A look back at Regular Show

by Michael B. Hock

Even though I’m technically an adult (in the sense that I drive a car, pay taxes, and occasionally shave I still like cartoons. I know that today, there are plenty of cartoons that are geared more for adults, like Rick and Morty, American Dad, and Venture Brothers, on the odd times that they actually make new episodes. But even then, I still tend to gravitate towards cartoons that are supposedly for kids. I like Steven Universe, I’ll still sit down to enjoy the odd episode of  The Amazing World of Gumball, and yes, despite my ranting about it from time to time, I am very much looking forward to the Teen Titans Go! Movie.

But there’s one show that sort of straddles that odd line between cartoons for grown ups and cartoons geared towards kids: Regular Show.

I bring this up because I caught an odd episode a few days ago, and it reminded me of how much it stuck with me. I should clarify, I was looking for the new episodes of Steven Universe on demand (Ruby and Sapphire get married!) because  I missed them, and I saw Regular Show as still online and promptly watched an episode, because it reminded me of how much it stuck with me.  Thankfully, because of technology, it’s simultaneously easy and difficult to simply “catch an episode” of something: thanks to the wide variety of streaming services you can easily watch what you want. (A fact lost on those of us who want to complain about one thing that much.)

The show itself looks as if it’s geared towards kids: It’s about a bluejay named Mordecai  and his best friend named Rigby, who is a raccoon. They work and hang out in a park (called Park) with their boss who’s a gumball machine, an immortal yeti named Skips (voiced by Mark Hamill, making me wonder if there’s anything he CAN’T do), and a… lollipop man named Pops. I’m guessing he’s a lollipop man, the show is never clear. However, the content of the show itself is geared more towards young adults: Mordecai and Rigby are unsatisfied with their jobs, they have relationships, they get hooked on coffee, and they deal with the quarter life crisis of finding out who they were. They have existential battles with new technology – the physical forms of VHS and Blu-Ray fight in an episode. They play video games, and have to deal with the constant threat of being fired.

I guess that’s why the show speaks to me so much, because it speaks to a very specific time in your life when you’re not quite an adult, but not quite a kid anymore. Sure, you WANT to play video games until late at night, and you have the money to do so, but you can’t because if you’re late your boss is going to turn red and suddenly explode. Ok, maybe that last part only happens in this show. But what this show did was balance out real world problems that dealt with a very specific time, and gave them a surreal take.

For instance, there’s the episode I watched called “That’s My Jam” which has the very un-cartoon setup where Rigby gets a song stuck in his head because he finds a tape while cleaning out the gutters. Yes. A tape, and this show was made in 2014. Which means the technology being represented is very much something that would speak to say, people my age instead of anyone tuning in after an episode of Teen Titans Go. The show slowly morphs more cartoon like as Rigby eventually gets followed around by the living embodiment of the tape, which slowly drives him crazy as the Summer Jam is continually stuck in his head, and they have to form a band to create a new song to defeat the tape. (One of the better recurring gags is that Benson, the gumball machine manager of the park, was a drummer in his youth, but gave it up because he grew up. Which is also sad.)

The show itself taps in to a type of nostalgia. Not in how we think about how nostalgia right now, which is basically references in the forms of memories. You can see a lot of that in the remakes that are coming out now and some of the anger that is being directed towards them: because something is “changed” or someone feels that they are owed for whatever reason. That anger misses the point of what makes nostalgia what it is. Regular Show taps into what makes nostalgia important, it’s not the thing, but the feeling. It takes that feeling and reminds you of it.

Look, I’ve never been a giant anthropomorphic blue jay in love with a barista who also happens to be a bird. What I have done is play video games with my friends, or gone to the video store to rent a movie. Regular Show tapped tiny how nostalgia works. For every moment of levity that was familiar, change often started as the enemy, but then became something that needed to be embraced. Something that was probably always going to be different but at the same time necessary. That’s what I love about the show, and that’s why I think I wanted to remember it today.

That particular episode shows off why I like the show so much, and why it sticks with me: because it takes an everyday concept like a song stuck in your head, then turns it around and makes it a surreal fantasy, all while exploring in how our lives change.

Regular Show had its fans, but it was never a runaway hit. And that’s a shame. This is a show about growing up in a time when growing up is confusing. Not that it’s ever easy. But ultimately, it’s a show about friendship, and that feeling we all can relate to – just hanging out with our friends.

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