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Western Animation: Dilbert
Where have I seen this before?

Animated version of Scott Adams' cult comic that ran for two seasons on UPN, produced by Columbia-Tristar Television, starring the voice of Daniel Stern as Dilbert, an engineer working for a soulless and bureaucratic corporation, underneath an incredibly thick-witted, Pointy-Haired Boss (Larry Miller). The opposite of him in almost every way is his dog, Dogbert (Chris Elliott), a morally gray genius who constantly exploits Dilbert, Dilbert's company and everyone else with consummate ease.

Adams developed the series with Seinfeld writer Larry Charles, which explains guest voice roles from Jason Alexander (Catbert) and Jerry Seinfeld (Comp-U-Comp).

The theme song was a revision of Danny Elfman's opening theme from Forbidden Zone.

Can be watched on Hulu here, but only from within the U.S.

Aside from the tropes carried over from the comic, this show provides examples of:

  • Accidental Misnaming: Marketing people can never get the names of anything right.
  • Actually Pretty Funny: In the episode "Testing," Dilbert phones Dogbert (who is in a space rocket with the astronauts) about why women go for jerks. Dogbert explains it before adding this gem: "That, and the fact you look like the illegitimate lovechild of Bill Gates and the Pillsbury Dough Boy." The astronauts hear his conversation and laugh very hard.
  • Adaptation Distillation: While the series lost its focus on office humor early on, it also reverted to the strip's original format to establish Dilbert as a proper protagonist.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Comp-U-Comp, the psychotic computer mainframe.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Taken to its (il)Logical Extreme when Dilbert, who normally is Hollywood Dateless, gets wrongfully convicted of murder. Once Dilbert is led to his prison cell, the security guard informs him that he has several hundred e-mail messages waiting for him, mostly marriage proposals.
    Dilbert: Wait, why? I didn't even do anything! I'm innocent!
    Security Guard: I'd keep that to myself if I were you. Some of those women are pretty attractive...
    • Surprisingly, Alice seems susceptible to this trope. In the same episode mentioned above she marries two death row inmates while they are being prepped for execution. She also falls hard for Bob Bastard, even though he treats Alice like dirt.
  • Ambiguous Syntax:
    Alice: Dilbert! There's a box by the elevator with your name on it.
    Dilbert: Why would an elevator have my name on it?
  • Animated Adaptation
  • Animation Bump: Ratburt's animation in the cold opening to "Hunger" is probably the most fluid of the entire series.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Lena's to-do list in 'Prototype': "Decapitate Dilbert, steal idea, 2 quarts milk, a box of muesli..."
  • Artistic License: In the episode "Y2K", as Asok is viewing code on an old computer mainframe, he claims the code is COBOL, a legacy programming language. Not only is the code we see on-screen not COBOL, it is (invalid) C++, the biggest language in the business. It appears to be a sample from a programming tutorial.
    • In this case, the writers got it right and the artists got it wrong. A business system from the era depicted would likely be written in COBOL, and the artists just didn't bother getting any code snippets of it. note 
  • Ascended Extra: Loud Howard, a one-shot joke character in the comic, became a regular part of the cast in the series.
    • Probably as a need to fill in the spot of Ted The Generic Guy with someone... less generic.
    • There are also many more jokes you can do with a character like Loud Howard in animation than are feasible in a static strip format. (He gets to use his No Indoor Voice quality in the first episode, for example, in a joke you probably couldn't pull off at all in a 3-panel strip, and would still be lousy in an 8-panel weekend one. The deadly sneeze joke would be similarly difficult to set up and pull off so quickly, even if it made sense.)
  • Asshole Victim: Dick from Procurement and the PHB's fellow executive Alan
  • Babies Make Everything Better: Alice thinks so... until the realities of taking care of one drive her to the breaking point.
  • Bears Are Bad News: Dogbert's TV financial round-table. With 3 financial specialists and a drunken bear..
  • Big Damn Heroes Dogbert in "The Off-Site Meeting".
  • Bittersweet Ending: Tower of Babel. Dilbert fulfilling his lifelong dream of getting his own office. He then learns he'll only get to keep it for another few minutes due to the company moving back to its original building. He's understandably sad, but takes those few minutes to live out his other dream; closing the door and dancing around his desk in his boxers.
