Regular Show is hardly the only show that begins with a seemingly mundane premise and then builds to a completely insane, absurd conclusion. Still, there’s arguably no other show that starts so completely normal and ends so entirely surreal, which in tonight’s episode takes us from picking up the donuts before the morning meeting all the way to getting stuck in a sped-up, sugar-addled alternate plane of existence. What makes this work so well is how our heroes (using the term somewhat loosely), 23-year-old groundskeepers Mordecai and Rigby—who just happen to be a blue jay and a raccoon, because why wouldn’t they be?—react to all the craziness around them, which is to say they don’t really react at all. To be sure, they’re legitimately worried about being stuck in the hellish ultra-sugar plane, but it’s not necessarily a bigger deal than the prospect of being fired by their boss Benson (who is, of course, a talking gumball machine) if they screw up the donut run. While they’re certainly lazy slackers, Mordecai and Rigby are pretty much the opposite of apathetic—if something serious happens, they’re going to care about it, but they’re never going to acknowledge their misadventures’ constantly varying levels of absurdity. If its Monday night partner Adventure Time captures that time in childhood when the entire world is wondrous and incomprehensible, then Regular Show gets into that period of young adulthood when everything is just kind of a pain in the ass, and you’re reliant on your friends to make the experience tolerable.
Of course, all this is run through one hell of a surreal filter. A lot of the fun in Regular Show is the feeling that quite literally anything can happen next, that you could show a thousand people the first minute of “Sugar Rush” and maybe one person would even come close to guessing the episode’s actual story. That ramp-up from ordinary to crazy sets it apart from Adventure Time, which goes for more sustained levels of lunacy, and one of the benefits of Regular Show’s approach is that it allows greater opportunity for character observations. Mordecai and Rigby’s verbal tics, constant one-upmanship, and propensity for random celebratory chanting all feel like authentic behavior for a couple dudes in their early twenties—I’d be hard-pressed to name another show that more accurately portrays the silliness of young adulthood, possibly because no other show is willing to be this purposefully inane. Regular Show is generally more surreal than funny, but its most successful strains of humor tend to be in how well it observes how a couple of 23-year-old losers (and I say that as a proud, recent graduate of that group) would actually react if all this show’s craziest shit really happened.
Tonight’s episode is one of the very best executions of the now well-worn Regular Show formula, in part because it tweaks some of the show’s most common narrative beats. “Sugar Rush” finds Benson giving Mordecai and Rigby extra duties, very much against his better judgment, and that means picking up the donuts. After getting Benson’s specially requested whole wheat donut, our heroes pick up a bunch of double-glazed apple fritters, which send anyone who eats them into extreme sugar rush, starting with the lovably loopy Pops. After their attempts to tire Pops out before the meeting end in failure, Mordecai and Rigby do what they always do and take him to their wisest friend, the immortal bodybuilding Yeti creature Skips. He paradoxically advises giving Pops even more sugar, which sends him to a higher sugar plane where everything else appears to move super slowly. The other three eat the donuts to go after him, and the episode essentially turns into Inception with sugar, as the story posits an entirely terrifying, even higher sugar plane and then closes with a rousing sequence that intercuts our heroes moving at sugar rush speeds with everyone else moving at slow motion. It would be wrong to call this an Inception parody, because Regular Show is usually too absurd to do straight homages, but the virtuoso final race against time sure feels like it’s meant to evoke the movie, especially in the pounding musical score. But really, it’s selling the episode’s imagination short to get too hung up on potential references, as the sequence is legitimately thrilling regardless of its source material—or, for that matter, the fact that the big suspenseful countdown is built around Benson opening a box. This is where the show’s commitment to taking everything equally seriously, no matter how seemingly boring and unimportant, pays off brilliantly.
“Sugar Rush” also features something of a milestone, as it turns out Skips is, for once, completely wrong about how to solve this particular situation. Predictably, Rigby takes the lowest road possible and gives Skips a ton of crap for his admittedly stupid-seeming idea of feeding Pops more sugar to bring him down from his sugar rush, to which Skips quite reasonably retorts, “What do you expect? It’s like you guys ask me to solve a different problem every week!” For all its weekly insanity, Regular Show does tend to be formulaic in the mechanics of its storytelling, especially compared to the more freeform lunacy of Adventure Time. This isn’t necessarily a problem—and the show probably deserves more credit than it gets for its nice work in slowly but steadily progressing some of the continuing plotlines, such as Mordecai’s relationship with Margaret—but it’s good to acknowledge every once in a while that the structure of the story is familiar, even if the content most definitely isn’t. Honestly though, “Sugar Rush” isn’t an episode that needs any apologies. It’s a wild 11 minutes that moves seamlessly from the low-key slacker comedy of buying donuts to the goofy montage of tiring Pops out to the supernatural horror of the highest sugar plane to the physics-defying thriller of the gang’s desperate attempt to make the meeting on time, donuts and all. Besides, any story that shows the passage of time by a topless Muscle Man waving his shirt around in slow motion is a classic in my book. The fact that the episode ends with him making the ultimate “My Mom” joke as he ascends to a higher, sugar-addled plane of existence is just a bonus. Really, it’s the simple things that make Regular Show so special.
- One of the basic points of uncommented-upon craziness is of course that the main cast are pretty much the only non-humans in this show’s world. I kind of love that the show doesn’t even try to write around this, like tonight when the guy at the donut shop explained the double-glazed apple fritters aren’t “safe for human consumption.”
- The animation tonight was seriously top-notch, particularly because slow motion is notoriously hard to animate (at least, that fact would be notorious if you listen to as many Simpsons and Futurama commentaries as I do). A particularly nice touch is how the color palette subtly changed from the normal world to being slightly brighter in the first sugar plane, before things went completely batshit in the even higher plane.
- The voice acting on this show is consistently terrific. I particularly like show creator J.G. Quintel’s work as Mordecai, mostly for his stupidly triumphant reading of “Yeah we did!” Plus, Mark Hamill is gruffly awesome as Skips, which shouldn’t come as any surprise since this is Mark Hamill we’re talking about.
- My apologies for being a little late in getting this review up, especially considering how long some of you have been waiting for this moment. And now, let’s talk some Regular Show!