The gallon challenge: To borrow a quote from noted philosopher Troy McClure, are any words more thrilling to the human soul? Since time immemorial, or possibly since 1997, guys across this great land have attempted to down a gallon of milk in an hour, and just about every last one of them has ended their attempt drenched in the vomit of failure (also, actual vomit). It’s the rare instance where the urban legend and the medical science more or less agree—if it isn’t actually impossible, it’s damn near close. As such, it’s the ultimate test of any guy’s mettle, particularly when the guy in question might not really be a guy at all. And if there’s anyone whose guy credentials are in serious doubt, it’s that loveable weirdo Pops. Stuck somewhere between space cadet and timid coward, Pops wouldn’t seem to have much business hanging with a crazy guy’s guy crowd like Mordecai, Rigby, Muscle Man, and Hi-Five Ghost. As such, this is very much the hero’s journey for Pops, and because this is Regular Show that journey takes him through a place that can only be described as Milk Hell, or possibly Milk Purgatory.
“Guys Night” opens with a joyous celebration of modern male bonding, as the four guys promptly blow off work at 6 p.m. to enjoy their guys night, which primarily involves shouting “Guys night!” at every available opportunity. It’s a fun sequence, in part because just about everyone is so into the whole concept of guys night. Mordecai and Rigby put aside any simmering animosities they might have toward Muscle Man (and vice versa), the curmudgeonly Benson clearly looks upon guys night with some fondness, and even the pizza guy and the paramedics are caught up in the magic. The only two who are left out are Thomas, whom Muscle Man sends away to buy the guys some more chips—incidentally, it’s good to know the show itself appears to hold Thomas in contempt now—and Pops. The guys can perhaps be excused for excluding Pops, since it certainly doesn’t seem as though guys night is his sort of thing, even if it’s not entirely clear what is Pops’ sort of thing.
The decision to make Pops take the gallon challenge ends with predictable results—indeed, it repeatedly ends with predictable results, as Pops just keeps on vomiting half gallon after half gallon of milk, but never downing that full gallon in an hour. Even Rigby recognizes the ridiculousness of forcing Pops to accomplish such an impossible feat, and the guys try to let him off the hook by claiming his attempts have already proven he’s one of the guys. But Pops refuses their pity, even if it seems fairly clear that the guys genuinely regret placing him in this situation in the first place. The photo album that Pops reviews is an interesting detail, insofar as the photos reveal he was present for all of the guys’ great feats of chugging and overeating, which rather suggests he was already one of the guys, even if nobody quite realized it. Anyway, Pops finally completes the challenge—perhaps because his previous repeated consumption and expulsion of six gallons of milk has expanded his stomach enough to keep it all down?—and promptly enters a strange, comatose state, much like those experienced by one of the cast every couple of episodes or so.
The Milk Purgatory sequence is one of my favorite Regular Show alternate dimensions, mostly because it’s so simple. The completely white backgrounds and the silent, pint-sized milk servers are so much more unnerving and seemingly inescapable than your average fiery hell. The blank surroundings also prove an especially good counterpoint for the colorful handful of guys who thought they had completed the gallon challenge. It’s telling that these guys consider this blank, milk-filled world to be paradise. For them, this is journey’s end, and they can rest forever secure in the knowledge that they left our world with the ultimate proof that they are indeed a bunch of awesome guys. Yes, as far as these guys are concerned, that void is essentially the gallon challenge equivalent of the Elysian Fields. Of course, Pops sees through that fiction instantly, as he knows no true guy would consider the challenge completed unless they raised the milk jug above their head.
What follows is inexplicable, even by Regular Show standards, as the milk servers reveal themselves to be monsters, and a few of the guys are actually turned into monsters after being bitten. We don’t get any sense of what motivates these creatures, nor do we learn the fate of those guys that Pops manages to lead to the elevator. Indeed, the whole thing is so dreamy and ambiguous that this might be the rare occasion where a trip to a strange netherworld is actually just a construction of Pops’ milk-addled mind. If Pops’ journey to Milk Purgatory really happened, it might have been nice to include some sort of capper back in the real world, some indication that the other guys were real and that they, too, escaped to complete their challenges. Admittedly, that might not actually fit with the logic established by “Guys Night,” as it’s clear that Pops was only just able to return in time to complete the challenge, so presumably the other guys would have come back long after their hours expired. I realize this is a minor point, and it’s perhaps just an instance where Regular Show’s short 11-minute running time and its relatively laid-back pacing leaves me a tad unsatisfied. While I like that the show has such a markedly different feel from Adventure Time, sometimes I wish it could cram a little more story into its episodes and have a little more space for weird little narrative flourishes and throwaway bits of strangeness.
Still, I wouldn’t want to go too far with that critique. Because for all its bizarre flights of fancy, Regular Show has a streamlined simplicity that may not always leave me with an awful lot to talk about, but it does tend to make for some nice little thematic arcs. After all, the true nature of Milk Purgatory is irrelevant to the real resolution of the episode, which is all about Pops raising the milk jug over his head and the guys joyously accepting him as one of their own. That bond between guys is so strong that even the paramedics aren’t phased when Pops tells them that nobody is hurt—indeed, nobody is there at all, just a bunch of guys, which is met with much celebratory high-fiving from all concerned. It’s the perfect bookend to the guys’ opening celebrations. It goes without saying that this is all deeply, deeply stupid, but it’s to Regular Show’s credit that it actually is capable of not saying it. “Guys Night” is an entire episode devoted to guys just doing their thing, and it’s an important reminder that even a weirdo like Pops can do something ballsy and stupid enough to join their illustrious ranks. But seriously, people, don’t do the gallon challenge. It’s my understanding that you’ll either vomit, die, or be transported to some hellish milk netherworld. Probably not worth it.
- For a slightly more technical overview of just why the gallon challenge is so impossible, check out this article, which offers a few entirely convincing reasons why it’s so hard. The fact that the average stomach only has a half-gallon capacity seems like a pretty good place to start.
- Huge thanks to Kevin and Sonia for filling in for me while I’ve wrestled with hurricane-induced blackouts and transatlantic trips. I now plan to return to leading a completely uneventful life, the better to guarantee uninterrupted Regular Show coverage from here on out.