As sheer, madcap escapism, “A Skips In Time” is hard to beat. The episode does away with Regular Show’s typical low-key opening, as the story opens with the return of the storm-chasing technomancer Techmo and his command center, which just happens to be a gigantic, tricked-out DeLorean. Back at the park, the gang doesn’t have time for any of the usual easygoing, episode-opening antics, as the deadly tornado bears down on the house. Sure, Mordecai and Rigby manage to screw up their one assigned task, as they decide the only supplies they and their friends need to survive the storm are pizza pouches, but even Benson says he doesn’t have time to yell at them right now. Everything about this episode’s opening sequence suggests something epic is brewing, and that certainly seems to be the case when a balloon emerges from the tornado and crashes into a nearby tree, depositing an unconscious stranger into the gang’s care. It’s only when the park staffers safely bring the man into the basement that Skips realizes that this figure is actually his younger self, from back when he was a foppish 18th century dandy who called himself Walks.
Regular Show rarely gets to the heart of matters as quickly as it does in tonight’s episode, and yet it seems oddly uncertain quite what to do with its irresistible premise. The arrival of Walks gives Skips a chance to recap his unique history, and Regular Show has some fun with the disconnect between the older and younger versions of the show’s resident immortal. As Mordecai and Rigby ably demonstrate later in the episode when they briefly catch a glimpse of their high school selves, it’s easy enough for characters to recoil in horror at the thought of meeting themselves from less than a decade ago. Skips and Walks, on the other hand, are separated by nearly 300 years, and the episode’s most intriguing material delves into just how unrecognizable Skips is to his younger self. The journey from Walks to Skips is so long that it could easily include dozens of weird blind alleys and cul-de-sacs; it’s not just that Walks can’t see how he would ever become Skips, but rather that he can’t even understand how such a transformation process would even get started. Mark Hamill deserves a great deal of credit here for his dual voice performance, as he pushes the sounds of Walks and Skips as far apart as he possibly can while still allowing the two characters to cohere into a single individual. As paradoxical as it might sound, Hamill makes Walks recognizable as Skips, even though he’s completely unrecognizable.
Still, there’s something oddly hollow about “A Skips In Time,” as the episode never really articulates a larger point to all this craziness. Regular Show isn’t exactly a show defined by its thematic depth, but it usually manages to suggest some larger idea or dig into a character’s psyche. Last week’s “Wall Buddy,” for instance, dealt with Rigby’s immaturity, while the previous week’s “Every Meat Burritos” offered a surprisingly multifaceted look at the ways in which failure shaped its characters’ lives. “A Skips In Time” has a nascent theme about friendship and acceptance, as the episode briefly spotlights various relationships: Skips with Techmo, Skips with Rigby and Mordecai, Walks with Rigby and Mordecai, and even Skips with Walks. But the episode ultimately doesn’t have all that much to say about these connections beyond, “These people are friends.” The final scene, in which Skips shares a photo that his grateful younger self signed for Mordecai and Rigby, is sweet, even if the show’s short running time means the episode has to cut out before the emotion of the moment fully lands.
The problem might be that Skips is far too focused on the episode’s plot, which means there’s not enough time to really explore the bigger questions raised by the setup. On a character level, that’s perhaps understandable; after all, if Walks doesn’t return to his own time and live out the life that Skips remembers, then the chain of events that created Skips will cease to exist. But the episode emphasizes the how of Walks’ return at the expense of the why. Walks makes it clear that he has no wish to become Skips, and his older self mostly just reacts by redoubling his efforts to send him back. It’s only as Skips begins to fade away and Mordecai, Rigby, and Techmo recount Skips’ incredible exploits that Walks finally understands why this particular future is one worth living through—even if he still can’t quite believe he would ever change his name. This isn’t exactly a bad way to win over Walks, but it obscures the connection between Skips and Walks; it allows the show’s most opaque regular character to be saved while revealing as little about himself as possible. Yes, “A Skips In Time” offers plenty of insight into Walks, but it doesn’t really enhance our understanding of why he ultimately became Skips, as the episode is instead content to reaffirm information the audience already knows about lost loves and giant babies.
Admittedly, I am not entirely sure this is a valid criticism; it’s difficult to say that something is “missing” from an episode if there was no intention to include it in the first place. But the premise of “A Skips In Time” is so strong, and it opens up so many dramatic possibilities, that it does seem like a bit of a shame to reduce the central story to a fairly standard slice of Regular Show action adventure. Compare this with the last Skips-centric episode, the vastly superior “Skips’ Stress,” and that earlier episode suggests what elements make for a truly successful story built around this character. There’s plenty of action in “Skips’ Stress,” but it has a frequently dreamlike, almost mystical quality, as the story is told primarily in fantasy sequences and wordless montages. That feels like a better fit for Skips, and, just as crucially, that episode finds a good balance between Skips as the master of his destiny and his reliance on his friends for help. Skips needs to be confronted as aggressively as possible if he’s going to open up—his stress-induced sickness was enough to trigger that, but his younger self doesn’t quite get him there.
That’s not to say that “A Skips In Time” is a complete misfire; an episode can still more or less succeed even if certain aspects of the story represent a missed opportunity. While Skips occasionally seems sidelined in his own story, Walks is a much more enjoyable character, and Hamill clearly has a blast filtering Skips’ gruff everyman persona into a foppish, somewhat British aristocrat. The episode has some fun with Walks’ culture shock, and it’s a great little gag to have Mordecai and Rigby introduce him to the joys of video games with a game that’s all about ballooning. “A Skips In Time” doesn’t really have much to say about Techmo beyond the fact that he is unbelievably cool, but, in the episode’s defense, he totally is. Perhaps that’s the key to understanding this episode—more than most, this is a story governed by the proverbial rule of cool. Regular Show is capable of far deeper storytelling than this, but there are worse things than the show occasionally giving itself over completely to sheer, madcap escapism.
- Although the park staff spent most of the episode together, most of the team’s contributions were limited to that one bit of business where Benson reveals he has a cat-themed check for Muscle Man’s guy with a time machine. Now that I describe it, I realize that really was more than enough to justify their presence.