Regular Show is tired of Mordecai’s crap. His stunted emotional growth was cause for sympathy back in the show’s early days, but the guy lost his last excuse for romantic cowardice somewhere around “Meteor Moves.” Opening with a montage between Mordecai and C.J. that broadly recalls the one he shared with Margaret in “Steak Me Amadeus,” “I Like You Hi” methodically strips Mordecai of places to hide, until he is quite literally forced to choose between dealing with his feelings and spending eternity in a cosmic abyss. Even then, it’s a far tougher decision than it ought to be. A big reason that this is a brilliant episode is that it’s so completely uninterested in humoring Mordecai’s latest silliness. Rigby and the rest of the park staffers immediately recognize his meltdown as another instance of pulling a Mordecai—defined as “the act of never making a move while, at the same time, not knowing what to do with your hands”—and their impressions are spot-on; I hadn’t truly lived until I heard Mark Hamill’s mocking impersonation of Mordecai. This storytelling approach makes for some hilarious gags, but more than that, it’s just right; at this stage, there is no good reason for Mordecai not to pursue C.J., as his Extreme Barista texting session makes it damn clear just how into her he truly is.
But then, “I Like You Hi” comes up with the one halfway decent reason for Mordecai to be his old, overcautious self. The episode makes it easy for the audience—not to mention Mordecai’s coworkers—to assume that he freaks out after the errant text message because he’s just falling into old bad behavior patterns, or because he still isn’t over Margaret. The truth, however, is that Mordecai is tentative because he’s not sure making a move would be fair to C.J., not when he still thinks about Margaret sometimes. That’s a noble impulse, kind of, but it’s also horribly naïve, indicative of somebody who has only the most limited of experience with relationships. Mordecai wasted so much time not being with Margaret not just because he was a coward but because he was a perfectionist; indeed, the former state of mind helped create the latter. Because Mordecai couldn’t handle the thought of rejection, he was always obsessed with finding that one perfect moment in which he could reveal his feelings and there would be no doubt that Margaret would reciprocate them.
Mordecai has grown significantly since those days, replacing those abstract concerns of theoretical rejection with the real heartbreak of Margaret leaving him, but his experiences have merely refined what remains an essentially silly outlook. No, it isn’t ideal that Mordecai still occasionally feels melancholy when Margaret pops into his mind, and it isn’t ideal that the most random things can bring those feelings back up to the surface. And yes, there is a risk here that Mordecai’s unresolved feelings for Margaret—even if said feelings don’t consist of full-blown love anymore—could cause problems for him and C.J. down the road; indeed, I’d be shocked if a future episode doesn’t bring Margaret back and explore that particular romantic triangle. But relationships are never ideal, and there’s always risk. Not being willing to deal with those realities is no way to live; in practice, perhaps such an existence isn’t quite as bad as an eternity spent staring into an endless abyss, but it’s pretty close. This episode is less about the particulars of Mordecai’s love life—after all, C.J. really isn’t in this episode very much, even if her presence is felt throughout—as it is about getting him to accept the reality that life is messy, and he might as well make the most of it.
This episode is essentially a subverted retelling of C.J.’s debut in “Yes Dude Yes.” That third season episode was also built around a misinterpreted line, except here, Mordecai’s autocorrected text message merely reveals sentiments that he really should have expressed long before. More tellingly, that earlier episode saw Mordecai inadvertently mistreat C.J. because he was so unable to look beyond his feelings for Margaret; here, he’s keenly aware of not repeating a mistake he didn’t even originally know that he was making. “Yes Dude Yes” is a fine episode, but it has to be said that it’s brutal to C.J., with her climactic (not to mention climatic—sorry, couldn’t resist) rage at Mordecai played as just another absurd conflict that forces Mordecai to reexamine himself; there are hints of a character in her initial performance, mostly thanks to Linda Cardellini’s winning performance, but she mostly exists as an object of Mordecai’s non-affection. As much as C.J. remains on the margins of tonight’s episode, it’s nice to see how much more skillful Regular Show has become in its handling of her. In “Yes Dude Yes,” she had to be somewhat obtuse for the plot to work, but here she immediately sees through Muscle Man’s paper-thin ruse about a “common criminal” sending text messages, and she’s sharp enough to not let Mordecai over-interpret that final wink. It’s a small part of the episode’s overall success, but “I Like You Hi” takes such pains to ensure that C.J. remains a fully-realized individual.
Still, much as I appreciate the show’s increasing facility for well-observed character drama, it would be silly to pretend that that’s the best thing about this episode—not when Yuji still walks the Earth, at least. The Extreme Barista contestant, the former Eugene Mendelman, is the very concept of overreaching extremeness given flesh. This is a man that Rigby casually believes has rabies and is still desperate to meet in person, and the barista offers some words to live by with his gunshot-punctuated declaration that “You don’t drink from the cup, you drink from the sky!” I admit that I initially wonder why Mordecai would bother to explain just why he needs Yuji to take a photograph with him, when surely the man would already be willing to humor the only two people who showed up to his signing, but “I Like You Hi” wrings some great laughs out of Yuji’s own ongoing existential crisis. As he confidently explains, if not for that damned autocorrect, he wouldn’t be signing books, he’d be signing diamonds. Regular Show rarely commits so completely to a guest character as it does with Yuji, and he adds a much-needed jolt of energy to the story.
As great as Yuji’s appearance is, his segment is still only the warm-up for the Phone Guardians, making their big return after their debut in season three’s Valentine’s Day episode, “Butt Dial.” Their chat with Mordecai really is quintessential Regular Show, mixing the cosmic horror of the abyss with the hilariously mundane business of their band’s new demo tape. For a bunch of sentient communication devices out to enforce the rules of text messaging etiquette, they’re singularly ineffective, but they prove the perfect counsellors to Mordecai during his moment of crisis. It’s great that they assure Mordecai that C.J. is, at least based on her texting history, quite the witty and independent woman, but it’s even better that they’re so quick to agree with Rigby that C.J. is cooler than Margaret. This really is what Regular Show is about at its very best, as the show uses the most surreal of backdrops to explore the most real of subjects. And, as much as I won’t soon forget the Phone Guardians’ leading questions about possible music blogs, it’ll take me even longer to shake the Answering Machine’s most crucial line, one that he says as Mordecai drifts away rather than answer a simple question: “There’s nothing out there for you. Literally.” Mordecai has spent far too much time living with nothing. As this episode’s optimistic conclusion suggests, he might finally be ready to find something.
- “Buy more planners?” That Yuji has quite the packed schedule!
- “Phew, that’s bad. That’s like one of my plans.” Rigby is seriously on point in this episode.
- I agree with Mordecai: I have no idea why Thomas is on that panel either.