The bonkers brilliance of Regular Show

Season one of Cartoon Network's insanely creative Regular Show has finally reached the UK on DVD. Here's why it's worth tracking down...

“Ah, yeah. I love Adventure Time too. Do you watch Regular Show?”

I’ve been asked variations of this question about 50 times. I’ve taken the UK first season DVD release as my prompt to finally check out Regular Show, and it turns out that all those annoying people going on about it all this time were right. I’m one of them now. Do you like Adventure Time? Cool, yeah, me too. Do you watch Regular Show? You should check it out. It’s really good. Here’s what’s so good about it.

Regular Show is about Mordecai, a blue jay, and Rigby, a raccoon. They’re a couple of twenty-something slackers who are more interested in playing video-games than doing their jobs at the park where they’re employed. Their heroic attempts to skirt their responsibilities are nearly always the catalyst for their bizarre adventures.

Regular Show is very much about Mordecai and Rigby. They have such a great character dynamic. Mordecai is the more sensible and sensitive of the two; he’s sort of the better one, although Rigby is able to drag him down so easily that he’s often not better by much.

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Rigby is a master of not having perspective. When he leads Mordecai down the path to destruction, which occurs in roughly every single episode, it’s not out of malice or by conspiracy; he’s just a little crazy. Mordecai and Rigby are rarely victims of circumstance; rather, they make very poor decisions, and when faced with the consequences of those poor decisions they generally make a series of worse decisions.

They’re both ridiculous, though. Bored by work, the two are enthusiastic and excitable, but usually about particularly silly games or some novelty product they’ve seen advertised on TV. There’s a youthfulness and naivety about them that makes their transgressions forgivable.

They’re great characters to spend time with. Despite being very cartoony, they feel authentic. The things they love – the silly games, the ridiculous bands and exciting products – do look kind of awesome. It’s here the show earns its geek credibility too, capturing the vibe of so many nerdy past times (both what they are and why we nerd out over them). I’m not quite sure that they should be as relatable as they are, or whether that’s just me identifying with idiots with similar personal failings.

There’s a varied supporting cast of characters, too. However, they’re usually the victims of Mordecai and Rigby’s mischief rather than characters we spend a good deal of time with. It isn’t the case that you would necessarily want to spend an entire episode with Muscle Man and High Five Ghost, or delve into the backstory of Pop and Benson. That’s not so much a complaint as it is a description, though. Regular Show is about its two main characters and the supporting characters are there to draw different things out of them. Of course, I accept that having just seen the first season box set (A note on the UK DVD, though. It’s a disappointing affair, with no bonus content and only 11 episodes – the episode Mordecai And Rigbys is not included). I’m some way behind fans following US broadcasts, where the show is 6 seasons in, and fully expect someone to tell me that the show proved me wrong ages ago. Allow me to pre-empt you with – Shut your face! Punchies!

Of course, the reason I expect for this to be wrong is that Regular Show so often subverts expectations. Occasionally they’ll hint at, or possibly fall into, a formula. A good few episodes in the first season end with vehicle chases, for example. Then, in the Unicorn episode (which I’ll be coming back to shortly), they use that trend to trick you into expecting something and then doing something different. It adds to the chaotic, unpredictable feel of the show. You can never tell if they’re on the brink of having a video-gaming marathon or being transported into space.

I should expand on that, too. Regular Show will flit between the mundane and absurd, with Mordecai and Rigby usually unaffected. They can become just as transfixed on the unimportant while fighting on the moon as they can while mowing the lawn, while they’re just as likely to get themselves into trouble practicing pro-wrestling moves on a dummy in their bedroom as they are while lying their way into a space station. 

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Something common, although not guaranteed, in episodes is that they’ll learn a lesson in the most destructive and catastrophic way they can muster. Usually, Mordecai has to drag Rigby to the message, while Rigby attempts to stop Mordecai from learning it. There’s generally no epiphany moment, either; the message is there, the characters learn it, but they won’t take a moment to stop the show to tell the kids watching what it is. Learn it yourself, or don’t learn it. Whatever. Should we go for coffee?

The team behind Regular Show, led by JG Quintel, are really good at doing a thing that South Park and Team America: World Police creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker are really good at, which is characters being silly. Perhaps my favourite joke from Team America is the brief moment that Tim Robbins and Martin Sheen spend saying “We’re guards!” in funny voices. It’s inexplicably hilarious and diverting, but it’s character. Mordecai and Rigby are always doing stuff like this and it makes them feel real; those characters really would be stopping in the middle of an emergency to say things in a weird way, or to shout “Ohhhh!” for a little while. It always makes me laugh.

The 5th episode on the DVD, “The Unicorns Have Got To Go,” was the one that totally sold me on Regular Show. Rowdy unicorns (one of whom is decked out in full droog/Clockwork Orange gear), attracted by Mordecai’s new cologne (Dudetime), turn up and over-bro him. Before long, Mordecai and Rigby have fallen out over their annoying new friends and Rigby, as a result of his own folly, finds himself in the middle of a circle of farting unicorns. All of the comedy of this particularly funny episode is hung on the simple conflict of Rigby selling out his friend to try to impress cooler guys. The laughs are rung not just from the bizarre situation, but also from the very relatable conflict (feeling betrayed by our friend).

The show makes great use of music. The scored music and songs created for the show are great, but it’s the use of 80s pop that makes Regular Show stand out. An early episode features a coffee/lawnmower sequence, which I’ve no intention of spoiling here, which is already insane and brilliant, but is heightened by the addition of a dramatic 80s pop song. They also correctly use Joe Esposito’s “You’re The Best” later in the season, which sort of makes it must-watch.

Regular Show is chaotic, then, but a good chaotic. It’s the sort of chaotic that might be a bit much if the episodes weren’t eleven minutes long. That’s not a criticism, it’s just an acknowledgement that they’ve chosen the right form for their show. Anarchic, crazy and often rebellious cartoons seem to thrive in shorter bursts, from the Nickelodeon cartoons of my youth, such as Ren And Stimpy and Rocko’s Modern Life to some of the best cartoons about today like Spongebob Squarepants, Sanjay & Craig, and Adventure Time. Oh, and as we’re coming to the end, I’ll clumsily throw in here that Regular Show features some brilliant cartoon violence.

Due to them both being Cartoon Network shows, and them both being insanely popular, Regular Show will probably always be a follow up question to Adventure Time (and, depending on which has prompted the conversation, Adventure Time will be for Regular Show, too). The two shows really are quite different in terms of tone, look, and what they’re trying to do. What they have in common, though, is that they’re silly, funny and brilliantly original.

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