Animated Black Comedy Work Com
adaptation 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
). 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), Wayne Knight (The Security Guard), and Jerry Seinfeld (Comp-U-Comp).
The theme song was a revision of Danny Elfman's opening theme from Forbidden Zone.
Aside from the tropes carried over from the comic, this show provides examples of:
- 2D Visuals, 3D Effects: 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 CG.
- 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.
- Adam Westing: "Stone Cold" Steve Austin appeared in one episode as the judge during a child custody hearing over Dilbert's baby.
Steve Austin: Austin 3:16 says "order in the court!"
- Adaptation Distillation: While the series lost its focus on office humor early on in its run, it also reverted to the strip's original format to establish Dilbert as a proper protagonist.
- Adaptational Nice Guy: The Pointy-Haired Boss is a good deal less mean in the series than he was in the comic strip. The series focuses more on his Cloudcuckoolander qualities; he still does have his moments of spite though as he is a manager after all.
- Advanced Tech 2000: The Gruntmaster 6000 as a arbitrary multiple of 2000.
- A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Comp-U-Comp, the psychotic computer mainframe that secretly controls most of the world (voiced by Jerry Seinfeld). When Dogbert briefly shuts it down to let Dilbert win against it in a game of Scrabble, it causes the Earth's rotation to stop. He also claims to be a superior form of life high above humans at every chance he gets.
- Air-Vent Passageway: Wally, Alice and Dilbert use the air-conditioning vents as a shortcut to the conference room.
- 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 prison guard gives him a large sack of mail, which he mentions are mostly marriage proposals, as "murder is aphrodisiac to the opposite sex".
Dilbert: You know, I'm actually innocent.
Security Guard: Yeah, but I wouldn't let that slip.
- 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, only to lose interest in one when he's found to be innocent. She also falls hard for Bob Bastard, even though he treats Alice like dirt, and it's shown in Bob's flashback that his transformation into a jerk made him irresistible to women who previously scorned him at every opportunity.
- Always Chaotic Evil: Management is this.
- Amazonian Beauty: Lena. Dilbert falls for her hard and fast.
- Ambiguous Syntax:
Carol: 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: A very expanded one at that, covering far more than the original strip could.
- Animation Bump:
- Animation for the opening sequence has more improvements than the series. What also helps is that there's also CG.
- Ratbert's animation in the cold opening to "Hunger" is probably the most fluid of the entire series.
- Arbitrary Skepticism: In the first episode Dilbert states that it is impossible for a man to transform into a chicken. Despite the fact that, in the comic, Dilbert has been transformed into quite a few things: a troll, a dog, a sheep...
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Lena's to-do list in 'Prototype': "Decapitate Dilbert, steal idea, 2 quarts milk, a box of muesli..."
- Art Shift: The show switches between traditional ink & paint and digital paint a few times per episode.
- 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
- As You Know: Parodied in "The Merger" during the last office meeting. PHB fully explains why the merger collapsed, to which Dilbert responds, "I told you that."
PHB: No side comments during the meeting, please!
- 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.)
- Within the show itself, Dilmom, Ratbert, Asok, and Loud Howard. They appeared occasionally in Season 1, but they appeared in most (if not all) of Season 2 and frequently got multiple scenes.
- 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.
- 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.
- Black Comedy: Loud Howard's sneezes kill people instantly by stripping their flesh to the bone. Midway through a sneezing fit, Alice stops him from sneezing so they can bring someone in from marketing to get rid of him.
- "Blackmail" Is Such an Ugly Word: In "The Knack", PHB tells his employees about a plan to pollute outer space, since the Earth is polluted beyond repair. However, he realizes that "polluting" has negative connotations, and prefers that he and his staff call it "advertising" with billboards in space.
- Body Horror: An epidemic of these in "Tower of Babel" results in the company constructing a new building. Although many of the mutations are rather disturbing (one guy is practically a puddle of flesh, another is skinless, and another has an eyeball for a head), 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.
- Bolt of Divine Retribution: When Dilbert says that the alternative to evolution is "unthinkable," one of these strikes an armchair in his house.
- Bound and Gagged: In one episode the Pointy-Haired Boss has instituted harsh security measures to protect trade secrets: many people are tied up and can't move or speak through the gags, though Loud Howard can.
