One big reason why Regular Show is so appealingly bizarre is how blasé everyone is about the world’s surreal and absurd elements. Whenever Mordecai and Rigby’s latest misadventure leads them into some parallel dimension or unleashes some incomprehensible beast from the depths of hell, nobody ever bothers to point out how preposterous it all is. Part of this simply ties into the time constraints involved in telling a complete story in a quarter of an hour (a point I’ll return to later on); there’s not a moment to spare, so why waste time with characters merely commenting on the existence of craziness around them? But the fact that the show consistently elides past any recognition of this world’s ridiculousness makes this whole reality feel more complete. We’re not simply observing our world with a few surreal flourishes, but instead visiting—for 11 minutes at a time—a complete, self-contained world that’s infinitely weirder and more interesting than our own.
“Caveman” takes that basic fact of the show’s existence further than usual, as it presupposes that unfrozen cavemen are a frequently encountered pest for which insurance is offered and the first response to their presence is to call animal control. In this context, the episode is functionally the same as one where Mordecai and Rigby, say, find a stray dog and beg Benson to allow them to keep it. Indeed, given how weird Regular Show can get, I wouldn’t put it past the creative team to have done this entire episode virtually unchanged with a dog being civilized instead of a caveman, up to and including the part where it acquires the gift of speech. That said, I’m not suggesting Regular Show should have gone this route, as depicting a caveman as just another kind of mangy animal offers up some good gags. The basic idea of sending the caveman to the pound is amusing, and the episode takes it to the next level when Rigby implicitly warns Gregg that the only fates that await him at the pound are being neutered and being put down. There’s also a pleasingly violent capper to all this, as an animal-control worker shows up to deal with Gregg’s rampaging fellow cavemen and promptly gets both his arm ripped off. In a particularly sharp mix of the mundane and the absurd, the suddenly armless animal control guy deadpans that he needs a new job, with all the passion of a man who was just informed his employers are scaling back his dental benefits.
This is another episode where Mordecai and Rigby take a backseat to a guest character of the week, but at least the episode crams some great character moments into their cave sleepover. Mordecai frantically, repeatedly warning Rigby that he’s about to burn his marshmallow—which of course ends with Rigby burning his marshmallow—is, in narrative terms, simply there to kick off the thawing of Gregg the caveman, but the sequence also works as a quick, humorous encapsulation of these two weirdoes’ dynamic. Indeed, their entire sleepover is, on some level, just meant to provide enough elapsed time for the caveman to melt, with all their conversations about finding a new friend some intentionally unsubtle foreshadowing for Gregg’s arrival.
But the cave party also offers some insight into where Mordecai and Rigby are up to in their lives. The most pointed exchange comes when Mordecai asks Rigby where he sees himself in 10 years, only to dismiss Rigby’s plans to become a stuntman and declare he will probably still be working at the park in a decade’s time. It’s a poignant, pathetic moment that isn’t really expanded upon in the episode, but it does deserve more attention somewhere down the road. The whole cave party takes a sense of melancholy that arguably underpins all of Mordecai and Rigby’s slacker antics—after all, the entirety of Regular Show is really one long, long exploration of their wasted potential—and brings it closer to the surface. For all our heroes’ talk about how no one else would be cool enough to hang with them full-time, we’re still looking at a scene where Mordecai and Rigby spend a free afternoon hiding out together in a cave. It’s hard not to consider that at least a little bit sad.
Once their prehistoric pal shows up, Mordecai and Rigby largely cede the spotlight, although not before giving him the supremely unimaginative name “Dancing Caveman.” Gregg is a surprisingly nuanced character, especially when compared to Diane and the other cavemen. He’s clearly far more able to adapt to the modern world than any of his compatriots, and his natural inclinations to rock out and chug liquid cheese suggest he’s a naturally cool sort of guy. That doesn’t last long once the gang sets about civilizing him, as Gregg takes a little too readily to their lessons. By the end of a montage that features such all-important lessons in modern living as hurling bathtubs onto cop cars, memorizing the alphabet and a brief list of laws, reacting calmly when presented with a lighter’s flame, and (of course) watching an ungodly amount of TV, Gregg hasn’t just become civilized—he’s actually become kind of an uptight nerd.
Indeed, there’s little doubt that Gregg genuinely cares about fitting in with the modern world and particularly with Mordecai and Rigby. He’s legitimately grateful for what they have done for him, and it hurts him to leave them behind, even if it is to be reunited with the woman he loves. That final gesture earns the grief-stricken respect of Benson, who gets a great little moment where he delivers what has to be television’s millionth variation on the observation that the savage caveman might well have been the most civilized of them all. Sure, it’s a clichéd moment, but it’s rather charmingly undercut by Benson tearfully telling Mordecai and Rigby to clean up the park, or else he’ll fire them.
The episode also hints at an interesting dynamic between Gregg and our protagonists, for as much as they want to be friends with the cool dancing caveman, they don’t really seem to care about him all that much. After all, their interest in finding Diane is really only as a means to an end, as Gregg might not otherwise agree to take Benson’s test. There’s a selfish aspect to their relationship, which is most clearly revealed when they ask Gregg to choose them over Diane, but unfortunately there isn’t really time to dig into this. Anchoring “Caveman” more clearly in terms of what Gregg means to Mordecai and Rigby would have added to the episode—after all, they are Regular Show’s main characters, so it would be good to have at least some of the focus dedicated to them—but this would have introduced an element that likely couldn’t be easily fit into 11 minutes.
As Regular Show ages, a lot of its more intriguing elements are found in the character work, but these often end up on the fringes of an episode just to make sure there’s enough time to get through the story. While I can’t imagine an expansion to a half-hour format is in the future, a handful of experimental double-length episodes would be nice. Of course, Regular Show has done a few of those this season, but they have been given over to an anthology and a pair of epic adventures. It might be interesting to see what happens when a normal Regular Show plot is given more space to breathe. “Caveman” works just fine as a plot-driven 11 minutes, and its opening does offer some nice insight into our main characters, but it’s tempting to imagine how much further the show could take all these worthwhile elements if it had a little more time to weave them altogether.
- “No way! I’m not having a caveman at the park—we aren’t insured for it!”
- “Me submit that I can’t be truly civilized until me find other half.” Me submit that the phrase “me submit” should henceforward be used by everyone when they’re about to make a particularly profound point.
- “We going through some stuff right now.” I generally loved Gregg as a character, but his incredibly mild characterization of his problems with Diane was a particularly funny gag.
- I love the little animation detail that gives Diane’s horse the exact same prehistoric forehead ridges as all the other cavemen.
- This episode feeds my continuing fascination with Hi-Five Ghost. After all, why would he need to hide from the rampaging cavemen if he’s able to become intangible enough to phase through a cabinet door? I really hope Regular Show keeps gleefully contradicting itself on just what is Hi-Five Ghost’s deal, preferably suggesting multiple different properties in each scene in which he appears.