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):
Episode Two: The Prototype: (February 8, 1999):
Episode Three: The Competition: (February 1, 1999):
Episode Four: Testing: (February 22, 1999):
Episode Five: Elbonian Trip: (March 1, 1999):
Episode Six: The Takeover: (February 15, 1999):
Episode Seven: Little People: (April 5, 1999):
Episode Eight: Tower Of Babel: (March 22, 1999):
Episode Nine: Y2K: (May 3, 1999):
Episode Ten: The Knack: (April 21, 1999):
Episode Eleven: Charity: (May 10, 1999):
Episode Twelve: Holiday: (May 17, 1999):
Episode Thirteen: Infomercial: (May 24, 1999):
Episode Fourteen: The Gift: (November 2, 1999):
Episode Fifteen: The Trial: (November 23, 1999):
Episode Sixteen: The Shroud Of Wally: (November 9, 1999):
Episode Seventeen: The Dupey: (December 7, 1999):
Episode Eighteen: Art: (November 16, 1999):
Episode Nineteen: Hunger: (February 1, 2000):
Episode Twenty: The Security Guard: (January 18, 2000):
Episode Twenty One: The Merger: (January 25, 2000):
Episode Twenty Two: The Off-Site Meeting: (February 8, 2000):
Episode Twenty Three: The Assistant: (February 15, 2000):
Episode Twenty Four: Company Picnic: (July 11, 2000):
Episode Twenty Five: The Virtual Employee: (May 30, 2000):
Episode Twenty Six: The Return: (February 22, 2000):
Episode Twenty Seven: Ethics: (July 25, 2000):
Episode Twenty Eight: The Fact: (July 18, 2000):
Episode Twenty Nine: Pregnancy: (June 6, 2000):
Episode Thirty: The Delivery: (June 13, 2000):
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.