
  • Montez, watching Bill sprint to find the records proving that Ders’ ringer doesn’t work there: “Fast as hell! He should have been on the team.” Erik Griffin’s underplayed delivery should also not leave any time soon.
  • Blake: “I’m goin’ to Ampm.” Ders: “It’s AM/PM!”
  • That’s streetball legend Philip “Hot Sauce” Champion as Ders’ ringer “Geo-orge the Ge-anitor,” whose participation accounts for the comical amount of “AND1” clothing throughout the episode.
  • And that’s the great Mark Evan Jackson bringing his peerless deadpan to the role of the doctor treating Adam, whose frantic request that the doc put on the TV so he can watch a telemarketing company’s three-on-three hoops game elicits Jackson’s pitch-perfect, “I’m not sure they’re broadcasting that game. I’m sure we can get you a magazine.”
  • Adam DeVine’s delivery throughout this episode downshifts into a more low-key register, which suits him. When he describes his ideal Reno weekend with, “I need to go to Reno. And have sex with chicks that have, like, glitter all over their boobs. And like, play blackjack and hopefully win like a ton of cash, like come home with 60 bucks, and have glitter all over my mouth and genitalia area” there’s the sense that he’s in over his head in the douchebag arena he’s chosen for himself. It’s endearing, and, you know, kind of sad.
  • Ders too, describing his ideal Reno hooker experience: “I won’t pay. But if I meet one, and we hit it off…”
  • Always funny when Adam’s rants go off on mini-rants of their own: “If you quit this team I’ll never forgive you Blake! I swear on the grave of my mother’s only child which is who I am.” And “You dunk that ball so hard—either using a mini-trampoline or some moon shoes—that you shatter the backboard so hard that it gets glass in someone’s eye!”
  • “Reno, Las Vegas!”
  • According to Adam DeVine’s Twitter, he tore his ACL while shooting the hoops action for this episode and the whole thing had to be rewritten on the fly, which makes the way it hangs together even more impressive.

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