Workaholics debuts tonight on Comedy Central at 10:30 p.m. Eastern.
The pilot of Workaholics is not original, not in the slightest. The slacker office-set comedy is like Office Space in tone, The League in banter, and every sitcom ever in story inventiveness. The tale of three friends going to great lengths to avoid a drug test is, at this point, a tale as old as time. Plus, Comedy Central is the worst at making promos for its shows; the Workaholics ones depict an outrageous stunt, followed by the boss (played by Second City veteran Maribeth Monroe) berating the characters for their stupidity. But Workaholics is, surprisingly, a lot more charming than it's made out to be, and it contains a few welcome twists on the familiar. It's a comedy that knows its limits and strengths and tries its best to play to them.
For starters, the show isn't really about three slacker-stoner friends vs. the world. Their boss is just as bitter about the drug test—about the working world as a whole—as they are. Their goody-two-shoes coworker, though she's the kind of girl who attends Justin Bieber concerts and only inhales pot smoke second-hand, is extremely concerned that she attended a Justin Bieber concert and inhaled pot smoke second-hand and, therefore, is just as adamant about stopping the drug test as anyone. The big game in Workaholics is that everyone hates work. It's like The Office, without the need to have the boss get in the way of everything, every week.
I did find myself wishing the show were more like The Office, in terms of the size and eccentricity of the cast. Right now, the show only introduces us to the three main guys, the boss, the other coworker, the drug dealer, and the guest-starring drug testing guy. (The drug dealer has such a small part that it's not even worth getting into him at the moment.) The three leads are nearly indistinguishable personality-wise; the only way to tell them apart is because one has ridiculously long hair and a moustache and the others are different heights. There's not much backstory, only off-handed remarks that indicate one of them takes their job more seriously than the others.
I realize I've harped a lot on Workaholics' negatives. Truth is, I found myself giggling at the show far more than I was noticing its flaws. There's something endearing about the way it structures its humor, with the best jokes often flying mostly under the radar and feeling like little surprises for those paying attention. At the beginning, the boys are playing beer pong, and one of them mumbles that it's been 45 minutes and "can someone make a shot already, please?" Later, the Bieber coworker steps into the boss' office and says, "I didn't mean to overhear your phone conversation earlier, about the kids. I can't have pets in my building, so I sort of… know how you feel… about the… [trails off]." Again, it's not obvious what's been said, and Workaholics counts on its audience to keep up. It's not a deeply complicated show, but the foundation is there for grander gags and more nuanced comedy.
No matter what I say, though, I can't shake the feeling that Comedy Central is going to cancel this anyway. For every Important Things With Demetri Martin, there have been countless promising comedy shows that got the premature axe—Michael And Michael Have Issues being the most egregious example that springs to mind. I chatted with Michael Schur from Parks & Rec last week, and he told me that comedies typically take a long time to build momentum, especially character-based ones. Until you know who these people are, the jokes simply aren't going to hit as hard. For a network that purports to be the authority on all things comedy-related (The Comedy Awards being their latest attempt at locking that in), Comedy Central often seems very short-sighted when it comes to comedy. I'm not saying Workaholics is the greatest, most promising comedy to come through, or that the network will definitely be canceling it. Let's just make like Bravo, and watch what happens.