“Girls” started back this week. For many early 20s viewers, its first season spoke to the uncomfortable realities of the the post-collegiate world—and while I can’t say in good faith that I like the show, its characters’ worries about an unknown future, its accurate portrayal of the good and bad that comes with no-strings-attached sex, and its honest discussion of the money problems that always seem to unexpectedly bite you in the ass at this age do encapsulate early 20’s life pretty well.
Naturally, as a New York-based show that generated a lot of early buzz, “Girls” attracted, and still attracts, an unprecedented amount of attention online. A particular joke by Lena Dunham’s character Hannah Horvath in the first episode—“I may be the voice of my generation”—caused some to even say “Girls” might truly be the voice of this generation. As Troy Patterson points out, Dunham doesn’t totally write off the notion.
It’s important to note, though, that most people in the United States don’t live in New York, like the cast of “Girls” and most TV critics. Even fewer people have similar aspirations to Hannah and her friends. And few further have the same privileged upbringing as the characters. If we define a “voice of a generation” show as one that speaks most directly to the largest amount of people in a specific age group, “Girls” isn’t the voice of this generation. At least not for the male half of the generation.
That show is “Workaholics.” Totally fucking serious.
“Workaholics,” which began in April of 2011, starts the second half of its third season tomorrow. Its viewership has grown steadily, thanks in part to Comedy Central reruns, word-of-mouth support from college kids, DVD sales, and, one can assume from anecdotal evidence, a shit-ton of pirating online. Tomorrow night’s premiere comes after a high point in the show’s history: A hilarious July flashbook episode that showed how the main characters—Anders, Blake, and Adam—all met each other in college, clashed at the start, and ultimately bonded over throwing a pool party that went haywire in the best way possible.
Things escalate out of control in “Workaholics” a lot. It’s not totally realistic. The guys are written almost like cartoon characters, and while they differ on the surface—Ders is the ambitious one, Adam’s the narcissist, Blake’s the most out-there—they all typically end up acting with the same selfish and destructive impulses. In an episode that has their company, TelAmeriCorps, moving offices, their first instinct isn’t to go to the new office… it’s to totally smash apart the original one. (It’s a more than overt nod to “Office Space” and its fax machine.) In the first season’s “Office Campout,” they don’t just decide to camp out out in the office, make it their own observatory, and trip balls… they each eat roughly 80 mushrooms. And in “The Meat Jerking Beef Boys,” they don’t just try to start up a beef jerky business… they disassemble a cow in their living room. There are hundreds more examples, (the state you need to be in to really enjoy “Workaholics” means that many of them will stay forgotten) but the bottom line is that, yes, Adam, Ders, and Blake are kind of like a grown-up version of Ed, Ed, and Eddy. And, yes, if you’re looking for an exact example of how post-college grads act as individual people, you’re looking in the wrong place. And, yes, “Girls” does contain more accurate characters; specifically a realistic look at many of the awful people you will meet in New York City.
But, despite its inherent ridiculousness, I still I believe that “Workaholics” is the perfect show for 20 to 30-year-old, post-Recession post-grads. Here’s why:
Slacker shows and films are nothing new. Many of the 90s’ most memorable films were about the ethos. Think 1991’s “Slacker,” and the deluge that came after: “Reality Bites,” “Wayne’s World,” “Clerks,” etc. But, as Slate noted in a 2007 piece on the death of the genre, the whole idea of the slacker life as something to aspire to (like people in the early 90s aspired to be like Dante in “Clerks” or Mike Myers in “Wayne’s World”) disappeared with the boom times of the late 90s and early 2000s. In the real world, guys our age were all out making bank. There were good jobs to be had. The heroes of comedy reflected that—think Vince Vaughn’s wealthy Speaker City owner in “Old School,” Vaughn and Owen Wilson’s lawyers in “Wedding Crashers.” These were characters that were still man-children, but also man-children with money.
