If last week’s episode explored the terror of being an artist, then this week’s episode moves the spotlight to the challenges of being a freelancer. In “Bad Portrait,” Mordecai was paralyzed by the fear of having to condense everything he felt about his boss into a single, coherent artistic vision; in “Video 101,” he and Rigby never feel the burden of having to come up with some larger, binding idea for Eileen’s music video project, and that happy lack of vision frees them up to just throw in a bunch of cool stuff. Our heroes aren’t trying to make something that’s good or thought-provoking or even just interesting; they are obsessed with being as awesome as possible, and that’s no kind of idea to build even a music video around.
One of the cleverest narrative choices of tonight’s episode is that Mordecai and Rigby don’t come up with uniformly bad ideas. The decision to move the setting of the video from the park to a mountaintop is a legitimately good one, and both Eileen and C.J. are quick to give them credit. Throughout the filming process, there’s at least the kernel of a cool music video here, albeit one with a terminally ‘80s sensibility. Mordecai and Rigby have seen enough music videos to know what a successful one should look like, but they have at most only partially internalized the lessons that would allow them to recreate such a video successfully. Striking locations and outlandish costumes can add to the overall quality of a music video, but the key word in here is “add.” Our heroes know enough to get the style right, but they have no sense of substance.
At least, Mordecai doesn’t. Rigby, it has to be said, shows clear evidence of at least one artistic obsession in this episode. Such overriding interest in one particular concept or idea can be a great thing, imbuing an otherwise silly project with a sense of meaning. The slight problem with that, however, is that the one thing Rigby is truly fired up about is the one, the only “genuine zebra head!” (Don’t worry, it’s not real.) Rigby’s bizarre love of his equally bizarre prop is what really ends up scuttling the music video. Mordecai and Rigby may well be terrible editors, splicing together shots at random and leaving in clearly botched takes—somehow, I don’t think C.J. coughing really adds to the poetry of the scene—but, even then, they almost have something workable here, albeit in a deeply pretentious, faux-New Wave kind of way. To that end, Mordecai and Rigby have to reveal the underlying intelligence that drives these seemingly disconnected shots, and there’s no quicker way to throw away the limited, cacophonous, but still oddly hypnotic poetry of their video than to reveal that all they really care about is showcasing their genuine zebra head!
There’s a more streamlined version of this story in which Mordecai and Rigby are the de facto villains, seizing upon the opportunity Eileen gives them and manipulating her from the very beginning. Regular Show likes its core characters a bit too much to go down that path, even if it is the sort of thing that these two—Rigby especially—are indeed capable of. Instead, “Video 101” elects to tell a messier story in which Mordecai and Rigby veer between good and bad intentions, and the episode gains some much-needed verisimilitude from that decision. Besides, it’s not as though Eileen’s idea is all that brilliant, at least to begin with. Because Eileen is unarguably the best, I’m loath to criticize her too much, but her original idea for the music video is uninspired, and her dance moves look distinctly lackluster at the park. If she had had a clear plan from the outset, then there would have been no need for Mordecai and Rigby to interfere in the first place, but her video arguably does need the added zest of a mountaintop location.
As such, this episode isn’t so much about jerks being mean as it is about friends inadvertently mistreating friends. “Video 101” shows a keen eye for real-world interpersonal dynamics in how it depicts Mordecai and Rigby’s suggestions. Mordecai sincerely believes that offering Eileen lots of options is the same thing as supporting her own endeavors; he’s honestly not trying to cause any fuss, but he also doesn’t recognize that all his ideas run counter to her one overriding goal, which is to keep this simple. Rigby, as one might expect, is slightly less innocent in how he gets carried away. He’s fairly obviously been looking for a while now for a project to do with that genuine zebra head! To that end, where Mordecai might at least try to couch his big ideas as a sign of his faith in Eileen’s abilities, Rigby just demands that they do what his muse—again, a genuine zebra head!—commands him to do.
It’s never quite stated in the episode, but the scene at Eileen’s doorstep where they bring her the pizza suggests that our heroes don’t have entirely selfish motivations for their actions. Their offer of food and company implies that, on some level, they really are trying to support their friend, and perhaps they think this is the only way to get Eileen to have a little fun with her project; they are trying to be friends, at least in that moment. The next moment, admittedly, they go back to trampling over Eileen’s own vision, and they show an entirely unexpected fascination with the glory that is the star wipe. Even here, though, they do think they’re helping. After all, go right back to how nervous Eileen is in the coffee shop, as she repeatedly offers free refills before she can work up the nerve to actually ask for her friends’ help, and how grateful she is to have their assistance. Mordecai and Rigby probably do sense weakness in that moment, but not so that they can take advantage of her; I’d argue they are honestly trying to help by taking the lead with the project, but they lack the kind of emotional wisdom that C.J. repeatedly shows here.
“Video 101” is a fine episode, a long overdue showcase for one of Regular Show’s most appealing side characters. It’s a well-observed portrayal of the creative tensions that can ensue when friends attempt to collaborate on some silly project—and “silly” is the operative word here, because this episode would play out very differently if everyone involved were taking the music video seriously. The episode probably cheats a bit in its final section, as the dancing quartet pull off a video that is far, far more ambitious than them just dancing in front of a wall for one long take. I’m not entirely clear whether that scene is meant to be taken literally, as though Eileen’s calculations somehow found a magical way in which they could depict such cosmic vistas in a single shot. If that’s the case, then fine, but I’d say “Video 101” works just as well if that scene is rather more metaphorical, if it’s more a reflection of the kind of magic that can happen when the gang does things the Eileen way. That particular takeaway would be just fine with me.
- The hippie video teacher’s advice was pretty much exactly as helpful as I would expect a hippie video teacher’s advice to be.
- C.J. has a nice callback to the events of “Portable Toilet.” That really isn’t the sort of thing Mordecai should ever be let off the hook for.
- I would have been actively offended if Mordecai and Rigby’s artsy fiascopiece had not concluded with a card that said “Fin.” Well played, Regular Show, well played.