After five years of relentless slacking, tonight’s episode reveals just what it takes for Mordecai, Rigby, Muscle Man, and Hi-Five Ghost to care about their jobs. Unsurprisingly, it is the approval of a 10-year-old boy. There’s a charming innocence to how the logic of “The Heart Of A Stuntman” operates. Putting a smile on Timmy’s face is so important to the four park staffers that they are willing to suffer any injury in pursuit of that goal. This episode cleverly plays fast and loose with what passes for Regular Show continuity, as I almost didn’t notice that the episode’s backstory—in which the staffers have helped little Timmy celebrate every birthday from his first year to his 10th—hinges on Mordecai and Rigby working at the park for an entire decade, which seems difficult to square with their eternally young adult status. Still, the factual plausibility of this setup doesn’t matter in comparison to its emotional reality. This episode simply imagines what sort of scenario would be necessary for our heroes to try this hard.
Compare this with the last time that Mordecai and Rigby endured a hellishly painful obstacle course—the fourth season’s “Fool Me Twice.” In that episode, appearing on Fool Me Once, Shame On You, Fool Me Twice, I’ll Punch Your Face fulfilled a longtime dream for the main duo, but they soon lost interest in competing once they realized just how impossibly difficult the task ahead of them was. Only the threat of a lethal punch to the face convinced Mordecai and Rigby to go through with the ordeal, and even then Benson had to drag them through it. The key takeaway here—namely, that Mordecai and Rigby participate only when they have no choice—can be applied to pretty much every other episode of the series. Even episodes that do not place our heroes in mortal peril still revolve around the fulfillment of a deeply held desire, as is the case with the Margaret-centric episodes. At least, they feature the possibility that Mordecai and Rigby will lose their jobs.
None of those factors are in play in “The Heart Of A Stuntman.” Benson is furious, yes, but he’s enraged with the stuntman who canceled on them, and he sees his employees’ plans to attend Stuntman College little more than a waste of time; he doesn’t believe they will succeed, but he’s not threatening their jobs over it. At any point, Mordecai, Rigby, Muscle Man, and Hi-Five Ghost can walk away, and nobody—especially not Timmy, as we see at episode’s end—could blame them. This is hardly the crew’s first de facto suicide mission, but it is the first one they undertake voluntarily.
And honestly, that last description might be selling their experience short; their training is nothing less than a guided tour through stuntman hell, provided by an oft-comatose madman named Johnny Crasher. He’s the latest washed-up figure that Rigby is foolish enough to idolize, although this time the illusion doesn’t last long. Johnny appears more concerned with punching his students than teaching them anything, and his every line reveals just how much a life spent defying death has shattered him. Regular Show is rarely so disturbing in its depiction of its guest characters. Johnny Crasher’s pained screams about his headaches are bad enough, but the subsequent response to the gang’s tuition—“That’ll just about make up for the way things worked out”—is as brutal an observation as the show is ever likely to offer. It’s likely his stunt-induced insanity rather than any innate malice that drives Johnny to sadism, but that doesn’t make random dudes breaking chairs over our heroes’ heads any less painful. Even then, Mordecai and company need only look at their favorite photos of Timmy’s past birthdays to find the strength they need to continue.
The final exam represents an unusual challenge for the show, as it has to figure out the best order in which to eliminate the entrants. There’s never any doubt that Hi-Five Ghost will be the first casualty, but at least “The Heart Of A Stuntman” marks his elimination with a bunch of meta gags, starting with the fact that Fives—who, it always bears repeating, is a ghost—appears to be in his actual death throes as he begs his fellows to continue on without him. Before pseudo-dying, Hi-Five Ghost gets to acknowledge the preceding editing trick, as he notes that it felt like they smashed through the same wooden boards “three times or something.” But once the bruised Hi-Five Ghost gives out, the question becomes who can next be eliminated. Rigby is the obvious quitter of the bunch, but he’s the one who most directly engages Johnny Crasher throughout the rest of the episode; he’s the one who knows who Johnny is, and he’s the one who inadvertently antagonizes his teacher. According to Regular Show’s normal narrative rules, Muscle Man is the least important member of the trio, and he does little in the rest of the episode to indicate that getting his stuntman’s license means more to him than anyone else. But he is the only one of the bunch who would conceivably bother to read the manual, a revelation the episode hints at when Mitch is shown earnestly nodding along to Johnny’s instructions. He’s still a slacker, but he’s a little smarter than the others when it comes to knowing when and where to apply himself.
That leaves Mordecai as the odd man out, even if he is the show’s default hero. Indeed, “The Heart Of A Stuntman” plays upon Mordecai’s heightened status when it comes time for his elimination scene. While Hi-Five Ghost “died” as just another wounded warrior on the field of stunt battle, Mordecai is given a hero’s death as he lets go of the helicopter’s landing skid. As he falls, he shouts out, “Tell Timmy that I’m sorry!” to which Rigby and Muscle Man respond with cries of “No!” that would rival the survivors’ reactions in the death scene of any big, dumb action movie. Mordecai’s failure also makes Rigby’s subsequent rally all the more impressive. There are some character beats that might be intuited here—Rigby might not want to give Johnny the satisfaction of knowing he couldn’t cut it, for instance—but that ignores just how straightforward this episode is. As Muscle Man himself screams, “Your pain means nothing! Timmy means everything!” Muscle Man is appealing to Rigby’s better angels with that line; he said the one combination of words that makes it impossible for Rigby to give up, even though giving up is the easiest thing in the world for him.
Best of all, “The Heart Of A Stuntman” makes it clear that Timmy really is worth all that pain and suffering. The kid isn’t unrealistically perfect; his head is buried in a handheld video game when he first gets out of his mom’s minivan, but the key is that he immediately puts the thing down and enthusiastically greets “Uncle Benson.” When the now certified and heavily bandaged Rigby and Muscle Man attempt their deeply underwhelming stunt, Timmy earnestly calls it the greatest stunt he has ever seen. Again, there are multiple ways to interpret that line. Perhaps Timmy is being nice, or he’s stupidly easy to please, although I prefer the notion that Timmy judges the stunt not on its aesthetic quality but the heart behind it, because, by that measure, that stunt is unquestionably the greatest in history. Whatever the exact reason, the episode leaves no doubt of the underlying emotions, as the audience can’t help but agree with Rigby’s closing line: “Aw, I love that little guy!”
- A non-comprehensive list of Johnny Crasher’s courses: “Endurance,” “Rolling Over Cars,” “Introduction to Pain,” “Getting Dragged 101,” “How to Fall,” and “Walking From Explosions and Looking Cool.”
- “Don’t try this at home!” That was about as well-placed as any obligatory safety disclaimer could ever hope to be.
- “How’d you know to wear a wingsuit?” “It was in the textbook, bro!”
- “It was your tone. And the eye-rolling thing.”