After a trio of episodes that saw Mordecai and Rigby brush up against the weird and awesome more than actively participate in the craziness, tonight’s “Sandwich Of Death” throws our heroes right into the fire, as the pair don their jean shorts and mullet up in a last-ditch effort to save Benson. The episode is something of a sequel to one of the show’s earliest episodes, “Death Punchies,” as it explores the insanity of death kwon do, the most fearsome martial art in the Regular Show universe. There’s no better distillation of the show’s unique aesthetic than the fact that the key to ultimate ass-kicking power lies in wearing cut-off jean short-shorts, rocking a righteous mullet, and deploying the phrase “of death!” at every conceivable opportunity. It’s like every embarrassing idea from the ‘80s and ‘90s combined into one fighting style, but “Sandwich Of Death” basically dares the audience to admit that, yeah, it’s still kind of awesome. Apart from a brief moment in which Mordecai dismisses the sandwich sensei’s warnings with a quick “Yeah, yeah, wear a mullet and jean shorts, we got it,” he and Rigby never really question the fact that death kwon do is to be feared and respected.
And yet, even if the episode doesn’t question the inherent awesomeness of death kwon do, it does suggest that its main practitioner might be a loser. The death kwon do sensei turned restaurateur, making an expanded return appearance after his original minor part in “Death Punchies,” is a man who clearly doesn’t have his shit together, even allowing for how Mordecai and Rigby ruined him the last time they crossed paths. He keeps leaving out or forgetting crucial information—up to and including how to survive one of several lethal predicaments—he rips off his order’s most sacred sandwich secrets to make some fast cash, appends “of death” to his legal waivers and “Back in 5 Minutes” signs, and he drives a car that’s as old as his hairstyle. Plus, he bears an unmistakable resemblance to Canada’s greatest folk hero, Zap Rowsdower, and the sensei sure seems like the kind of guy who has spent time ruminating on that age-old question of whether there’s beer on the sun. In short, the sensei is a loser whose idiocy almost gets Mordecai, Rigby, and Benson killed on multiple occasions, and yet our heroes never call him out for his incompetence. Of course, these are the same Mordecai and Rigby who learn of a sandwich that will kill anyone who eats it incorrectly and immediately rush out to get one. These guys know the fine line between idiocy and awesomeness better than most.
Beyond the endless, wondrous parade of mullets and cut-offs, “Sandwich Of Death” gets plenty of mileage out of precision stupidity. The opening commercial for Death Kwon Do Pizza and Subs showcases the show’s growing adeptness at pop culture parodies, and it features many of the same strands of humor seen in last week’s “The Longest Weekend.” In particular, Regular Show has keyed in on a very simple formula: People exploding is always funny. Spontaneous combustion is a ridiculous enough notion on its own merits, but Regular Show excels at thinking up the stupidest possible reasons for people to explode. Last week, it was a gentleman stepping into a Porta-Potty; this week, it’s a redheaded guy eating a sandwich. The commercial features a bunch of death kwon do experts trying to beat up a sandwich, a visual so baldly stupid that it helps obscure just how wonderfully dumb the episode’s basic conceit really is—that becoming a death kwon do master is entirely dependent on putting on jean shorts and rocking a mullet. Of course, the rules of death kwon do were already established back in “Death Punchies,” and Benson does briefly question the impressiveness of a discipline so entirely dependent on one’s sartorial choices. But by then, it’s already been well-established that death kwon do should be taken seriously, and the sensei solemnly producing the electric razor is a moment of awesome silliness, rather than a joke at his expense, although it does rather raise some puzzling questions about how one shaves anything on Benson’s gumball head.
The action highlight of the episode is of course the big fight against the dojo’s various guards. Regular Show has always had a flair for visualizing the weird and fantastical, but it’s come a long way in its handling of action and fight sequences. The obvious example here is indeed “Death Punchies,” which is a great early effort but features a lot of basic angles and two-shots—there, the climactic showdown between Mordecai and Rigby isn’t approached all that differently from the two of them standing around out talking. Four years later, the animators’ increased experience and confidence is readily apparent, crafting a far more visually dynamic, high-energy set of scenes that also feature way more chain-wielding dirt bikers, which can only be a good thing. The sequence utilizes some particularly nifty transitions, as the “camera” repeatedly pans through the dojo’s doors only to reveal the scene has shifted somewhere new. The final showdown against the death kwon do grandmaster is a bit of a letdown, if only because Regular Show has had plenty of climactic fight sequences in empty white voids where the rules of physics don’t entirely apply. Still, I don’t want to be too harsh, particularly when the sensei—who has been stripped of his mullet and, thus, his powers—defeats his old master by using a magic flute to summon a bird, which relays a notebook page to Mordecai and Rigby that contains the instructions for the Bicycle Kick of Death, which they then use to send the Double Sandwich of Death flying right back into the grandmaster’s gullet. On second thought, I retract all my objections to this entire sequence.
In something approaching seriousness, part of what makes it difficult to work out one’s opinion towards a given Regular Show episode is how effortless it can seem, to the point where it’s a little too easy to miss how much effort actually does go into those 11 minutes. The sequence with the flute and the bird is a sequence requiring significant imagination to come up with in the first place and then even more significant courage to depict with an entirely straight face. Regular Show comes up with plenty of these thrillingly strange concepts, but it often depicts them in much the same way it would the boys watching TV. For all the craziness and humor found throughout “Sandwich Of Death,” the storytelling can sometimes feel a little flat, as the show doesn’t always punch its big moments like most shows would—Mordecai’s immediate reaction to their latest death-defying escape is a gracious but oddly casual “Thanks so much!” which undermines just how exciting their adventure really was. It’s not the biggest problem, but it does make Regular Show feel more ephemeral than perhaps it should. But then, this approach is perhaps a good illustration of Mordecai and Rigby’s slacker worldview, in which the mundane and the absurd are equally fascinating—or equally boring, I suppose, although this episode finds our heroes particularly engaged with everything going on around them. Death Kwon Do just brings out the enthusiasm in Mordecai and Rigby.
- Muscle Man and Hi-Five Ghost seeing the commercial and doing exactly as Mordecai and Rigby did is one of the most perfect endings the show has done.
- “You didn’t read the waiver!?” I’m pleasantly surprised Benson could still be incredulous about something like that.
- “I’m pretty sure you can go 65 here.” Benson has some generally fantastic deadpan reactions to the insanity unfolding around him.