“Dodge This” is Regular Show firing on all cylinders. Its primary narrative purpose is to follow up on the climactic events of “New Year’s Kiss,” as Mordecai and C.J. manage to overcome a portion of their awkwardness and begin anew as friends. But the dodgeball tournament setting lets the show cram in a pair of thinly sketched but highly amusing stories for Rigby and Benson, not to mention a ton of cameos for old favorites. And, though the show wins no points for subtlety, it niftily zeroes in on just why “dodgeball” is such a perfect metaphor for the current state of Mordecai and C.J.’s non-relationship, as the I.D.C.—Intergalactic Dodgeball Council, obviously—argues that they cannot hope to break their dodgeball stalemate while they continue to dodge each other’s emotional issues. Even the minor side characters feel more fleshed out than they would be normally, as the voice acting and the character designs are just a touch more distinctive and memorable than they are normally. Basically, in “Dodge This,” everything clicks.
Making the most of its eternally limited running time, Regular Show kicks off tonight’s action as late in the plot as it possibly can. The park staffers have already agreed to compete once more in the big dodgeball tournament, they have already put together their smartly matching uniforms, and they have already had a practice intense enough to leave Benson concussed. That last detail is especially important, as Benson’s unseen injury allows “Dodge This” to shift the normal character dynamics between Benson and his coworkers. The default portrayal for Benson is as the grounding influence, perhaps even the killjoy, who remains firmly tethered to reality even amid the wildest and most surreal of adventures. When push comes to shove, he’s usually just as willing to get involved and do the right thing as anyone else; indeed, I’ve argued previously that he’s the show’s most straightforwardly heroic character, but a big reason for that is that he approaches the peril of the week as something he simply has to overcome. He’s defined by his fortitude and his grim determination, not by his passion, which is why it’s so funny to see Benson care so deeply about something so, so pointless.
His pre-episode concussion simply allows “Dodge This” to push Benson’s fixation further than it could under normal circumstances, and the show finds a Cartoon Network-friendly way of depicting the seedier side of Benson’s obsession with his apparent chicken wing depiction. A man with a gumball machine for a head is unlikely to look attractive at the best of times, but he looks downright depraved when his mouth is coated with a thick covering of buffalo sauce. His faith in Mordecai’s dodgeball skills could theoretically count as one of their more positive interactions, but that falls apart spectacularly in practice, as Benson leeringly invades Mordecai’s personal space in an effort to communicate just how much he respects his employee’s game. Such borderline psychotic interactions could support an episode all by themselves, but “Dodge This” has so much else to accomplish that it contents itself with bookending the story with only a handful of jokes about Benson’s dodgeball madness.
Rigby’s attempts to prove himself on the court are similarly compressed. That’s no significant loss, because there’s little in this story that hasn’t been explored in episodes like “One Pull Up” or “Bank Shot,” for any story about Rigby engaging in physical activity is a story of Rigby confronting his complete physical inadequacy. But this is where the tournament bracket proves such an invaluable narrative tool. Because Benson’s Ballers must play several discrete contests on the road to the championship, there’s space for each game to have its own little mini-narrative or memorable hook. In most cases, the hook is simply the presence of returning characters; the way in which “Dodge This” organizes its cameos onto thematically appropriate teams recalls the Pin Pals’ various bowling opponents in the terrific Simpsons episode “Team Homer,” although Regular Show has a far greater opportunity for its more supernatural characters to bring their own unique approach to the dodgeball court. As for the games themselves, even just the various order in which the Benson’s Ballers teammates are eliminated create distinct stories, albeit ones that unfold over the space of about 15 seconds. While a few extra minutes might have allowed additional team members their own moments of glory, at least Rigby gets one heck of a redemption in the semifinal round against the heavily favored Magical Elements. He gets his own heroic redemption story in miniature, but it’s just a teaser for the main event.
The Intergalactic Dodgeball Council is hardly the first pandimensional entity to meddle in Mordecai’s love life. Indeed, in narrative terms, there’s not much difference between the IDC and the Guardian of the Friend Zone in “Meteor Moves,” as both pull Mordecai and his potential romantic interest out of normal reality and force them to confront their real issues. Such repetition is allowable in part because of the realities of the Regular Show format; with only 11 minutes to tell its stories, the show has to lean on some narrative shortcuts, and Mordecai is so good at ducking his real issues that he needs something like this to make him be entirely honest. But the far more important reason why “Dodge This” doesn’t feel like a rehash of “Meteor Moves” is that the Guardian and the IDC are both very funny, and not in the same ways. If you’re looking to quickly distinguish between two cosmic characters, making one sound like Wayne Knight and the other like a Californian surfer dude is an effective first step. The wildly divergent voice casting—not to mention the character designs—allow the theoretically similar scenes to pursue significantly different tones. Here, the leader of the IDC comes across as a cool guy who loves dodgeball and only wants the best for those who step on the court. Even with barely any lines, he and his colleagues feel like specific, well-realized characters, and that in turn provides extra support to Mordecai and C.J.’s interaction.
As it turns out, “Dodge This” only really deals with the fallout of “Yes Dude Yes,” with the pair still dodging the significance of their make-out session in “New Year’s Kiss.” The episode resets their relationship so that they can begin again as friends, which makes sense, as “Yes Dude Yes” suggested the pair had plenty of platonic chemistry that could sustain far more story than just that episode’s jealousy plot. That’s still worthwhile territory to explore, and the sequence at the end of the episode, in which C.J. knocks Mordecai out of the tournament and engages in some good-natured boasting, suggests she should fit right into the ensemble. As C.J., Linda Cardellini has a fun, boisterous energy that represents a sensible departure from Janie Haddad Tompkins’ more straightforwardly sweet performance as Margaret. Comparisons between the two characters are inevitable—I mean, I literally just made one—but C.J. comes across as far more than just a replacement or even a counterpoint to Mordecai’s last love interest. There’s plenty of potential here for types of stories that weren’t really possible before the reintroduction of this character, and it’s up to Regular Show just how it wants to explore this new terrain. But that irritated IDC member is right, and I suspect he speaks for many viewers of the show with his central question: What about that New Year’s kiss? Friendship is all well and good, but it probably isn’t going to last forever, one way or another.
- I love the sight gag of Thomas’ horn puncturing a dodgeball, although I could probably spend many pointless hours debating whether that should really count as a caught ball, as it apparently does in the tournament, or as an out for the other team. This seems to cut to the heart of what dodegeball is all about, philosophically speaking.
- Benson is right. I need some chicken wings. So, if you’ll excuse me...