'Workaholics' hilarious despite dumb characters, familiar plots
Sunday , June 03, 2012 - 7:33 AM
Meet Adam, Blake and Anders, three recent college graduates stuck in a mind-numbing corporate job. They work at a telemarketing office in the suburbs, but the specifics don't matter.
As in "Office Space," "The Office" or "The IT Crowd," the workers in "Workaholics" never seem to accomplish anything, and in addition to functioning as a (somewhat cliche) comment on the banality of corporate life, the office here is mainly a place for the three guys to dream about girls and to act hard. But they are not hard. The guys of "Workaholics" are all wannabes -- Anders fancies himself a rapper, Adam a bodybuilder and model, and Blake will sometimes act like a stripper. Over the course of the series' two seasons, they've been threatened and/or beaten up by high school kids, senior citizens and Juggalos.
If "Workaholics" sounds familiar, that's because it is. There's a lot about this comedy -- which began its third season last week on Comedy Central -- that you'll think you've seen before. It's a show about dumb guys who do dumb things, and it's packed with jokes about genitalia and marijuana, so it bears more than a passing resemblance to every other comedy on Comedy Central, MTV, and FX.
Yet "Workaholics" is nevertheless irresistible -- curious, clever, charming and, in nearly every episode, fall-on-the-floor hysterical. It rises above its familiar premise because it freely indulges its creators' strange interests, juxtaposing normal bro life against fanciful elements of the absurd.
Here's a synopsis of one episode from the first season, picked more or less at random: We find the guys practicing their wizard rap -- "Straight Outta Mordor" -- for a big performance at the local Renaissance Faire. But their plans are derailed when Adam is seduced by a hot mom. When Adam leaves the wizard rappers to live in the mom's mansion, Anders tries to fight him, but the pair can't battle because they keep getting erections. The trio is reunited, though, when, after Adam makes a fool of himself at a local bodybuilding competition, Anders and Blake come to back him up on stage, turning the bodybuilding show into an impromptu wizard-rap blowout. In the end they hug and make up, but again, they all get erections.
Perhaps this summary doesn't send you off your chair. But on-screen, the gags and raps are heightened by something else you don't see in every other crude bro-com: each actor's familiarity with his character's quirks, and the deep chemistry these guys have with one another. That's because much of what happens on the show comes out of the creators' lives. Workaholics had one of those fortuitous, Internet-enabled rises to cable fame. Adam DeVine, Blake Anderson, Anders Holm and Kyle Newacheck -- who directs the show and appears in several episodes as the guys' creepy drug dealer, Karl -- were friends and roommates who met in Southern California. They formed a sketch group called Mail Order Comedy and began posting their videos online. The shorts were spotted by an exec at Comedy Central, and the group got a TV deal. Then they began filching stories from their real lives for the show.
"I mean we are, to an extent, like our characters, somewhat," DeVine said in an interview. "Except in real life I am much dumber than I am in the show -- it is hard to believe, but it's a real fact." For instance, both DeVine and Holm worked in telemarketing during college and high school. ("I was pretty good at that job," said DeVine.) Anderson really is into Renaissance Faires, and just like his character, Holm is cocky about his swimming prowess.
Many of the things that the guys in "Workaholics" do to goof off -- like pranking people with poo-dollars on the street -- is stuff they or their friends used to do when they were kids. "Anything that we've done on the show that we haven't done yet, we all plan on doing in the future, because it looks so fun," Anderson said.
The show's real-life roots are especially evident in the guys' language, a homegrown patois that mixes gangsta, frat, and playground slang to glorious effect. Some of their words were created to please network censors - the guys say "fug" and "shib" - but many serve no purpose other than as inside jokes for close viewers. Instead of "let's go," they say "S'go." When someone says something dumb, Anders will strike the base of the offender's neck and declare, "That's a chop!" Adam pronounces "FYI" as "fwi."
"Workaholics' " fans - it gets fewer than 2 million viewers per episode, but thankfully for the show's future, most of those are advertiser-coveted young men - tend to pick up the show's lingo and run with it online, turning some of their coinages into viral hits.
When I asked the guys what viewers can expect in the third season, they were honest with me: more of the same. (After watching the first episode of the new season - the guys do acid with their boss; dragons and strippers appear - I can confirm this.) There's no larger story arc or character growth in "Workaholics"; the characters don't have any big plans for their lives and never make any effort to get out of their dead-end jobs. This makes the show easy to watch - you can join it anywhere and not feel out of place - and amenable to repeat viewings and online sharing.
At the same time, I do wonder how much longer it can last; at some point, as they age, the dudes' idleness might start to seem more sad than funny, especially when they've run out of personal gags to mine. We're not there yet, but in another 10 or 15 episodes, we might be.
Holm pointed out that for a lot of young people these days, the show - weird as it may be - depicts reality. "I don't think it's a 'slacker comedy,' because when that term was popular, there was an abundance of jobs for dudes out of college, and you just didn't do them because you didn't want to be an office drone like your parents," he pointed out. "But now there are no jobs for people coming out of college, so you've got to take a job like this."
"There's just not a lot of jobs out there for dudes who weren't at the top of their class," added DeVine. "This show's for all the dummies out there. We're talking to you."