As Regular Show starts work on its second hundred episodes, the series has to deal with how best to keep its formula fresh. For all its absurd flights of fancy, Regular Show doesn’t take the freeform approach favored by its Monday night sibling Adventure Time. Once Muscle Man announces his intentions to have D.J. Donny G. play his soppy love song for Starla on K.I.L.I.T. Radio, it’s easy enough to predict that some powerful monster will be lurking behind the scenes at the radio station, and it will be up to Mordecai, Rigby, and Muscle Man to save the day, probably in an action-packed, totally insane fashion. At this point, the main characters simply have to refer to a place by name for us to assume that it hides some terrifying, otherworldly secret. The show can still surprise in the specifics, as with the reveal that the supremely unhelpful radio station operator is actually a murderous, Skynet-inspired artificial intelligence, but it’s hard for Regular Show to present an entirely fresh story, especially when it isn’t progressing a larger narrative like Mordecai and Margaret’s relationship.
“K.I.L.I.T. Radio” succeeds because it finds just enough ways to tweak that familiar formula. Some of that comes from the episode’s choice of protagonist; this is another episode in which Muscle Man takes on leading man duties as Mordecai and Rigby slide into the background. As a hero, Mitch Sorenson is far more obviously determined to succeed than our heroes, and his insane commitment to honor Starla on the anniversary of the day they first made out helps inspire D.J. Donny G. to rebel against his computerized mistress. Mordecai and Rigby usually prevail, but last week’s “Picking Up Margaret” aside, they aren’t typically self-motivators, instead requiring Skips, Benson, or a guest character to provide them with the instructions and encouragement they need to triumph over evil. They did go to extraordinary lengths to save the mostly helpless RGB2 in “That’s My Television,” but at least the talking TV set (with a man inside it) actively wanted to escape. Donny, on the other hand, is resigned to his fate, openly asking what the point would be of rebelling, which means the passionate if crazed Muscle Man is the better narrative counterweight.
The only problem is that, much like previous episodes that push Muscle Man into the spotlight, “K.I.L.I.T. Radio” doesn’t really know what to do with Mordecai and Rigby. In an 11-minute format, it’s hard to give the supporting players all that much to do, but if this episode had switched things around and made Mordecai and Rigby the heroes with Muscle Man the de facto sidekick, it still would have given Muscle Man a few choice one-liners, if only to justify his presence. Mordecai and Rigby’s role is more perfunctory, as though they’re only here because the episode couldn’t just be about Muscle Man and D.J. Donny G. fighting the K.I.L.I.T. computer on their own.
That sounds like a harsher criticism than I really intend it to be; I’d rather have a little Mordecai and Rigby than none at all, but apart from a quintessentially Rigby moment in which he loudly whispers that the A.I. has seen through their ruse, this episode features very little of our heroes at all. If nothing else, there are opportunities for character development that the episode just misses. It’s probably asking too much for this episode to directly build on Mordecai and Margaret’s big kiss in the last episode, but surely Mordecai could react to Muscle Man’s overriding devotion to Starla and perhaps comment on what example it sets for his own personal life. For that matter, he and Rigby could just say how freaked out they are by their friend’s borderline obsessive behavior. Again, none of this is mandatory, but as Regular Show gets older, one way to keep its stories fresh is to deepen its character work.
In fairness, “K.I.L.I.T. Radio” does hint at such depth with D.J. Donny G. Conceptually, he’s one of the silliest guest characters Regular Show has ever come up with; as Muscle Man points out in a moment of anger, even when Donny was at it his peak, he was still only doing a job a CD player could do. While it might be faintly ludicrous to feel such pathos for a former hotshot disc jockey, the episode fully commits to his drive to regain his dignity, and it’s oddly moving when he fires back his old catchphrase “Let me show you how I kill it” as he plays Muscle Man’s love song, initiating the computer’s self-destruct sequence. The computer itself has some delightfully strange quirks, particularly its apparently psychosexual relationship with Donny, as it demands he clean it and seemingly betrays a hint of jealousy when it asks who Donny’s strange new friends are. The episode doesn’t overplay these elements, but when left in the background, they add a richer dimension to the story.
The episode’s best moments come—as they so often do in great works of literature—when a character has a gigantic gaping hole blown through his chest. Instant cauterization or not, this injury really should be fatal to DJ Donny G., but he bravely soldiers on and prepares to sacrifice himself to end K.I.L.I.T. Radio’s reign of terror. The juxtaposition between Muscle Man’s inane ballad and the fiery destruction of the radio station justifies “K.I.L.I.T. Radio” by itself. It’s a fantastic sequence, featuring visually dynamic animation and a confident mixing of tones. The music, as silly as the lyrics are, helps sell the bittersweet nature of Donny’s apparent sacrifice, and it makes this particular fireball seem even cooler and more dramatically heft than a standard-issue fireball would be. Again, this isn’t so different from the climax to any given Regular Show episode, many of which involve Mordecai and Rigby outrunning some explosion or other, but it’s just offbeat enough to feel uniquely compelling. Just as importantly, it’s an example of the show pushing itself, of expanding the boundaries of what it can do. If Regular Show has another 100 episodes in it, such daring is going to be crucial to its survival and success.
- I generally liked D.J. Donny G., but he did occasionally sound a lot like Rigby. For some reason, that hurt my suspension of disbelief way more than when J.G. Quintel uses a transparent spin on his Mordecai voice (otherwise known as his actual voice) for a side character.
- Donny’s survival is fairly inexplicable, and it does kind of undercut the drama of his apparent sacrifice. I was going to criticize the fact that he’s still more or less okay despite missing several vital organs, but I then realized that this is a cartoon, and I suppose it’s occasionally allowed to invoke cartoon laws of logic.
- It’s been awhile since I last watched the Terminator movies, so I’m not sure how much the episode directly parodies the movies. Donny’s speech about the radio station becoming self-aware is a definite homage, and his would-be death definitely seems to echo Miles Dyson’s similar sacrifice in Judgment Day. Plus, I think the exterior of the radio station resembles Cyberdyne headquarters. There may be more I missed, though.