  • Body Horror: An epidemic of these in "Tower of Babel" results in the company constructing a new building. Everyone is pretty nonchalant about it, to the point that employees are less concerned about accommodations necessary for them to survive with their mutations than they are about ensuring that they don't get placed near the PHB.
  • Bound and Gagged: In one episode: though many people are tied up and can't move or speak through the gags, only Loud Howard still speaks/yells through his gag:
  • Brain Drain: Attempted in the episode with the merger with the company that does just that to their acquisitions.
  • Butt Monkey: Asok the intern. Pretty much anyone who isn't Catbert, Dogbert, Dilmom, or the Garbageman.
  • Cannot Keep a Secret: When Dilbert gets pregnant, he eventually tells Pointy-Haired Boss, but only on the condition that he keeps it a secret. PHB immediately struggles, so Dilbert allows him to tell just one person who will also keep the secret... in theory.
    • Loud Howard's introduction was this!
    Loud Howard: I heard a rumor!!
    (Everyone covers their ears and shushes him)
    Loud Howard: (softly) Oh, sorry, sorry. (Even louder) I HEARD A RUMOR!!
  • Card-Carrying Villain: Catbert has a sign on his door that indicates his job title is "Evil Director of Human Resources". Also, there's the episode with a character named Bob Bastard:
    Dilbert: But he's the embodiment of all that is evil and loathsome in the world!
    Alice: Just because it's written on a bathroom wall doesn't make it true.
    Dilbert: He wrote it!
  • Cloud Cuckoolander: The Pointy-Haired Boss.
  • Comically Missing the Point: Often by the Pointy-Haired Boss and marketing people in general. One example is during a proposal for an underwater barbeque:
    Marketing Guy: I was thinking, does it have to be underwater, and does it have to be a barbeque?
  • Conspicuous CGI: In the intro sequence, when there is a flythrough of the office. The characters are traditionally-animated, but the whole office and everything else is CGI.
    • The Pinecone Float from "Holiday."
  • Conspiracy Kitchen Sink: A whole ton of conspiracies are in effect, from the Secret Ruling Class, to Comp-U-Comp,, to Dogbert being Deep Throat and in cahoots with a large concerns that manufactures the news, to the company having planned the JFK assassination, and NASA covering up the existence of aliens. It's almost like a conspiracy parade.
  • Contrived Coincidence: The first episode has a doozy - after debating for a full day, they decide to name their product "Acorn"... which also happens to be the Embarrassing Nickname of the VP they're presenting it to, and his parents were the owners of the business they'd had to buy the name from.
  • Crapsack World: Very much so.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Wally, amazingly enough. As it turned out, he helped install the company's mainframe, and secretly documented the programming in it to point out all of the code that would need to be altered to make it Y2K compliant. And he did all this long before anyone else had even considered the Y2K problem's existence. He then completely forgot about it in the intervening decades.
  • Demoted to Extra: Bob the Dinosaur only has a brief cameo in one episode. Strangely, he's prominently featured in the credit sequence.
  • Deus Exit Machina: Dogbert in "The Off-Site Meeting."
    Ratbert: He left early this morning. Something about installing a puppet government?
    Dilbert: He's always installing a puppet government when I need him!
  • Diplomatic Impunity: Dogbert when visiting Elbonia.
  • The Ditz: The Pointy-Haired Boss is very much this. It's not uncommon for other minor occurring characters to be this as well, particularly anyone in marketing.
    • His intelligence does jump when it would be funny though, like when he suddenly stepped in and successfully looted the assets of a company Dilbert accidentally destroyed (in this case, Comp-U-Comp was the victim).
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: One episode features the usual group creating an invented coworker by the name of Todd which leads to a lot of moments where "Todd" is like a stand-in for God. This is especially prominent when Catbert declares that he "doesn't believe in Todd" which incites Wally who acts like a believer (albeit in a justified manner to cover himself). Throw in bonus points for Catbert's fiery, Satanic entrance.
    • The process of merging is deliberately shown to be like playing the bar scene for sex partners. Right up to an executive telling the Pointy-Haired Boss that he wants to "merge with him right there".
    • In Elbonoia, left-handed citizens are subservient to the "right man."
  • Dope Slap: Alice does this (and much, much worse) to Wally a LOT. At one point, she even punches a hole through a table, reaches up through it to grab his tie, and yanks him down to hit the table face-first (she's also stuffed him into a copier, and tried to drown him in a sea of popcorn).
