As a nineteen-year-old whose only job since sophomore year has been a barista at my local Starbucks, the satirical, white-collar lives portrayed in the comic strip Dilbert, by Scott Adams has, naturally, always appealed to me. Maybe it was the journey I went on with these comics that has always given me a soft spot in my heart for the cynical engineers of the Dilbert World. It was always that one comic every teacher would have printed on their desk and I guess that fascinated me. It was about grown-ups and everyone was in on the joke but me. I had no idea what a consultant was, let alone why a tiny dog that looked like my old roommate would be so invested in becoming one for artists that were unaware of the importance of revenue for a business. But prepubescent me would rather be caught dead than let my complete ignorance of the shitstorm that is the corporate world of America stop me from being let in on the joke that seemed to unite the sharp-tongued Gen X authority figures of my adolescence.
Flashforward to high school, and I discover Dilbert has a cartoon. And it’s from 1999. There’s something particularly raw about satirical comedy from this era. The internet was starting to fully integrate itself in society and commentary on its firm grasp on the American population was something special. It goes beyond your average boomer’s uninspired call-out of Gen Z’s internet obsessions as if we’re not all starting to get slightly concerned about the growing number of babies being born in a world who never saw life without the smartphone. But that’s a rant for another day.
The thing I have always appreciated about Dilbert the comic strip is its unrelenting commitment to the idea of satire. Author Scott Adams has always approached life with a cynical belief in our own collective stupidity. We are all fucking idiots, and that’s kind of the point; there’s something hilariously freeing about accepting the fact that millions of Americans are stumbling through each aspect of their days, work or leisure, only to repeat it the very next day. We have no idea what we’re doing, but we’re fine. And no one knows this better than Adams, who, in developing a cartoon version of a strip known for shitting on the lunacy of corporate America, perpetuated this idea in ways I never expected a 30-episode series of the Dilbert strip would ever be able to do
What Adams succeeded in was perfectly translating the core concept of his comic strip, workplace commentary, to the television screen in a way that goes beyond what a three-panel comic could achieve. Dilbert has always found a sweet spot between exaggeration and the underlying reality of ridiculous workplace insanity, but the cartoon doubles down on this idea, fully utilizing the capabilities of the animated realm to construct a world that feels so faithful to the strip while being uniquely its own thing. This manifests itself in plots that include “downsized” employees shrunken down to size who live in the ceilings of their former company, addicted to sniffing whiteboard markers, to a return to medieval times brought on by a technological crash from Y2K. My favorite episode is “The Tower of Babel,” in which a virus is passed around the workplace that mutates every employee in the company into monsters. Dilbert, the only one healthy and bland enough to have stayed uninfected, is then tasked to design accommodations for each lot of X-Men rejects.
The mix of commentary, hyperbole, and humor, topical for the time, make this show a joy to watch, no matter what ridiculous plot is presented to the gaggle of typical workplace assholes that make up the main cast of characters. Frankly, I could go on for ages about the genius of this show, so I urge you to just watch it yourself. This random streaming service called Crackle has all the episodes for free with some ads and it’s honestly my greatest find of 2020. This isn’t a sponsorship I swear, the app is really weird actually. But if it has anything, it has the Dilbert cartoon in all its underrated glory, and maybe that’s fine.