Midway through tonight’s episode, Mordecai mournfully observes that he and Rigby aren’t limited-edition friends, referring to the incredibly expensive tants that Pops had bought them as Parkiversary gifts. Both the animation and the voice performances from J.G. Quintel and William Salyers suggest that Mordecai and Rigby are ashamed of themselves in a way they so rarely are; the very idea that Pops would ever spend 200 dollars apiece on the pair is a source of overwhelming, self-loathing sorrow. There’s no quicker way to feel worthless than to realize how much worth someone else attaches to you, only to let that person down so completely and utterly. It’s not until Pops forgives them at the end of “Tants” that our heroes are finally released from their guilt. Up to that point, Mordecai and Rigby aren’t trying to prove they are worthy of Pops’ friendship, because they are already convinced that they aren’t. They just refuse to make a bad situation even worse, and they go to absurd lengths to avoid disappointing the one person who so foolishly places his faith in them.
But then, Pops isn’t the only person who believes in the essential goodness of Mordecai and Rigby, as there’s also Eileen. Margaret’s departure at the end of last season left Eileen isolated from the main cast, although there’s no mention in “Tants” of the trio’s missing mutual friend. Eileen is the precise opposite of Pops. While Pops is a fragile, ebullient dreamer with more money than sense, Eileen is reserved, intelligent, and above all practical, even earthy—after all, she is a mole. As “Tants” makes quite clear, Pops is the kind of friend who spends $400 on ridiculous pants that are also tables, all because he wants to have a tants lunch party with his best friends, and Eileen is the kind of friend who happily agrees to make replacement tants overnight, just so long as she can use the Park’s ancient workhorse sewing machine. Mordecai and Rigby need both sorts of friends to realize their full potential.
That’s because Mordecai and Rigby can only truly shine while operating in a state of crisis. If they aren’t dealing with some disaster of their own making, the two are all too happy to while away their lives playing video games. With the possible exception of Mordecai’s courtship of Margaret—and that’s all done with, at least for now—neither he nor Rigby has any greater ambition than sitting around all day doing nothing, so it’s only their flair for creative self-destruction that forces them to leave the house. As several recent episodes have illustrated, that’s maddening for someone like Benson, who is forced to deal with the messes that his slacker employees create. But those who don’t have to worry about the fallout of Mordecai and Rigby’s screw-ups can more readily appreciate the pair’s zealous commitment to doing the right thing just as soon as they’re done doing the wrong thing. That includes Pops, whose status as Mr. Maellard’s son means he’s rich enough to ignore the havoc that Mordecai and Rigby create, a luxury Benson doesn’t have. Eileen, on the other hand, has so little to her name that she’s unlikely to lose anything of value, so, again, she’s free to focus on our heroes’ more endearing qualities. That said, Eileen’s uncomprehending heartbreak when her knock-off tants were destroyed—“I don’t even know what’s real and what’s not!”—was the most cruelly hilarious line Regular Show has given us in ages.
“Tants” waits far longer than most episodes before its surreal threat, which means the story’s stakes feel much smaller than normal. That’s a good thing here, because those stakes are more personal than they might be otherwise. If Regular Show introduced the Acting Presi-Tant earlier in the episode, his overbearing, moderately villainous presence might well have distracted Mordecai and Rigby—not to mention the audience—from the main emotional arc of the episode, which is our heroes’ refusal to let Pops down any more than they already have. The episode’s basic setup, in which Mordecai and Rigby have to replace something they ruined before someone important notices, is often used to lead into what could be called quest narratives, as the two go on an absurd journey to fix whatever it is they messed up. There’s nothing wrong with that formula, and it’s made for some terrific episodes: “Benson’s Car” and “Limousine Lunchtime” are quintessential examples of this strain of Regular Show story, although plenty of other episodes broadly fit into the category. But outside of the general absurdity of tants—which apparently aren’t that unrealistic—there’s nothing about the first eight or so minutes of this episode that couldn’t happen in real life, or at least on a live-action show. Mordecai and Rigby are forced to remain all too keenly aware of just how awful they are to Pops.
It’s that unflinching emotional realism—which I realize is a crazy phrase to use with respect to Regular Show, but now that I’ve said it I’m not backing down—that allows the climactic showdown with the Presi-Tant and his henchmen to play out differently than usual. This episode doesn’t externalize Mordecai and Rigby’s latest internal struggle, which means they can’t solve it by beating up their latest ridiculous foes. Rather, the only way to resolve this episode’s conflict is for Pops to forgive them, which he joyously does after overhearing their honest explanation as to why they would ever create knock-off tants. While “Tants” fits in an obligatory skirmish, the Presi-Tant is so moved by the pair’s honesty that he gives them replacement tants, a decision that also triggers Eileen’s existential crisis.
The Presi-Tant himself is a wonderful comic creation, even though—or perhaps because—he’s mostly just a vehicle for awful puns. There are glups, the gloves that are also coffee cups; sombrasses, the sombreros that are also glasses, although that particular portmanteau does rather suggest some other combination; shilts, the shoes that are also stilts, which again sounds unnecessarily dirty; and the tiekerchief, the tie that’s also a handkerchief, which actually seems like a vaguely good idea until you think through the logistics of it for even a second (because I really don’t think you want to blow your nose with a tiekerchief). His little asides about how Mordecai, Rigby, and Eileen’s actions only violate the laws “of his company” represent a good running gag, and they also reinforce the notion that this threat is rather less consequential than the matter of Pops’ forgiveness.
“Tants” represents Regular Show at its most positive and likable, as in Pops and Eileen it focuses on the two supporting characters who are most understanding of Mordecai and Rigby’s faults. Perhaps because those two accept our heroes as they are, Mordecai and Rigby actually seem more committed than usual to proving they are worthy of such friendship. Ultimately, they just about prove their case. But, as with most things those two do, the difference between success and failure is razor-thin.
- I hate to be judgmental, but I judge Muscle Man and Starla to be freaks. I don’t want to even begin thinking about what those two were getting up to in various parts of this episode.
- I got a vaguely Richard Nixon-ish vibe from the Presi-Tant’s voice, although I don’t think it’s really close enough to consider it an impression. Either way, it did make the Presi-Tant’s petty, pointless corruption that much funnier.
- Thomas, as ever, is the worst. But at least he’s man enough to keep wearing that pizza costume.