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

Regular Show: “Skips’ Story”

Illustration for article titled Regular Show: “Skips’ Story”

What makes Regular Show such a refreshing change of pace from most comedies, animated or otherwise, is that it’s not afraid to leave space between jokes. This show can be very funny when it wants to be, and it’s entirely capable of the kind of snappy pacing and successive one-liners that define the success of so many great shows, but Regular Show is willing to carve out its own distinct, frequently strange territory. The primary purpose of so many Regular Show episodes—tonight’s double-length entry very much included—is to explore yet another insane corner of the show’s universe, to understand some more of the mad logic that shapes our heroes’ lives: basically, to be weird. That weirdness can be in support of great gags, but the jokes in “Skips’ Story” feel incidental to what the story is really trying to accomplish, which is to provide a window into Skips’ tragic, mortal past. It’s a past that looks like no history I’ve ever seen. Or, more accurately, it looks like at least three distinct histories all at once, with a bunch of giant-headed immortals thrown in for kicks. Even then, yes, the show is revealing one of the major secrets of its mythology by showing just how Skips became immortal, but the priority is just hanging out in and exploring this weird, pseudo-18th century high school. And “Skips’ Story” is all the better for that.

The basic conceit of tonight’s episode builds on what we learned in episodes like “A Skips In Time”—which is briefly referenced here when he discusses his storm-chasing days with Samson—by returning to Skips’ younger days as a vaguely European, vaguely 18th century fop named Walks. The episode willfully blows up its own premise by grafting a high school story onto this setting, but part of the reason this “Skips’ Story” is such a hoot is how much it does commit to the setting. There’s a real attempt here to ensure the characters’ dialogue is, if not exactly authentic, then at least convincingly old-timey. Walks and Desdemona’s initial encounter in the cafeteria features some nice examples of such speech, as the latter notes that Walks is “welcome to dine with me if you wish,” that her “given name is Desdemona” but that Walks can call her Mona, and that “no one eats the school lunch if it can be avoided.” Because Mona is the most “normal” character in the flashbacks, not all of her lines feature this faintly archaic diction, but those lines help bridge the divide between the high school and the historical elements of the story.

Mona is mostly allowed to be a typical high school sweetheart, but the show never fully forgets that she’s supposed to be from the 18th century—or possibly the 19th, given the presence of slowly developing photographs, and I suppose the math of Klorgbane’s orbit might suggest that this took place 150 years ago. Either way, voice acting stalwart Grey DeLisle does some nifty work in keeping both aspects of her character coherent. That in turn frees up Mark Hamill to cut loose with his performance as Walks, bringing even more verve to the Walks voice last heard in “A Skips In Time.” The process Hamill uses to create the Walks voice is straightforward enough: He retains Skips’ usual gruffness but pitches his voice higher, lending the character a youth and cheeriness—with just a hint of the obstreperous—that has long since departed the immortal Skips. Then, to finish things off, he slaps a silly pseudo-English accent on top of it. Indeed, when combined with his dandyish dress sense, that accent makes his every line sound like something I vaguely remember from Tom Jones (the English movie, not the Welsh singer), and I think that—or, if not precisely that, something along those lines—is exactly the point. Consider when Mona suggests he could be called “Alks,” and Walks jovially responds, “Hard to believe that nickname never took root!” In that moment, he really does sound like a character from some old comedic novel.

That’s where Regular Show really starts to have fun, as his brief moments of rhetorical flair prove fleeting. Walks’ attempted observation on the impossibility of messing up an apple brown betty is interrupted by the arrival of the immortal student council—and glee club!—but both the animation on his facial expressions and Mark Hamill’s voice acting suggest he was flailing to find a good witticism there, even if he had hit on a solid point by nothing that brown betties only have four ingredients. “Skips’ Story” is judicious in acknowledging the fundamental ridiculousness of its story’s setting, but that selectivity only makes the gags funnier. Walks may be a very different man from the immortal he eventually becomes, but his frustration with life’s idiocies proves eternals; there’s a lot of the modern-day Skips present in Walks’ observation that “High school is so complicated!” The truly remarkable thing is that Hamill is still able to act, even while affecting a ridiculous version of what is already a rather goofy voice. Joyous declarations like “Splendid!” and “I have a date!” could sound like self-parody, but Hamill is able to make even these over-the-top line readings feel like a vital part of Walks’ tragic arc.

While Walks and Mona are allowed to navigate their bizarre mash-up of history and high school in a more or less serious manner, Regular Show uses the side characters to more directly acknowledge the premise’s essential silliness. The immortal student council—and glee club!—and Gareth, who we will someday know as the Guardians of Eternal Youth and Gary, provide most of the episode’s funniest lines. Indeed, it’s only tangentially related to anything else that happens in the story, but I love their deeply unconvincing assurance: “Our promises are good as gold. After all, we are the student government!” The episode presents them as ever so slightly manipulative of young Walks—Reginald does tell one of his fellows to hang back and leave Walks to fight Klorgbane alone—but they do so in a way that’s less reflective of omnipotent higher beings and more reflective of a bunch of nerds who have finally found a sympathetic fighter willing to take their side against a bully. The episode has a lot of fun with their interest in the logistical sides of fighting, as with their chart explaining just why Walks should fight Klorgbane or Gareth’s meticulous work finding the one time in Klorgbane’s surprisingly extracurricular-heavy schedule in which he can fit in a fight.

If there’s one slightly disappointing aspect of “Skips’ Story,” it’s to be found in the climactic fight scene. The actual battle with Klorgbane isn’t particularly epic by Regular Show’s standards, but I suppose that’s fair enough, considering this episode is really just a retroactive prelude for the rematch in season three’s “Fists Of Justice.” The trickier element is Mona’s death, and here I suspect Regular Show brushed right up against the edge of what Cartoon Network allows to be shown in its (theoretically) children-geared programming. There’s never much question of Mona’s fate—although I suppose the lack of body might  be leaving a tiny space open for some magical reunion somewhere down the line—but it all happens so fast and we see so little of it that her actual death scene doesn’t quite land. Fortunately, “Skips’ Story” compensates with the subsequent scenes, in which we see a broken, now inexplicably ‘70s-clad Walks accept the burden of immortality, for he has no love left to lose, and the final scene back at the house, in which a teary-eyed Mordecai leads Rigby away so that Skips can have a moment’s quiet reflection. Amid all these ridiculous elements, it all comes back to Skips staring at the photograph of his lost love, pledging to skip for eternity because he knows of no other way to be close to her. For all the inspired silliness on display in this story, the show—led by the great voice work of Mark Hamill and Grey DeLisle—finds its way back to the poignant, melancholy truth.


Stray observations:

  • Walks shows laudable, lamentable honesty when he tells Mona’s dad that he’s new in school because he keeps getting expelled for fighting. I feel like that’s something he didn’t have to tell the father within 15 seconds of meeting him.
  • “Yes, well… we all interpret the theme in our own ways.” Guys, Mona is great. I’ll admit that I’d really like to see her come back someday, and I don’t even think it would undercut the sadness of this story to do so. After all, over 150 years is more than enough loneliness.
  • I’m glad to see Benson—sorry, Headmaster Bennett—on hand in Skips’ flashback. It’s telling that he’s the one established character the show can insert into the flashback without overwhelming the story; I suspect it would have been harder to incorporate an analogue of Mordecai, Rigby, or Muscle Man without having that character hog a bit of the spotlight.
  • “It’s not that nice. We’re splitting the rent five ways.”