- Brain Drain: Attempted in the episode with the merger with the company that does just that to their acquisitions.
- Buffet Buffoonery: Dilbert's father is very Literal-Minded when it comes to all-you-can-eat restaurants.
- Busman's Holiday: Discussed in the first episode regarding Dilbert's custom voice-controlled shower.
Dogbert: "Don't you do enough engineering at work?"
Dilbert: "Work is just meetings. This is engineering!"
- Butt-Monkey: Asok the intern. Anyone who isn't Catbert, Dogbert, Dilmom, or the Garbageman.
- Cannot Keep a Secret:
- 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!
- Christmas Episode: Parodied in "Holiday" where all popular holidays are merged into Dogbert Day, which uses the traditions of all holidays, but most of the ones shown are from Christmas (gift giving, "mall Dogberts") and Thanksgiving (giant parade).
- Cloudcuckoolander: The Pointy-Haired Boss.
- Cold Reading: The phone psychic in "The Shroud of Wally" has this down to such a science that the whole "conversation" is a recording.
- 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?
- In the episode where the team is trying to get the company mainframe (an ancient COBOL monstrosity that they should have migrated from a decade before) y2k compliant he doesn't think the year 2000 is at all relevant; the Turn of the Millennium is technically 2001 after all.
- The Pinecone Float from "Holiday."
- Conspiracy Kitchen Sink: A whole crapton of conspiracies are in effect in the series, ranging from the Secret Ruling Class of which Dogbert is a key member, 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, the art world being run like organized crime, and NASA covering up the existence of aliens. It's almost like a conspiracy parade. Other than Dogbert being involved in several of them, they don't interact at all.
- Constantly Changing Name: It's implied that the company is this due to frequent mergers and acquisitions (a notable iteration being "Path-E-Tech Management"), which could explain why it's never named in the comic.
Wally: What's the name of the company we work for?
Dilbert: This week?
- Continuity Nod: The Blue Duck from "Art" appears on the wall of a Post Office, as a stamp, briefly in "The Return".
- 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: We actually get a good look at the world outside Dilbert's office, and it's full of idiots, government corruption, and noxious pop culture.
- 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.
- The Gruntmaster 6000 (an exercise machine) has to be tested on its capacity to withstand heavy earthquakes, extreme temperatures and asteroid damage before it's put into production.
- Credits Gag: At the end of "The Trial", an electrocution happens just as the episode ends. When it does, the first credit "shimmers" to go along with it.
- Crocodile Tears: A Girl Scout pulls this on Dilbert when he questions why he should buy her cookies to pay for a frivolous vacation when her wealthy family could easily afford it. He folds, which Dogbert mocks him for.
- Daddy Had a Good Reason for Abandoning You: Dilbert's dad THINKS he does, anyway; he left his son to take up the challenge of a nearby seafood buffet, and won't leave the mall until he's certain he's had all he can eat. He's been there for a good 20 years now, and views his task as a sort of Zen philosophy.
- Deadpan Snarker: Virtually every character on the show is this to some degree or another; however, special mention goes to Dogbert, for whom snark is as natural as respiration itself.
- 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."
: 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 becomes the ambassador to Elbonia so he can follow Dilbert and make sure he doesn't get himself killed. He of course takes the opportunity to loot the country with impunity. The local dictator even hands him control for no reason than that he asked.
Dogbert: I can't believe no-one wanted this job.
- Disappeared Dad: Dilbert's father abandoned him at the mall to take up residence at Red Lobster's seafood buffet until he can be sure he really had "all he could eat".
- Disaster Dominoes: Dilbert needs to acquire the name of a dry cleaners that won't sell. Dogbert solves this problem by going to a vibrating chair place several stores down in the same building complex and activating all the chairs. The vibration causes a chain reaction in the neighboring stores — which sell various flammable things — until the dry cleaners at the other end burns down.
- The Ditz: The Pointy-Haired Boss is very much this. He can't even win a game of chess against a pineapple. 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 Elbonia, left-handed citizens are subservient to the "right man."
- In "The Prototype," Lena hypes up her team in what obviously resembles a Hitler rally.
- 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).
