Now that Mordecai and Margaret are finally, unambiguously an item, Regular Show seems to have an extra spring in its step, as though last week’s climactic kiss lifted a weight off the show just as much as it did for Mordecai. That makes some sense; after four seasons of narrative stalling, of telling the same basic story over and over again, Regular Show finally has the chance to tell entirely new stories with these two particular characters. There’s a zip to tonight’s one-liners that isn’t always present in other episodes, as though the show’s writers are suddenly ready to throw caution to the wind. Crucially, “Family BBQ” always respects Mordecai and Margaret’s relationship, as Mordecai’s efforts to win over Margaret’s dad Frank never imperils their still nascent romance. The show recognizes that the question of “Will they or won’t they?” has at long last been answered, and now it’s time to explore other storytelling possibilities.
There’s a real sense that Mordecai has turned a corner in his development. He still has his awkward moments and perhaps remains overly concerned with the approval of others, but the spluttering, cowardly Mordecai is gone, and a more confident, competent young man has taken his place. His efforts to win over Frank don’t fail because of a lack of effort or skill on his part; he flips burgers like a pro, executes a perfect dual diving catch of a football and a wooden leg, and he saves one of Margaret’s older relatives from choking on a piece of hot dog. Only in the last instance does he do anything even slightly wrong, as the expelled hot dog hits Frank’s forehead, but only a jealous, insecure loudmouth would ever hold that against Mordecai. Frank, unfortunately, is just such a jealous, insecure loudmouth, and he’s not above playing a mean-spirited prank on his daughter’s would-be beau involving a scandalously revealing, frighteningly dotted bathing suit. Even then, Mordecai doesn’t shrink from the challenge, as he strides about in what is essentially a thong while betraying only minimal embarrassment.
On some level, Mordecai’s pursuit of Margaret was always about proving to himself that he was worthy; for the longest time, he was unable to believe Margaret could ever be interested in him, and that stymied his efforts before they even began. This self-defeating belief generated a driving need to create the “perfect” moment in which their love could be expressed—which even took the form of erasing their actual, disappointing first kiss from the timeline—because Mordecai believed that was the only way he could ever be good enough. That’s a silly, ridiculous, and painfully familiar conception of romance, but last week’s kiss gave Mordecai a colossal affirmation of his own worth. His nerves are gone, and all his positive qualities—his compassion, his courage, even his occasional insight—can shine through in a way they never could when he was still so worried about winning over Margaret. Mordecai is no longer his own worst enemy when it comes to his personal life, and that opens the door for someone else to fill the role.
Frank Smith is such an excellent adversary for Mordecai because he works both as a straightforward antagonist, an obstacle in the way of Mordecai’s happiness, and as a nuanced character in his own right. Perhaps recognizing that there are limits to how well a red-breasted robin can embody intimidating, old-school machismo, the show makes Frank the lone human in a giant family of birds, which raises some fascinating, deeply disturbing questions about how biology works in the Regular Show universe. The decision to make him human pays off in the visuals, as the animators can convey a wider range of recognizable emotions with a human face than they could with a beak and oversized eyes. Frank is a caricature of every terrifying, disapproving girlfriend’s parent, and his emotional arc about losing Margaret is a familiar one—but it isn’t yet familiar on Regular Show. It’s still novel to see Mordecai interact with this particular type of character, and “Family BBQ” finds some interesting shading in just how Frank goes about tormenting Mordecai, as he mercilessly razzes the guy for wearing a diaper, dismisses him as little more than skin and bones, and tricks him into wearing that swimsuit.
What elevates the episode into classic territory is Mordecai and Frank’s big confrontation onboard the helicopter. Mordecai proves indomitable in the face of Frank’s aerial intimidation, and it’s then that the truth is revealed. Frank is terrified of losing his daughter, and that’s why he’s so intent on scaring away any potential boyfriends. Again, that’s hardly a revelatory plot, but Mordecai’s response is what makes “Family BBQ.” He doesn’t dismiss the validity of Frank’s worries but instead opts for a more tactful approach. Mordecai reveals that Margaret still cares deeply about her dad and talks about him all the time. He shows enough maturity to bring Frank to a point where can accept Mordecai enough to end the insane contest, although by then it’s too late to turn back.
Mordecai’s well-intentioned rescue attempt doesn’t work, at least not directly, but it does accomplish Mordecai’s overriding goal—moments before both he and Frank crash back to Earth, the two share what they assume is their terminal handshake. Confronted first with his own foolishness and then with his own onrushing mortality, Frank lets his guard down and warmly welcomes Mordecai into the family, applauding him for the guts it took to jump out of a helicopter to save a guy who was a complete ass the entire episode. Mordecai is again confident enough to be honest, as he admits he’s only doing all this because he cares about Margaret—indeed, he apparently only cares about Margaret, which could create some problems with his friends down the road—but he considers saving the people she cares about as well worth risking his life. It’s not an entirely selfless act then, but it’s selfish in just the sort of way that love ought to be selfish, and it’s hard to argue with Frank’s assertion that Mordecai shows real guts. Their handshake is a wonderful moment, and it’s a terrific comedic capper to reveal that said handshake somehow broke their fall and allowed them to survive.
Indeed, perhaps the greatest virtue of “Family BBQ” is just how funny it is. The show’s newfound confidence translates to some unexpected sorts of jokes, which is perhaps also a function of the new characters who are suddenly available to say them. The funniest line of the night arguably comes from Margaret’s mother, who bitterly observes that her husband always thinks with his chopper… but that’s why she loves him. The line only works when someone says it about their lifelong partner, and that’s not previously been possible on a show full of eternal bachelors. Margaret’s unexpectedly sage young relative is also a hoot, as he offers Mordecai the knowledge he needs to earn Frank’s handshake in much the same way a wizened police informant might pass along a tip about the latest heist; his line about how much Frank “respects the craft” of cannonballing is such a wonderfully offbeat observation. And there’s really nothing better than Eileen’s opening observation that Frank’s machismo is only to be expected in the male-dominated world of traffic choppers. The Regular Show that produces lines like that is the Regular Show I want to keep watching, and the show appears to be every bit as newly confident as its star. That kiss really did work wonders.
- Rigby is the only other park employee to appear in this episode, and he only shows up at the beginning and the end of the episode. I defy anyone to come up with more perfect ways to use Rigby in such short bursts, though. His insane imitation of Frank’s chopper voice is a particular highlight.
- I do really like how much Margaret supports Mordecai in this episode; she doesn’t necessarily get that much to do, but I’d much rather she be sidelined for an episode instead of forcing her into some artificial fight. She also clearly gets her easygoing, eternally forgiving attitude from her mom.