A Love Letter to Regular Show

Eulogizing the surreal cartoon as it ends its eight-season run

On January 16, J.G. Quintel’s Regular Show ended its eight-season run on Cartoon Network. Something of a sci-fi romp, Regular Show fell somewhere in between “Rick and Morty for kids who think ‘crap’ is a swear word” and “Teen Titans Go for pre-teens destined to get really into Weezer.”

Prospects of Regular Show maintaining its space in the zeitgeist are slim. This show will not be remembered for spearheading the Crossover Appeal Stoner Cartoon movement the way that Adventure Time probably will. Progressives looking to identify shifts in the politics of cartoons will probably point to Steven Universe. It won’t be remembered as a tightly constructed and deftly executed idea the way Gravity Falls surely will. It aired too long to be cherished fondly by a cult audience, like Over the Garden Wall, and didn’t air nearly long enough to earn true veteran status amongst The Simpsons and Spongebob Squarepants.

This all being the case, we must speak now or forever hold our peace: Regular Show was excellent. An unrelenting exercise in fun, this show earned its praise fifteen minutes at a time. Its far-fetched surrealism could have, in lazier hands, been nihilistic, or worse, apathetic, but Quintel and his team never stooped so low. Every God-of-Basketball and Giant-Baby-Duck-Robot[1] was grounded in an easily understood and tenderly communicated aspect of real humanity.

Protagonists Mordecai and Rigby championed juvenile. The show’s crossover appeal to both youths and young adults is indebted to the work put in by its slacker main characters. Our heroes’ never ending quest to avoid chores and drink soda acted as a bizarre slice of life for a middle school audience, and a knowing wink and smile to its older viewers. And while watching the employees of the park slowly grow and mature was certainly part of the appeal, the Regular Show finale assured us that even in the most dire of circumstances, there is plenty of time for Mom jokes and celebratory high fives.

And grow these characters did. For a cartoon so keen to hit the reset button[2], emotional decisions made by characters were treated with real gravity. If Rigby breaks the gang’s VCR, this can be swiftly forgotten, but when he learns the value of hard work[3], this is permanent. For Mordecai, growing up means learning to be happy for himself, and pursuing goals independently. For Rigby, maturity is the process of learning to value the needs of his loved ones. These arcs are not groundbreaking, nor subversive, but they are familiar, and there’s real value in that. In an era of streaming television, where serialization is prioritized, Regular Show made episodic television rewarding over the long haul.

Sure, your mileage may vary on some of this. If you’re not interested in a long love triangle between Mordecai, Margaret, and a walking marijuana joke named Cloudy Jane, you may get a little bored around season six[4]. Season eight leaves a great deal of the show’s best characters behind, taking place in a tree shaped space station named Space Tree, which regrettably handicaps many of the show’s final episodes. There’s even an argument to be made that the show was overly reliant on the formula of “turning a mundane problem into a catastrophic but comically apt metaphor”. These are fair criticisms, but not grounds for indictment. Mordecai’s romantic trysts have rewarding payoffs; placing the gang in outer space actually provided the show an opportunity to return to its roots;  the long-running formula provided a safe space for the show to be inventive, not repetitive.

Quintel’s unwavering confidence in his show’s personality was commendable. This was a television show marketed to people born in the 21st century that constantly made allusions to obsolete technologies and trends. LaserDiscs as plot devices and montages featuring 80’s pop music shouldn’t have resonated with a huge swath of Regular Show’s audience, and yet they nearly always did. Reverence for the home media of yesteryear was a staple of the show’s charm. In a world where giant talking babies have communications degrees and play Pictionary, is a trip to Blockbuster really all that fantastical? Quintel carved out a niche where he could pay homage to the artifacts of his youth without dating his show, because whatever happened to Mordo and Rigs, be it grounded or surreal, was never as captivating as how they responded to it.

Oftentimes you’ll hear creative writing professors proffer the advice that one should avoid pop culture references, to avoid unnecessarily dating a piece. Regular Show flew in the face of this convention, and most other conventions as well. And as we are living in an age of prestige television, Regular Show may never be required viewing, it is certainly rewarding viewing.

[1] The starting lineup for the All Regular Show Minor Characters Team: Death, Giant Babies, A Bunch of Baby Ducks, Sensai, Eggscellent Knight. The bench consists of: Thomas (intern), Thomas (demon baby), Carter & Briggs, Gary, Gene, Margaret’s Dad, and Party Unicorn.

[2] The amount of money the local government must have dumped into repairing this public park after every episode must have been astronomical.

[3] “Lift With Your Back”, season six, episode seven.

[4] Although, season four finale “Steak Me Amadeus”, in which Mordecai and Margaret break up, is a real highlight.

Written by Harry Breitner

Harry Breitner is a multi-talented Chicago based person of excellence. His pool of talents is so vast and myriad that displaying them here would be a disservice to his many hours of labor.

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