Okay, let’s talk about shit, shall we?
More specifically, shit jokes. As a steadfast believer that anything is an acceptable subject for humor, I’m certainly not going to go off on a rant about the amount of gross-out humor on Workaholics. Honestly, I’m not. While it’s a short list, there are some shit jokes that are funny. From the self-deprecating references to Liz Lemon’s bathroom issues, to the Caddyshack Baby Ruth scene, to Blazing Saddles’ campfire fartfest, there’s comedy in crap—as long as it’s funny. This season, however, Workaholics is just reveling in bodily fluid (and solid) humor for the sake of it, as if, in tonight’s episode, seeing Ders’ disgust at a huge floating turd before he receives a mouthful of flying feces is funny just because poop is inherently funny. It’s Workaholics’ version of an Office cold open, except that Jim’s prank is to trick Dwight into eating a crap sandwich, and it serves to undermine what is a marginally smarter and more sophisticated comedy than people (and Comedy Central’s deliberately crude commercials) give it credit for.
One reason why Workaholics’ running strain of scatology is more gross than funny, unlike say The Young Ones (which could similarly be relied upon for at least a half dozen bodily functions jokes per episode), is that Anders, Blake, and Adam aren’t truly committed to their outrageousness. At least The Young Ones’ housemates had an ethos—“we are gross, and disgusting, and horrible, and we want the world to burn to the ground so we can laugh at how stupid it all is.” Workaholics’ protagonists, by contrast, are simply lazy, childish, and hedonistic. Awful to work with, live next to, or—gods forbid—have a relationship with, but basically just a trio of goofballs who want nothing more than to get high and have fun all the time. And the show is at its strongest when it allows the three to play off each other—the real-life Blake, Anders, and Adam have the unforced, improvisational naturalness of three funny guys who know each others’ rhythms and have been friends a long time. But when an episode has Anders eating shit, Anders and Adam projectile vomiting on each other, Adam getting a face full of amniotic fluid, or Blake being covered in goopy orange fish guts (all examples from this very young season), it’s just a case of the writers thinking gross shit is hilarious for its own sake. It’s lazy.
So that’s tonight’s cold open.
Once Ders is toweled off, the real plot begins, with the quickly escalating stakes the show is known for. Tonight, they want to host a party for Karl to celebrate his getting beaten up on a reality show, thinking that all the “star-fuckers” drawn to him will transfer their affections to them. To do so, they need snacks, which they attempt to steal from work, only to realize that they’d stolen all the breakroom junk food last week. So they petition Alice to appoint a snack captain to stock the break room so they can steal it all again, and dragoon Jillian into running for the office, only to discover that Jillian goes mad with even the slightest bit of power, causing them to enlist Karl in a scheme to break into Jillian’s breakroom cabinet defenses. This sort of snowballing chaos is what Workaholics does well, with the guys’ leaps of so-called logic turning the first minor obstacle to their layabout pleasure (in this case a tin of bulk, three-flavor popcorn) into an overly-elaborate, invariably destructive waste of absolutely everyone’s time. As such setups go, this one’s fine, especially as it allows so much screen time for Jillian Bell, whose Jillian Belk is easily as funny as any of the three main characters.
With her eager-to-please ebullience, Jillian is easily swept up in the guys’ election scheme. (I love how she gets so excited by the guys’ plan and then asks, excitedly what it’s about.) And Bell’s skills are on display throughout, from her hilariously spazzy meltdown campaigning to a coworker (she forgets her own name and starts spouting gibberish before running to throw up), to her Good Will Hunting-esque comforting of Montez (whose Colleen-mandated campaign for healthy snacks causes him to break down sobbing, “No more quinoa! Fuck quinoa, Jillian!”), to her mom-jeans-wearing breakroom martinet (who tells a furious Adam that he can have seven grapes instead of string cheese), Bell steals the episode. Jillian could easily be a figure of fun on such a bro-heavy show, but Bell invests her with such a specific lunatic energy that she often provides a vital fourth point in the guys’ shenanigans. As Karl, posing as a fake doctor in an anti-Montez attack ad puts it, “Jillian is a cool chica, and I vibe with her.”
Aside from all the sweet, sweet Jillian, the episode develops along familiar streets. Adam gets most of the good lines—for all his customary overexcitedness, its Adam’s underplayed moments that usually make me laugh most. From his earnest wishes for the party (“This year I’m hoping to have a lot of intercourse…”), to how pleased he is after coming up with a freestyle rhyme (“I was like Jay-Z, like Andre 3000 or something. I was a lyricist…”), to his pitch that he should be the Jillian campaign’s head of security (“We need to do something with my strength and my muscles”), Adam DeVine continues to bring subtle shades to a character often deployed as a scream machine. (His sputtering, childish tantrum about the grapes was pretty funny, though.) And, apart from all the broader stuff, the way the guys bounce lines off each other can approach the Altmanesque at times (yeah, I said it). I liked the exchange where Adam and Blake suggest that Ders has a womanly body, only for Ders to retort, unoffended, “I have what I have.” Similarly, once the guys decide to steal the now-guarded breakroom food, pronouncing, “Let’s Oceans 11 and 13 this bitch! Fuck 12! Total misfire…,” it’s the sort of weirdly specific digression that they do so well.
The fact that Jillian’s visualization of their plan is in fact about three times as clever as their actual plan (involving just a pulled fire alarm and then bashing the locks with chairs and a paper cutter) is a clever twist, as well. Which is only slightly undermined by the decision that the whole thing would be funnier if we were treated to the spectacle of yet another shit-stained toilet. Workaholics—once again not a figurative, but a literal shitshow.
- I love that Jillian’s breakroom alarm system consists of those motion sensor meowing kittycat statues.
- And that the guys have clearly taken that into account, as we see them covered with paper bags in the background during their heist.
- Erik Griffin’s whole breakdown scene is great, especially when he threatens them to back off “or this health kick’s gonna turn into a karate kick. I got a beige belt!”