After its customary microscopic gap between seasons, Regular Show kicks off its fifth year by dealing with the fallout of Margaret’s decision to choose college over Mordecai. The first of tonight’s episodes, “Laundry Woes,” really crams in two whole episodes into the customary quarter-hour, in another instance of Regular Show’s growing mastery of the montage. Mordecai’s recovery from his post-rejection depression could easily have taken up the entire 11 minutes, and indeed the opening sequence actually traces out all of the major story beats for such an episode: Mordecai falling into utter despair, Rigby recognizing his friend’s torment and enlisting their fellow park staffers to help, the gang taking it upon themselves to lift Mordecai’s spirits in their own particular ways, and Mordecai finally cleaning himself up and getting on with life. The sequence even gets in little auxiliary character beats, like Rigby convincing Benson not to directly intercede or Skips placing a fatherly hand on Mordecai’s shoulder.
Regular Show could have told that opening montage as an entire episode—all it really needs is some dialogue in place of the music track, as the narrative beats are more or less there. But the show chooses to condense that story, because as satisfying as it might be to see a more detailed version of Mordecai’s road to recovery, it isn’t strictly necessary. After all, Mordecai isn’t likely to spend the entire rest of the series, or even the next few episodes, terminally broken up over Margaret, so the audience knows on some intuitive level that something like that montage must occur at some point. He has to get over her because the very premise of the show demands it; Regular Show is about the adventures of Mordecai the lovable if awkward goofball, not Mordecai the depressed, withdrawn loner. It’s important for the episode to show how Mordecai becomes functional again in the wake of his heartbreak in “Steak Me Amadeus,” but that wouldn’t represent an end in and of itself. Those first three minutes represent how much Mordecai can recover with the help of his friends, and as important as that might be, it’s still superficial compared to what must come next, as Mordecai discovers Margaret’s sweater in the laundry. The relapse is more dramatically compelling than the recovery, and “Laundry Woes” recognizes that fact.
Indeed, part of what makes the main stretch of the episode so fascinating is that it’s impossible to tell what Mordecai will do. For Regular Show to exist beyond this episode, he has to stop being depressed, but the show can do just fine regardless of whether he makes an ass of himself returning the sweater and in so doing alienates Margaret; indeed, there might be an argument to be made that such an action would represent a cruel but useful stopping point in the story of Mordecai and Margaret, which would then allow the show to get back to business as usual. As such, there’s real jeopardy as Mordecai unconvincingly lies to a wary Rigby about his true intentions. Series creator J.G. Quintel has gradually become more ambitious in his voice acting, and his performance as Mordecai here might represent the best work he has done in the role. Mordecai is legitimately but subtly unhinged, and William Salyers’ work as Rigby provides the ideal counterpoint. Rigby’s role here is an expansion of his final gesture in “Steak Me Amadeus,” where he joined a crestfallen Mordecai for a soda on the roof. When Rigby sets aside his own innate childishness and shows such serious dedication to keeping Mordecai from making a huge mistake, the show makes it instantly clear just how much trouble Mordecai is really in. When Rigby starts acting like the entirely sensible voice of reason, then someone else has just gone off the deep end.
If I have a slight quibble with the structure of “Laundry Woes,” it’s the decision to personify the sweater as an evil version of Margaret, who articulates all the horrible, selfish thoughts that underpin Mordecai’s all-night drive, even if he won’t admit them. Now, the episode needs to make it clear, not just to the audience but to Mordecai himself, just why he is so desperate to return the sweater, and it’s quite clear that he has no interest in listening to Rigby. As such, making the sweater a literal manifestation of Mordecai’s dark impulses is a clever idea, a wonderfully targeted use of Regular Show’s vast reserves of absurdity. And yet it doesn’t feel quite right for the sweater to take the guise of Margaret, even if it is her sweater. The goal is to externalize Mordecai’s subconscious thoughts, but putting his selfish desires in the mouth of another character—who looks just like his own would-be girlfriend, no less—comes dangerously close to letting him off the hook for his own hidden desires.
