It took me a really long time to decide if I liked Workaholics and the more I see of it the more I can’t make up my mind. There are a tons of episodes, mostly from season one, that I think are really clever and funny. The new season has been hit of miss for me but the ones I like, I love. Something about the later episodes feels off to me, and I’ve realized that it’s the same thing that feels different about the later seasons of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
From the first episode of Workaholics that I watched, I was struck by its similarities to Sunny — another show about a group of inept slackers partying/drinking all day. Not to the point I would consider Workaholics to be a rip-off but they definitely have the same vibe.
Now I’ve noticed another similarity between the two shows: as they’ve gone on they’ve become considerably wackier. Both shows’ first seasons have plots and characterizations that are more grounded in reality than later seasons. You could actually imagine these people existing and getting into some of the situations at the center of the first season episodes.
With Sunny the shift to broader situations and comedy is more demonstrable because it’s been happening for years. But Workaholics appears to be headed in a similar direction already at an accelerated rate.
Admittedly I didn’t fall in love with it right away, but when I watched the first season on Netflix I actually enjoyed it quite a bit, “Office Camp-out” and “Checkpoint Gnarly” in particular. Obviously it’s a TV show on Comedy Central and certain liberties are taken with reality so watching with a certain degree of suspension of disbelief is necessary from the get-go. But overall the characters felt like real people.
Anders is neurotic and obsessed with furthering his career (even though he’s just as incompetent as the others). Adam is obsessed with his physique and getting girls. Blake is that weird friend you have who would totally buy a bear jacket. (You know you have that friend with weird taste that you just can’t explain). But as the seasons have progressed all the characters, with a particular emphasis on Adam and Blake, have become more cartoonish.
I enjoyed season one of Workaholics because there was some level of relatability there, but the show has been going so far off the deep end that it’s almost impossible to relate to the situations presented in it.
The cold open for “The Meat Jerking Beef Boys” is completely nuts and really funny, but as a result it’s completely improbable and I refuse to believe there are actual people out there crazy enough to drag a cow carcass into their living room and start butchering it with chainsaws. As the characters get more cartoonish, so have the episode premises. They’ve gone from bizarre to the extreme. One season two episode involves everyone getting trapped in the sewer, while another has everyone in the office forced to wear footy pajamas (that episode also features Blake’s creepy new Real Doll). It’s a far cry from season one plots which revolved around things like the guys sabotaging each other for a promotion, going on strike, or trying to beat a drug test.
Some of the broader episodes are funny just from sheer ridiculousness but they’ve lost whatever relatability factor was present in the beginning. The show also felt more cohesive because the plots by and large all revolved around the workplace (playing into the title of the show’s pun). In seasons two and three any given episode could really be about anything.
The first season of Sunny stands out from the rest of that show in that you could really conceive of a group of selfish, ignorant people actually doing those things (i.e. before the show introduced things like casual crack addictions and Rickety Cricket). Buying a gun in self-defense, lying about cancer to get a girl, or trying to make a quick buck selling alcohol to minors are all shitty things to do, but I believe they’re within the realm of possibility for actual people.
With the introduction of Frank and the seemingly endless supply of his wealth and connections (not to mention depravity) the Sunny gang have an easy out for how they get into the absurd messes that they do. This isn’t automatically a bad thing; some of the show’s funniest episodes can be found in later seasons and involve outrageous situations like Dee getting a job as a substitute teacher and taking her class on a field trip to Paddy’s. It’s still a good show, albeit a completely different one than when it started.
And that’s why I’m not sure if I like Workaholics. Sunny has found a way to keep the show entertaining after seven years, I think the wackier elements the show has worked for it (although I’ll be the first to tell you that the earlier seasons are much better). As cartoonish as Sunny itself has gotten, I still really enjoy it even when it has an off episode. I’m not sure I can say the same thing when Workaholics turns out a dud.
Workaholics must find a way to strike a good balance the way Sunny did if it hopes to catch on and have longevity. I have faith that the show will be able to find its footing and do that because when it’s at the top of its game, it can rival Sunny in its prime.
Guest post by Matt Ern, who can be found blogging here.