Movie: Over the years, I've noticed that a number of people have been dismissive of the television medium, suggesting that it is beneath them to watch since all programming "must" be directed at the lowest common denominator. Like most snobs, they fail to realize that there are examples of excellence, such as Firefly, just as there are shows that live down to their expectations. A show that lasted a couple of seasons on the infamous UPN Network, derived from one of the most popular daily comic strips in the world, is now captured on DVD; Dilbert: The Complete Series.
The series followed the exploits of an engineer, Dilbert (Daniel Stern of The Wonder Years), as he went about his workday in a corporate office. His individuality crushed on a regular basis, Dilbert has talent but lacks vision and is made the dumping ground for any project his idiot Boss (Larry Miller) comes up with. His co-workers, Alice (Kathy Griffin) and Wally (Gordon Hunt), help provide some contrast with their own agendas (she's tough and he avoids work at all costs). The cast is rounded out with the all-knowing Dogbert (Chris Elliot from Get A Life and lots of movies) and a group of regulars that include the evil Catbert (Jason Alexander), Ratbert (Tom Kenny) and others.
Those who follow the comic strip know that Dilbert's life at work is spent mostly in his cubicle, a confining little square that sucks his energy and enthusiasm right out of him, and that any decisions made by management are going to put their ignorance on full display (not that they'd know it). The creator of the strip, Scott Adams, was a cog in the corporate wheel for years before making the successful comic strip and had a lot to draw on in terms of life experiences for his depictions of the wonderful world of corporate culture. The strip has been released in a series of books with merchandising that would be the envy of anyone short of Disney in terms of profitability. The difference between Adams and most other popular artists gone commercial is that he has remained "real" and kept the characters true to form rather than look to appease interests by making them politically correct.
The show itself was a mixed blessing to fans such as myself. The strength of the comic strip was in its simplicity and how it addressed real workplace situations. In three short panels, the comic regularly conveys the sense of hopelessness so many workers feel at their corporate life and the longer arcs tend to address some of the bigger topics of the day with a biting satire that most of the world's pointy haired bosses wouldn't recognize if they "got it". The animated form of this cultural icon veered off the usual path in an effort to take advantage of the format more than simply imitate it's own success. Some of the time, this worked out but other times, particularly with the pregnancy arc, it feel flat on its face. I applaud Adams' attempts to expand on the concept he created and it was refreshing to see that he participated in many episodes (writing or co-writing many episodes), unlike so many of his peers that cash out and have nothing further to do with their creations.
The show was also plagued by a couple of major problems, not the least of which it shared with Firefly. The air schedule was changed on a regular basis and the episodes shown out of order, making it difficult to find on the fledgling UPN Network. The network failed to advertise the show and gave it time slots that made it surprising anyone watched, making me think it was never given a shot at success. Perhaps the network executives didn't get the jokes here, after all such people were the regular targets of the humor here, or maybe they didn't like the idea of providing entertainment for those of us willing to engage our brains (the show often parodied current events as a great source of material). While a number of episodes seemed rushed, there was enough to enjoy that I wish I had seen more of the show when it aired. Here's a breakdown of the episodes from the show, with the DVD presenting them in the intended order rather than the order they were shown:
Episode One: The Name: (January 25, 1999):
In the series opener, Dilbert is put in charge of naming a new product, one that hasn't been invented yet, and the pressure starts to turn him into a chicken.
Episode Two: The Prototype: (February 8, 1999):
The Boss pits two teams against one another to design the Gruntmaster 6000. Dilbert's team includes cranky Alice and slacker Wally while the other team is led by the seductive Lena, a gal known for her ruthless methods. The losing team will be shipped off to Albany, the Black Hole of the business world.
Episode Three: The Competition: (February 1, 1999):
Another company seems to be making a competing version of the Gruntmaster 6000 and Dogbert is put in charge of corporate security. When Dilbert is suspected of corporate espionage, he is fired and goes to work for the enemy. Will he be able to survive a company that has benefits and treats it's employees like people?
Episode Four: Testing: (February 22, 1999):
The Gruntmaster 6000 is subjected to a series of ridiculous tests by Bob Bastard in order to insure the quality of the product. If it doesn't pass, Dilbert will fail and be replaced.
