“A TelAmerican Horror Story” is a very funny episode of Workaholics featuring a fantastic guest star—I just wanted to get that out of the way right at the start—but it’s significantly hampered by intrusive product placement. I had the benefit of a screener, so I don’t know if this will prove to be as obnoxious as that overly intrusive instance of Tessa’s obsession with a new Microsoft Surface on Suburgatory, but conceptually, I hated every appearance of Dr. Pepper Ten, and it turned what would’ve been a very good episode into far more of a mixed bag.
The obnoxious and baffling sexism of that Dr. Pepper Ten campaign still amazes me. Dr. Pepper has decided that since diet sodas code female, that somehow 10, all the way down from something like 150, is downright manly and deserving of an entire ad campaign designed around male entertainment stereotypes combined with dialogue denying the product to women. What’s worse is that the brand is expanding to other drinks owned by Dr. Pepper. That doesn’t really have any bearing on this episode, but associating those commercials with this show didn’t fit right.
These are the kind of guys who would embrace Dr. Pepper Ten, but taking the product placement money, and then writing the soda into the plot as the item that exorcises Adam’s demons, doesn’t fit with how my understanding of the difference between Anders, Adam, and Blake and their respective characters works. [UPDATE: Per Blake Anderson’s Twitter, the use of Dr. Pepper Ten throughout the episode (in each act) isn’t product placement, but by choice. Generally, if you have to clarify that something is not product placement, it’s effectively product placement, so the point on its distraction still stands.]
During the Reddit AMA the trio did a few weeks ago, Blake said the characters are “just dumber versions of ourselves.” Anders told someone that to become a telemarketer all you had to do was “fuck up at everything in life.” Combining that semi-serious answer and the humorous one, you get that these characters are what the trio would be if they had fucked up at everything. Taking Dr. Pepper money and inserting it in the show as a plot device isn’t the right move, and it can’t just be played off as something these guys would drink and embrace, because it’s a conscious behind-the-scenes decision to put it there.
The worst part about the Dr. Pepper Ten placement is that it effectively ruined a strong episode for me. Right from the start, Adam’s inability to handle horror films is funny, compared to Blake and Anders watching without any problems. The sequence where Adam stays up all night running around, eating, and masturbating is one of the more visually dynamic scenes Workaholics has ever done, plus it ended in a great sight gag of him huddled in a corner, eyes taped open, with a knife on every fan blade around him.
The buildup in the office, from the basement cleanup to Alice and Jillian’s overreaction to the painting, to Adam’s continually jumpy attitude (and overreliance on energy drinks) worked. Robert Englund is also stellar as Dr. TelAmeriCorp/Josh, the creepily affectionate gnarled man in the portrait who haunts Adam’s sleep-deprived hallucinations.
And hey, Vulture may have jumped the gun a bit (the screeners weren’t labeled properly, which I assume led to the mix-up), but that Hatchet joke was pretty great (even if Vulture completely throws The Giver under the bus for a worse book). Even better, that reference comes back in the form of a sort-of Shining reference once Adam goes nuts and acts possessed with the hatchet thanks to getting no sleep from watching horror movies. There are other great references—the Sunny D shout out deserves a mention—and every minute provides some kind of quotable line.
The final resolution is problematic though, as Blake and Anders take a restrained Adam up to the roof—where Anders is distracted by the glory of a supermoon—and then use Anders’ flask of Dr. Pepper Ten in a moronic ritual
I’m all for the wacky send-up of horror films, and this episode was a lot funnier than other horror-tinged episodes of other shows, but that product placement is just so damn distracting and high-profile. To tie it into how the plot resolves by making it some kind of salve is too much, even for a ridiculous exorcism of a guy so sleep deprived he’s hallucinating Robert Englund. It’s as simple as changing the name of the soda, but perhaps that increased budget enabled the show to get Englund in the first place. Whatever the reason, the Dr. Pepper Ten placement is distracting, and associating with a willfully sexist ad campaign when the underlying idea is to mock these caricatures feels disingenuous.
- I liked the way the show explained the actual origin of the painting, and I think it ties into next week’s episode title in an interesting way. But the guys have said before that they’re not really engaging in serialization, so that could be totally off.
- Bill really should not have a babysitting service. I cannot stress that enough.
- “So I could fuck it, Anders.”
- Best line of the episode goes to Jillian, to Bill: “You can’t say the words ‘children’ and ‘passion’ and have your face.”
- “I’m not just sure; I’m HIV positive.”