Dilbert (UPN, 1999-2000)
Dilbert is a cartoon strip that was created by Scott Adams and first published in April 1989. It centres around an ordinary bespectacled guy who although what he actually does is never specified we know that he works at a company in an office cubicle where his task is made more difficult by having to work alongside irritable colleagues and bosses who spout meaningless waffle.
The three-panel Dilbert strip has been published in several countries, and in this country has appeared in various newspapers over the years including the Daily Express. When I first discovered the strip in the mid-90s, I became a fan, but it wasn’t because I thought to myself “a great satire on management and bureaucracy”, I thought “aah, look at their little faces!”. I did enjoy the animation style and the unusual situations.
After following the strip for a while, it was announced that there would be a TV cartoon version of Dilbert, and this was first shown in the UK on Sky One in 1999. It was an exciting time for animation then because Futurama and Family Guy also launched around the same time and were regularly shown on Sky One alongside the established favourites including The Simpsons.
There was one problem that the animators were going to have to get around though. In the strip, even when he is talking, Dilbert is never drawn with a mouth. They compromised in the TV version by only having Dilbert’s mouth appear when he was talking and he was voiced by Daniel Stern. The opening title sequence was also very creative.
There are many other characters in Dilbert’s world who also appeared in the TV version, including his pointy-haired boss, and his colleagues including the rather dozy Wally, the angry Alice, Asok the intern, Loud Howard, and many others. When Dilbert does get some time to relax at home he interacts with Dogbert who enjoys manipulating daft people to try and earn success. Dilbert is also seen playing Scrabble with his mum and he often loses.
There were some unusual plots throughout the run of Dilbert, and some of them still remain in my mind, such as the awkwardness of having to find names for projects and designs, dealing with things such as computers and robots, and also the time when Dilbert tracked down his long-lost dad who many years ago walked into a restaurant after he saw a sign that said “all you can eat” and took the instruction somewhat literally, having remained there ever since.
There were also a few guest voices on Dilbert, including Jerry Seinfeld, Jason Alexander, and for some reason, the wrestler Stone Cold Steve Austin. Unfortunately Dilbert wasn’t a big hit with viewers, and concluded after just two series, although it did win an award, and the 30th and final episode saw a very bizarre chain of events resulting in Dilbert becoming pregnant.
I did think that Dilbert was a good attempt at trying something different, and after the original run ended on Sky One, repeats did appear a few years later on the Freeview channel FTN. Also, in 1999 the first series was released on VHS which came with the free gift of a Dilbert soft toy which I still have, although I’m fairly sure it was never released on DVD in this country, although several books of strips are available which feature the best moments.
The cartoon-strip Dilbert still continues to this day though, and he remains still trapped in the world where everyone seems to make his life more difficult through incompetence, although he no longer wears his upward curved tie but now wears a red polo shirt instead. Let’s hope that he doesn’t go anywhere for a while, his pain is our pleasure.