Waymond Lee, Adam DeVine (Comedy Central)

With Workaholics’ fifth season winding down (and no word yet about a sixth), there’s a sense that Adam DeVine, Blake Anderson, and Anders Holm are looking to put their respective characters to bed in the most satisfying ways possible. All season, we’ve seen the stars writing episodes for their characters which, while never abandoning Adam, Blake, and Ders’ essential juvenile nonsense, seek to give each of the guys a moment to be—for lack of a better term—loved. Tonight it’s Adam’s turn, as “The Slump” (written by DeVine) peers deep down into the gut of Workaholics’ most manically (or is that maniacally) immature protagonist and reveals the vulnerable (if still necessarily obnoxious) little boy raging in there.

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The guys’ relationship to their dead-end telemarketing jobs has always been a reliable source of comedy for Workaholics, their destructive rebellion against the most pointless of all office environments attaining a measure of justification. But in “The Slump,” we see that, for Adam, the job—while remaining undeniably stupid—is also an unlikely source of self-esteem, as the conference room opening of the episode sees him strutting and being thoroughly insufferable at having won salesman of the month. Sure, he gets the traditional Bass Pro gift card and the honor of wearing the ceremonial ”Top Gun” baseball cap, but—as we see when Alice strips Adam of his title because corporate found out about the “hilarious” ethnic characters Adam uses on his sales calls—the monthly affirmation is the keystone to Adam’s self-image. When it’s taken from him, the signature DeMamp braggadocio collapses into a wet heap of defeat so all-encompassing that it even has a name, according to Blake and Ders—“Sadam CryMamp, the saddest dude in the whole wide world.”

Adam DeVine (Comedy Central)

Conferring in the convenience store the guys retire to after Adam’s public humiliation, Blake and Ders witness Adam’s comically complete ego-deflation with mounting concern, recalling the three months Adam refused to shower after Entourage was cancelled (“He said he was bathing himself in his own tears,” recounts Blake), and plotting a way to pull their friend out of his depression. After a fourth season which was often tonally out of pitch, season five has seen the guys pull together like this on a regular basis, an apparent course correction that has restored a lot of the show’s heart. The guys’ inextricable ridiculousness has prevented the comedy pendulum from swinging too far into the sap, here seeing Blake and Ders’ concern couched in their silly plan to cheer Adam up with the Rancho Booze Cruise (“the only booze cruise where the boat is a bus!”), and Adam’s utter indifference to life, as he wanders through the scene eating food he hasn’t paid for, smashing bottles, and draining an entire 40 right there in the store. The earnestness of the guys’ attempts to help their pal throughout the episode might seem too sentimental if: a) Their schemes (involving fake “hot leads,” an encouraging phone call from Ders as a Mr. Dick Blownoff, and the deployment of an actor/weed customer of Karl’s to impersonate Mr. Blownoff when Adam wants to hang out with his new benefactor) weren’t so typically ludicrous, and b) Such efforts weren’t of a piece with the show’s established conception of the guys as basically decent (if deeply, comically flawed) people.

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This season has seen the show find an affecting balance between the guys’ frat house antics (not that they’d ever be accepted into a frat) and the growing realization on their part that only these three people in the entire world both understand and appreciate them for who they are. So tonight, when Adam’s defeat makes him let go of the various fictions (of being in great shape, of being a baller) upon which he frantically props up his self-image, his implosion is both characteristically childish and exhibitionistic, and genuinely sad. DeVine’s schtick can be grating, but employed at his own expense here (“So I’m 30 pounds overweight and I suck at life and stuff”), it’s hard not to feel for the guy. The same goes for Blake and Ders’ efforts to help Adam out—on a show more committed to its characters’ unlikability, like It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia or Seinfeld, such actions are motivated not by real empathy but by the schemers’ need to have the one in distress stop whining and annoying everyone. Here, too, their concern (“Don’t talk about my friend that way!” says Blake to the self-lacerating Adam) is sincere, for all the ridiculous ways it’s expressed.

Ryan Gaul, Anders Holm, Blake Anderson (Comedy Central)

Naturally, Ders and Blake’s plans go awry due to stupidity—some Adam’s, some theirs. Adam, his confidence restored by Mr. Blownoff’s call, demands to meet the guy, forcing Groundling Ryan Gaul (deadpanning as a stoned version of himself) to stand in. Meanwhile, Ders and Blake decide the only way out of the deception is to stage a terrorist raid with Karl to kidnap Blownoff after the stoned Gaul confuses “CPA” with “CIA” in his prepared backstory. The resulting action sequence, with Adam hanging onto the back of—then flipping over the top of—Karl’s van is a little perfunctory, but the guys’ reunion finds the right balance of silly and heartfelt. (Adam, confronted with the truth, can’t quite put the pieces together, screaming at Gaul, “Wait, are you a double agent? Who do you work for!”)

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“Putting the characters to bed” truly seems the most appropriate metaphor for what DeVine, Anderson, and Holm are doing in season five. For all their chaotic, intermittently obnoxious antics, the guys have banded together for the sole and not unrelatable purpose of postponing the brutal mundanity of adulthood alongside the only other people who accept and understand them. If the creators—all of whom have attained some measure of success outside of the show—are looking to retire their sitcom avatars to a life of perpetual sloth, irresponsibility, video games, porn, and lots and lots of weed, then tucking them in with a season of episodes like “The Slump” is an improbably sweet way to do it.

Stray observations:

  • Despite being set at TelAmeriCorp this week, the supporting office mates only get a brief window to shine, although, as ever, I’m tickled at how Maribeth Monroe plays boss-lady Alice. Leading her pointless meeting, Alice’s hatred of her job, her underlings, and, one assumes, the choices that have led her there, sees her simply unable to speak a single word without her body and face subtly contorting in disgust.

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Maribeth Monroe (Comedy Central)
  • This season sees Waymond’s inner lunatic emerging on the margins. There’s a reason he was the one Adam went to for help with his paper-cutter suicide plan.
  • The show’s entrenched niceness, in miniature: After Blake accidentally reveals the boat cruise model’s horrifyingly wounded eye under her pirate eye patch, he tries to calm her with, “Remember, it’s our imperfections that make us beautiful. I have a micropenis!”
  • So, if Ders and Blake wanted Adam to belive he was talking to a real, inspirational person on the phone, why did they give him a name Bart Simpson would use on a prank call to Moe’s. Not that Adam figures it out until they tell him. “I’ve been saying that all day!”
  • Upon hearing Gaul has done some commercials, all three of the guys are dismissive when he doesn’t know Flo from those insurance ads. “Then you’re not a real actor,” sneers Adam.
  • Gaul’s funny throughout, his name-dropping about studying with “Oscar winner Jim Rash” warring with his sheepishness about owing Karl so much money for weed.
  • Although he does call the Shakespeare play A Midsummer’s Night Dream. Chalk it up to all the weed.
  • Told that Dick Blownoff’s been sober for 15 years, Adam marvels, “Wow. I didn’t know that was even a thing you could do. No beer poops, so that’s cool.”
  • After the guys cover up their slip of “Sadam” with a story about being happy that Saddam Hussein is dead, Adam agrees with a relieved, “At least The Interview can come out now.”

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