    • Not just Wally, either. There are characters who serve only as people for Alice to hit.
      Alice: I will not let you make this a hostile work environment!
      Dilbert: Hostile work environment? Ten minutes ago you beat a man senseless!
      Alice: Ah, he was senseless before I beat him!
  • Everyone Is Jesus in Purgatory:invoked Parodied in a (nun) art expert who insists everything is about barely suppressed sexual urges. It's obvious that she's projecting so hard that they could use her for Power Point presentations.
  • Evolutionary Levels: A big deal is often made of various beings being a "superior form of life", such as Comp-U-Comp and the Dupeys.
    • One episode has Ratbert enter with the line "How may I be of service to you superior life forms?"
  • Fantastic Comedy: Hearkens back to the older comic strips in this regard.
  • For Inconvenience, Press "1": To an extreme in "The Return". By the Dilbert's call to Comp-U-Comp to inquire about a return is onscreen, he's already up to option 61, and the most relevant option he had gotten required him to speak Mandarin and be inquiring about a tractor. Especially bad since most of the options were there for no apparent relevance to anything and no use other than to be inconvenient.
  • Funny Background Event: During the For Inconvenience, Press "1" scene in "The Return", during the conversation between Dilbert and his coworkers about whether Comp-U-Comp could really operate without any humans, one of the few bits from the phone recording that isn't obscured by dialogue is the option "If you would like to sleep with me, press 73".
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: Watching some of them it is amazing they were on primetime broadcast TV once (then again, this was UPN).
  • Gone Horribly Right: The blue duck.
  • Gosh Dang It to Heck!: An officer in command of a sniper team says "oh, shoot" after hearing bad news, provoking the team to fire, prompting him to say it again, causing more fire. Then he lampshades it by saying "I've gotta come up with a new swear word".
  • Hair Today Gone Tomorrow: As shown in "Y2K", Wally had hair when he was a young engineer.
  • Half Hour Comedy
  • Historical-Domain Character: Benjamin Franklin appears in "Ethics," mainly to tell Dilbert that the Founders conceived America's political system as a big joke. Leonardo da Vinci shows up in "Art" as a Mafioso running the world's "art racket."
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Lena falls into her Depruner, which also includes a Decapitation feature:
  • Hypocritical Humor: When Dilbert says people should know better than to listen to anecdotal evidence and rely on real scientific evidence, Dogbert points out he never actually reads scientific studies himself; he relies entirely on the same mass media that is pushing the health scare he's railing against.
  • I Can't Believe It's Not Heroin: Dry-Erase Markers
  • I'm Taking Her Home with Me!: Alice, upon seeing an Elbonian baby.
    Dilbert: I didn't know you wanted kids, Alice.
    Alice: I didn't (turns to gaze lovingly at the baby she's holding) until right this moment.
    The baby pukes in her face.
  • Incompetence, Inc.: This is the Dilbert world after all. In the first episode alone, the company manages to wipe out an entire town using throat medicine made of pure Anthrax.
    • Even funnier was that the aforementioned throat medicine actually worked; one victim commented how his "throat was moist and the raspiness was gone" right before keeling over. Note that this was likely the one time a product from Dilbert's company did what it was supposed to do.
    • Also the closest thing to an aversion of the Karma Houdini antics of the marketing department, as one of the marketing execs is fired over it. But not really an aversion because he gets a fat severance package and will end up with a higher paying job at a better company.
  • Insane Troll Logic: The Dilbert world pretty much runs on this.
  • Invented Individual: Todd
  • Inventional Wisdom: Lena's version of the Depruner has a decapitate setting. It does make some sense considering Lena's backstory, but it doesn't turn out so well when she ends up in it.
    • Lampshade: "I knew I shouldn't have added that option."
      • It's still better than moving to Albany.
  • Kafka Komedy: The Premise on which the entire franchise- nay, genre - rests.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: In one episode a corporate director proudly boasts that "There's no way in hell a woman is ever going to sit on this board as long as I'm alive!" Moments later he chokes to death on a donut.
    • One of the PHB's fellow executives has multiple people who go by the fake names Wally gives to protect himself murdered so as to protect the executives' secrets. His final call is for everyone named Alan to be killed, only to remember that his name's Alan just seconds before he's killed.