Episode Five: Elbonian Trip: (March 1, 1999):
In a biting satire of corporate greed, the team goes to the fourth world country of Elbonia, where the Gruntmaster 6000 will be manufactured (to save money). The episode addressed issues such as child labor and sending jobs overseas to exploit labor markets.
Episode Six: The Takeover: (February 15, 1999):
Dilbert, Wally, and Dogbert use shady practices to take over the company using Dogbert's stock price manipulation techniques.
Episode Seven: Little People: (April 5, 1999):
In a tale of corporate downsizing, the term is used literally when Dilbert and crew find some very tiny engineers using his cubicle after hours.
Episode Eight: Tower Of Babel: (March 22, 1999):
Dilbert is put in charge of designing a new office building when the employees start mutating. By designing a building using logic and reason, he sets in motion a series of events that come back to haunt him.
Episode Nine: Y2K: (May 3, 1999):
Dilbert is put in charge of fixing the upcoming Y2K problem with the company mainframe in an episode that has him turning to Catbert for help. Needless to say, the results are decidedly mixed when the crew sets off to address the challenge in an episode that pays homage to the movie classic, The Wizard Of Oz.
Episode Ten: The Knack: (April 21, 1999):
Dilbert finds out that his reason and common sense are the result of possessing a quality known as "the knack". When he is infected by the incompetence of his Boss, he loses the quality with disastrous results.
Episode Eleven: Charity: (May 10, 1999):
The Boss determines that the company should hold a charity drive to win a plaque. Dilbert ends up doing all the dirty work, as usual, and no one could've predicted the results. Anyone who has been "forced" to contribute to the United Way will love this one.
Episode Twelve: Holiday: (May 17, 1999):
Dilbert gets frustrated by all the useless holidays that upset his schedule so Dogbert comes up with a solution, combine them all into a single, super important holiday, National Dogbert Day.
Episode Thirteen: Infomercial: (May 24, 1999):
In the final episode of the first season, the Boss sends the prototype of the Gruntmaster 6000 to a rural family. Given the advanced technology of the machine, Dilbert seeks to avert the end of the world by getting the device back. Those of you who hate infomercials will appreciate this one as much as I did.
Episode Fourteen: The Gift: (November 2, 1999):
Dilbert looks to find the perfect gift for his all-knowing Mom while avoiding the Mall (as he holds it responsible for the loss of his Dad, many years ago).
Episode Fifteen: The Trial: (November 23, 1999):
After a company blood drive that drains Dilbert dry, he is unknowingly framed for a crime he did not commit. The criminal justice system is skewered in this one.
Episode Sixteen: The Shroud Of Wally: (November 9, 1999):
The marketing idiots (an oxymoron if one ever existed) worship Wally after an accident takes place. At the same time, Dilbert questions the meaning of life after he nearly dies.
Episode Seventeen: The Dupey: (December 7, 1999):
The Dupey, a cute little toy much like the Cabbage Patch dolls of yesteryear, is marketed by the company until it finds they are much more than they appear to be.
Episode Eighteen: Art: (November 16, 1999):
Dilbert's new assignment is to create artwork in order to further the goals of the Boss. His limited artistic ability aside, Dilbert's motivations don't help and eventually Leonardo Da Vinci himself has his say.
Episode Nineteen: Hunger: (February 1, 2000):
To end world hunger, Dilbert bio-engineers a food source known as the Tomeato (combining tomatoes and meat). No one likes it since it tastes bad and Dilbert decides to take his invention to Elbonia to solve their famine problem.
Episode Twenty: The Security Guard: (January 18, 2000):
Dilbert and the company security guard find themselves at odds when neither respects the job of the other. Dilbert thinks he can do a better protecting the company and finds himself trading jobs for a day.
Episode Twenty One: The Merger: (January 25, 2000):
With merger-mania in full swing, the Boss decides that the only way the company can survive is to merge with another company, any company at that. Dogbert signs on as a consultant and you just know the results will be designed to further his goals.
Episode Twenty Two: The Off-Site Meeting: (February 8, 2000):
In a mixture of environmental screwballs and pushy neighbors, Dilbert finds himself in the middle of a situation when he is forced to hold an off-site meeting at his home. When all is said and done, only Dogbert can fix the resulting chaos.
