As soon as Benson tells Mordecai and Rigby not to touch the cool stuff found throughout Mr. Maellard’s mansion, lest said cool stuff gets broken, the audience already knows what the episode’s punchline will be. Something is going to get broken, our heroes are going to go to comically absurd lengths to undo their costly mistake, and then we will learn that the object they replaced wasn’t so valuable after all. There’s a few different ways this episode could have ended—I thought Mr. Maellard might reveal a closet full of additional signed Bruce Rock guitars—but all exist along the same fairly narrow spectrum. And really, you can go back further than that: As soon as Benson declares, “Don’t touch anything or you’re both fired,” the observant audience member can pretty much plot out the rest of the episode, at least in terms of its fundamental structure. But we don’t watch television because of some abstract appreciation of fundamental structure, and that’s particularly true of a series like Regular Show. Even if we know that a given episode is going to move from predictable initial point A to predictable final point B, it’s the journey between those two points that hold our interest. And if “Guitar Of Rock” proves anything, it’s that a Regular Show journey can never, ever be predicted.
Indeed, this episode derives much of its power from its shaggy-dog storytelling, as Mordecai, Rigby, and Benson somehow manage to move in just under 10 minutes from breaking a guitar to performing an impromptu rock concert for a bunch of dead rockers and a suspicious demon bouncer. What’s particularly ingenious about this episode is how it keeps throwing up additional side obstacles on the way to that signed guitar. As soon as Bruce Rock falls five feet off that stage—killing his old, old body, as the news report helpfully explains—our heroes have to shift their focus to a series of intermediary goals, even if each step seems to take them further and further away from replacing the busted guitar. First they have to convince Death to sneak them into the Rock Star Underworld, and then they try to purloin the demon bouncer’s pen, and then there’s the rock concert, and then there’s big fight with the aforementioned demon bouncer, and so on.
“Guitar Of Rock” cleverly expands its scope still further by alluding to adventures both past—whatever Muscle Man did to earn a favor from the roadie—and future—our heroes have another babysitting date with Thomas, although they’re pretty sure they can weasel out of it. It’s hard to create an 11-minute story that feels sprawling, but tonight’s episode pulls off the trick with aplomb. Besides, because the story constantly keeps the main characters at least two or three steps away from completing their quest and fooling Mr. Maellard, it feels even crueler when the man suddenly, unceremoniously smashes the guitar, declaring that it’s good to be rich.
Thus far, I’ve elided the major structural twist of “Guitar Of Rock,” which is that it’s Benson, not Mordecai or Rigby, who breaks the guitar. Benson’s past love of all things rock ’n’ roll has been explored previously, most notably in “150-Piece Kit,” and it’s rather charming to see that there’s something that makes Benson step out of his eternally cautious, buttoned-down personality, if only for a moment. The creative decision to make Benson the guilty party sets up some good meta jokes, as Benson essentially recognizes that Mordecai and Rigby enjoy a weird narrative invincibility that shields them from all the consequences of their actions. In other words, they’re the stars of Regular Show, so nothing truly awful can ever happen to them, or else there wouldn’t be a show anymore. Benson’s thinking is a little more mundane than that, as he simply observes that “You guys are always wrecking stuff and getting away with it,” but he recognizes that, if there’s any chance that this is all going to inexplicably work out for him, then that’s most likely going to happen while standing next to Mordecai and Rigby.
This is a rich area for Regular Show to explore, particularly in terms of why Benson might have his life more together than Mordecai and Rigby in every conceivable way, yet he has to defer to them to bail him out of this disaster. As such, it’s a bit of a shame—though only a bit of one, as “Guitar Of Rock” is still an excellent episode—that the episode doesn’t dig quite as deep into this material as it could. If ever there were an opportunity to deconstruct the Regular Show formula, then tonight’s episode is it, but this ends up mostly just being a straightforward episode with some self-aware comments thrown in on the margins. One of the most intriguing scenes in that regard is the initial attempt to replace the guitar, in which Mordecai and Rigby quickly realize that Bruce Rock is always on tour and so they just need to go find his next show, which just happens to be tonight in their town. That’s a monumentally improbable stroke of good fortune, and Benson observes, “That’s amazing! Man, you guys really are good!”
This puts me in mind of the old quote that it’s better to be lucky than good, except Benson’s line suggests that there isn’t really a difference between the two. In this scenario, Mordecai and Rigby’s only conceivable skill is a knack for the serendipitous. Again, their status as the heroes of Regular Show means that their stories can’t just grind to a halt when they run into the first logical stumbling block. If Benson were trying to solve this mess on his own, he probably wouldn’t blithely assume that he could track down a major rock star in a matter of hours; even if he did check Bruce Rock’s tour schedule, the odds are that the guy wouldn’t randomly be in town for a concert that very evening. But Mordecai and Rigby’s presence means the story has to keep going, even if, as Rigby knowingly observes, “The first plan never works.” That’s what Muscle Man and his endless list of murky associates are there for.
“Guitar Of Rock” feels like a kind of karmic rebalancing for last season’s “Fool Me Twice,” in which Mordecai and Rigby’s idiotic enthusiasm placed an unwilling Benson in a situation where he had to bail them out. Here, Mordecai and Rigby must deal with a Benson who can’t really handle the insanity unfolding around him. Again, there’s a vague sense that Benson is just naturally not very good at being the star of a zany Regular Show adventure, as he foolishly tempts fates with his declarations that the grizzled Bruce Rock is going to live forever, a statement that is immediately followed by the rocker’s off-screen death. I was amused by Rigby’s claim to Benson that their impending banishment to the Fake Rock Star Underworld at the hands of an enraged demon is something that has never happened before; technically, I suppose that specific thing has probably never happened before, but surely our heroes deal with threats just as calamitous and absurd on a weekly basis. I suspect Rigby just wanted to give Benson a hard time for getting them into this mess in the first place.
The closest that this episode comes to a real character moment arrives when Mordecai convinces Benson to distract the demon bouncer, as the former explains, “This is the point of no return, where you’ve got to take a huge risk for a huge reward!” Benson has acquitted himself well in adventures before—again, there’s “Fool Me Twice,” not to mention “Sandwich Of Death”—but in those instances he had no time to consider alternatives. Here, Benson could theoretically quit and accept his probable firing at any time, but he keeps going. “Guitar Of Rock” doesn’t offer a firm explanation as to why Benson doesn’t let his misgivings win out—perhaps he just really, really wants to hang onto those retirement benefits—but I submit that this episode represents Benson accepting once and for all that Mordecai and Rigby can make worthwhile contributions, and sometimes their way is the only way to get what you need. When you do something as breathtakingly stupid as smash a priceless guitar, your only recourse is to do a bunch of things that are much, much stupider. That’s the Mordecai and Rigby way, and it ends up saving Benson’s job. The fact that Mr. Maellard only wants the guitar so that he can smash it himself is beside the point.
- “Zander Mercury, King Pluto, Max Amps.” “Wow, good names.” “I know!” The brilliant Julian Holloway returns as Death, and he’s as hilarious as ever. Honestly, this episode vaulted itself into the “A” range on the strength of his presence alone. If it had featured even a little more of the guy, I might well have dropped the minus. Either way, his presence really added to the energy of the episode’s middle section.
- Benson, Benson, I know you’re proud of those tassels, but you’re missing the bigger picture. Those are epaulets, man!
- I don’t know, I think I’d go to a rock show headlined by Rusty Skullbone and Lightning Jimmy Joe Johnson.