It’s an intriguing idea to play the sweater version of Margaret as a temptress—and Janie Haddad Tompkins has a lot of fun playing the villain for once—as she seduces Mordecai with a vision of love reunited that he only rejects once he hears it out loud; whatever else, he would never want Margaret to abandon her dreams for him. But I think it might have been better to more clearly reveal that even this evil-sweater Margaret is still only saying things that, on some level, Mordecai wants her to say. The solution might have been for the sweater to transform from an evil, cackling Margaret to an evil, cackling Mordecai, just to drive the point home that this truly all is in Mordecai’s head. Then again, Regular Show has earned the right to be subtle on occasion, and I don’t want to go too far in imposing my own interpretation onto the episode. There’s room for ambiguity in the character dynamics of “Laundry Woes,” particularly in the final moments, as Margaret seems to realize something has just occurred right outside her field of vision, even if she’s not entirely sure what. It’s a small but crucial indication that the story of Mordecai and Margaret isn’t yet complete, although it can now safely go into hibernation for the foreseeable future.
The second episode, “Silver Dude,” can’t really hope to match the stakes of its predecessor, but it finds another, rather ingenious way to signal the beginning of a new season. This story is essentially a distillation of some of Regular Show’s most iconic elements, most notably Mordecai and Rigby’s penchant for improvising songs. This is a gag that goes right back to the very beginnings of the show, although the songs were deemphasized somewhat in the fourth season as Regular Show began exploring a wider swath of its fictional universe. As such, it’s great fun to turn over an entire story to their songs, especially as the episode acknowledges just how impressive it is that Mordecai and Rigby can apparently improvise witty, rhyming duets on the spot; as they suggest at one point, they surely must share some manner of psychic link.
Far more than “Laundry Woes,” this story is primarily a vehicle for some now standard Regular Show comic-surrealism, best illustrated by the sudden, almost entirely unexplained appearance of a 20-foot, mostly naked, rollerblading Uncle Sam—who is voiced by Wayne Knight, because who else could possibly bring such a character to life? The whole thing is deeply silly, even if it does allow Mordecai and Rigby to show off their virtuoso command of the freestyle rhymes. There’s an effort to draw a simple moral lesson from the proceedings, as Mordecai rightly recognizes they can’t just paint themselves silver and copy the other street performer, which gives them a fairly irreproachable command of the moral high ground once the silver dude starts recording and replaying all their songs.
Still, it’s probably not the best idea to dig too deeply into the ethics of street performing; after all, it’s questionable whether Mordecai and Rigby were really doing the right thing—or, perhaps better suited to their parlance, the cool thing—by staking out a position so close to the other performer, which necessarily placed them in direct competition. There’s also the slight question, I suppose, of whether it’s really right for Mordecai and Rigby to temporarily threaten what might be the other guy’s livelihood just because they’re too lazy to do the more difficult work Benson offered them. Admittedly, that question does rather imply the silver dude himself is too lazy to do more challenging work—which, given his plagiarism, seems like a not unreasonable conclusion. Honestly, these are absolutely nitpicks, indicative more of the episode’s breezy, slightly superficial nature than any real particular flaws. “Silver Dude” aspires to be nothing more than a fun episode of Regular Show, the enjoyable dessert after the weightier meal of “Laundry Woes.” That’s not a bad combination, and it’s nice to welcome the show back with such good examples of the different things it can do—even if it is easy to forget the show ever left in the first place.
“Laundry Woes”: A-
“Silver Dude”: B
- “Laundry Woes” got some great mileage out of the universe apparently conspiring to reunite Mordecai with that sweater, regardless of Rigby’s attempts to get rid of it. In particular, the cop and his intense knowledge of cashmere was a great gag.
- There’s no way the grime behind the refrigerator didn’t represent a portal to another dimension, right? Or perhaps it was the dormant form of some hideous hellbeast? The point is, Mordecai and Rigby need to finish waxing those floors one of these days, because that was definitely the sort of task they couldn’t finish without getting into some manner of absurd scrape.
- “I’m also going to need you to vacuum the carpet. Mostly this spot… right here.” Benson, master of understatement.