I got screwed by the system. I'm always gettin' screwed by the system. That's my role in life: I'm the system's bitch!
A Dilbertesque look at office life, about a nice but overweight, unattractive man with a low-paying dead-end job as the Assistant Director of Personnel of the Winfred Louder department store (there is no Director of Personnel).
He is the perpetual everyman who can never seem to get ahead in life. Bad things never stop happening to him. He still hangs out with his friends from high school, Lewis, Oswald and Kate (who started as purely platonic friends with Drew only to become his later love interest). Also, his dog is crippled.
As part of his job he has to deal with his sadistic boss Mr. Wick and Mimi, an obnoxious co-worker who only got the job by threatening to sue because Drew didn't hire her for another job. And that is all on top of general office bureaucracy.
The series would go on to become sillier and cartoonish as it went on, due to having more creative freedom due to being uncancellable for a time. Later seasons would have Mimi and Drew engaged in prank wars that would escalate to the point where Mimi drugged Drew and dropped him off at the Great Wall of China. Several episodes were made littered with intentional mistakes pointed out to the audience, which they could tally for a contest (which were often random, over-the-top sight gags, ranging from hairstyle changes, actor changes, characters being replaced by sock puppets, and an entire scene being done in Machinima using The Sims). Other notable silliness includes an episode done mostly in improv (to spoof Drew Carey's role as host of Whose Line Is It Anyway?), and an episode where Oswald and Lewis are treated by a dentist who is a very over-the-top Dr. Frankenstein parody.
Drew and Ryan Stiles (Lewis) became fixtures for Whose Line Is It Anyway? that also featured several other cast members briefly.
Sort of a Work Com, but one which focuses on a single character rather than an ensemble.
- Age-Inappropriate Dress: A problematic customer.
- The Art of Bra Removal: Drew has problems dealing with bra straps.
- Bad Boss: Mr. Wick. He frequently fires random workers and takes great pleasure in doing so.
(telling a bedtime story) "Once upon a time... Johnson was fired."
- Basement Dweller
- Berserk Button: Drew Carey stated that the Friends theme song became this for him in real life. He had nothing against the show itself, or any of the actors, but hated his show being called a "Friends clone" just because it was a sitcom about someone who had friends.
- Big Beautiful Woman: At the start of Season 3, Drew is dating a thin woman called Nicki Fifer. In the first episode she appears in, she claims to have just recently lost eighty pounds and that she is, normally, a very Big Eater. But then as the season progresses, she appears fatter and fatter, having the actress wear bigger and bigger fat-suits. Eventually she is an out and out Big Beautiful Woman, much bigger even than the already hefty Drew.
- We even see a scene of what Drew considers Fetish Fuel: He's grabbing a midnight snack when Nicki appears in her pajamas and they act out the Top Gun scene in which Tom Cruise feeds his lover seductively. The difference is that Nicki is eating far more, and all her food is fattening stuff like a whole can of whipped cream, and an entire bottle of syrup.
- Black Comedy Rape: Once episode features Lewis coming into Drew's house visibly shaken and proceeds to tell Oswald how the monkeys at Drug Co. attempted to rape him after having sex drugs tested on them. Oswald and the Studio Audience proceed to find the situation hilarious. Oswald goes on to make several jokes about it.
- Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie: Drew's great uncle Alfred's last wish was to buried in Drew's backyard.
- But Liquor Is Quicker: When Lewis realizes if a girl drinks, and he doesn't, his chances of getting some increase.
- Captain Morgan Pose: In one episode, his boss does a Captain Morgan Pose while wearing spandex shorts, noooot a pretty sight.
- Casting Gag: Marion Ross played Drew's mom. Tom Bosley played Mimi's dad. When Shirley Jones played an older love-interest of Drew, they had to bring his mom in for them to meet. And Danny Bonaduce played her adult son.
- Celebrity Paradox: Drew Carey once appeared as a one-shot character on Home Improvement. Tim Allen later appeared on The Drew Carey Show as himself, where Drew knew him from watching Home Improvement.
- The Chew Toy: The protagonist, Drew.
Drew: I'm gettin' screwed by the system. I'm always gettin' screwed by the system. That's my role in life: I'm the system's bitch.