- Droste Image: The Pointy-Haired Boss shows a slideshow of his trip to Elbonia. The final slide is of himself showing the final slide, which loops endlessly.
- Establishing Character Moment: In the intro, Loud Howard is the only character whose startlement at Dogbert's paper airplane is audible over the theme tune.
- Even the Guys Want Him: Alice is smitten with Bob Bastard, but Wally and the Pointy-Haired Boss aren't much better.
- Everyone Is Jesus in Purgatory: 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 PowerPoint 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?"
- Extreme Omnivore: The citizens of Elbonia subsist mostly off the mud that covers the majority of their country. When Dilbert introduces his hybrid plant, the tomeato, in an attempt to stop a nonexistent famine, it ends up draining all the nutrients from the mud, rendering it inedible and starting a REAL famine until the Elbonians learn to properly prepare the tomeato.
- Family of Choice: The merger threatens to upend Dilbert's workplace and scatter his co-workers. Dilbert finds this sad, which confuses him since (as he readily admits) he doesn't even like his co-workers much of the time. Dilmom and Dogbert remark the co-workers are essentially a surrogate family for him: PHB is similar to his father, Alice and Wally are like siblings, Loud Howard is like an embarrassing uncle, and Asok is like a son. Dilbert finds this all preposterous, but the Garbageman points out the human mind is wired to organize others into such family roles. Dilbert realizes he's right and becomes motivated to stop the merger before it breaks up his family. Unsurprisingly, when it's all over, the sentiment isn't quite shared (unless you count Asok hugging himself).
- Fan Disservice: Due to a tape of a demonstration for a de-wrinkler being switched for one of Dilbert Bathing: "I HAVE DILBERT AND SEX IN THE SAME PART OF MY BRAIN!!!"
- Fantastic Comedy: Hearkens back to the older comic strips in this regard.
- Fate Worse than Death: Played for Laughs. In "The Knack", Dilmom took a young Dilbert to a pediatrician to find out what was causing his odd, unchildlike behavior, only for the doctor to diagnose him with The Knack, an innate knowledge and talent with mechanics and computers. When asked if Dilbert would be able to live a normal life...
Doctor: No... he'll be an engineer...
Dilmom: *begins crying unconsollably*
- Femme Fatale: Lena in "The Prototype," an Amazonian Beauty who has (non-fatally) beheaded countless people and seduces her way into Dilbert's house so that she can steal one of his concepts while he's earnestly filling her complicated cocktail order.
- Fictional Holiday: Much of "Holiday" revolves around the celebration of Dogbert Day, which Dogbert manages to get signed into federal law as a replacement for all other holidays. Besides taking the salient features of those holidays, it has its own set of traditions such as uncomfortable headgear, a feast of bald eagle, and a drum solo played on the skull with spoons (and, if the Pointy-Haired Boss is to be believed, a Virgin Sacrifice).
Dilbert: Do you think anyone will catch on to the fact that the entire Dogbert Day holiday is designed for the sole purpose of being annoying?
- Five-Aces Cheater: Dogbert cheats at scrabble by hand-carving tiles under the table. When he plays "Quizzing" to score 188 points, Dilbert becomes suspicious because he thought the scrabble set only has one Z.
- Flat-Earth Atheist: The cold open of "Little People" has Dilbert and Dogbert arguing over the validity of evolution while watching a TV show about paleontologists claiming to have found the missing link. While Dilbert defends evolutionary theory, the show they're watching is more interested in dogma than in evidence; when a native turns up the vase that the "skull fragment" the scientists found is clearly broken off, one of the scientists breaks the vase.
Dogbert: Now this would be a good time for you to renounce your irrational belief in evolution and change the channel.
Dilbert: I'd like to hear your theory.
Dogbert: My theory is that all the species that ever existed are still around. They're just hiding.
Dilbert: That's ridiculous.
Dilbert and Dogbert: Hi, Bob.
(Dilbert glares at Dogbert and throws him the remote.)
- 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. One of the options, heard in the background while Dilbert is explaining this, is "If you would like to sleep with me". He eventually gets transferred to a fulfillment house, which turns out to be managed by his own company, in the cubicle next to his at that.
- Freeze-Frame Bonus: When Dogbert wants Dilbert to sign a will he's written up in "Tower of Babel", it says that Dogbert will inherit all of Dilbert's possessions.
