22 Jump Street, the better-than-expected sequel to 2012’s better-than-expected franchise reboot, is another Channing Tatum-Jonah Hill lovefest and a continuation of the first film’s “goofy pseudo-thriller” shtick. But it’s got something else, something—or, rather, someone—even funnier: Jillian Bell.
Directors Chris Miller and Phil Lord smartly play it coy with her character, Mercedes, at first, but a clever twist sets up her real star turn and one of the film’s best scenes: an all-out brawl between Bell and Hill. They duke it out for several minutes, writhing on the ground, before their signals get crossed and Mercedes can’t tell if Schmidt wants to kill her or have sex with her. Throughout, Bell overshadows Hill, who has said in interviews that he is intimated by her talent. “Jillian makes me want to quit show business and realize I am a complete fraud,” Hill has said, “because she is the funniest person I have ever met in my life.” And she does, in fact, steal the show.
Fans of Comedy Central’s irresistibly crude hit Workaholics won’t be surprised. Bell consistently outshines the three leads—the show’s creators—Blake Anderson, Adam DeVine, and Anders Holm. As Jillian Belk, the neurotic yet charming office manager and assistant to TelAmeriCorp regional manager Alice (Maribeth Monroe, who is also terrific), she anchors the show.
Whereas the show’s stars rely largely on shock value and physical comedy, Bell’s appeal is her straight-faced delivery of wildly varying dispositions—she can be aloof one minute and in your face the next, with no apparent explanation. Belk constantly misses social cues and no one can figure out what’s rattling around in her head. And yet Bell makes her one of the more relatable and fleshed-out characters on the show, one I never tire of watching.
As in 22 Jump Street, Bell’s Workaholics character often serves as the impetus for whatever trouble Blake, Adam, and Anders find themselves in. Take “Man Up,” a Season 2 episode, which sees Jillian drop her awkward rambling and threaten to snap a bouncer’s “ding-dog into two pieces”—demonstrated with a chicken strip—after he dumps a beer on Adam’s head. The trio then spends the rest of the episode attempting to heal their bruised egos, but they eventually come back to Jillian. She is, after all, the gang’s unofficial fourth member.