Animation Wednesday: Regular Show
This post is part of the Animation Wednesday series, a regular column which looks at animated TV series and movies of the past, present and future.
Absurdism is in. I suppose, in a way, that’s always been the case. Looney Tunes and early Disney stuff featured talking animals beating each other up. But for a long time, cartoons have stuck to a high concept and tied most weirdness back to the premise. Shows like Animaniacs or The Powerpuff Girls featured their share of strange characters and situations, but things flowed naturally from the premises (zany cartoon characters causing a ruckus and preschool superheroes fighting parody bad guys, respectively). Show which got weird for weirdness’ sake, like Ren & Stimpy or Cow and Chicken, struggled to find audiences. I’d place Spongebob Squarepants as the first show which involved jokes that were as much non-sequitor oddities to puns and punchlines that really caught on. Since then, randomness has been the word, and while the biggest of these shows (and probably the subject of a future post) is Adventure Time, the one closest to my heart is Regular Show.
Regular Show follows the ersatz adventures of Mordecai and Rigby, two twentysomething slackers who happen to be a blue jay and a raccoon, respectively. They work as groundskeepers with Benson (a gumball machine), Muscle Man (a fact green guy), High Five Ghost (a ghost), Skips (a yeti), and Pops (a lollipop…shaped…guy?). Most episodes revolve around their attempts to take care of a basic chore, or go perform some kind of activity. These inevitably result in trips to space, summoning monsters, time travel, and the like. Why?
The beauty of Regular Show is that it’s not limited by its overarching premise very often, both in the stories and in the jokes it tells. The creators are free to incorporate whatever characters and concepts they please. While I’ve been floored by the kinds of stories they’re telling this season on Scooby Doo! Mystery Incorporated, especially those that reference older Hanna-Barbera properties like Johnny Quest, you can’t drop an extended remake of the end of an Indiana Jones movie into a Scooby Doo episode. Nothing’s “right” in Regular Show, so nothing’s wrong in it. A lot of the new wave of cartoons were created by animators as opposed to writers (JG Quintel, the show’s creator, voices Mordecai), so the shows give them a lot of room to draw what makes them laugh.
The key to Regular Show, at least for me, is the depiction of the characters and their interactions. The show eschews “cartoony” voice characterizations and set-up/punchline format for more naturalistic dialogue, and it works. Friends sound like friends, flirting sounds like flirting, and conversations from the show could easily be overheard at a local restaurant or bar. My roommate described it as being like “a show that they animated over,” and without looking it could easily be mistaken for an episode of a single-camera sitcom (at least until giant space babies show up). When they show is funny, it’s hilarious, but it never sounds like it’s mugging for laughs.
My one complaint with the show is that most episodes seem to follow a similar structure, and it’s funny enough that I can forgive that. Regular Show airs Mondays at 8:00 p.m. EST, and is going into its fourth season. While you don’t have to catch up to start watching, I’d highly recommend it, since it might be my favorite cartoon on TV right now.