For the past week, my five year old daughter has only watched Regular Show. I can see why my older boys, 13 and 10, who introduced it to her, like it: it revolves around two best buds, a bluejay named Mordecai and a raccoon named Rigby, although their being animals has nothing to do with the show (the bird doesn’t even fly), even if I’m sure that’s a big part of its appeal for kids. This promo, featuring human actors decked out as Mordecai and Rigby, winds up emphasizing that point and gives a few examples of the show’s shenanigans:
Mordecai and Rigby are fluffy Bartlebys, always preferring Not To: slacking off, playing videogames, watching TV, and eating pizza and tacos, even as they’re supposed to be working at a park managed by a talking gumball machine, Benson, along with an albino gorilla[i] groundskeeper, Skips, a macrocephalic manchild geezer named Pops who technically runs the park for his ancient moon-headed father, a pudgy green creep named Muscle Man (who I assumed was named “Musselman,” like the applesauce, but the name is a joke), and Muscle Man’s friend, the personality-less High Five Ghost, who looks just as his name suggests.
At first, the show looks like yet another example of People from Diverse Categories Thrown into an Unlikely Situation who then Realize that they have A Lot in Common, or “PDCTUSRALC,” as I suggested two weeks ago of The Avengers. But the faux diversity is a façade—no one behaves any differently based on his species or whatever you want to call a talking gumball machine. Notice the gender-specific “his” pronoun. The show is distinctly male, with the exception of occasional minor characters Margaret (a robin?) and Eileen (a mole? I consulted the expert, my daughter: “She’s half person, half beaver”) as female foils for M & R.
While the menagerie suggests that the title “Regular Show,” like Muscle Man’s name, is meant to be ironic (Cartoon Network’s tagline: “Regular Show. It’s anything but,” in the sense of normal), it is regular in the word’s sense of “uniform procedure” or “periodic.” Nearly every episode follows the same pattern: some prosaic game—Rock Paper Scissors, jinx, cards, stick hockey, bowling—yields some wacky supernatural non sequitur—a monster appearing in the sky to devour the game’s prize, a mirror-image Rigby monster conjured to break the jinx, a warlock who sucks the whole park into his fannypack, an underground Fight Club-like stick hockey den, a wager with Death, who, appropriately, looks and sounds like Lemmy from Motorhead, but better looking.
Yet everything always works out: Mordecai and Rigby break the Rock Paper Scissors tie just in time; they break the jinx just in time; Benson turns out to be a stick hockey samurai just in time; Skips comes through in some way, usually solemnly intoning, “I’ve seen this before.”[ii] You could easily play Regular Show Bingo, or maybe a Regular Show drinking game.
So on second look, it feels like another genre: the Best Bros who are Both Dumb but One is Noticeably Dumber than the Other (“BBBDONDO” for short). These duos spend most of the show screwing up and the last minute fixing it. It’s a grand comic tradition emblemized by, of course, the movie Dumb and Dumber, but it includes laureates such as Laurel and Hardy, Abbot and Costello, Ralph and Ed, Fred and Barney, Beavis and Butthead, SpongeBob and Patrick, and The Man with the Yellow Hat and Curious George. Acceptable Variations: Three Stooges (all dumb, but Moe is slightly less dumb) and Bill and Ted or Jay and Silent Bob (you could make a case for either being dumber).
But mostly, the real dynamic is a kind of fairy tale family—fairy tale not because of the talking animals or the show’s regular supernatural plot twists, but because of the lack of mothers. Like Peter Pan, the characters on Regular Show are a band of lost boys; like the spiritual song, they feel like motherless children. Yet although Mordecai and Rigby seem like teens in this parentless limbo, their size and maturity difference (Mordecai, for example, is interested in Margaret, but Rigby isn’t into Eileen, although that could be because he can’t identify her species) suggests something more like siblings. And despite Skips’s and Pops’s old age, it is Benson, the gumball machine, who turns out to be the show’s surrogate father. Benson spends most of every episode threatening, and then exploding at, the duo—you can add “GET BACK TO WORK!,” “[anything]…OR YOU’RE FIRED!,” and “UNBELIEVABLE!” to the bingo card/drinking game. So perhaps it’s not surprising that I find myself relating far more to hapless Benson than to punky M or R. His behavior is typical Bad Dad, what we may think or feel but struggle against saying. On the episode Broken Cart, Rigby finally asks, “Benson, why do you hate us so much?” Surprised and chastened, Benson answers, “I don’t hate you guys. I just hate some of the things you do.”
Of course, when the boys inevitably screw up, in this case, taking a videogame break when they’re desperate to return the cart before the warranty expires that day, Benson, as usual, totally loses it: “WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO LEARN THAT YOUR ACTIONS HAVE CONSEQUENCES?” On Think Positive, he can’t lose it, under threat of being fired himself, and we get to see the helplessness, the impotence, behind his threats and anger. Mordecai and Rigby will never, of course, learn that actions have consequences. That would mean growing up, which would be the end of the show. But ideally, talking gumball machines and park-eating vortexes to the contrary, this distinction is the biggest difference between Regular Show’s parental lessons and real life.
Funnily enough, Regular Show seems to know its true audience. That car seat safety public service announcement may have a quirky Portlandia feel to it, and the diaper rash ointment has the indie band sounding name Baby Anti-Monkey Butt. But that doesn’t mean that these ads, like nearly all the ads on Regular Show, aren’t geared squarely toward parents.
I thought I was watching along with my kids. It turns out that they were watching it along with me.
Time: 65 minutes. I wasn’t really planning on writing about Regular Show, but it’s literally all my girl—and therefore, I—watched this week, so it’s burned into my brain. Truth is, I feel a little funny going from Angels in America to Regular Show.
[i] After botching a few JFGI details of Adventure Time a few months (the creator’s name, a Jungian archetype), I figured I better look up Regular Show online first. So: Wikipedia refers to Skips as a Yeti, but I much prefer to think of him as an albino gorilla. I didn’t bother the check what Eileen was.
[ii] Mark Hamill—Luke Skywalker–does Skips’s voice. Hamill is a brilliant voice actor, here and elsewhere. Future blog: people who are famous for the wrong thing. Suggestions welcome in Comments.