A worthy companion to last year’s brilliant Christmas special, tonight’s Thanksgiving episode is one of the most nakedly emotional entries in the Regular Show canon. The episode celebrates all the things that are associated with Thanksgiving—the food, the football, the good cheer—but never loses sight of how these are all secondary to what the holiday is really about: family. Over the past five seasons, Regular Show has built the parks staff into a weird, dysfunctional, yet ultimately loving surrogate family, and those bonds are honored in “The Thanksgiving Special” right alongside those of the characters’ actual kin. But in order to reach that tender final scene, Mordecai and Rigby must navigate their way out of their biggest screw-up to date.
The episode’s double-length format means that there’s more time to devote to complex sequences like the duo’s destruction of Thanksgiving dinner. There’s no doubt as to what will happen next as soon as Rigby pulls out the foam football, and there’s little question that he and Mordecai deserve what happens next. The animators clearly have tremendous fun with the Rube Goldberg-like manner in which the Thanksgiving meal is destroyed, but what’s really clever is the precise sequence of the devastation; only unrelated items like plates and the toaster are initially affected, but then increasingly crucial parts of the feast meet their untimely ends, culminating in the rocket-powered destruction of the turkey. Benson’s rage is bad enough, but his subsequent, resigned observation—“This is the worst thing you have ever done”—is a thousand times worse, because Mordecai and Rigby know there isn’t any valid response.
The next section of “The Thanksgiving Special” is driven by the gang’s various attempts to fix Thanksgiving, and it’s hard to argue with a car chase sequence that involves a turkey baster being used as a flamethrower. Muscle Man’s end zone dance contest with professional football player Brock Stettman is only tenuously connected to the Thanksgiving theme; yes, football is a stated component of the holiday, but this sequence really can’t match the thematic clarity of Benson, Pops, and Skips fighting three psychopaths dressed like a Pilgrim, a Native American, and a giant turkey. But then, the bar sequence does allow guest voice Terry Crews to offer awed descriptions of Muscle Man’s insane dance moves, which is worth the price of admission alone. These are the sorts of humorous vignettes that can’t easily fit in the normal quarter-hour running time, but they perfectly flesh out this extended episode.
The return of Margaret’s dad is a nice touch, emphasizing the importance of family on Thanksgiving while still letting Regular Show save its really big reveals for the end of the episode. Frank’s ultimate approval of Mordecai in “Family BBQ” happily carries over to “The Thanksgiving Special,” as he unhesitatingly gives up his own Thanksgiving dinner to give Mordecai and Rigby a chopper ride to the contest, even offering thoughtful songwriting feedback en route. He can’t resist messing with Mordecai by mentioning Margaret’s (presumably fictitious) new boyfriend, but he knows what he’s talking about when he advises Mordecai and Rigby to sing from the heart. It’s his advice that allows Mordecai and Rigby to prevail in the song contest; Rich Buckner’s ridiculously expensive, star-studded number is clearly focus-tested to hit upon all the things people connect with Thanksgiving—with plenty of unsubtle patriotic imagery thrown in, just because—but it’s our heroes who convey why the holiday is meaningful in and of itself. They go beyond a mere description of Thanksgiving’s features and reveal just why it still matters four centuries after its initial celebration.
While “The Christmas Special” built its holiday festivities around a genuine yuletide threat, “The Thanksgiving Special” treats the theoretical epic fight sequence as more of an afterthought. Rich Buckner is one of the sillier arch-villains that Regular Show has trotted out, and J.G. Quintel hits the sweet spot with his voice performance, making Buckner sound like a goofy moron without completely undercutting the character. His cries of “It has a golden wishbone!” and “One that actually grants wishes!” come across as Quintel’s intentionally halfhearted impersonation of a super-villain rather than his earnest portrayal. The angry look on Mordecai’s face as he responds to this latest plot twist says it all; whatever Buckner wants with this golden wishbone, it’s going to be dumb. And yet, for just a moment, “The Thanksgiving Special” manages a hint of pathos when Buckner turns toward the fire and explains just why he needs the wishbone: He covets the thanks that he cannot otherwise buy. It’s a selfish conception of Thanksgiving, and he wastes whatever shred of sympathy he builds up in that moment when he reveals his true dream of a Thanksgiving holiday wholly dominated by Buckmart. Buckner is someone who needs everything to be about him, and there isn’t even a vaguely innocent initial motivation behind his greed.
Even with extra time to play with, Regular Show doesn’t spend an inordinate amount of time on the gang’s climactic assault on Buckner’s zeppelin. Indeed, the two major attack runs—Muscle Man and the Sky-Cats parachuting from the team jet, then Pops and company flying up in his car—involve the same basic strategy, as both tear into the canvas of the blimp and cause it lose altitude. These are rousing moments, but “The Thanksgiving Special” recognizes they need be nothing more than moments, with Muscle Man descending past a momentarily stunned Buckner and Mordecai is the ideal gag for this sequence. The actual fight with Buckner goes on a little longer, but his character verges on parody even as he apparently drops Mordecai and Rigby to their deaths. Regular Show saves the drama for the pair’s plummet, cranking up the dramatic music as the two try desperately to break a solid gold wishbone in half. Such ridiculously long freefalls are hard to portray realistically—and I’m not sure the sequence actually succeeds if realism is the main criterion—but there’s never any doubt that Mordecai and Rigby consider themselves to be in mortal peril. Never have our two quasi-heroic slackers struggled as hard as they do in pulling apart the wishbone; together with some nifty cuts between close-ups and long shots, that emotion makes their fall genuinely compelling.
And that’s why it means so much when Mordecai and Rigby arrive back at the park, safe and sound. The first-ever reveal of their parents is a lovely reward for all their efforts to save Thanksgiving, especially when it allows the entire park staff to yell at Thomas, that idiot. The episode doesn’t offer much by way of characterization for our heroes’ parents, but all we really need to know is that these four are clearly kind, good-natured people: Just the sort of parents that Mordecai and Rigby deserve. Their de facto parent Benson confirms that with his big speech—although not until after Benson’s equally short-fused father tells everyone to shut up—and the final montage is a lovely portrait of friends and family coming together for the holidays; even one-off pal RGB2 and the ghost of Muscle Dad join in the festivities. When Mordecai and Rigby high-five at in the episode’s closing moment, they look as happy as they ever have. For once, they did everything right, and they achieved something more meaningful than their own personal, fleeting gratification. They are thankful, but they also enjoy the satisfaction of knowing that they helped all their loved ones experience that feeling of straightforward contentment, too. That may not be all of what Thanksgiving is about, but it’s a darn good start.
- While this episode’s guest cast was always going to struggle to top the Christmas special’s one-two punch of Ed Asner and Thomas Haden Church, it acquits itself quite well with the combo of Terry Crews and official TV Club favorite CHORD OVERSTREET as one of Rich Buckner’s singers.
- Let it never be forgotten: Women love Rigby, at least when he’s singing about Thanksgiving. One can only imagine Eileen’s reaction when she sees him bare his soul on stage.