Saturday, August 26, 2006

Dilbert: The Complete Series

4-disc set; 30 episodes (~374 minutes)

It feels pedestrian to have to explain what “Dilbert” is, but here goes. “Dilbert” is a comic strip by Scott Adams that pokes fun at life in the office world. The character for whom the comic is named works in a team of engineers, has no eyes, no mouth and wears a tie permanently curled up towards him. The TV show was made in conjunction with Larry Charles, who worked on “Cheers.”

I read the comic a handful of times before the TV series debuted and thought at the very least it was better than a lot of the other strips. When UPN ran promos for a TV series in 1999 and I heard the voice of Daniel Stern come out of Dilbert, I decided to make the premiere appointment television. From there I was hooked. UPN kept moving it around and I lost it in the shuffle along with millions of others (presumably – I wonder if it had any ratings to begin with) and the show died quietly.

Rounding out the cast of characters is Wally, a lazy do-nothing voiced by Gordon Hunt. Dilbert’s scheming pet dog Dogbert is played by Chris Elliott. Tom Kenny, well known for his work as Spongebob Squarepants plays Ratbert. Alice, bitchy female co-worker, is played by Kathy Griffin. The always hilarious “Pointy Haired Boss” is voiced by the also funny Larry Miller. And of course there’s Loud Howard who is…loud, and Asok the intern.

That should you get you started. We have 30 to do, so let’s get busy.

The Name – In this episode, Dilbert finds himself heading up the newest product for the company and having to find a name for it. “You think the guy who invented the mouse pad started with the name? What’s a mouse pad?” Wally: “Feminine protection for mice?” The series starts with flying colors, showing how it can be sharp in both its business satire and general humor. Like an executive calling his getting fired with six-figure severance “barbaric.” So many quotes, so little space. Thumbs up.

The Prototype – So now Dilbert and his team have to build a prototype for the new product. Only thing is, they’re up against a team headed up by super mean engineer of company lore, Lena. There’s a running gag about Dilbert having small genitalia all throughout. It starts strong, but ends kind of weak, so call it thumbs in the middle.

The Competition – An airing order I found on the internet has this and Prototype swapped. Weird. Anyway, a phantom insider (who looks suspiciously like Dogbert) is leaking secrets to the competition. So Dilbert’s company hires somebody (Dogbert) to amp up security. Dilbert gets fired and ends up working for NirvanaCo. The jokes about a perfect company are good, the rest not so much. Thumbs in the middle.

Testing – Once again, this jives from the airing order, but it’s episode 4 on the disk, so here we are. Now the product (christened the Grunt Master 6000 – as was said earlier on, it’s a “scaled back version of the Grunt Master 9000”) has to undergo testing by legendary engineer Bob Bastard. Will the product make the grade? Meanwhile Dogbert joins NASA. This one was funny. Thumbs up.

Elbonia Trip – The team take a trip to poverty stricken fourth-world country Elbonia where the new product is being made. Along the way Wally becomes their messiah, Dogbert their diplomat, Alice the crusader for children’s rights and Dilbert goes on death row. And the Pointy Haired Boss takes a hilarious vacation. Thumbs up.

The Takeover – Upon an accidental tip from Dilbert, Dogbert writes a book on investing which Wally & Dilbert take to a 51% controlling interest in the company. It doesn’t pan out well, but it sure as hell is funny – a number of belly laughs here. Dogbert is the man. Or the dog. Or something. Thumbs up.

Little People – Dilbert finds that his cubicle has been tampered with and the company finds all the dry-erase markers missing. Turns out some downsized employees were literally…downsized – and now they’re hooked on sniffing markers. Another “eh” episode bookended by funny. Thumbs in the middle.

Tower of Babel – When the Path-e-Tech company HQ gets “sick building syndrome” a new building is commissioned. Eager to finally get his own office, Dilbert offers to design it. Only problem is, the sick building has mutated much of the staff, making for a lot of accommodations for Dilbert to include. Also, Pointy Haired Boss wants it to be an isosceles triangle. Or a trapezoid. Buckets of funny makes the scale tip to thumbs up.

Y2K – The company mainframe, Black Betty, needs to be upgraded in time for the millennium. Only problem is, it was coded by Wally in his days as a hard-working engineer. Full of jokes you’ll remember like Dilbert visiting his stockpiling mother and the book of misfit employees. Thumbs up.

The Knack – Dilbert appears to be losing his knack for all things technology just as Pointy Haired Boss wants him to put a billboard in space. A bad calculation sends satellites out of orbit and society back to medieval times. Another one chock full of funny. Thumbs up.

Charity – The boss needs another plaque to cover a bug stain on his office wall, so he takes on a new charitable cause. Meanwhile, Dilbert speaks out against charity bureaucracy. I haven’t mentioned it yet, but a number of times throughout the series, you’ll get these soapbox moments from Scott Adams. Not to say I dislike them or disagree with them – or find them unfunny. Quite the opposite as you can imagine. Thumbs up.

Holiday – Before there were ever chicken fights on “Family Guy,” there was Dilbert vs. Dick from Procurement. This is basically Scott Adams vs. holidays, and there’s not a dull moment in the entire 22 minutes. Thumbs up.

The Infomercial – The boss shows everybody the new infomercial for the Grunt Master and surprises Dilbert with the fact they’re already field testing it. Once in the wrong hands, the machine might just have the ability to create a black hole. It had some decent jokes, but this one bored me overall. Totally skippable. Thumbs down.

The Gift – It’s Dilmom’s birthday and Dilbert’s co-workers suggest he goes to the mall to buy a gift. Back when he was a kid though, Dilbert lost his father there to an all you can eat buffet. So he, Wally, Dogbert, Asok and Alice go together. Fun episode. Thumbs up.