  • Line-of-Sight Name: When Dilbert calls a representative for Comp-U-Comp in "The Return", he asks for the representative's name, who responds by coming up with one of these (Holdem Callfielder, if you're curious). When Dilbert eventually asks for a supervisor, the representative pinches his nose to alter his voice slightly and comes up with a new one, using basically the same cues (Callen Holdenphone). Dilbert doesn't catch on until he discovers the guy he's talking to is in the next cubicle.
  • Literal-Minded: All you can eat.
  • Losing Your Head: Lena and some of her victims.
  • Make Me Wanna Shout: Loud Howard's voice is known to hurl people backward several feet, shatter glass, and make ceilings, lights and walls crumble. His sneezes can rip the flesh off a person's body until it's reduced to a skeleton (at least among the folks in Marketing).
  • Master Computer: Comp-U-Comp is one of these.
  • Meaningful Name: Dick from "Holiday". When you make even the cast of Dilbert look like a perfectly nice group of folks by comparison, that name fits you.
    • Bob Bastard. Though he was apparently a decent guy for most of his life.
    • In one episode, Dilbert's company had the name "Path-E-Tech Management".
    • Loud Howard.
  • Mind Screw: The show's opening sequence (why does he turn into a printed image and back?).
  • Mythology Gag:
    • Bob the Dinosaur's cameo occurs right after Dogbert suggests that all the species that ever existed still exist and are simply in hiding; this is Bob's backstory exactly (though he also had a cameo in the intro).
    • One episode features a file on Ted the Generic Guy, a minor recurring character who was made a Composite Character with Loud Howard in this series.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Dilbert sets out to solve a famine in Elbonia by creating a mutant vegetable plant called the Tomeato; it tastes disgusting, sucks all the nutrients out of Elbonia's mud, and when its explosive properties become apparent, the Elbonians try to use it as a WMD.
  • Negative Continuity: During the second season.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: The Amazing Rudolph, who Alice calls to debunk the claims about her boss' psychic powers is a clear parody of the Amazing Randi, focusing on the Alternative Character Interpretation held by some of his critics that he actually has paranormal powers.
    • Actually, he does it all with wormholes, just like Stephen Hawking and the garbage man in the same episode.
    • Bob Bastard is basically Tom Kenny doing a Jack Nicholson impression.
  • No Indoor Voice: The appropriately-named Loud Howard. There's a reason his picture is on the header for that trope's page.
  • Not What It Looks Like: Dilbert video tapes himself while he's taking a bath because he ultimately gets all his engineering ideas in the bathtub. During one recording session he drops his soap and is reaching between his legs and says the unfortunate line "It's so small, I can't even find it." When Dogbert ultimately distributes the tape to Dilbert's coworkers nobody thinks he's talking about soap.
  • Omnidisciplinary Engineer: Dilbert. He builds spacecraft, (phony) medical devices (to cure a phony disease), complex computer networks, voice activated showers...
  • Paintball Episode: One episode had Alice use paintball as an ice breaker party game. INSIDE Dilbert's house! It gets worse from there.
  • Parental Abandonment: Dilbert has issues with the mall because his father left him alone when he went to the "All You Can Eat" buffet at the Red Oyster.
    "'All you can eat'... Well, we'll see about that."
  • Parody of Evolution: the intro
  • Progressive Era Montage: The opening titles.
  • Putting on the Reich: Team Lena in Episode 3 is a combination of this and a thinly veiled parody of The Church of Happyology.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: Parodied; Dilbert and his co-workers treat the possibility of being reassigned to Albany as though it would be a Fate Worse Than Death.
  • Rule of Funny: Humor overrides pretty much everything else, especially internal consistency.
    • In the first season, Dilbert and his Mom are in contact with his Dad (who's been in the Red Oyster all-you-can-eat restaurant in the mall since 1978). In season 2, Dilbert hasn't seen or heard from him since he went in there.
    • "The Merger" has the Pointy-Haired Boss discussing with the engineering team what to do with the $20 billion in cash they have, and carry out merger talks with other companies as if he's the CEO. Other episodes mention or even show him having his own superiors (explicitly referring to three entire layers of management above him in one instance).
      • He also eats in the executive dining room. The use of this trope is in contrast to the comic strip where he is consistently portayed as middle management.
  • Shout-Out: To The Wizard of Oz in two different episodes.
