Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Regular Show: “Ace Balthazar Lives”

Illustration for article titled Regular Show: “Ace Balthazar Lives”

Of all the stories Regular Show could have possibly told, I don’t think any of us were expecting the show to do a riff on the true story of the Tichborne claimant with a potato sack-wearing, time-shifted knight trying to pass himself off as a dead, ultra-destructive rock star. Regular Show doesn’t really go in for normal episodes, but it at least tends to spin its distinctive craziness out of a relatively straightforward, even mundane premise. Mordecai and Rigby might routinely rip open the doors to hellish other realms, but these travails usually kick off with them going to get the donuts, or buying the world’s most awesome sandwich, or making their friend attempt the gallon challenge, or some other such young adult silliness. “Ace Balthazar Lives,” on the other hand, starts ridiculous and piles lunacy on top of lunacy until the final revelation, in which the ghostly Ace Balthazar shows up to out the imposter, actually seems downright plausible in comparison to all that’s come before.

As a Behind The Bands episode helpfully explains, Adrenaline was the most epic band of all-time (of 1984), and frontman Ace Balthazar was their unquestioned leader and key to their greatness. Ace took the band’s name deadly seriously, proclaiming during shows that he had an adrenaline rush and was about to crash. Of course, while an adrenaline crash is typically associated with a sudden loss of energy, Ace interpreted “crashing” as the signal for wanton destruction, and so his concerts became excuses for obliterating all of the band’s equipment. This craving for carnage (an appetite for destruction, if you will) quickly bled over into his personal life, ultimately leading to his fiery death in a bus crash. Now, nearly 30 years later, his extremely well-preserved bandmates—seriously, those are some muscular washed-up rockers—spend their days together in a hot tub reminiscing about their fallen friend and wondering about what might have been.

In a particularly shameless bit of lazy plotting (not that that is necessarily a bad thing), the Behind The Bands episode mentions a recent sighting of Ace that happened to occur right outside Mordecai and Rigby’s house, with their old acquaintance the Knight posited as Balthazar. A traveler from another, more medieval time and place who previously appeared in the episode “Muscle Woman,” the Knight seems like an unlikely candidate, particularly since his previous episode really seemed to confirm that he did indeed come from the Middle Ages. It’s hard to say whether we’re supposed to think of Ace and the Knight being the same person as a serious possibility. For all its insanity, Regular Show generally respects its own continuity, although those who missed the Knight’s previous appearance aren’t given any particular reason during “Ace Balthazar Lives” to think the Knight couldn’t potentially be Ace. Honestly, the whole conceit might just be a rather clever meta-joke about the show’s simple, rather repetitive designs for its human characters. I certainly wouldn’t be shocked if there are other one-off characters that could be transformed into the spitting image of Ace Balthazar just as easily.

Mordecai and Rigby are the only park employees to show up in the episode—indeed, other than their bit parts in “The Longest Weekend,” Pops and Skips have barely appeared in the 2013 episodes thus far—and yet they still somehow manage to feel like supporting players, with the Knight taking on protagonist duties. Mordecai and Rigby want Adrenaline to get back together, and they want the Knight to be Ace Balthazar, so that their dream can come true… and that’s really all they have to contribute. It’s the Knight who decides to play along in the hopes of earning their friendship, it’s the Knight who agrees to the makeover even when it means surrendering the knightly honor that is his oat bag helmet, and it’s the Knight who proves himself worthy when the ghost of Ace shows up. Now, the Knight is a fun character, and the creative team puts a surprising amount of work into presenting a halfway authentic depiction of his medieval worldview and language. Sure, he pretty much just acts like a holdover from some corny kid’s movie about the Knights of the Round Table, but even that is a radical, refreshing departure from the slacker ethos that pervades most of the show’s characters.

Even so, the show of late has been a little too quick to sideline Mordecai and Rigby, to make them observers rather than participants. Rigby’s early proclamations about the right way to eat oats and Adrenaline’s general awesomeness are great character moments, and he gets some fun lines where he’s clearly freaked out by the Knight’s behavior. But Mordecai in particular feels far too thinly drawn in this episode, as there’s never really a sense of why he cares so much about Adrenaline getting back together. To be sure, he says it would be cool, but that’s only the shallow beginnings of an answer, not an explanation in its own right. “Ace Balthazar Lives” would have been a much stronger episode if we had some real sense of what Ace and Adrenaline actually mean to Mordecai. Character insights like that are admittedly harder to fit into a quick 11 minutes, but the episode is hardly so action-packed that there wouldn’t have been time for the Knight, the ghost of Ace, the other Adrenaline members, Margaret, or even Rigby to simply ask Mordecai what’s behind all this. As it is, the show’s central character spends the episode as a virtual cipher, and that distinctly limits the episode’s potential.

That said, the Knight really is a great character, and he’s weird and different enough to make the episode largely successful, even as Mordecai and Rigby don’t get to add much. In particular, he’s virtuous and good-natured in a way most Regular Show characters aren’t, at least not on the surface—Skips is probably the closest, but his goodness is buried under a gruff veneer. The Knight’s wide-eyed curiosity about the modern world is a charming counterpoint to Mordecai and Rigby’s whole deal, especially when the Knight assumes all technology is full of bands of tiny men, and any device’s secrets can be revealed with a swift stroke of the sword. The working-class English accents of the Adrenaline members are a good complement for the Knight’s more rarefied voice, particularly when the Knight takes on the Ace persona but doesn’t quite drop his noble accent. His final speech to the ghost of Ace and the disapproving crowd about his love of the modern world and his quest to fit in is weirdly affecting. The final sequence, in which ghost Ace takes back up the guitar and the Knight brings his fellow knights through the portal to enjoy the modern music, is a testament to rock’s power as a unifier, a way to make people drop their usual bullshit and just have some visceral fun together. There are some intriguing themes lurking around the surface of “Ace Balthazar Lives” about rock’s primal power and how it can transcend time and death themselves, about how awesome conquers all. But the episode doesn’t do that little bit of digging to really develop these ideas, and so, for all its charms, this remains a relatively minor effort from Regular Show.


Stray observations:

  • “I’m the real deal here, and this band is nothing without me—no offense, guys.” “True, true/Don’t worry about it.” The other Adrenaline members are quite possibly the most well-adjusted rockers ever.
  • “If it is as your culture dictates, then I will don the garb that is necessary to do so.” “Whatever, just try the clothes on.”
  • Nice cameo from the show’s other knight, who first appeared in “Eggscellent.”