- Best described by Bad Boss Mr. Wick
Mr. Wick: "Oh look everybody, Carey's detected an irony! He's smart, smarter than me... and yet, I make more money. *deadpans* Oh look, now I've detected an irony."
- Cleveland Rocks: They even used a cover of the Trope Namer as an opening for several season.
- Cloudcuckoolander: Oswald and Lewis. The former is a dimwit, the latter is crazy. They're often paired together. Hilarity Ensues.
- Comedic Sociopath: Lewis. Originally depicted as being as dumb as Oswald, as time went on he was revealed to be not so much stupid, but crazy and comically heartless at times.
- Crossover: With NYPD Blue, of all shows.
- Also with Whose Line Is It Anyway? on a few April Fools episodes.
- In one episode, the gang watches a how-to video about roof repair hosted by none other than |Tim Taylor (this is ironic, as Tim Allen appeared in an earlier episode as himself).
- In 1997, ABC forced a crossover stunt on Drew and the other Wednesday night sitcoms - Coach, Ellen, and Grace Under Fire. Titled "Viva Las Vegas", the idea was that characters from the four shows would be in Las Vegas for different reasons and encounter each other. Only a couple characters from each series did this, however, and they amounted to cameos at best. This series' contribution was "Drew Gets Married". Notably, Drew himself was the only one to appear in every show that night.
- Disproportionate Retribution: Mimi constantly, starting all way back to the pilot episode where she lashes out at Drew for assuming he wasn't going to hire her based on her looks when all he did was tell her they would get back with her.
- Do-It-Yourself Theme Tune: Wayne is asked to create a disco style theme for Drew Live 2. Naturally, it manifests as a Shout-Out to Shaft.
- Doppelganger Dating
- Embarrassing Middle Name:
Mimi: Drew Allison Carey? God, all three of your names are for girls.
- And note that that is Drew's actual middle name.
- Excessive Evil Eyeshadow: Mimi.
- Flanderization: Drew remained the everyman, but Oswald's stupidity, Lewis' oddness, and Kate's promiscuity were ramped up. Mimi's make-up was just overdone and her clothing just poor fashion, later she practically wears clown make-up and aims to wear the most gaudy outfits imaginable.
- Formally-Named Pet: Drew and Lewis bribe Oswald into voting to sell Buzz Beer by giving him a bunny. He immediately names it Commander Bun-Bun and starts to act like a Diabolical Mastermind with a Right-Hand-Cat.
- Fur and Loathing: An activist vandalized the store after pretending to be a buyer in order to get Drew to bring the fur coats within arm's reach. The manager of the fashion department was on a First-Name Basis with her.
- Furry Fandom: A girl Drew dates in one episode turns out to be a furry.
- Gag Penis: During "The Dog and Pony Show", one of Drew's coworkers turned out to have one, as displayed behind the counter.
Drew: (drains his beer) You think you'd be more popular...
- Going to See the Elephant: In one episode, Drew and his friends visit Hershey, Pennsylvania just because they can smell the chocolate from the highway.
- Groin Attack: Mr. Wick is shot in the crotch with a crossbow at one point, and has to have one of his testicles removed.
- The Gump: Drew's mom. While a secretary at NASA, she made an off-hand comment about sending men to the moon just when one Senator Kennedy was visiting.
Drew: Mom, you're Florence Gump.
- Hello, Nurse!: Oswald's mom was explicitly this for his friends when they were younger, and when she makes an appearance, she is played by Adrienne Barbeau.
- Heterosexual Life Partners: Oswald and Lewis.
- Hey, Let's Put on a Show
- I Am One of Those, Too: During the improv episode, Oswald is pretending to be German while talking to a bartender to see if she cheats him. She immediately says she was born in Germany and starts talking to him in German. He then says he is actually from a small town France called Germany. She then says she went to school in France for several years and starts speaking French.
- I Call Him "Mister Happy": Oswald nicknamed his genitals "the Olsen twins".
- Impossibly Tacky Clothes: Mimi.
- Irony: Drew finally managed to get Mimi fired by convincing Mr. Wick to put her into a cubicle, which she refused to do. Later, her and Drew's brother put their camper in his backyard and Drew discovered she was claustrophobic, which is a medical condition that would release her from the circumstances of why she was fired. When he learned that he went crazy over the moral obligation and getting her out of his backyard vs. not having to deal with her at work.
