“Terror Tales Of The Park II” S4 / E3
- B+ Community Grade
Halloween is an oddly difficult holiday for something like Regular Show. After all, if Halloween is defined as the night when the strange and supernatural come out to play, then pretty much every Regular Show episode is already halfway to being a Halloween special. Borrowing some rather obvious inspiration from in The Simpsons’ “Treehouse Of Horror” series, this second entry in the “Terror Tales Of The Park” series delivers three clearly non-canonical tales of horrors and frights, complete with a wraparound framing narrative that I certainly damn well hope is also squarely outside the show’s normal continuity. The result is a collection of stories that at times don’t feel all that different from your standard Regular Show episode, but are able to gleefully throw aside the handful of inviolate rules that govern the show’s universe—basically, in the normal cause of events, Mordecai and Rigby don’t actually die, at least not permanently—and take the show’s usual flights of craziness to their most extreme possible conclusions.
With the gang on their way to the most happening Halloween party in town, Mordecai and Rigby suggest the best way to pass the time would be by telling spooky stories. Benson protests, as is Benson’s wont, pointing out that Pops gets scared at even the mildest of spooky stories. Undeterred, Mordecai tells the tale of how his rather sketchy Uncle Steve died in a freak accident at a bowling alley. Feeling responsible for his kind of gross uncle’s death—and with fairly good reason—Mordecai finds himself haunted by his Uncle Steve, though it turns out his dirty but basically decent uncle hasn’t really changed that much in the afterlife. “Payback” is an amusing if slight little story with a fairly obvious punchline, but the episode’s characterization of Steve makes his determination to settle his debts—however mundane—from beyond the grave into a funny through line for the story.
The next entry, “Party Bus,” comes via speakerphone from Margaret, a story in which she, Eileen, Mordecai, and Rigby find themselves without a ride to the movies. A mysterious Party Bus shows up offering them a ride wherever they need to go, but they soon realize that those riding the bus are aging to death in a matter of minutes. After a brief tête-à-tête with the bus’ skeleton driver—which gives Mark Hamill an opportunity to play an undead evil, which justifies the story in and of itself—the now wizened Mordecai realizes the only way to reverse the aging is to put the bus itself into reverse. But once started, the backwards aging doesn’t stop, and the quartet go from young adults to teenagers to little kids before finally popping out of existence. This story, at least according to Margaret, is the funny one of the bunch.
That just leaves Benson’s entry, “Wallpaper Man”, which he claims will teach Mordecai and Rigby some valuable lessons. His story offers a biased if still largely fair assessment of the pair’s problem-solving, which in this case means getting out of wallpapering the entire house by enlisting a local merchant known as the Wallpaper Man. While he promises to do the first job for free—and since nobody pays him, I guess he wasn’t lying about that—the Wallpaper Man is actually just the human form of an evil, colossal spider that uses wallpaper as its web and also appears to have at least moderate talent for warping space with its wallpaper. Thanks to Muscle Man’s own love of local merchants—specifically, those that supply live grenades—Mordecai and Rigby are able to defeat the wallpaper spider, but only at the cost of their own stupid lives, as Benson happily relates.
With “Terror Tales Of The Park II”, Regular Show faces a challenge that “Treehouse Of Horror” entries don’t: When the average Regular Show episode defies all logic and natural laws, how do you make the Halloween stories feel uniquely supernatural? It’s a problem the similarly crazy Futurama has faced with its non-continuity “Anthology Of Interest” specials and its more recent triptychs like “The Futurama Holiday Spectacular.” The obvious answer is to play up the spooky horror elements rather than the simply fantastical, and both Regular Show and Futurama have clearly come up with the same solution to achieve this—when it doubt, kill as many regular characters as possible. “Party Bus” and especially “Wallpaper Man” wouldn’t feel out of place with Regular Show’s standard-issue insanity, at least until it suddenly becomes clear that not everyone is making it out alive.
“Payback” stands further apart from the typical Regular Show antics insofar as it’s hard to imagine a normal episode that’s kicked off by Mordecai accidentally causing the death of a family member, sketchy or otherwise. The rest of the story’s beats—in which a ghost tracks down Mordecai to give him back his five bucks—actually could quite easily happen on the show, but the story’s inciting incident lends it a familiar spooky-story structure that the other two don’t really have, although at least “Party Bus” leans more toward the macabre side of the Regular Show spectrum. Really, none of this detracts from the appeal of “Terror Tales Of The Park II,” and it seems a bit silly going into a Regular Show Halloween special expecting three tightly structured pastiches of horror archetypes. Much like Futurama’s non-continuity episodes, the fun of “Terror Tales Of The Park II” lies in its willingness to discard what few rules Regular Show normally has, and to create three stories—plus the framing narrative—in which all bets are off and anything can happen.
The episode also borrows a trick from Community’s excellent and slightly underrated “Horror Fiction In Seven Spooky Steps,” as some of the episode’s stories are used to reveal the personalities of their narrators. Admittedly, we’re not talking about deep character studies here, but it’s perhaps telling that Mordecai is the only one of the storytellers who even vaguely tries to respect the edict about not scaring Pops, as he keeps the resolution of his story fairly tame. It’s also a great detail that Margaret considers her disturbing story to be funny simply because the bus says the party is killer. While she’s undoubtedly normal compared to Mordecai and Rigby, she’s still a dorky weirdo in her own right. Margaret has always been Mordecai’s dream girl, but Regular Show has never suggested she was perfect. In early episodes, that mainly took the form of making her blandly oblivious, with the occasional, slightly off-putting subtext about her string of loser boyfriends. But now that the show takes her seriously as a character in her own right, rather than just as a repository for Mordecai’s romantic frustrations, we get these brief glimpses into her own enjoyably offbeat personality.
“Terror Tales Of The Park II” is far more explicit in what Benson’s story reveals about him, as “Wallpaper Man” turns into a de facto Mordecai and Rigby snuff film, with the death of Muscle Man thrown in for good measure. Amusingly, Benson angrily suggests his story will be an opportunity for his two least favorite employees to learn something, before it becomes clear that it’s actually just a chance to brutally murder them and blame it on their stupidity. “Wallpaper Man” doesn’t get too meta in its treatment of Benson’s dark little fantasy—if he’s trying to make them look stupider than normal, it’s only a subtle effect—and instead waits until the end of the story for Mordecai and Rigby to protest their characterization. This sets up Rigby’s own attempted horror story, which in true Rigby fashion is wonderfully half-assed and immediately results in everybody’s horrible death. I’m somewhat disappointed we don’t get an actual look at Rigby’s story, which likely would have involved little more than Benson declaring his stupidity a few times before meeting a variety of grisly fates, but the lethal smash-cut punchline is worth the sacrifice of a Rigby-focused story.
- Anyone else think the tow truck driver would end up being Satan or something? Between his hidden face and the fact that his one line was punctuated with ominous music, I figured that’s where the framing story was going.
- “Whatever, that didn’t even hurt. If your job was to kill people, you’d probably get fired. Hey! Don’t even think of eating me, bro!” Muscle Man remains in fine form, even when he’s just a figment of a non-canonical Benson’s imagination.
- And now, let’s end with a quick logical conundrum: Did Hi-Five Ghost die in the car crash? Like, did he become even deader, or something? And does his existence mean that the other characters are totally justified in being so blasé about their demise, since being a ghost doesn’t actually seem to be much of an impediment to steady employment and an active social life?