Well before The Office came onto the scene to examine and subvert corporate culture, the ’90s was already on top of it with movies like Office Space and comics like, well, Dilbert. Scott Adams’ satirical strip gained a tremendous amount of traction this decade with its lampooning of dull-witted bosses, mountains of red tape, marketing double-speak, and pithy observations.
While the strip still runs today, there’s a case to be made that the height of Dilbertmania came around 1999, when the characters jumped off the newspaper page and into their very own animated TV show on UPN. Does anyone remember UPN? Anyway, UPN ran it for two seasons, racking up 30 episodes before it was cancelled in 2000.
Because it was on, y’know, UPN, I and most of the planet never saw this quirky show. Yet in the years since, it’s developed a cult audience for its genuinely funny bits, longer-form storytelling, and occasionally dark jokes. I myself had never seen it before this past year, but now I’m glad to catch up on this semi-forgotten series.
Probably what delighted me most was the fact that this series brought together two actors I keep mixing up in my head: Daniel Stern (who voices Dilbert) and Chris Elliott (who voices Dogbert). The show featured many other notable actors: Kathy Griffin as Alice, Larry Miller as the boss, Jason Alexander as Catbert, and cartoon legends Maurice LaMarche and Tress MacNeille.
Like the comic, the show centers around a smart but downtrodden engineer named Dilbert who works at an uncaring company on ridiculous projects like the Gruntmaster 6000. His boss is an oblivious manager, his co-workers either selfish, loud, or angry, and his future career prospects bleak. Complicating things are a garbage man who seemingly knows everything, an evil cat in human resources, and his manipulative dog who keeps butting into his work scene.
After watching the series, I think what I liked best about it is that it didn’t appeal to the lowest common denominator in either storytelling or humor. This show is weirdly creative, with Dilbert’s odd engineering projects, tiny people who were “downsized,” a country dominated by mud, and a pathogen that mutates everyone. It also busts out these moments of black humor where someone gets killed or humiliated for a throwaway gag.
It’s not perfect, though. I found the humor to be uneven and the characters, while sardonic and quippy, not all that likable. Then again, I never was the biggest Dilbert comic strip fan, either. So it’s a mixed bag that I thought was good for at least a single watch. Maybe you’ll like it more.