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Mark Lashley

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In Season Premiere, Workaholics Does What it Does Best

Posted: 05/30/2012 7:10 pm

I'm not going to give you a number, but I'm pretty sure I fall just outside the older end of Workaholics' target demographic. So I shouldn't be surprised that most recent comedy series aimed at the dorm room set -- Adult Swim's Loiter Squad and Workaholics' schedule-mate Tosh.0 (a show I consider borderline evil) spring to mind -- leave me more than a little cold. The real shock is that Workaholics (which debuted its double-sized third season on Comedy Central Tuesday) doesn't. Creator/stars Adam DeVine, Anders Holm and Blake Anderson (along with director and recurring player Kyle Newacheck) have found a way to transcend the current state of slacker comedy by offering a sharp authorial vision, great ensemble timing, incredibly specific pop culture references and even a satirical agenda (albeit a razor-thin one).

The three leads play friends, roommates and coworkers at a fairly soulless telemarketing company, bringing to light an experience fairly common among recent college graduates: the seemingly endless limbo of working a job for which you have very little interest just so you can afford to party as hard (or harder) than you did in college. The series indulges the young adult fantasy (like a lot of other series in the same vein), but allows itself room for a mild critique of the unsustainability of this kind of lifestyle. It rarely hands out any kind of sustained victory, making the misadventures of Blake, Anders and Adam perversely endearing. Sure, these guys are self-indulgent fools for the time being, but they go to work on time, do an adequate job, have defined ambitions and one day may actually figure the whole thing out.

Not that we'll ever see that resolution; for now it's fun to watch these guys spin in circles. In the season premiere "The Business Trip," the three plan an elaborate evening at home with some LSD (as Blake notes, "The house is acid-proof. But the world is not acid-proof."). Spoiling the party is Anders, the most driven of the group, who opts for a sales conference with their boss, Alice, instead. So Adam and Blake (along with their drug dealer, Karl, played by Newacheck) relocate to the conference hotel to carry out the original plan. When it's revealed that a potential big client (Kiersten Warren) typically gives her business to whomever can get her the most inebriated, well, you can kind of fill in the rest (it's a blur of black light posters, exotic dancers, indoor fireworks, and kiddie pools filled with ice).

The episode indulges in Workaholics' typically crude humor -- some running commentary on hotel porno, Adam fantasizing about a female deity's "big ol' god titties," a hallucinating Blake mistaking a certain part of a male stripper's anatomy for an attacking dragon. But there's a certain art to a well-told dick joke, and Workaholics has come pretty close to mastering it. That's in large part due to strong performances that work equally well in revealing subtle character details as in wildly broad comedic set pieces. And the three leads have managed to effectively differentiate their characters from one another (even without revealing much back story or developing ongoing story arcs) while still demonstrating why their individual forms of arrested development drew them together to begin with.

It might seem odd to praise a show like Workaholics for its ambition, but it's clearly aimed as more than a tossed-off trifle. Perhaps the higher compliment is to say that it's confident in its own skin and seldom over-reaches. "The Business Trip" actually suffers a bit from its overuse of special effects to sell the group's acid hallucinations. While a few of these pieces were solid (Alice's picking apart of a desk made of Jello made for an interesting visual), more often they felt like stereotypical and well-trod bits of artificial craziness. But these kinds of missteps are rare; the show usually sticks to what it does best. Judging by the relatively broad range of stories DeVine, Anderson and Holm have been able to tell with these characters (I mean, it's kind of a shock that it took more than two seasons for the guys to drop acid), Workaholics may be able to maintain a refined (though raunchy) comedic sensibility for a long time to come.

"The Business Trip" is a confident, funny season-opener for a show that has a very strong sense of what it does well. While it lacks the emotional resonance of the best current sitcoms (like Parks and Recreation or even Community), Workaholics knows well enough not to go for those beats. And on a pure laughs-per-minute level, it's certainly in the same ballpark. Speaking as someone who's a bit out of their demo, I'm hoping these guys can stay this sharp. They've built a solid foundation of humor that's crude, earnest, and yes, even smart.

 

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