Episode Twenty Three: The Assistant: (February 15, 2000):
To sucker the employees into thinking they have a chance at a career path with the company, Dilbert is promoted and given an assistant. Alice gets jealous and then gets her own assistant, which leads to an interesting battle between the two assistants.
Episode Twenty Four: Company Picnic: (July 11, 2000):
The company picnic provides the setting for the latest battleground between the marketing and engineering departments. In a subplot, Dilbert romances an attractive marketing worker, with overtones of Romeo & Juliet in abundance.
Episode Twenty Five: The Virtual Employee: (May 30, 2000):
To keep some office space, the engineers invent a fictitious employee, Todd, with humorous results. The best-laid plans go astray when the team finds their plan has undesired consequences.
Episode Twenty Six: The Return: (February 22, 2000):
Trying to return a new computer, Dilbert runs a maze that ends up with him competing against a super computer (Jerry Seinfeld) that is intent on preventing his success.
Episode Twenty Seven: Ethics: (July 25, 2000):
In another biting satire, the story revolves around the employees getting training in ethics while the management, the real ones in desperate need of such training, get to avoid it. Dilbert gets a chance to test his newfound training when a woman makes him a sweet offer.
Episode Twenty Eight: The Fact: (July 18, 2000):
Dogbert invents a new medical condition to cash in on the idiots that believe anything they hear. Dilbert is put in charge of a project to cure the syndrome, a fact made much tougher since it doesn't exist.
Episode Twenty Nine: Pregnancy: (June 6, 2000):
Dilbert gets impregnated by an experiment of his that combines a multitude of DNA and must face the consequences of his new condition. This gender-bending episode was probably the worst of the series, and a two-parter with the series finale that followed.
Episode Thirty: The Delivery: (June 13, 2000):
The media circus surrounding Dilbert's pregnancy gets worse and Dogbert once again tries to cash in on the phenomenon. The series ended on a low note with this one.
It's difficult to believe the show started five years ago and only had thirty episodes. They appeared uncut and unedited, with a short running time of about 22 minutes each and the ability to play the entire DVD without going to the main menu. While I still like the comic strip itself better, this was well worth a rating of Highly Recommended. If the world were more aware of Scott Adams' creation, perhaps more companies would attempt to alter the way they did business but somehow I get the impression that he recognizes the weakness of human nature (which means we'd all revert to form if given the chance). I would've loved to have some audio commentaries for the episodes as extras but the package here was well done and had a lot of replay value for fans of the comic strip such as myself.
Picture: The picture was presented in the usual 1.33:1 full frame color, as most television shows are made. The picture was crisp and clear, looking better than I remember it back in the "good old days" on television. There were a few small visual defects on rare occasion but overall, it looked good on the four discs.
Sound: The audio was presented in 2.0 Dolby Digital English with some separation between the channels but not much. In general, the audio was very solid with excellent voice actors providing the vocals to the characters. Stern, Elliot, and Miller, as Dilbert, Dogbert, and the Boss were all perfectly cast and provided exactly the right inflections and attitudes needed for the beloved characters.
Extras: The best extra was a nearly twenty minute long feature, Making Dilbert Work, where Scott Adams, many of the voice actors, and creative staff contributed their opinions on how the show came together. It started off with Mr. Adams telling something about how he started the Dilbert comic strip (having worked at a bank and phone company) and then going into the personalities behind the staff and characters. The other extra of note was the set of four clip compilations; Dogbert Speaks, You're Not The Boss Of Me, Marketing Or Felonious Activity, and Catbert: Feline Or Pure Evil. Each was hosted by Scott Adams and contained several minutes of clips from the show relating to its theme. Lastly, there were some trailers and a paper insert that provided some information on the episodes. The DVD case itself was the foldout kind with pictures from the show on the discs and background, all contained in a cardboard slipcase.
Final Thoughts: If the series had been given a better chance and stuck to the kind of material that has made the comic strip so successful, I think it could still be airing today. Even the worst episodes had something to like and the best ones shined brightly compared to similar animation works on television. With the solid technical values and plethora of episodes, Dilbert: The Complete Series, is definitely a keeper for fans and non-fans alike. If you've ever been frustrated by a stupid supervisor, nonsensical workplace rules, or co-workers from hell, you'll identify with the show.