Boy, did they screw this one up.
All the elements were in place for a really great episode of Workaholics. I perked right up when the episode opened on the guys all set up for an elaborate waste of time on the front lawn. When they realized they’d been living together for seven years and declared themselves “common-law married,” that seemed the setup for some solid roommate conflict, followed by shenanigans, followed by bonding. There was a house-wide food fight. There was even some Jillian. What could possibly go wrong?
Quite a bit, really—this is tied for the worst episode of the season. I’m tempted to grade it even lower than what I refer to—for several reasons—as “the dead, rotting skunk episode,” just for the sheer amount of squandering going on here. But I’ll let the two episodes smeared with day-glo varmint guts argue about it between themselves. They deserve each other.
Let’s start with squander number one. It’s usually the mark of a good episode, or at least a fun sequence, when the guys have expended their drunken imagination on inventive ways to screw around. And the American Gladiators-style yard game (“American Gladiat-Ders”) they’ve set up to begin this one has all the hallmarks—with elaborate costumes, convoluted rules, Blake (sorry, “Slaybraham Lincoln”) on the roof with a tennis ball launcher, and Adam psyched up and braggy at the starting line. It’s funny when he’s immediately pegged by tennis balls before he even takes a step, and then again repeatedly when he cheats and tries to play anyway. But then the mailman comes and the game is abandoned.
Okay—forget American Gladiat-Ders. The real plot must be that the mailman, bringing their lease (and who is this absentee, very lax landlord, by the way?) and making them realize that they’ve been together for seven years—making them “common-law married,” according to Adam’s logic. Except that this realization goes nowhere, instead leading to a friend breakup scene so abrupt as to invalidate the promise of this second setup as well. See, Blake made hot glue art on Ders’ headphones and Adam’s weight belt, and Ders spent all day making them an elaborate Norwegian dinner instead of KFC, and Adam sprays the celebratory common-law wedding champagne all over the place—so they immediately start throwing things and then decide they’re not friends any more. Takes about five minutes. Never mind that we’ve seen them do much worse stuff to each other on a regular basis—there’s a plot to move along.
The codependent nature of the guys’ friendship has been a theme that’s popped its head up throughout the series. Starting back in the sock puppet therapy episode in season two, it’s always been clear—and improbably affecting—how much these guys really need each other. For one, there’s the very real sense that no one else would put up with any of them for any length of time. But there’s also the fact that no one else is on the same wavelength as far as what constitutes fun. The guys recognize each others’ weaknesses, accept them, and then fire up another bowl. Which isn’t to say that they don’t fight, but their immediate, mean-spirited antipathy here, on the flimsiest of pretexts, is just bad writing. (Adam DeVine gets the blame this time.)
Things only get worse when the guys split up. Adam’s story is the best, with his desperate attempts to forge an immediate, beer-chugging new best friend threesome with some burly customers at the local bar leading to him being taken home by a friendly bear with anonymous sex on the brain. It’s always refreshing how consistently Workaholics, for all its guy-centric juvenility, avoids the gay-panic trope. Here, Adam’s obliviousness to his new pal’s advances is handled with a light touch. (Adam, feeling the guy’s boner as he snuggles up in bed with him, marvels that the guy gets morning wood at night “like a superhero.”) And that Adam’s lonely reminiscences about Blake (“he likes bed beers, too”) turns off the guy looking for a one-night stand is as gentle and kindhearted a way out of the situation as could be.
Unfortunately, both Ders and Blakes’ stories are the pits, relying on pedestrian writing and gross-out humor in the former and serious character derailment in the latter. I suppose that Ders deciding to sleep in the Vo by the park makes sense enough if we’re granting that none of the guys would sleep in their perfectly empty beds for the night before splitting up in the morning. But when he angrily tells off some toughs drinking beer in the park with a lone porta-john standing nearby, the inevitable endgame of this scenario is spelled out and does not deviate—Ders is gonna get shit in his mouth. (For the second time this season, if anyone’s counting along as dispiritedly as I am.) If you’re gonna throw a shit joke at me, at least earn it with some inventiveness. This was as perfunctory a shit-joke delivery system as I’ve ever seen.
With Blake’s story, the offense is perhaps even more egregious—wasting Jillian. Jillian Bell is a funny lady, and her Jillian Belk a singular asset to Workaholics. In her sporadic appearances, Jillian’s presented as someone whose affection for the guys is unwavering—even though she’s always operating on a frequency of her own. Here, taking in Blake, her character is completely derailed, acting like a drunken, abusive husband and abusing Blake (ever her closest confidant amongst the guys) with cruel, unfunny brutality. Why? Well, the script says it’s because she’s drunk and angry about losing money betting on a dog show on TV—but the script is lousy. Look, I’m happy any time the show brings Jillian back—something that’s been all-too-infrequent this season—but if it’s just to use her this badly, don’t bother. Like when she was employed as a humorless scold in “We Be Clownin’” her appearance here is a disservice to the character, and a waste.
But wait, it gets worse. When the guys return to the house, planning to go their separate ways, they find the place, vacant for all of one night, teeming with rats. Why? So they can go on a minutes-long rat-killing spree even more repellent than their hijinks with the dead skunk earlier in the season. That this long, graphic sequence was intended to be the episode’s manic, comic highpoint is clear, as is the fact that, with increasing frequency, the creative team is losing its grip on what comic tone is. Watching the guys beat, kick, punch, stomp, squish, and otherwise eviscerate some helpless creatures (all of whom explode in splats of over the top fluorescent red) is not, as intended, hilarious. It’s mean, and gross, and repugnant. And yes, they’re rats and everyone hates rats. And yes, the gore’s deliberately exaggerated for comic effect. But it’s still not funny, and it goes on for seemingly forever. In order to get the guys back together, it was necessary for them to face some sort of trial to re-forge their bond, but the fact that this sickening slaughter is the idea that everyone thought was so brilliant is a testament to the shaky creative ground Workaholics has been treading this season.
It should be heartwarming (in a Workaholics way, but still) when the guys, discovering a Graveyard Shift-size rats’ nest in the basement, work together, using the discarded American Gladiat-Ders equipment and a pizza suit to get rid of the pests, but the sour mean-spiritedness of what’s just happened kills the mood. This is the episode of Workaholics you show people if you never want them to watch another.
- Blake’s mid-fight assertion, “You know what, if we didn’t go to college together I probably wouldn’t be friends with you now!” should land harder. It reminds me of the therapy episode of It’s Always Sunny where Mac says, “Sometimes, I feel like they don’t even understand me, and we’re not even that good of friends.” Another dysfunctional group dynamic, another shockingly blunt realization, except that Mac’s moment of self-awareness has context, and build up, and follow-through. Here, it’s just noise.
- I would have preferred Adam’s first instinct about the rats, “Let’s go get shmacked and assume that someone else will take care of it.”
- “Lets continue being friends until I die of rabies.”
- Bodily function count: Shit mouth, rat guts. Thanks show.
- Bummer of a way to end the season, Workaholics-ics, but I’ve enjoyed interacting with you in the comments. And since the show’s been renewed for another season, hopefully we can get all good ‘n’ angry at each other next year!