It can be strange to discover just what lines in the sand Regular Show is prepared to draw. The climax of “Return Of Mordecai And The Rigbys,” in which the gang’s attempted a cappella rendition of their song unlocks the kickass musical instruments that had been inside them all along, barely rates a mention in the grand scheme of preposterous Regular Show plot developments. Yet this, of all things, is the plot twist that Regular Show elects to undo, revealing our heroes’ climactic performance as a heatstroke-addled fever dream. It feels especially jarring to do that in an episode that is positioned as a sequel to the season one episode “Mordecai And The Rigbys”—which, as Mordecai alludes to here, prominently featured time-travelling, British-accented, generally jerkish future versions of our heroes. Indeed, by Regular Show standards, tonight’s final twist is surprisingly cruel. The gang’s clear distress earns the scorn of the crowd and emphatic votes of “Not Cool” from the judges, and they emerge from their collective delirium to find themselves in hospital, which, no matter how good the park’s health plan might be, is definitely not a place to go for free air conditioning. Indeed, just to twist the knife that last little bit, the episode ends with Mordecai and Rigby begging for extra blankets, realizing there can be too much of even something as wonderful as central air.
Now, it’s not that the Regular Show creative team somehow lost their nerve with this particular story, as though they could justify, say, our heroes traveling to the rock star underworld to replace a priceless signed guitar but not a bunch of magic instruments. One possible explanation is that there just wasn’t any other obvious way to end “Mordecai And The Rigbys,” so this intentionally underwhelming twist ending would have to take its place. For the original ending to be real, “Return Of Mordecai And The Rigbys” would need to find a happy ending to match the upbeat tone of their apparent triumph. A shot of the gang lazing on the couch, enjoying the cool blast of their new air conditioner, would provide a nice visual and narrative bookend to the opening shot, but that wouldn’t really be any more effective in speaking to the story that unfolded in the episode’s intervening 10 minutes. If nothing else, the actual ending has the benefit of making the entire story about the dire consequences of letting the heat get to you; even when the gang thinks they have regained their collective sanity, it’s still too late. This ending makes the episode about the heat instead of the music, and I’m inclined to say that the former represents more compelling material than the latter does.
And yet, I won’t hide my slight disappointment, as the ending renders unreal—as much as that term means anything in a work of fiction, particularly one like Regular Show—what may be my favorite dumb joke in the show’s history: the band’s attempt to play their epic song without instruments. The behavior of the characters in the scene is perfectly calibrated; the park staffers’ total, unwavering commitment sells their gambit as something we should at least consider taking seriously, while Eileen and Thomas’ gobsmacked reactions give us permission to laugh at the insanity of it all. Indeed, the character-based underpinnings of the joke work really well, as it’s funny, even oddly sweet to think that Mordecai could convince everyone else to go along with such a daft plan.
But let’s not overthink this—yes, yes, far too late for that, I know—as the scene is so funny just because the voice actors make such gloriously goofy sounds in imitation of their instruments. Pops’ rendition of a keyboard is a particular highlight, as is Muscle Man’s work on the horn, but I just can’t get over the fact that Regular Show asked Mark Hamill, Luke Skywalker himself—more than that, the Joker—to make a bunch of gruff bass noises. The best part is that Regular Show commits to this insane bit for a solid 30 seconds; honestly, I found it just as anticlimactic to have the magical instruments appear as it was to learn that none of it actually happened. At least Eileen’s observation of the band’s general sweaty grossness, not to mention the crazed look on Mordecai’s face, gives the audience some fair warning that all is not quite as awesome as it appears. “Return Of Mordecai And The Rigbys” never really hides its ramshackle storytelling, as though the in-universe heat wave has begun to affect Regular Show itself; I do wonder whether this episode’s charms would be somewhat more apparent if it had aired during the summer, as opposed to coming right at the end of one of the most severe winters in memory. Given the lengthy production schedules for animated shows, it’s a fool’s errand to expect their broadcasts to show much of a sense of timing, but this is the kind of episode that would benefit from having its audience on the same heat-addled wavelength.
Still, for all its narrative goofiness, tonight’s episode earns its keep with some very funny character moments. Thomas has never been quite so hilariously useless as when he volunteers to be the band’s mean British manager, grousing about how the band should have opened in Manchester 30 minutes ago and brandishing a cricket bat straight out of This Is Spinal Tap; if anything, “Return Of Mordecai And The Rigbys” could well have benefitted from more fully incorporating Thomas’ hardass managerial approach into the story, instead of keeping him on the sidelines. Benson’s dictatorial perfectionism is a nice spin on his usual role in these episodes, and the fact that he was indeed once part of a successful band actually might give him more credibility to act like a jerk here than in park-related matters. The creative rivalry between Mordecai and Benson doesn’t produce as many jokes as one might expect, nor does it really work as serious character work, though I do appreciate how dumb Mordecai’s heartfelt reconciliation with Benson is: “We need everyone if we’re going to win—even the ones that we thought were jerks but are actually pretty good drummers.” Plus, that whole bit of business is worth it for Skips’ utter shock that Benson would tell even him—“Me, Skips!”—that his playing isn’t up to snuff.
If there is a real missed opportunity in “Return Of Mordecai And The Rigbys,” it lies in how the episode plays out the friendship between Eileen and Rigby. I suggested earlier that the episode’s actual ending made the story about the heat, while a straightforward happy ending in which the gang won the air conditioner would make the story about the music, but another option for a more positive ending might have been to root the story in Eileen and Rigby’s relationship, and I don’t necessarily mean of the romantic variety. The episode’s strongest bit of storytelling comes when Rigby opens up to Eileen, acknowledging how badly the band has screwed up and how crushed he is by this latest failure. Eileen’s faith in Rigby is sweet—especially when smartly undercut by her observation that Rigby kept wearing the band t-shirt long after it was cool—and the episode might well have been able to find a workable story beat to go out on with Rigby thanking Eileen for believing in him: something along the lines of last season’s “One Pull Up,” basically. Honestly, I make no particular claim that this suggested story would be any better than what we got; if anything, this is all more just a reflection of the fact that “Return Of The Mordecai And The Rigbys” never quite settles on what story it wants to tell.
- I kind of love Mordecai and Rigby making such a fuss when Muscle Man begins to take off his pants, considering they’re the ones who walk around naked all day.
- Thomas dropped the British accent when he went to tell Eileen about the broken instruments. Way to not commit to your own stupid bit, Thomas!