- Jerkass: On Lewis, Ryan Stiles has said that he's "less of a character and more a jerk."
- Mimi as well. This trope describes practically her entire character, although she certainly has her share of Pet the Dog moments.
- Karma Houdini: Mimi has got away with a number of things including sending Drew to China. When he returned, he burned her desk down to its frame. She was very scared by his subsequent threats of retribution.
- The one time he acted officially to get her fired for a prank that embarrassed him and the company, it turned out Kate was responsible.
- Kavorka Woman: Mimi.
- Lie Detector
- Live Episode: With all the folk from Drew Carey-hosted Whose Line Is It Anyway? guest starring the fellows from Whose line- Colin Mochrie, Wayne Brady, Chip Esten, Greg Proops and Brad Sherwood.
- Loud of War: The episode "A House Reunited" has Mimi attempting to drive Drew out of his house by loudly playing "Panama" for three days.
- Man-Made House Flood: Drew has a crush on a (female) plumber, and punctures a pipe so he can call her and get her to come round to his house.
- May-December Romance: One of Drew's relationships.
- "Not Wearing Pants" Dream
- Orphaned Punchline: The very first line of the series. The camera pans across the bar and winds up on Lewis, who's telling Oswald:
- Parachute in a Tree: Tim Allen (As Himself) gets stuck in the tree in Drew's back yard after a failed parachute publicity stunt. Drew doesn't cut him down since the idea of having a celebrity stuck in your tree is funnier than letting him leave.
- Parody Assistance: When the producers were going to do an episode making fun of sci-fi conventions and the fans who go to them in costume, they wanted to have a couple of characters dress up as aliens from Babylon 5. The creators of B5 agreed... and sent their own makeup people to do the alien makeup effects.
- Pimped-Out Dress: Mimi's offbeat Fairytale Wedding Dress.
- Poorly-Disguised Pilot: Several of the April Fool's episodes are really just a dress rehearsal for Drew's version of Whose Line Is It Anyway?.
- Protection From Editors: Real-life Drew was far better at negotiating than his in-show counterpart. When the show initially took off, one of his first contract renegotiations included the stipulation that the studio would continue producing the show for a set number of seasons... meaning, even if they canceled it, they'd still have to keep making episodes. This meant that the show was largely exempt from Executive Meddling, and resulted in the absolutely unique episodes the show is largely remembered for.
- Really Gets Around: In high school Kate was so promiscuous that she was nicknamed "Give It Away Kate".
- Recursive Crossdressing: Parodied in "Drew's Inheritance", which centered on the wacky hi-jinx resulting from the will of the Careys' late eccentric television-and-movies-obsessed Uncle Cecil. Each potential recipient had to fulfill a condition somehow relating to a favored movie. His condition for Steve Carey was to dress like a woman pretending to be a man. Generally a Wholesome Crossdresser, Steve wore a suit for the will reading and remarks that he's already fulfilled the condition. The executor comments that Uncle Cecil didn't think that one through very far.
- Retool: When Drew finally leaves abusive corporation Winfred Lauder for an incompetent Internet start-up... located in the now vacant Winfred Lauder offices. Which are later bought by Winfred Lauder again, and Drew re-hired.
- Real Song Theme Tune: See below.
- Replaced the Theme Tune: "Moon over Parma" to "Five O'Clock World" by The Vogues to "Cleveland Rocks" by Presidents of the United States of America.
- Right Behind Me
- Right on the Tick: Songs "Five O'Clock World" and "Cleveland Rocks".
- Road Trip Episode: An episode has the main cast piling into the Buzz Beer van and traveling to New York in an attempt to sell the beer outside a baseball game.
- Roger Rabbit Effect: When Daffy Duck made a surprise appearance.
- Secretly Wealthy: In the episode "Y2K, You're Okay", the the gang withdraws their life savings in fear of the upcoming event. It turns out that Lewis had $37,000 in his account.
Drew: $37,000!? Mister "Hey, I'm a little short this week, can I borrow a buck?"
- Sexy Coat Flashing: Drew does it to surprise Kate when the two are dating. Unfortunately, Kate has organized a surprise dinner with her grandparents.
- Shout-Out: Drew's Ghoulardi shirts.
- Sitcom Arch Nemesis: Mimi. Double points for being a Fashion Victim Villain.
