Why does Benson even ask Mordecai and Rigby to pick up… anything? They have proven again and again that they can’t be trusted with even the simplest of collection-related tasks, to the point that this might well be Regular Show’s most familiar stock plot. The appeal of this particular storytelling framework isn’t too difficult to understand. The fact that Benson wants something done and is perfectly willing to fire our heroes if they fail at their appointed task offers the episode a readymade conflict. Mordecai and Rigby must venture into the wide world unsupervised, which offers plenty of opportunities for them to reveal just how useless—and, ultimately, how resourceful—they can be when nobody is there to bail them out. Besides, these excursions allow our heroes to encounter people and situations they might not otherwise if they stayed in the park; there was once a time when Mordecai and Rigby could be given chair duty and be reliably expected to stumble on some absurd calamity, but the park is so well explored now that it makes more sense to shift such tasks to Muscle Man and Hi-Five Ghost.
The challenge then is finding a fresh spin on a story the audience has seen so many times before. It isn’t just that Regular Show shouldn’t repeat itself. On some level, it can’t repeat itself, because the Mordecai and Rigby we know now are not precisely the same idiots that we first met four years ago. It would be going much too far to call them responsible, but they have passed the point where they could ruin an assignment through their collective foolishness. “Collective” is the key word there; consider “Bad Portrait,” where Rigby’s carelessness enrages and imperils the more cautious Mordecai. Where once our heroes were unrepentant slackers, now they at least make a half-assed attempt to do the right thing. They have learned just enough from all their previous mistakes that they won’t screw up again without some kind of interference from the universe at large. Mordecai and Rigby are no longer the agents of their own destruction—at least, not always—but they haven’t yet reached the point in their development where they can recognize a fiasco before it happens. They are victims of circumstance, and the question for any given episode is determining just how much responsibility the pair should accept for their inability to avoid these cosmic pitfalls.
In the case of “Take The Cake,” Mordecai and Rigby are as close to blameless as they are ever likely to be. They follow their instructions to the letter, and they quite reasonably take advantage of a store policy that they have every right to utilize. The irate woman is entirely in the wrong, and Mordecai and Rigby don’t even really escalate the situation; yes, they let out a triumphant whoop after the sales clerk’s sick burn, but it’s still the sales clerk who so brusquely puts the customer in her place. Now, it’s kind of nice to see our heroes be relatively blameless for this latest disaster, but it also limits the episode’s dramatic possibilities. There’s no lesson here for Mordecai or Rigby to learn, and there’s no wedge that can be driven between them. In the absence of an obvious character beat to play, “Take The Cake” has a few options. It can keep piling absurdity on top of absurdity, making this lunatic of a woman into the greatest adversary they have ever faced, one willing to go to Terminator-like extremes to track down those who would cut in line. Or the episode might focus on how Mordecai and Rigby solve a problem not at all of their own making.
As it turns out, the episode splits the difference between the two approaches, and it doesn’t really end up hitting the mark with either. “Take The Cake” does get some decent gags out of the woman’s pursuit of Mordecai and Rigby, but the big punchline—she apparently is actually illiterate, and so can’t read some fairly critical road signs—comes so fast that it doesn’t quite land. The character’s unreasoning anger is a rare enough trait on Regular Show that it could well have been worth exploring further, but she’s not developed enough to function particularly well as part of a quickie comedic setpiece. Not unlike last week’s “Paint Job,” this episode strings together a bunch of vaguely related ideas, but tonight’s loosely connected gags aren’t quite as funny as those in the preceding episode. There’s a danger when stringing together a bunch of random little ideas—Benson’s desperate need to impress Mr. Maellard, the woman’s rage at people cutting in line, Eileen and C.J. coming to the rescue with their baking prowess—that the episode loses comedic momentum, with the end result feeling less like a story and more like just a bunch of stuff that happens.
It’s not that “Take The Cake” is a total write-off. Regular Show has honed its understanding of Eileen to the point that a single line is all she needs to steal an episode, and her line about angel food cake is a wonderful distillation of her character: She has her passions, she doesn’t hide them in conversation, and she kicks a lot of ass. But the likes of “Portable Toilet” and “Video 101” have proven that Eileen and C.J. can carry entire episodes when called upon, so they feel wasted here; I’m not insisting that the pair be given screen time when the story doesn’t demand it, but I’m just not sure what the story of “Take The Cake” actually demands. Benson and Mr. Maellard’s relationship ends up getting the most attention, and I can’t exactly argue with a Benson fantasy that involves Mr. Maellard randomly giving him a million dollars, but their story ends up feeling just as underdeveloped as anything else. The final reveal that Mr. Maellard has always wanted to be in a coma, meaning Benson found the perfect gift for the man who has everything, is a deeply dumb gag to go out on.
Now, make no mistake: I love deeply dumb gags, and this one could work like gangbusters if there were a little more Maellard-centric storytelling leading up to it. But the line just comes out of nowhere, and it’s a little too plot-centric—the line has to resolve the mess that the teleporting cake got the gang into, after all—to really work as an absurd non sequitur. Any of this episode’s individual elements could likely have been developed into entire 11-minute stories, whether it took the form of Mordecai and Rigby evading a woman obsessed with line-cutters, Eileen and C.J. saving our heroes’ necks with some epic cake preparation, or Benson trying desperately to surprise the unflappable Mr. Maellard. They could even all work together in concert, if the gags were a bit sharper or if there were some larger idea that “Take The Cake” aimed to kick around. The episode only really hits upon its desired ramshackle tone for one brief section: namely, everything to do with Pops’ 50s-era teleporter. The rapid-fire escalation from trying to get an oversize cake out the door to teleporting the damn thing on top of Mr. Maellard’s head, complete with flashback to a demonstration that wasn’t nearly as impressive as Pops remembers it, is almost enough to earn the episode my recommendation. But the genius of that section—not to mention Skips’ offhand observation that Benson knows he doesn’t do email—is a good reminder of just how tricky it can be to sustain such offbeat comic momentum for 11 whole minutes. “Take The Cake” is a misfire, but it’s hardly a disaster, and its shortcomings serve as a good reminder of how successful other Regular Show episodes are at mixing together their crazed, surreal ideas.