This could have been the series finale. I’ll admit I don’t know what the perfect ending of Regular Show would be—perhaps Mordecai and Rigby finally getting fired for real and at last forced to move forward with their lives—but “Real Date” would be a worthy place for this story to conclude. After all, the show would not need to do anything nearly as radical as what I just outlined for a theoretical endpoint. All it would really have to do is show that Mordecai and Rigby are not the same two useless slackers we met five long seasons ago. This episode does that in spades, to the point that the episode strains to come up with a conflict it can build the romantic storyline around. Mordecai, once an overgrown child who spent the better part of four seasons paralyzed by fear and unable to act on his feelings for Margaret, is now able to spring into the action the moment that Eileen points out that he and C.J. have not yet had a real date. Sure, the fact that the two have just been kind of drifting through their relationship isn’t exactly the best indicator of maturity, but that’s just a problem that he and C.J. can solve; Mordecai doesn’t have to fight some surreally literal manifestation of his latest fears in order to fully commit to C.J.
The very fact that he doesn’t require such a foe is what makes “Real Date” so tricky. There is nothing wrong with Mordecai and C.J.’s relationship, which requires some external threat for the episode to have any real conflict. There are four possibilities here. The episode could bring in one of the couple’s exes to force Mordecai and C.J. to consider whether they truly want to be with each other; Margaret is the obvious (and only) candidate here, and there’s still that one quick shot of Margaret slapping C.J. from the future vision way back at the beginning of the season. Alternatively, the show could pull a repeat of what it did with Margaret, devising some logistical reason that Mordecai and C.J. could no longer be together. In Margaret’s case, her departure for school was set up well in advance of her actual exit, but no such groundwork exists for C.J. The other two narrative possibilities are those that actually show up in “Real Date.” First, the show offers an old-school sitcom-style contrivance with Mordecai and C.J.’s conflicting secret plans to give each other the perfect present. Second, the episode introduces a relatively random villain who never actually challenges either Mordecai’s or C.J.’s feelings, making the foe more of an annoyance than anything else.
That’s precisely what we’re dealing with when it comes to the owner of Couple Corral. This deranged cowboy could theoretically be the articulation of Mordecai’s linger self-doubt and paranoia. The owner could point out what happened when his site initially paired up Mordecai and C.J., asking Mordecai whether he’s ready for the eventual return of C.J.’s prodigious temper. He could point out how Margaret broke Mordecai’s heart, and the only way to avoid a repeat of that inevitable result is to break it off with C.J. now, to go back to being single and ready to mingle within the warm embrace of the Couple Corral dating service. The point is that there are theoretically sound arguments that the cowboy could make—or at least arguments sound to someone as prone to the occasional bouts of dumb thinking as Mordecai—if the intention were actually to rattle Regular Show’s protagonist. But all the cowboy can manage is a deeply lame, not technically illegal but very definitely sleazy slideshow depicting C.J.’s proclivity for changing her hairstyle. And… that’s it. It would be downright ridiculous for Mordecai to take the cowboy seriously under such circumstances; with a better argument rattling around his head, Mordecai might well have become suspicious at C.J.’s shiftiness, but here he’s allowed to remain focused on his own convoluted gift-giving plan.
Now, this isn’t necessarily a flaw of the story. I was quite hard on last week’s “Tent Trouble” because it basically chickened out of the character-based story that it had set up, but I don’t have the same issues with “Real Date,” if only because this episode takes the time to show why Mordecai and C.J. are fine just the way they are. This episode also allows the cowboy’s threat to play out to its more natural conclusion, with Mordecai and C.J. both forced to extreme measures to deal with his incessant, ludicrous meddling. Besides, there’s an actual, rather amusing concept at the heart of the Couple Corral owner’s plight. As he so eloquently explains, his site is too good, with all who join it inevitably finding themselves happily paired up with their soulmates, and that’s death to a business that relies on a constant stream of sad and lonely single people. That’s a delightfully goofy concept, and it allows “Real Date” to justify the cowboy’s interest in Mordecai—he just happens to be the final person to quite Couple Corral—without making it about any specific relationship issue. Honestly, the episode could have stood to play up the absurdity of the cowboy’s plan even more than it already does, but I won’t quibble with a man who uses bazookas to solve his business troubles and refers all who disagree with him to the advice of his crooked lawyers.
As for Mordecai and C.J.’s present plot, that’s best described as a sweet, if slightly throwaway bit of storytelling. Regular Show never hides where it is going with this plotline, but it also doesn’t get too cute or knowing about the familiarity of this kind of story; “Real Date” is content to hit the expected beats here and let the charms of its four main characters carry the day. When C.J. tries to convince Mordecai to keep walking down the street to the waffle shop, arguing that nothing says romance like an endless row of dry cleaners and notaries public, that isn’t exactly a hilarious gag, but it’s the kind of nice, real moment that makes the audience root for these two crazy kids to work it all out. “Real Date” eschews any real jeopardy with the gifts, instead using the mounting misunderstandings as an opportunity to show why Mordecai and C.J.—and, perhaps even more so, Rigby and Eileen—are so perfect together. After all, the episode’s final shot is of a happy couple sharing the precious gift of chocolate waffle cake, and that couple isn’t Mordecai and C.J. The others may not yet be an actual item, but they’re perfect for each other.
That’s really the great lesson of “Real Date.” This is an episode that showcases not just the strength of the show’s more romantic bonds, but also its platonic ones. After Mordecai seemed to punch Rigby after every other line in “Tent Trouble,” this episode presents the pair in perfect sync, with Rigby being there in the clutch to help his friend pull off the perfect present. The same dynamic is in play for C.J. and Eileen, whose friendship has blossomed to the point that it’s hard to remember they only started hanging out about 20 episodes ago. If Regular Show is ever going to make some grand thesis statement, then the key details of it can be found in this story. Being a young adult can so often mean being adrift, unmotivated and uncertain about what the future holds. But the best way to grow—and the best way to enjoy what the present has to offer—is to take that rambling, aimless journey with true friends by your side. If you’ve got that, you don’t need anything else… though only a fool would say no to chocolate waffle cake.
- So, C.J.’s temper finally rears its head, but—and I somehow wasn’t expecting this—Mordecai is not on the receiving end. The show doesn’t really examine her fearsome retribution against the cowboy, instead presenting it in rather straightforwardly positive terms. Honestly, I came away from that display thinking C.J. is even more awesome than before. Not sure that’s the most sensible takeaway, but it’ll do for now.
- The only reason I wouldn’t want “Real Date” to be the finale is that the other park staffers are largely absent from the proceedings. Only Benson shows up, though he’s in fine form here, raging about mail and offering a shockingly romantic suggestion for how best to give C.J. the gift.
- After airing near-constantly for five years, Regular Show is taking a well-deserved break until January 2015, when season six will begin. Having written about 80 of these reviews in the last two years, I’m also glad of the rest, but it’s been a ton of fun watching and discussing these episodes with you all.