Now, the money’s gone. The jobs are gone. And characters in comedies who are supposed to be relatable are most certainly not young and wealthy, nor do they desire to be. “Ted” was the biggest comedy of 2012, and its main character would fit right in on the set of “Clerks.” “Pineapple Express” is about committed slackers who find happiness by more or less staying slackers. As for “Workaholics?” It can be boiled down to the story of two guys who aspire for nothing more than their jobs at a call center, and one guy (Ders) who makes overtures of wanting more—with that “more” just being a higher position at the call center. They’re as accurate a representation today in popular culture of what it looks like when a twenty-something has grown up being told he can do anything, and then the new reality bites him in the ass. They drink too much, they smoke too much pot, and they chase women. They’re motivated to just enjoy the lot they’ve been cast.
Over on “Girls,” Hannah is similarly lazy and unmotivated, but she at least aims for the career of a memoirist. And her friends all have a safety net of their own privileged upbringings, which give them a chance to rise above their current situations. They lack the real slacker mentality of the “Workaholics” guys, which is the case for much of today’s generation.
Pop culture emphasis
Have you noticed how fucking weird we talk among our friends? How many conversations just become a series of pop culture references, and how many times, the references don’t make any sense? How they’re just shoehorned in because sometimes you don’t really feel the need to say anything monumental when you’re just bullshitting on your couch on a Saturday afternoon? This is the dominant way of communication for college kids and post-grads—not the discussions about relationships that dominate the male bonding of “Girls”—and “Workaholics” gets it. The writers know how guys nowadays spend their time waiting to drop an “Anchorman” reference. That’s Adam, Ders, and Blake:
“Did Jamie Foxx and Gabrielle Union just show up because someone’s ‘Breakin’ All the Rules.’”
“Judge Judy up your booty!”
“Bitch Betta Have My Honey!”
“Oh you poor little baby bitch. What’s the matter, did Thor kick you out of the Avengers?”
“Her name was Roberta Paulson… her name was Roberta Paulson.”
“I look like I’m in a ska band bro, I could be in like… Reel Big Fish right now.”
“I used to cut myself to Dashboard Confessional. I love love.”
And when it’s not pop culture references, it’s weird inside jokes that have long lost their meaning. Take, for instance, “tight butthole” on the show. Ders said on the cast’s AMA yesterday that it came about after the writers were discussing how arbitrary it was that people say “Tits!” instead of “Cool!” Why not just say “tight butthole?” they asked.
How many of your weird inside jokes do you constantly say in everyday conversation? And, how many times do you have meaningless discussions about hypothetical situations?
Here are guys who found a television platform and never stopped saying them.
This, finally, is where “Workaholics” is most spot-on. Guys fresh out of school today have three different types of jobs. 1. A challenging job that comes because the person has graduated from a good school and is looking to make a lot of money quickly. These jobs have long hours, are boring, and generally are soul-sucking. 2. Jobs that are in a career you want, but require a sacrifice of money and benefits. These jobs mean one can’t actually afford to have a life outside of work. 3. Jobs that pay okay, are more of 9-5 work, and are also boring. These jobs are most common, obviously.
Most of the characters in “Girls” fall into Group 2, yet they also, somehow, have enough coin to live a social life. Not the most realistic thing, but whatever.
The characters in “Workaholics,” however, are solidly Group 3, a situation where most post-grads, who also live in small towns and the suburbs, currently find themselves. It’s a life that requires you to find your own fun and meaning at work but not through work, or to take up pursuits outside of work. Think of the importance of the office party in “Good Mourning,” the interactions with the overly competitive Montez, the trips the guys go on—they’re all ultimately distractions from the boring shit we all deal with in an office setting on a day-to-day basis. Adam, Ders, and Blake don’t really hate their jobs, though, and neither do a lot of people in Group 3. They just don’t try to get any happiness or satisfaction out of them. This isn’t a bad thing. It’s just the reality.
I find it really telling, too, that the three guys work in a telemarketing center, which has all but been completely outsourced to different countries. Older people on a show would at least worry about becoming a redundancy. But for 20-somethings like the three “Workaholics,” who have graduated at a shitty time and can take or leave the job they’re at? Eh, fuck it. Things will work out.
Post-Sad appears every Tuesday.