- Freudian Excuse: Dilbert's fear of the mall was caused by his father abandoning him to go to an all-you-can-eat restaurant.
- 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".
- The Generic Guy: Ted appears prominently in "Y2K" and is dubbed as so generic that people who have known him for years couldn't describe him.
Narrator: There may be more than one Ted in the company. No one's sure.
- Good Smoking, Evil Smoking: Parodied with the villainous Bob Bastard; before telling his flashback he lights a cigar in an attempt to act like a suave supervillain, and then eats it shortly after.
- 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".
- Gross-Out Show: A less extreme example. Any time there's vomiting on-screen, expect there to be a lot of it, and for it to be of the non-discrete type, and no opportunity to show a character drinking filthy water is wasted. Easily the grossest episode is "Tower Of Babble," complete with rampant, squicky Body Horror.
- The Grotesque: Bob Bastard wears a wrestling mask to cover up his disfigured face. He wasn't exactly good-looking before his accident either though.
- Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow: As shown in "Y2K", Wally had hair when he was a young engineer.
- Handy Mouth: In one episode, after Dilbert accidentally knocks all satellites out of alignment, the world devolves back into Renaissance times. One holdover from the digital ways is shown panicking, trying to get his phone to work, and is put in a pillory for his troubles. Once he is, he's seen dialing the phone with his tongue.
- Hard Truth Aesop: In one episode, Dogbert points out it that if you just depend on mass media to tell you scientific evidence exists without reading any of it, you're really not much better than the people who fall for scams like fake diseases sold using mass media.
- Hilarious in Flashback: The flashbacks in "Y2K" showing Wally as an enthusiastic and dedicated young engineer before life beat him down:
Hey Wally, how 'bout some coffee
Wally: Eh, thanks but no thanks. I don't wanna miss any work!
(Wally, in the present, shudders.)
- 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.
- House Amnesia: "The Knack" has a variant with Dilbert ordering Wally and Alice out of "his" cubicle only for Alice to remind him that it's hers. Unusually Played for Drama in that loss of sense of direction is said to be symptomatic of losing "the Knack," his innate engineering ability.
- Hypocritical Heartwarming: Dilmom says in "The Merger" that she does love Dilbert; she just doesn't like him.
- 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.
- Idiot Houdini: In "The Trial", the Pointy-Haired Boss and the police cause Dilbert to be arrested for crimes that they were responsible for causing through their own obliviousness (reckless driving and killing Nobel Prize winners, respectively) and face no repercussions for it. In fact, Wally ends up being the loser at the end even though he didn't do anything wrong in the context of the episode. It may potentially have been done because Dilbert is treated well and manages to be quite happy in his situation, but it still is a bit of an oddity.
- I'm Cold... So Cold...: Used in the episode Holiday. During the Dogbert Day parade, Dilberts obnoxious co-worker, the aptly named Dick, who has spent the entire episode making Dilbert even more miserable than usual, is crushed along with his equally obnoxious SUV by Dogberts giant parade float. As he lies in the wreckage, he utters this trope. Dilbert, who is watching the parade on TV with his mother, remarks that it's the best Dogbert Day ever.
- Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: While in Elbonia, Dilbert is condemned to execution by firing squad. He's saved when the misfired bullets ricochet off the wall near him and kill his would-be executioners instead.
- 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.]
Dilbert: How about now?
- Inanimate Competitor: When the company holds a charity drive, the Pointy Haired Boss chooses the company's three most worthless employees to see who can raise the most money. The three candidates are Wally, a dead guy who was found in the stairwell, and the dead guy's chair, which is given the name "Ronald".
- 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.
- Incredible Shrinking Man: While no actual shrinking takes place on screen. When workers are downsized they are "literally" downsized, as in "reduced to Littleput-style humans", which take up residence in the office crawlspaces and steal their markers.
- Insane Troll Logic: The Pointy-Haired Boss' entire system of thought runs on this.
- Invented Individual: Todd, a fictional employee Dilbert and the others created to let them claim an unoccupied cubicle for storage space. As Todds legend grew, they create faked employee records and even a photo of Todd, a composite image of Dilbert, Wally, Alice and Loud Howard.