The Trial – Dilbert gets wrongly accused of murder and thrown in jail. While there, he turns jail into a business. It’s a fun watch. Thumbs up.

The Shroud of Wally – Long story short, a crashed rocket which was carrying a birthday kit leads a group of would-be marketers to believe Wally is the new messiah. Wrap your head about THAT! We have brief moments of Scott Adams vs. religion, as well. Thumbs up.

The Dupey – Path-e-Tech is advertising a new fad called the Dupey months before it’s made…or even conceived by the rest of the company. Dilbert is put in charge, and quickly the cute toys evolve beyond themselves into flying, ugly superbeings. This episode had more belly laughs than any other so far. Thumbs up.

Art – The boss decides to try and take over the art market and puts Dilbert in charge. His focus group testing produces a picture the world embraces that also corrodes the art market worldwide. Another round of Scott Adams telling you why it’s stupid to do something, in this case, liking art. I enjoyed it. Thumbs up.

Hunger – Dilbert conceives a new hybrid food called the tomeato in an effort to stop hunger in Elbonia. When the food ruins the abundant and tasty mud in Elbonia, it’s chaos. Like the last few thumbs up, it wasn’t necessarily a gutbuster, but solid. Thumbs up.

The Security Guard – Dilbert finds himself in an argument with the security guard (played by Wayne Knight of “Seinfeld” fame) over whose job is tougher, so they switch for a day. Another solid one despite not being uproariously funny. Thumbs up.

The Merger – The boss doesn’t know what to do with $20 billion in surplus cash, and Dogbert learned of big bucks in investment banking, so a merger is suggested. Some classic Pointy Haired Boss non-sequiturs along with the dating analogy for finding a merger partner gave enough belly laughs for a thumbs up.

The Off-Site Meeting – The company decides to adapt practices done by more successful companies to appear better. Only they choose to rape the forests like paper companies and get sued by some hippie. So an off-site meeting is scheduled with the hippie at Dilbert’s house. Wackiness abounds. Thumbs up.

The Assistant – The engineers hear they’re high in demand at other companies, so the managers promote Dilbert to management to make them think they have a career path. In the process Dilbert gets an assistant and Alice gets jealous and makes Asok hers. Thumbs up.

Company Picnic – One of the funnier episodes in a spell. The big marketing vs. engineers softball match is coming and the engineers look to get stomped again. The introduction of new marketing hire Juliet turns the show into a pretty witty send-up of Romeo and Juliet. Thumbs up.

The Virtual Employee – In an effort to use an empty cubicle for storage, Dilbert and company create an employee named Todd who’s just a composite image of all of them. Todd rises in the ranks much to their surprise. It was funny, but there was this bit through the entire second half of the show where they compared Todd to God (i.e. “an act of Todd,” “Todd only exists in your mind,” etc.) that was very odd. Thumbs up in any case.

The Return – Dilbert orders a new computer online, spurring Dogbert and others to believe computers are taking over the world. Determined to find a human within the vast Comp-U-Comp company, Dilbert finds himself head-to-head at company HQ with a megacomputer that runs the company, voiced by Jerry Seinfeld. Funny stuff. Thumbs up.

Ethics – A rash of unethical managerial practices means all the engineers go to ethics classes. At the same time, Dilbert gets picked to head up the new Internet Voting Network whose creation tests his ethics. Another funny one with all the zings at Congress, stupid voters and what not. The reanimation of Ben Franklin is good too. Thumbs up.

The Fact – In this episode Scott Adams takes on…well stupidity like usual, but mostly in the form of quacky infomercials. He also hits up the news, chiropractors, and again to hilarious results, marketing departments. Basically Dogbert creates a condition, makes everybody think they have it and comes out rich. And Dilbert gets shafted as is the norm. Thumbs up.

Pregnancy – This is basically part one of a two part finale. Dilbert builds an unmanned rocket prototype to find signs of life on other planets and bring back its findings. Ratbert accidentally launches it and it collects DNA from aliens, robots, hillbillies, engineers and cows and returns to inseminate Dilbert. Instead of aborting the baby, Dilmom and Dogbert decide to pump him full of estrogen. The episode then turns into Scott Adams’ criticisms on women and it’s not only spot on, but hilarious. For example when Dilbert bemoans the treatment of women at work and the others suggest solutions to the shortcomings, he cries “stop trying to solve my problems! I’m expressing my emotions! It’s just a plea for empathy!” SO…TRUE. Thumbs up. Up and up.

The Delivery – In the series finale, Dilbert goes back to work finding he’ll be out of a job by the time the baby’s delivered. He tries to get TV gigs and book deals before being taken to a Mr. Big who’s in charge of making world news. He plasters Dilbert all over the media and eventually puts him in a trial for custody with judge Stone Cold Steve Austin which ends with Dilbert running off with the baby and sending it to Krypton. Oops, did I spoil it? No matter, this is quite the odd ending to the series and a thumbs up in my book.

The count (up-middle-down):

Also included are some little featurettes featuring interviews with Scott Adams, Gordon Hunt and more. They’re nothing special but not totally offensive. With such a stockpile of episodes though, you shouldn’t care about a lack of extras here.


So needless to say, I love this show and think it’s an easy buy. The show may be centered in an office and have a helping of geek humor now and then, but a lot of it is pretty universally funny and well done. The voice casting is very good – I can’t read the comic without the echoes of Daniel Stern, Gordon Hunt and Larry Miller in my head. It’s a shame it had to be on UPN and shuffled around. With all that happened in the world between the series’ cancellation and now, I’d be very curious to see what “Dilbert” had to say about all of it.

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