    • Also, multiple refs to Star Trek were in there: Dilbert's cubicle has a model of the Enterprise in it, Dilbert has a Star Trek calender in his study in "The Return", in "Testing" while on the Space Shuttle, we see that Gene Roddenberry ended up in a Constitution-class ship with the saucer replaced by a casket, in "Little People", he thinks an air-conditioning duct is a Jefferies tube, and in "The Gift" is woken up by a Seven-of-Nine alarm clock (voiced by Jeri Ryan herself!) and Hilarity Ensues.
      Clock: Get out of bed. Resistance is futile. Wake up and assimilate the day. (repeats once)
      Dilbert (after waking and putting on glasses): I wonder if I could ever date a woman like Jeri Ryan.
      Clock: That too, is futile.
      Dilbert: Okay, that's enough outta you.
      Clock: Do not touch me.
      Dilbert: Then, how do I turn you off?
      Clock: Believe me, I am plenty turned off right now.
      Dilbert: Clock tease!
    • White the theme song doesn't count, as it's just a new arrangement of Danny Elfman's theme from Forbidden Zone, most of the show's music score is, appropriately, In the Style of... Oingo Boingo.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Very strongly on the cynicism side.
    • Interestingly enough, Dilbert is shown to be on the idealistic side of the scale.
    Dilbert: People are basically good.
  • Spiritual Successor: The 30-second animated shorts produced by RingTales. These, however, were based on specific pre-existing strips.
  • Stephen Hawking: Imitated by Tom Kenny in the episode where an exercise machine collapses into a black hole.
  • Sudden Anatomy: Done to Dilbert and any other character who typically had No Mouth.
    • The added mouths usually disappear when closed.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: In a first-season episode, Dogbert is seen on TV chairing a group discussion of the financial markets. One participant asks if they're talking about the stock market, which Dogbert confirms. He responds:
    You had me worried there. I thought we were talking about the white-slave market, of which I know nothing.
  • Take That: To a lot of things, obviously, but most prominently to marketing people. They are invariably portrayed as imbecilic Jerk Jocks who make a business out of Comically Missing the Point and stealing credit wherever possible. At one point, adding a marketing department to an idealistic company directly caused it to fall apart (literally, as in the building itself physically fell apart and burst into flames.)
  • Theme Naming: As with the strip, several things in the Dilbert universe have the prefix of either "Dil" or "Bert", (i.e., Dogbert, Ratbert, Catbert, Dilmom). The last episode takes this a step further with the name of the town being "Townbert."
    • Dilbert's father, never addressed by name in the episode, is credited as "Dadbert" in the credits of his episode.
  • The Tape Knew You Would Say That: Dilbert's mother predicts Dilbert's every response to her taped message.
    Dilbert: Am I so predictable you can record your half of the conversation in advance?
    DilMom on tape: Yes, you are so predictable I can record my half of the conversation in advance.
    • Shortly thereafter she forced him to return the soup can he stole on the way out.
  • Torches and Pitchforks
  • Trope2000: The Gruntmaster 6000 as a arbitrary multiple of 2000.
  • Undead Author: The story of Lena killing opposing Field Hockey players ends with "None of the witnesses ever talked." When Dilbert asks Wally how they all knew the story then, he revealed it to have come off her website.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Several. Someone on the writing staff REALLY liked projectile vomiting.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Dilbert gets these a lot, even though the problems he's being called out for are caused more by the stupidity around him rather than his own ideas. A great example would be Nirvana Co., who blamed Dilbert for destroying their company by suggesting that a Marketing Department be started, even though he was constantly trying to tell them that he wasn't suggesting it. Of course, this made him a well-known industry figure and benefited him in the long run...
    • The details of what Nirvana Company tried to claim are unclear (as we only get Dilbert's disjointed reading from an article about the collapse of the company) but they appear to have tried to blame it on Dilbert's spur-of-the-moment idea for an underwater barbeque instead of the ill-advised marketing department.
    • Oddly enough, one of the few times where Dilbert did genuinely screw up (in the episode "The Knack", where Dilbert accidentally knocks most of the communication satellites around Earth out of alignment), he is actually praised for it.
      • Sort of, anyway. It's hard to tell if Alice's tone is because she's actually angry or because Alice always sounds angry, since she's usually angry anyway.
  • Who Shot JFK?: In "The Assistant," we learn that the assassination was carried out by the company Dilbert works for. They did it "to bring attention to our line of pillbox hats."

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