Season five has seen the Workaholics actors writing themselves surprisingly emotional star vehicles. Anders Holm wrote “Speedo Racer,” which plumbed the depths of Ders’ self delusion about his past glories in the pool to moving (if gory) effect. And Blake Anderson’s “Menergy Crisis,” with its ridiculous (yet equally moving) solidarity anthem “Best Friends,” similarly found a theretofore unequaled balance of the heartfelt and the deeply, deeply silly. (It’s one of my favorite episode of Workaholics ever, honestly.) The show hasn’t abandoned its sloppy bro-comedy roots, but there have been flashes this season that the creators are looking to stretch themselves a bit. Tonight’s “Trivia Pursuit,” written by Holm, continues the trend—again, just a little—and Ders’ subplot and subsequent mini-breakdown finds another way into one of the guys’ heads, even as the episode speeds around in customary, yapping circles.
Never the most consistently crafted show, Workaholics splits the guys off from each other as each plot demands, but Ders’ separation from Adam and Blake has always been predicated on his pretensions to respectability (and the fact that he’s slightly older). Tonight is another instance of Ders attempting to set himself apart from his—as he sees them—less mature comrades, but, as has been the case most of the season, there’s a sweetness to his admittedly badly-conceived plan that’s based on his desire to hang out with his friends and do as much stupid shit as possible.
And stupid shit, they do do, with “Trivia Pursuit” seeing the guys engage in the following: parking lot roller hockey, bar trivia, extreme automobile modification, two scams, a touch of street racing, a training montage set to Wang Chung, and a last-minute plan to deceive Alice and cover their asses (set to “Walking On Sunshine”). It’ a lot for a 20-minute episode, and “Trivia Pursuit” suffers from some busyness, but it’s also reliably fun, with Ders’ big reveal that he’s secretly applied for a TelAmeriCorp sales director job at a nearby branch emerging in a moment of crisis:
Everything doesn’t have to be a scam, okay? The whole reason I want this job is so I’ll just have money. It’ll be in my pockets, and I’ll give it to you if you want!
At the time, with Adam and Blake involved in an elaborately stupid caper to weasel out of the ill-advised trivia bet they have going with a trio of menacing Asian trivia experts/street racers (see: over-plotted), Ders’ appeal to his friends to just let him get the new job encompasses the poor guy completely. He holds himself above his friends on the basis of his assumed maturity—he owns a car (“the Vo”), and occasionally refers to his desire to run for office someday—but simultaneously he, and they, know he is exactly where he belongs. Smoking weed, playing video games and ridiculous pranks—just like Adam and Blake, Ders knows that there are only two other guys in the world who accept him, even love him, for who he is. He’d just like things to be the tiniest bit less insane and potentially dangerous while they do those things.
Meanwhile, the Adam and Blake side of the triangle—while knowing exactly what Ders knows about the safe haven from adulthood and responsibility their friendship represents—is more chaotic. Blake’s childlike irresponsibility and Adam’s manic, hair-trigger childishness not only get them in over their heads with the aforementioned trivia bullies, but also cause them to mock Ders’ unwillingness to help them defraud their nemeses (or wear the Westley costume they made him for their Princess Bride-themed trivia team). Praising Ders for his encyclopedic 1980s movie knowledge, Adam can’t help but mock Ders at the same time:
We don’t need a sales director. What we need right now is a child who sat in front of a TV unloved for hours upon hours until he mutated into the 80s movie genius that sits before us right now!
Sincere appreciation and sincere mockery—such is the nature of friendship on Workaholics.
Although there’s too much going on in “Trivia Pursuit” (the trivia plot alone involves three separate changes of location), there’s a lot to like along the way. The montage of Ders mopping the floor with the other quiz contestants is well-edited and full of nicely esoteric movie references. (I’ll leave it to the comments, but I got 100 per cent.) Alice’s brief appearance gives her just enough time to fake out the guys with a thaw, only to snap hilariously shut with signature Maribeth Monroe acidity. Guest star Curtis Armstrong (interviewing Ders in a car made up by Adam and Blake to look like Falcor from The Neverending Story, and keeping with the ‘80s movie theme), underplays deftly, countering Ders’ ill-advised cockiness with a deadpan “Why would I hire someone who wants to take my job away?” The reasoning behind having the bullies be Asian is for a Better Off Dead/Tokyo Drift gag which, okay, is vaguely insulting, but Chester Tam and henchmen Leonard Wu and Marcus Toji come off less like stereotypes and more like effectively unlikable 80s jock assholes.
With only one episode left in the season, Workaholics is finding a groove. After a premiere which dishearteningly promised a continuation of last year’s mean-spirited, lazy grossness, the show as been a pleasant surprise all year. Workaholics is never going to be a particularly ambitious show—rigorous writing has never been its strong suit—but, in finding a balance between the heart and nonsense, it’s a consistently funny one.
- Like Ders, my ‘80s movie knowledge comes from being a lonely kid who watched innumerable movies in his adolescence. However, being older even than Ders, I saw my ‘80s flicks in the theater, thank you very much.
- “Suck our dicks! Sorry—but do.”
- “Can you go get the car? I refuse to be dampened.”
- Adam’s petulance is even more pronounced than usual, although this might explain it: “You know what. I think the concussions are starting to stack up against me.”
- “My boy Ders, he ain’t playin. He is playing, but…”
- “Me and Alice, alone in the office? That’s a recipe for getting a lot of work done.”
- “We’ve gotta race these movie buffs or they’re gonna knock out our teeth out.”
- Adam, trumping Blake’s argument about who should be which character from The Neverending Story: “How can I be Bastion, Blake, when I can barely read?”