- 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."
- Jaded Washout: A flashback in the Millennium Bug episode indicates that Wally used to be a conscientious and productive employee before he became the slacker he is in the present.
- Jerkass: On a show that RUNS on these characters, there's still a few that stand out. Catbert of the recurring characters, and Bob Bastard, who's probably the biggest asshole in the entire series.
- Kafka Komedy: The Premise on which the entire franchise- nay, genre - rests.
- Kavorka Man: The womanizing Bob Bastard was romantically unsuccessful until after an accident deformed him to the point of Facial Horror, though this seems most directly attributable to the event being the Cynicism Catalyst that turned him into an irresistible scumbag.
- Large Ham: Comp-U-Comp is this, and with good reason. The PHB can also get a bit hammy at times.
- 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.
- Dilbert's neighbors in "The Off-Site Meeting" spend the entire episode being overly disruptive and causing a huge amount of suffering to Dilbert, to the point that their actions lead to the destruction of his house. However, Dilbert gets the last laugh through the help of Dogbert, as he winds up with their house in its place and with them possibly stranded.
- Like a Son to Me: Parodied in "The Name" when an executive's pet project fails horribly.
Boss: Bob, you're like a son to me.
Executive: You don't have a son.
Boss: That's where I'm headed here.
- 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 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 Metaphor: When Bob, an executive, is fired, he rages, "I have given my soul to this company!" Cut to an employee adding a vessel labeled "Bob" to a shelf of similarly-labeled Soul Jars.
- Losing Your Head: A Running Gag throughout "The Prototype" is Lena's tendency to decapitate people with abandon. She has a series of jars containing the still-living heads of her victims and sets one aside for Dilbert. She later suffers this herself after falling victim to her own version of an invention she stole from Dilbert, to which she had added a "decapitate" setting.
- Loves the Sound of Screaming: Wally, if his cheerful listening to the audio entertainment on Elbonian Airlines is anything to go by.
- Luxury Prison Suite: When Dilbert is accused of murdering the world's most famous scientists, he's put in a cell with all the amenities and even an internet connection.
- 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).
- Mass "Oh, Crap!": The main characters' reaction to the Contrived Coincidence of the VP's Embarrassing Nickname also being the name they picked.
- 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.
- Mechanical Evolution: The Dupeys go through this, causing their perceived value to take a hit when they cease to be cute.
- Metaphorgotten: Lampshaded in one episode during an office meeting.
Dilbert: That's a mixed metaphor.
PHB: [angrily] Yeah? What's so bad about that?
Dilbert: Actually, nothing.
- Milestone Celebration: Invoked in "Y2K", where Dilbert refuses to partake in this with the following line:
Dilbert: I will not be pressured into having fun just because we arbitrarily use a base ten counting system and a big round number is coming up.
- Mind Screw:
- Mistaken for Profound: Henry Kissneger insists he doesn't actually know what he's talking about, but his voice drives the chicks wild.
- Morton's Fork: Dogbert bets Dilbert $20 that it doesn't feel good to give and to settle the bet he asks Dilbert to give him $40 and tell him if it feels good. Dilbert refuses because it wouldn't feel good and it's only when he pays Dogbert the $20 that he realizes he agreed to an unwinnable bet.
- Mr. Fixit: The episode "The Knack" depicts Dilbert as this and shows what happens when he loses his ability.
- Mundane Afterlife: Dilbert has a near-death experience after getting hit in the head at a gas station and finds himself in a bright-lit void, with only a cubicle office in it, complete with desk, chair and computer. He feels somewhat let down over it.
Dilbert: *sits down in the chair* Somehow, I was hoping for more.
- Later in the episode, the clients in a pyramid scheme form a cult around Wally after a capsule of "religious artifacts" (in reality the remains of the office birthday kit), crashes into their meeting, among which is the page photo seen above. Part of their religion is that you spend the afterlife with Wally. When Dilbert has a second near death experience, he finds himself back in the cubicle, only now, Wally is occupying a second cubicle next to his.
- Myth Arc: Much of season 1 involves Dilbert struggling to get his "Gruntmaster 5000" exercise machine project off the ground.
