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

Regular Show: “Firework Run”

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At the crux of tonight’s episode is a prophecy that states a man (who might actually be a robot) will die when a firework is lit, and eventually said firework does indeed take the form of a gigantic talking chili pepper, which uses its shotgun to destroy the man/robot. That’s the kind of absurd, free-association idea that could only ever happen on Regular Show, but this rich core is surrounded by a very thin crust. Muscle Man’s latest screw-up sends him, Mordecai, Rigby, and Hi-Five Ghost into a scary world of semi-legal fireworks and gunpowder-laced chili. That seems like it should provide plenty of material to work with, but Mordecai and Rigby—who are at least ostensibly our two heroes—are almost entirely sidelined, and Muscle Man comes dangerously close to wearing out his welcome without providing any new insight into who he is. Hi-Five Ghost actually gets way more to do than usual, but when we’re jumping from no lines to three or four, that still isn’t particularly impressive. This is an episode where it feels like all the character moments were cut to accommodate the 11-minute running time. But when so little seems to happen in those 11 minutes, the show has a serious problem on its hands.

It’s July 4 at the park, and Muscle Man shows off his great firework trick to Mordecai and Rigby, which apparently involves getting two fireworks to collide in midair. He pulls it off, but the resultant explosion causes a spark to land on the crate of Benson’s top-of-the-line fireworks, setting all of them off hours before the night’s big festivities. Muscle Man temporarily assuages Benson’s rage by saying he can replace the lost fireworks, and so our gang of slackers head off to what is apparently the American Southwest to meet Muscle Man’s contact Hector, a shady character behind the South of the Line chili relleno empire. In order to pay the exorbitant price for Hector’s last-minute fireworks, Muscle Man and company have to deliver a package to Hector’s equally shady associate Armando. It’s revealed that the package contains gunpowder, which Hector uses to spice up his chili relleno in direct violation of the FDA’s strict zero percent gunpowder requirements. The gang are captured and almost killed over what they have learned, but they escape just in time to set off the El Diablo firework, saving Benson’s July 4 bash and fulfilling Hector’s prophecy.

None of this quite lands the way it should, and the first big problem is how little Mordecai and Rigby figure into the proceedings. While it’s certainly possible to construct a solid Regular Show episode where one or both of our heroes hand over protagonist duties to someone else, it’s better then to actually remove them from the story, rather than relegate them to standing around and asking, “What’s going on?” whenever things get confusing. Rigby and Mordecai both get in a quintessential moment—Rigby when he gets bored and opens the door to Armando’s factory, spoiling everything, and Mordecai when he comes up with a plan to defeat Hector—but otherwise they’re completely superfluous. This might actually have been a good episode to focus solely on Muscle Man and Hi-Five Ghost, although I will admit that I’m somewhat biased insofar as I’m weirdly fascinated with Hi-Five Ghost.

Still, Rigby’s moment of characteristic impatience aside, there’s nothing that happens during the desert sequences that actually requires either Mordecai or Rigby, and they don’t even get much opportunity to comment on or react to the proceedings. At one point, Rigby actually asks Muscle Man how he knows Hector and it’s completely ignored. It’s maybe not a scintillating question, perhaps, but at least it’s an opportunity to dig deeper into what’s going on, and its utter dismissal leaves it as wasted dialogue. While I wouldn’t go so far as to demand every single line or moment has significance later on in the story—sometimes Chekhov’s gun can just be a nice bit of ornamentation, nothing more—there’s a flabbiness to “Firework Run” born of its underdeveloped, throwaway elements. Muscle Man’s opening firework trick could have paid off later, and again there could have been more to his and Hector’s relationship beyond him being some sketchy guy he happens to know. It doesn’t help that a lot of the gags and setpieces don’t really land—Muscle Man’s incredibly simple plan to escape could have been amusing, but it happens so fast that it simply reads as another random thing that happens in the episode.

Even so, parts of the episode work. The prophecy is enjoyably absurd, especially when Hector observes in hushed tones that “She is even more beautiful than I ever could have imagined.” The animation of both the park and the desert at dusk displays a beautiful mix of blues and reds, especially when set against brief bursts of Western music. There are some great little visual details throughout the episode, such as the fact that Armando’s dog randomly wears sneakers. And a great sound-based gag comes when Benson promises the crowd that the fireworks will start soon, only to let out a distant scream of rage as he steps out of range of the microphone. And while “Firework Run” largely drops the ball on callbacks, it does at least end the episode with a beauty as Muscle Man assures his coworkers that he knows a guy who has a great hookup on cheap sod. There are several such moments that briefly elevate the episode, but most of what we get is a weirdly lifeless affair that doesn’t come up with much use for Mordecai and Rigby, or even really Muscle Man. A bunch of random crap happens, as is generally the case with Regular Show, but it lacks the absurdist energy and character insight that mark the series’ better efforts. One of those alone would likely have elevated “Firework Run” considerably, but without either the episode stands as a rare misfire in what has largely been a very strong fourth season.

Stray observations:

  • Hector definitely veers into stereotype territory. I’m not sure I’d call his portrayal offensive, exactly, but I’d say sensible arguments could be made either way. Since Regular Show hasn’t really done much stereotype-based humor previously, I’m inclined to give them a pass on this one, but none of this helped my generally low opinion of the episode.
  • I’m not sure why Hector was revealed to be a machine, but I’m guessing Cartoon Network might have preferred the show minimize how many actual humans are killed. Otherwise, it’s pretty inexplicable, even by Regular Show standards.
  • The joke about the South of the Line chili containing 500 percent gunpowder was pretty good, but I think it was still a bit of a wasted opportunity to say the FDA allows no gunpowder whatsoever. Surely the FDA understands that it’s practically impossible to make chili without a little gunpowder getting in and so allows trace amounts of the stuff.