‘Structurally Sound’ is a recurring feature where each week a different structurally unusual, rule-breaking anomaly of an episode from a comedy series is examined.
“This is what happens when we battle for the butts. We don’t let girls come between us.”
Somehow the very DIY brand of comedy that capitalizes on “buds being buds” that’s pushed forward in Workaholics has made a very comfortable home for itself on Comedy Central. Premiering as more of an experiment in boundary pushing, Workaholics would go on from being the cult comedy that stoners would get high to, to becoming a flagship show for the network, running for seven seasons and nearly racking up 100 episodes. The slackadaisical misadventures of Anders, Blake, and Adam usually skew towards broader—albeit relatable—material, but that wouldn’t keep the series from striving for something deeper and proving what it was capable of. The show has done episodes riffing on elaborate heist films, installments set in a robot-ridden future, many different drug-fueled doses of escapism, and even the gang’s origin story.
Perhaps the series’ most stylistically different outing comes in the episode “Termidate” from the show’s final season, which aired earlier this week. Nearly the entire episode is devoted to a ‘90s reality program. It’s an idea that’s been toyed around with in other comedies – like in Happy Endings’ Real World episode, where mileage is gained by juxtaposing the past versions of characters with the present – but no show has played into the device as thoroughly as Workaholics has here. The fact that such a structurally interesting offering could be turned out as the series’ antepenultimate episode is rather telling, too. Even though it might have felt like Workaholics was running out of steam at times, the fact that it can still turn out episodes like this (which is written by Blake Anderson, no less) shows that it wasn’t done creatively playing around.
“Termidate” begins very innocently with Adam, Blake, and Ders awkwardly waiting out the clock with a woman in their home. The only reason this woman is spending any time with this group is because she’s waiting for her friend, who is very loudly occupied at the moment courtesy of sex with Karl. The boys aren’t alone with this poor stranger for very long, but a few minutes is all it takes for them to start fighting over her before an infamous VHS tape is brought up. This tape has apparently been kept as a reminder of the damage that can be done when girls get between them. Blake earnestly reminds everyone at one point, “We don’t fight over girls anymore. And you know that. Do I need to play the tape?” Since the gang nearly resorts to a “push off” when merely the possibility of sex is on the table (even though it’s really not), it feels appropriate for them to re-visit this relic of the videocassette era.
This tape turns out to be an episode of a ‘90s dating reality show, Termidate, which features Blake, Anders, Adam, as well as their former never-before-mentioned roommate, Skyler. As soon as Blake puts in the Termidate tape, the episode does a wonderful job transporting you back to the ‘90s. Bad video tracking, fuzzy picture quality, and a consistent low-res VHS filter over the entire episode is an appreciated touch that goes far. If you’re familiar with any of the reality dating shows that are being parodied here, like Elimidate, Fifth Wheel, or Blind Date, then the seamless job copying these programs should be abundantly clear. As the four dates try to win the heart of Courtnee (a burgeoning veterinarian’s assistant who loves animals, hanging out with family, and going outside), the episode is overloaded with obnoxious cartoonish graphics that attempt to be the punchline to every line of dialogue. Shots of Courtnee staring off in doubt are met with cartoon thought bubbles carrying “witty” zingers like “Wow, he’s a catch…” Cue the flounder graphic.
As this five-person date continues, Courtnee takes the guys through a number of “stages” like dance lessons, drinks, and trying their hand at a mechanical bull. Throughout all of this, each of the guys try to embrace a certain macho persona. Blake says he’s had sex with 99 women. Anders is very heterosexual. And Adam is just into mimicking Skyler—the only normal guy in the mix—in every way possible. In a rather clever way, each of these guises that the guys take on distill their larger insecurities that fans have been seeing for seven seasons now. The episode’s dating show structure allows each of them to strike out on their own as well as learn that they’re at their worst when they’re not working together. This episode might be a fun excuse to do a ‘90s throwback, but it also acts as a reminder of why these guys have been friends for so long. In spite of how much has changed since this episode of Termidate, they’ve remained constants in each other’s lives. Workaholics might not claim to push many messages in the end, but that is certainly one of its core concepts and this episode underscores all of that nicely.
Workaholics’ final season hasn’t pushed for too much pomp and circumstance. This very much feels like any other season of the show rather than the clock ticking down to some big grand finale. That being said, episodes like “Termidate” are the sort of entries that pop especially well in final seasons. They have the structural elegance to wake up long-time viewers, while also reiterating the themes of the show that have been there from the start.
Skyler is no doubt living a better life than Adam, Blake, and Anders circa 2017, but it’s probably a fair assumption that he doesn’t have a group of buddies as ironclad as these guys do.