- Mythology Gag:
- Bob the Dinosaur's (non-intro) cameo occurs right after Dogbert suggests that all the species that ever existed still exist and are simply in hiding; this is exactly' Bob's backstory in the comics.
- 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; he then appears in person as a part of Dilbert's Y2K-aversion team.
- Named by the Adaptation: In a bit of an unusual bending of the unwritten rules of the comic, Dilbert's company is actually given a name, albeit as a one-off joke that isn't brought up again: they were originally two companies called Pathway and E-Tech Systems, but later on they merged and became Path-E-Tech.
- Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Bob Bastard, the Jerkass from "The Prototype" who is absolutely determined to make sure every product test fails.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Dilbert sets out to solve a famine in Elbonia by creating a mutant vegetable plant called the Tomeato; unfortunately, the Elbonians aren't actually starving, they subsist on the country's nutrient-rich mud. When Dilbert introduces the Tomeato, it sucks up all the nutrients from the mud, causing a real famine because the Tomeato is inedible and disgusting. On top of that, the Elbonians realize that the Tomeato's innate fertilizer makes it a perfect explosive, leading to them creating WMD's with it and destabilizing the whole region. It takes Dilmom teaching them how to properly prepare the Tomeato so it becomes edible (cooking it like a meat/fruit hybrid which it actually is rather than a vegetable) for the situation to go back to normal.
- Pull the Plug on the Title: The theme song ends with the title shorting out and then cutting to Dogbert, twirling the plug while standing beside an outlet.
- Putting on the Reich: Team Lena in Episode 3 is a combination of this and a thinly veiled parody of The Church of Happyology.
- Rage Quit: The Pointy-Haired Boss's reaction when a pineapple beats him at chess.
- 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. It then cuts to a man trudging through a bitter blizzard with the caption "Albany: First Day of Spring".
- Rhetorical Question Blunder: When the company tries to market Dupeys, a sapient species, as a pizza topping, Dilbert comes up with a campaign encouraging people not to eat them by highlighting their resemblance to insurance salesmen.
Dilbert: Let me ask you a hypothetical question. Would you eat an insurance salesman?
Dilbert: Okay, bad example.
Pointy-Haired Boss: I just realized I don't know what "hypothetical" means.
- Rule of Funny: Humor overrides 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 portrayed as middle management.
- Science-Related Memetic Disorder: The Knack, "a rare condition characterized by an extreme intuition about all things mechanical and electrical" as well as "utter social ineptitude," exemplified by Dilbert. There is no cure, all who suffer from it are doomed to be engineers.
- Scrabble Babble: Scrabble games with Dilbert's family tend to go this way, including Dilbert losing a challenge on the word "it" because the dictionary they were using was made by his company, or Dogbert making counterfeit Z tiles to spell "quizzing", which is impossible in a legal Scrabble set.
- The Scrooge: The PHB calls Dilbert "the Scrooge of Dogbert Day" when Dilbert points out that his nonsensical ravings about the Dogbert Day celebrations of his youth makes no sense, because this is the first Dogbert Day ever celebrated.
- Security Cling: Alice and Wally do this to Dilbert while Bob Bastard is testing the Gruntmaster 6000.
- Sexy Surfacing Shot: Subverted in the first episode with the VP's story of how he got his Embarrassing Nickname. As a child he was swimming with his friends on a lake when he lost his swim-trunks to a turtle. He tried to stay under the water as long as he could, but was forced to surface from the water due to the cold and the kids promptly nicknamed him "Acorn", due to his Teeny Weenie.
- She Is Not My Girlfriend: Alice reacts with rage and disgust when Lena calls her Dilbert's "girlfriend" in "The Prototype."
- To The Wizard of Oz in two different episodes.
- Multiple refs to Star Trek were in there: Dilbert's cubicle has a model of the Enterprise in it, Dilbert has a Star Trek calendar in his study in several episodes, 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, in "The Takeover" Dogbert fabricates a scandal that involved the CEO of Path-E-Tech and the cast of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in an orgy, and in "The Gift" Dilbert is woken up by a Seven-of-Nine alarm clock (voiced by Jeri Ryan herself!) and Hilarity Ensues.
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
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:
- While 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.
- Sidetracked by the Analogy: The Trope Namer is in fine form here.
Dilbert: You mean there's no point in beating a dead horse.
