In a just universe, “Every Meat Burritos” would be Hi-Five Ghost’s finest quarter-hour. After countless episodes spent patiently lurking in the background, silently observing the antics of his friends and coworkers, Hi-Five Ghost is downright loquacious here, and what little there is of a plot wouldn’t work without the link he provides to his police officer brother and the cars at the impound lot. And yet, at every turn, Hi-Five Ghost’s heroic efforts are stymied. While Mordecai, Muscle Man, and even pint-sized Rigby are able to make their stomachs rumble on cue, Hi-Five Ghost can barely manage the slightest whimper, and the minor detail that he probably doesn’t have a stomach in the first place is no excuse. When the bank-robbing ’70s refugee Barry steals the gang’s burritos and recedes into the depths of his impounded car’s shag carpeting, Hi-Five Ghost quickly finds himself trapped along with Muscle Man in an inexplicable shag carpet net. (It’s inexplicable because, although we can safely assume it was Barry who constructed the rather elaborate trap, that still doesn’t begin to explain how he built it.) But perhaps the real trap for Hi-Five Ghost is more mental than physical; the holes in the net certainly seem big enough for him to squeeze through—and, as a ghost, he really should be able to move through the occasional solid object—but he gives up instantly, offering nothing more than a noble, self-sacrificing platitude.
All that is bad enough, but the final indignity comes right at the end. For all his misadventures, Hi-Five Ghost played a key role in apprehending Barry, and he helped retrieve his prized burrito. This calls for a celebratory hand gesture between Fives and his brother, and there can only be one choice. Hi-Five Ghost is about to live up to the promise of his name in the most literal manner possible; on a character level, this is a moment that can only be equaled, never surpassed, unless he were to use a high five to stop a nuclear war or something. And yet, at his moment of triumph, he fails utterly, whiffing on his brother’s offered hand and high-fiving nothing but the air. If this is what Hi-Five Ghost does when he gets a chance to participate actively in the proceedings, there’s a definite temptation to say he should have just remained silent in the background.
Admittedly, that character analysis is more than a little tongue-in-cheek, but it actually does illuminate something of a larger point. If there’s any unifying idea to “Every Meat Burritos”—and this episode is particularly shaggy and unfocused in its structure—it has to do with failure, and a particularly pathetic breed of failure at that. After all, our heroes just want to live out the ultimate dream of any aimless young man, which is to sample bountiful and exotic meats, preferably in burrito form. They are rebuffed by the jerks at Jimbros Burritos on the petty technicality that the trusty golf cart doesn’t count as a car, and this particular drive-thru establishment only serves people in automobiles. The gang’s initial attempt to make the cart more carlike by giving it cardboard doors and a cardboard fin ends in pitiable failure, and soon Muscle Man is left with no other option but to start up the Muscle Machine, which promptly splutters to a halt. Regular Show doesn’t exactly hide the fact that its main characters are, by most sane metrics, losers, but rarely have their aims seemed so pointless and their efforts so worthless as they do here. Even when our heroes ultimately accomplish their goal and chow down on the burritos, Rigby bemusedly observes that the almighty combination of all meat just tastes like chicken. Apprehending Barry is a victory of sorts, but it feels distinctly hollow when the gang derives so little pleasure from their supposed reward.
But then, old Barry is just the sorriest sad sack in an episode full of them. Even at his peak, he was a lowlife bank robber who apparently believes serial theft was all the rage in the ’70s, casting himself as John Dillinger in a fringed jacket. That at least carries a certain renegade charm, and it’s not as though the police come across any better; the original cops take out their frustrations with their own incompetence by shooting up the vehicle, and then their successors spend nearly 40 years completely missing the criminal hiding right under their noses. Still, the police are afforded a fairly cool representative in the form of Hi-Five Ghost’s brother, whereas Barry is unable to convince anyone he is worth taking seriously. Even Regular Show can’t bring itself to believe that Barry’s Bruce Lee-inspired fighting style—a callback to the movie our heroes are watching at the beginning of the episode—is worthy of anything more than a few punches from a frustrated, bored Mordecai.
The episode’s climactic mockery of Barry is a significant departure from the show’s usual formula, for while Regular Show is pretty much never entirely serious, it’s also rarely completely risible. As absurd as the show is, its surreal elements almost always bring with them their own internally consistent rules of logic, and once those are established, the show generally respects them. Consider a recent example: Sure, in absolute terms, it makes no sense whatsoever for Mordecai and Rigby to end up in a busking competition against a silver-painted street performer officiated by a gargantuan, rollerblading, speedo-wearing Uncle Sam. But relative to each other and to the shamelessly perfunctory exposition that gets “Silver Dude” to that point, everything makes a certain perfect kind of sense. What’s more, as much as none of it should matter, the results of that contest very clearly do matter to Mordecai and Rigby and, by extension, the show itself. It’s not just that they want the money to buy the final installment of a generation-defining video game; there are actual, honest-to-goodness principles at stake here, and everyone involved proves highly adept at and invested in their chosen form of combat. As difficult as it might be to figure out why, Regular Show takes that final contest seriously, and so the audience is expected to do likewise.
That’s a major reason why the climax of “Every Meat Burritos” is so shocking and such an apparent violation of the show’s typical formula. Barry is so pitiful, he leaves Regular Show no choice but to torpedo its usual climax. Only the music makes any effort to match his overdramatic moves and cries; the “camera” simply follows his movements from a safe distance. The framing of what I quite inaccurately call the fight sequence is that of a passive, bemused observer, where usually Regular Show adeptly cuts from action shot to action shot to make the big, episode-ending battle as exciting as possible. For all their exasperation, Mordecai and Rigby do at least take pity on Barry, inviting him to leave his self-imposed, shag-carpeted exile and step into the light of the modern world. But even when they halfheartedly try to do the right thing for a guy who has suffered enough—and, in most jurisdictions, really should be well outside the statute of limitations—Mordecai and Rigby still fail, as the cops promptly slap handcuffs on Barry. Sometimes, nobody deserves to succeed at anything, and “Every Meat Burritos” is one of those times.