Regular Show is seldom content to do a straightforward pop culture riff, which is why the initial introduction of Jack the bounty hunter is so surprising. His hairdo, clothes, and whole general aura rather directly recall that of Duane “Dog” Chapman of the semi-fondly remembered series Dog The Bounty Hunter. As a target of satirical mockery, Dog is long since past his sell-by date; indeed, it’s dubious whether Regular Show could have gotten away with an extended Dog The Bounty Hunter riff even back in 2010, when the show premièred. But “Benson’s Car” has no interest in Dog as the butt of any particular joke, so any such concerns quickly fade away. The episode is only concerned with him as a visual shorthand for a bounty hunter, a way for the audience to read in their own expectations about what sort of character Jack will be before the show goes in a much, much weirder direction. After all, it’s patently absurd that Benson would be so worked up over the theft of his car he would hire a bounty hunter, who in turn reveals he is a time traveler from the future who uses such assignments as a way to deal with all the violent urges—and internet coupons—that are outlawed in his home time.
But “Benson’s Car” is able to set up such a singularly surreal character in about 15 seconds, in part because Sam Marin’s voiceover takes such an offhanded approach to Benson mentioning Jack’s temporal origins, and in part because the moment the audience sees Jack, everyone knows he is a bounty hunter. This allows the episode to bypass some of the more familiar bounty hunter-related jokes (yes, I do believe that’s a thing) and instead focus on Jack’s highly codependent relationship with his gun V.I.C.K.I., which for all its overly literal interpretations of his one-liners does seem like a very smart weapon that’s very good at making a very dumb man look like he knows what he’s doing. All in all, it’s another clever way for Regular Show to fit more story into its short timeslot than might otherwise seem possible, and it leaves room for character work and lengthier gags elsewhere. Other shows might well feel it necessary to spend more time explaining just what kind of time Jack comes from or how he finds himself in our time period—and, if the show had a half-hour to play with, those questions might well be worth exploring—but Regular Show recognizes that as long as Jack says he’s from the future and Benson agrees with him, no further justification is needed. As long as the characters don’t question their own reality, there’s no reason for the audience to do so either.
That does indicate a certain level of trust in the viewers at home, which can only be a good thing. It’s tricky to say precisely when, but I would argue that Regular Show has grown significantly more ambitious from the back half of season four onwards; the 100th episode milestone of “A Bunch Of Full-Grown Geese” and the long-awaited resolution of the Margaret storyline have seemed to revitalize Regular Show, and even less momentous episodes like “Benson’s Car” suggest a willingness to push the boundaries of what the show can do in its allotted time. For instance, the opening gag about the horror movie initially depends on viewers understanding what a “sting” is. Even for those not familiar with their music and broadcasting terms—which admittedly is probably a relatively small percentage of the readership around these part —it still quickly becomes clear from context what Mordecai and Rigby are referring to, as the hapless cheerleader is threatened by a menagerie of zombies, vampires, and other supernatural ghouls as the same ominous burst of music plays over and over (11 times, by my count). The episode could have had our heroes refer to the concept as “musical stings,” just to make it that much easier for the audience to see where the joke is headed, but there’s a subtle ambition to not constantly holding the audience’s hand.
That extends to how so much of this episode is structured, particularly in how it handles the supporting characters. This episode manages more or less perfect dialogue-free deployment of Thomas, as Rigby initially suggests he and Mordecai blame the cracked windshield on him—confirming Thomas’ status as the Jerry of Regular Show, or perhaps the Tibor— and the guy later makes a wordless cameo during Jack’s attack wearing only a pizza suit, for reasons likely best left unconsidered. Similarly, Muscle Man’s sudden use of a metal detector is only barely explicable as a way to help Benson find his stolen car, but it’s the kind of ludicrous decision that would only barely make sense if Muscle Man actually attempted to explain it, which he never does. Indeed, it’s hard to really consider the metal detector a joke of any sort, but it does feel like another strange, brief peek into the mind of Muscle Man, the guy who has a guy for everything, so long as you need everything done cheaply. He’s also involved in two of the better delayed joke payoffs in the episode; the first comes when he tells Rigby he can’t have any chips, resulting in another dramatic camera push-in—though, sadly, not another overdramatic sting—and the second comes right at the end, when he smugly points out that his guy’s new windshield proves to be the only thing that actually survives Jack’s onslaught intact.
Still, this episode is fundamentally another exploration of the relationship between Benson and his two idiot employees, and “Benson’s Car” makes perhaps the strongest case yet as to just how little he deserves the likes of Mordecai and Rigby. Yes, he’s far more tightly wound than is healthy, and it’s wrong of him to tacitly allow Jack to brutalize whosoever he identifies as the car thieves. But ultimately, when Jack fires his killing burst at Mordecai and Rigby, Benson never hesitates; he leaps and throws them out of the way, putting his beloved, freshly recovered car in the way of the blast. Any punishment he metes out after that seems entirely justified. And while that act is perhaps the clearest distillation of just how fundamentally virtuous, maybe even heroic, Benson really is, it’s actually his earlier scene with Mordecai and Rigby that really reveals the nature of their relationship.
After all, our heroes’ attempted diversion—in which they ask Benson to explain how to rake leaves while they borrow his car keys—is flimsy, to put it extremely charitably. The fact that Benson not only believes them but also puts in enough effort to provide a fairly decent pantomime of raking suggests he really does think that little of Mordecai and Rigby, that he sincerely believes they truly are that dumb. That notion is only confirmed an instant later, when Mordecai, as part of the continued distraction, yells up to Benson to ask whether he is raking correctly. For that moment, Benson actually doesn’t seem annoyed, affirming that Mordecai is doing it properly before explaining he has to get back to his other work. It’s a good reminder that Benson may often be enraged by Rigby and Mordecai, but he definitely doesn’t hate them. Much as he probably doesn’t want to, he does like them, and he wants them to succeed at their menial tasks. Sure, he thinks they are more idiotic than they really are, but “Benson’s Car” isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement of our heroes’ general wisdom.
- I think Jack might need to time travel a bit further back into the past, as I’m pretty sure the violent things he intends to do to the perpetrators are still pretty much illegal. But hey, I am not a lawyer.