Dilbert: Why would anyone kill a dead horse?
Pointy-Haired Boss: Maybe it kicked ya.
Dilbert: It's dead!
- Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: About as cynical as a cartoon show can get. Interestingly enough, Dilbert is shown to be on the idealistic side of the scale, a sharp contrast from his comic strip counterpart. Par for the course in this cynical world, his faith in humanity comes back to burn him more often than not.
- Soul-Crushing Desk Job: As in the comic strip, this is the show's essential theme.
- Spiritual Successor: The 30-second animated shorts produced by RingTales. These, however, were based on specific pre-existing strips (and Dogbert sounds really weird).
- Status Quo Is God: In general, much like its source material, the only real things that stick are Dilbert and Dogbert living together, the Pointy-Haired Boss being Dilbert's boss, and where he works, plus advice from the Garbageman. Also:
- "Tower of Babel" starts with the old office's numerous health code violations mutating most of the staff, making the company move to a new building, where Dilbert finally gets his own office. By the end of the episode, everyone is back in the old building (because they ran the cost up so high for all the amenities the company couldn't afford it) but at that point, the staff had adapted to the various poisons and all returned to normal. Sadly this meant Dilbert had to give up his office, but he made it a point to enjoy the few minutes he had with it.
- Strange Minds Think Alike: In "The Name," Dilbert has to come up for the name of a product that doesn't exist and hasn't been conceptualized in any way. His mother suggests "Gruntmaster 6000" apropos of nothing, explaining her logic by saying it's a name for "a stripped-down version of the Gruntmaster 9000." With several other name possibilities shot down, Dilbert finally pitches "Gruntmaster 6000" in desperation, to which the CEO enthuses, "Less features than the Gruntmaster 9000 but just as fun!"
- Sudden Anatomy: Done to Dilbert and any other character who typically had No Mouth. The added mouths usually disappear when closed.
- Super OCD: Dilbert knows how many staples are in his stapler and has his Scotch Tape measured down to the millimeter.
- 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.)
- The Dupeys find refuge in a place where their vast intellect is appreciated and physical appearance is ignored: Apple Inc.
- In "The Famine", Dilbert needs to go to accounting for a budget approval. The office is literally hell, with demons working there. When one of them sarcactically asks if he looks like Santa Claus, Dilbert answers no, that he looks like a completely normal accountant.
- 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 soda pop bottle he stole on the way out.
- Theme Naming: As with the strip, several things in the Dilbert universe have the prefix of "Dil" or the suffix "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.
- Toilet Seat Divorce: Alice attributes the failure of her marriage to slurping.
- Torches and Pitchforks
- 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.
- Unusually Uninteresting Sight: A lot of bizarre things happen at Path-E-Tech, and it's barely reacted to by the cast. Applies when outside the office, too — nobody questions talking dogs in positions of power, an accounting department run by trolls, etc.
- Visual Pun: A staple of the show's Mundane Fantastic portrayal of the workplace. Employees who get "downsized" become Lilliputians, and at one point the building dies of Sick Building Syndrome.
- Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Several. Someone on the writing staff REALLY liked projectile vomiting.
- Alice's arc in the Elbonian episode sees her prospective adoption vomit directly into her face every time she's on screen.
- 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 barbecue 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.
- In the end of the episode, when his attempt to fix it seems to have failed, the crowd is ready to lynch him because "for a few moments we had hope!"
- What Measure Is a Non-Cute?: The Dupey, a popular fad toy in the style of Furby, created by Dilbert's company, accidentally turns out to be alive and ends up evolving into a highly intelligent but now ugly species. With the loss of their cuteness, people abandon the Dupeys en masse, and the company attempts to remarket them as a pizza topping, though this fails because nobody wants to eat giant brains that beg for their lives. The Dupeys are discarded in a landfill, and are only spared being eaten by seagulls when Dilbert rescues them.
- 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."
- Who Names Their Kid "Dude"?: Bob Bastard. His original name was Bob Bornoutofwedlock, but his parents had it changed to Bastard when he was six.
- You're Just Jealous: Dilbert accuses Alice of being this after he falls for their aggressive rival Lena.
Alice: Jealous? I think I speak for all women capable of reproduction when I say: no!