The title of tonight’s episode, “Three And A Half Men,” does help clarify my still-evolving feelings toward Workaholics—for all my reservations, I’d rather watch a Workaholics marathon than five minutes more of Two And A Half Men. Cheap joke? Sure—but while the incessant parade of juvenility, scatology, and bro-centric boorishness can sometimes make Workaholics cringeworthy, at least it’s not smug about its smuttiness. There’s an ambition at work here which operates on more than one level. Maybe not multiple levels, but at least one and a half. Split-level comedy, let’s call it.
On the first level, (the one which Comedy Central’s ad campaign seems to think is the only level that exists—or at least the only one they imagine the show’s fans care about), Workaholics is a gross-out, douchey guy-fest. (Seriously, the commercials consistently highlight each episode’s most vulgar lines and images, as if trying to win back viewers still pining for the return of The Man Show—something akin to 30 Rock’s The Man Cave, created by Todd Debeikis.) And while Workaholics certainly spends a lot of its time goofing around on this level—to greater or lesser effect—there’s more going on than the episodes’ plot descriptions generally indicate.
Tonight, for example, the idea that the guys, hired by their boss to film a boring corporate documentary, instead decide to spend their time (and Alice’s $300) making a documentary about Karl getting his dick cut off and then transplanted onto Blake might seem, on the surface, to be a tedious, shrill adventure in sophomoric buffoonery. And it is. But what sets Workaholics apart is the way its main characters (and creators) play around with the idea of sophomoric buffoonery. While not precisely deconstructing “dude comedy,” the show consistently sets it up as a figure of fun in the persons of its three protagonists, whose perpetual inability to fully commit to the repellant male stereotypes they’ve chosen to emulate underlies their invariably destructive actions. Which is a long way to go to say that Workaholics is a little smarter than it’s given credit for.
That’s not to say that the show isn’t gross, dumb, and crass—just that Ders, Adam, and Blake’s characters serve to undermine all the oafishness with just a smidgen of subtlety, even heart. And that the three stars’ undeniable chemistry reliably produces a comic tone that is uniquely theirs; I’m a sucker for weird, improvisational underplaying, and that’s something the guys are especially good at. When Adam, mocking Alice’s corporate-speak script, jokes, “Synergy? What’s that, the devil’s energy drink?” and looks to Blake for response, Blake’s matter-of-fact “I didn’t like it,” makes us laugh because it’s part of the trio’s ongoing comic conversation. What both the real life and fictional Adam, Blake, and Ders do so admirably is portray the way a group of close friends really interact with each other—their every reaction resonates with a palpable affection, which gives them that other half-level. When Adam goes off on an escalating rant about how McDonald’s flip-flopping on the super-size policy has caused his recent weight gain, Blake and Ders both sympathize and mock him in equal measure, and Adam’s post-freakout sincerity in claiming, “I hate myself, I hate myself and my body...” is weirdly sad as well as funny.
But we were talking about Karl’s dick being cut off.
Here, too, Workaholics mines the silly setup for some subtler laughs. While Adam yelling about hot dogs, slo-mo deep throating hot dogs, and acting out the nightmare scenario of Karl’s penis-ectomy with hot dogs gets old pretty fast (his documentary idea is to eat 1,000 hot dogs in a week), the episode benefits from letting co-creator Kyle Newacheck’s Karl insert his weird, singular energy into the proceedings. With his spacey, laconic delivery of Karl’s often disturbingly outré take on things, Newacheck is part of Workaholics’ reliable stable of supporting oddballs. (He sounds a lot like Kevin Smith, actually, even down to Smith’s occasional conversational placeholder, “and whatnot...”)
And while I wouldn’t want a steady diet of Karl—he, like Montez, is best in small servings—in this episode, his single-minded, cross-eyed determination to follow his latest strange obsession really sells the outlandish premise, at least enough to keep the comic engine running. From his monologue explaining how his penis runs his life (“I’m sick of livin’ come-to-come!”), to his outrage at the idea that Blake intends to actually wash Karl’s transplanted penis from time to time (“It’s very well-seasoned, like a cast iron pan. If anything, you just put a moist towel on it and then hit it with a lot of sand!”), to his choice of fantasy to bid goodbye with one last erection (“mom from Home Improvements, mom from Home Improvements...”), this extended glimpse inside the mind of Karl Hevacheck is surprisingly rewarding.
With so much Karl, the guys themselves don’t get as much to do. Adam’s hot dog eating plot goes nowhere, with Adam Devine’s deliberately obnoxious energy crossing into unintentionally obnoxious at times. His subplot falling for the plastic surgeon’s transgender assistant (Cerina Vincent) similarly yields little, apart from the line, “There’s a homosexual way to eat hot dogs—yeah, I didn’t know that. I was just trying to protein-load.” Adam’s always been the show’s loudest presence, but he’s more amusing when underplaying, as when he realizes, mid-sentence, that he’s incapable of spitballing non-pornographic movie ideas: “So it’s two best friends, and one has been wrongly imprisoned. But the movie is really about the wife banging all the friends... and and that is another porno—dang it!” His manic character has been creeping more to the center this season, which works against the show’s greatest strength. Workaholics works best when the guys wreak havoc as one, single-minded—at most—unit.
- Director Ders aims high: “A dick-swap between friends is the new subject of this documentary, and we’re gonna win a moon man!”
- As are his ambitions for getting into Sundance, “where chicks ski down mountains with their boobs out. True story.”
- Blake’s well-thought-out plans for his new penis: “Wash it every day with Caress daily silky body wash. And a loofah.”
- And further: “I’m probably gonna cut a hole in a seedless watermelon, microwave it for 30 seconds, and then fuck the shit out of it...”
- Even further, his ideal threesome: Joesph Gordon-Levitt, Olivia Munn, and Manny Pacquiao. When Ders points out that that’s three people already, Blake replies, “Oh, I watch...”
- As ever, sometimes it’s just funny when the guys forget how to talk. Dears: “Why come?” Adam: “Why come not?!”
- Blake understands Karl’s fantasy: “Jill Taylor—she’ll chub ya’...”
- “It’s like she’s playing jazz music with that gentleman’s penis.”
- Two weeks in a row with no Jillian? Her I could stand to see more of.
- Bodily function count: poop (only referenced, with sound effect), likewise Karl’s sideways “ejac.”