- Something Completely Different: Spot the Mistakes, every season around April Fools' Day; usually held as a contest.
- The show also had a number of "theme episodes", or just simple seemingly out-of-place moments (such as a sudden musical number to resolve the serious A-plot), that would have some off-kilter take on things; this was due to Drew Carey having cannily signed a contract to produce the show for a set number of seasons and that protected it from a large amount of Executive Meddling, allowing him to do whatever the hell he wanted to a certain extent. It became infamous enough for these episodes that Weird Al even mentioned it in his song about TV:
"-and a special all-Pig Latin episode of Drew Carey!"
- For a time during the middle seasons, this was considered to be the charm of the show, as there literally was nothing else like it on American television.
- Something They Would Never Say: Mimi was nice around Drew when her baby was born, but since she treated Drew normally while pregnant, the baby thought she was someone else when acting nice.
- Speaking Simlish: Seen Here Upon the show opening the characters speak in "blah, blah" form with a talk bubble showing the meaning (Drew Carey has a cameo appearance in the original Sims game).
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Kellie replacing Kate.
- Sweater Girl: Oswald's mom was said to wear tight angora sweaters.
- Sympathy for the Devil: Drew stated in his book Dirty Jokes and Beer that one of the things he and the other writers loved to do was torment the Standards & Practices guy to see what sort of ridiculous, long-suffering notes they could get back on scripts. He added that he did feel bad about it from time to time... the guy was just doing his job, and it probably wasn't his fault that his job required him to fire off memos like "The fart noises must not be wet."
- Talk to the Hand:
Steve: Bro, I wanted to tell you something for a long time... I play for the other team.
- Take That: In his book, Drew pointed out that he successfully asked for and received a co-writer credit because he helped write the show, actually showing up god-awful early in the morning and sitting in a room with the other writers and working on material. He contrasted this against other title-character show actors who do so simply to receive an extra paycheck from the studio but never do any of the work, and specifically cited Roseanne Barr as an example.
- Theme Tune: Oddly, all three openings used - "Moon Over Parma", "Five O'Clock World", and "Cleveland Rocks" - are also Real Song Theme Tunes.
- Title Sequence Replacement: The "Cleveland Rocks" Title Sequence is the only one used in syndicated reruns.
- Too Dumb to Live: Oswald. A total exaggeration of the typical sitcom dumb friend.
- Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Used straight and subverted countless times--Drew's hooked up with Wanda Sykes and an aged Mrs Partridge, but has also slept with characters played by Jenny McCarthy, Christa Miller, and more. Unusual for the trope, its made clear that Drew dates mostly on an actual relationship and not simply looks. In a High School Reunion episode, the (still attractive) cheerleader who used to mock him was suddenly attracted to him because he was a respectable guy with a steady job. And some would say Sykes and Mrs Partridge are still hot. In the literal sense, he ends the series married to Cynthia Watros.
- Uncanny Valley Makeup: Mimi. Enough said.
- Tammi Faye Baker played her mother at one point for good reason.
- Very Special Episode: Parodied, alongside Oscar Bait material with Cerebus Syndrome-type stories.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: Later seasons showed that Drew and Mimi really know each other better than any of their friends and by the last season, they basically admitted it to each other. Mimi even became family by marrying his brother and in the last season, when his brother was caught having an affair, Drew took Mimi's side.
- There's even an episode where they randomly meet on an internet chat site and start to develop an online romance (neither is involved with anyone at the time). When Drew figures it out, he is somewhat traumatized.
- The Voice: Drew's first boss, until he was fired and finally appeared after cleaning out his desk.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Oswald's lost son turned up in an episode. After that, he was never seen again, nor mentioned.
- Wholesome Crossdresser: Drew's brother Steve, one of the few Western examples of this trope.
- Wondrous Ladies' Room:
Larry: How come there's no couch in the men's room?
- Work Com
- The Worst Seat in the House: Drew, Oswald and Lewis were all going after the same girl. Drew and Oswald each got tickets for a concert. Drew's were "restricted view" but he managed to convince Oswald that that was better and traded tickets with him.
- X Called. They Want Their Y Back.
- You Can Leave Your Hat On: On one episode parodying The Full Monty, Drew and the boys form a strip act in order to earn enough money to replace a dog they accidentally had neutered.
- Your Makeup Is Running