After last week’s top-notch Pops episode, tonight’s “Gold Watch” turns its attention to another Sam Marin-voiced character, the eternally perturbed Benson. While this episode can’t quite match the grandeur of “Catching The Wave”—very, very few episodes could, Regular Show or otherwise—this does offer a neat character study of the park manager. The episode hammers home the theme that “playing it safe” isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be, but the real lesson this story imparts isn’t quite the same thing. Instead, the story offers a compelling case for why “playing by the rules”—related but distinct from “playing it safe”—is no way for a person to live his or her life. There are two ways that “Gold Watch” can argue this point. The first is to play up the fundamental worthlessness of Benson’s pursuit of the titular gold watch: The guy has earned the stupid thing by getting to work on time for a thousand consecutive days, a multiyear mission that has required untold quantities of stale toast and cold coffee. Muscle Man and Hi-Five Ghost are both at least slightly skeptical of Benson’s decision to invest so much of himself in the quest for this watch, especially when it’s required such pointless sacrifices. But they don’t say anything, because Regular Show characters are the last people who should be questioning other people’s questionable life choices.
Besides, it’s too straightforward, too easy to say that Benson is foolish because he cares about a gold watch; part of being a person is caring about deeply stupid things, because everyone’s got to give life meaning somehow. Where he errs is in the underlying philosophy that leads him to covet that watch, and it’s this second argument that “Gold Watch” explores. Whatever Benson’s initial ambitions—the recent “Expert Or Liar” gave us some sense of how a young Benson had once wanted his life to pan out—the man has long since rededicated life to playing it safe, which means following all the rules. This episode viscerally confronts him with the twin follies of that philosophy. There’s the highway patrolman who willfully disregards any extenuating circumstances and actively misinterprets even the most benign acts as signs of criminal intent, running his tiny patch of road as his own private fiefdom. Benson’s belief in the rule carries with it an implicit assumption of fairness. For Benson’s life to make any sense, the universe must be orderly and sensible enough that playing it safe will always lead to success: perhaps not the kind of incredible success that comes with a willingness to take risks, but at least a minor sort of contentment and achievement. The cop’s casual, capricious corruption offers rather decisive proof that that isn’t always the case.
Then there’s Mr. Maellard, who makes his latest return for the vanished Benson’s memorial service. He isn’t evil in the same way that the highway patrolman is, but his dispassionate response to Benson is just as crushing. As he explains, he’s a stickler for the rules, so he can’t even consider just giving Benson the watch that he broke the very laws of physics to obtain. If the cop’s excesses reveal the dangers of entrusting people to enforce the law, then Mr. Maellard’s callousness reminds us of the importance of at least some human element in the application of the rules. Even those who always play it safe and always follow the rules must occasionally fall back on simple compassion; there must be some reason that Benson still hasn’t fired Mordecai and Rigby, after all. The fact that Benson recognizes that need for flexibility in his treatment of his own employees only makes it all the sadder that he’s so rigid in his own life, that he’s so convinced that an absolute routine is the only way he will ever get ahead.
There are some complex themes that “Gold Watch” hits upon, and the reason that it all works as well as it does is that this is another reliably funny episode. This is a fairly streamlined plot, but there’s still time for the bit of silliness in which Pops’ poorly thought-out internet search leaves him staring at what looks suspiciously like a roided-out Carrot Top. (Or, to put it less redundantly, Carrot Top.) Mordecai and Rigby don’t get all that much to do in this episode, but they do come up with—and later comment on the general implausibility of—the plan to have all five of them hide behind Pops’ head. Benson’s trip back through time sets up a rather clever reference to Superman: The Movie, and I must admit I chuckled at the rather basic silliness of a mustachioed Tango and a clean-shaven Stash. The cop’s completely over-the-top corruption also makes for some good gags, particularly his ready access to and willingness to use both firearms and increasingly gigantic hoses.
The funniest running gag of this episode doubles as its best insight into Benson’s character. His general inability to handle his buffalo wings was previously established in “Dodge This,” and it returns with a vengeance in “Gold Watch.” Sam Marin is very funny at playing the drunken—my apologies, the buffalo wing-addled—Benson, with his more brazenly declarative sentences and his emphatic hand gestures. It’s a very clever take on who Benson is when his defenses are ever so slightly lowered, and his chicken wing “blackouts” prove essential to first setting the plot in motion and then providing one hell of a final gag. But it’s what happens in between those chicken wing blackouts that really counts, as an aggrieved Benson tries to blame his latest professional fiasco on Mordecai and Rigby’s interference. Much as he’s correct that his preposterous situation would never have come to pass without their presence, Tango and Stash make the far more important point: Nobody ever forced Benson to chow down on all those chicken wings.
That, more than anything, speaks to the essential danger of a life spent playing it safe and following the rules: It can really undermine one’s sense of responsibility. Benson is so invested in the idea that it’s he who lives the normal life and it’s Mordecai and Rigby who live the ridiculous one that he can’t even comprehend that he might have chosen to mix things up. His worldview can’t even stretch to the idea that he might be the one responsible for his predicament, because that possibility doesn’t fit inside his narrowly defined set of rules. This is where keeping Mordecai and Rigby on the periphery of “Gold Watch” proves so essential, because any more active role for them would undermine this crucial point. Mordecai and Rigby aren’t the devils on Benson’s shoulder, beckoning him toward temptation—or, if they are, that’s only because Benson’s subconscious can’t imagine an uninhibited version of himself who could plausibly do the job. Mordecai and Rigby—and Tango and Stash, for that matter—are just friendly guys trying to be friendly to someone whose life only makes sense within the narrowest of parameters. Benson ends up going to some pretty absurd lengths to maintain those parameters, as everything is still all about that silly watch, but at least he now knows that he’s the one who made those ridiculous decisions.