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

Regular Show: “That’s My Television”

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“That’s My Television” is as good an example as any Regular Show episode for the restrictions imposed by the show’s 15-minute format, something I previously discussed in last week’s “Caveman.” In telling the story of RGB2’s mad dash for freedom, the story has to gloss over potentially interesting details. Most of these are relatively minor elements—the episode doesn’t even hint at how Mordecai, Rigby, and RGB2 escape the bathroom—and some are bits of exposition—like how Mordecai regains consciousness to punch out that henchman—that aren’t necessary to the story, but might well have added extra dimensions if the episode had had more time to unspool. In fairness, these gaps in storytelling can add to the show’s surreal tone, but at least one throwaway element seems like it should be way more important than it ends up being: the focus-tested, preteen boy-approved antihero that the network executive uses to threaten our protagonists. That’s an inspired creation, but the episode only barely has room to include him in the proceedings, much less give him any actual lines. There’s something to be said for leaving the audience hungry for more, but “That’s My Television” sometimes feels like it doesn’t have enough time to develop its own ideas.

The good news is, that general complaint aside, “That’s My Television” stands up as a strong entry in the Regular Show canon. The show’s slacker aesthetic makes it difficult for it to really do satire, which requires a level of underlying indignation at odds with the show’s tone, but the episode gets in some surprisingly sharp digs at television. It’s hard not to imagine the episode’s depiction of network executives has some basis in the creative team’s own experiences. Although Regular Show specifically originated in a Cartoon Network project to let animators create projects with zero network interference, it’s still tempting to think that the minds behind such a resolutely weird show have been told on occasion to tailor their ideas to the coveted demographic of 10- to 14-year-old boys. The network executive’s sadistic notes session is a comic highlight for the episode, particularly when his suspiciously positive opening remarks are punctuated with RGB2’s anguished cry, “That’s what they say before the death blow!” Regular Show is very definitely not the first series to cast network executives as villains, but rarely have such characters been quite so openly, resolutely evil as the antagonist here.

The rest of the episode isn’t really aiming for satire, although Mordecai and Rigby’s beloved That’s My Television is a fine distillation of hacky, catchphrase-driven sitcoms. The opening reel only features three clips from the show, yet the scenes broadly capture a trio of bad sitcom archetypes: the overly literal misunderstanding of figurative language, the sassy one-liner that doesn’t actually make a lick of sense, and the repurposing of the go-to catchphrase for a faux-sentimental moment. It’s not hard to see why a young Mordecai and Rigby could have fallen in love with a show like this. “That’s My Television” continues the mockery of the ‘80s that began earlier this season in “TGI Tuesday”, as RGB2 requires constant injections of Reagan-era air in order to survive. It’s a funny concept, even if the show doesn’t bother to actually explain how ‘80s air is different from our own—actually, that probably just makes one henchman’s reaction, “Ah, this smells like the ‘80s!” even funnier, as it assumes everyone in the Regular Show universe instantly knows what that decade smells like.

The car chase takes up most of the episode, and it’s a good illustration of how Regular Show can balance action and comedy. There are multiple layers of absurdity that underlie the whole sequence, the least of which being that the three escapees are a talking blue jay, a talking raccoon, and a talking television set (or so we’re led to believe, at least). “That’s My Television” also presupposes that a TV network would have roughly the offensive capabilities of a small army at its disposal. It’s an exuberantly over-the-top sequence, with cars crashing, flipping, and jumping all over the place, not to mention a helicopter exploding. RGB2’s canisters of ‘80s air prove an indispensable weapon, and “That’s My Television” neatly incorporates the character’s past as a sitcom star into the proceedings. RGB2’s recitation of his catchphrase right before blowing up the helicopter is an old joke, but Regular Show comes up with some fresh twists, like the fact that his rocket launcher is a gift from the Russian prime minister and that he’s able to distract a henchman with one of his old, still hilarious jokes. Regular Show has demonstrated a real flair this season for sustained action setpieces, and this is one of the best examples.

The episode ends with Mordecai, Rigby, and RGB2 making it to Pine Mountain, which it turns out is just a billboard for an adjacent gas station. Regular Show’s sparse animation style is well suited to capture the lonely beauty of a desert sunset, and the episode wrings surprising emotion about RGB2’s accomplishing his quixotic dream in his final hours alive. Admittedly, “That’s My Television” interrupts this touching moment with a great “screw you” joke at the audience’s expense, as RGB2’s casing is removed and it’s revealed he’s actually a naked, emaciated old man crammed painfully inside a TV—as he wheezily asks Mordecai and Rigby, did we really think he was a talking television set? Even leaving aside our heroes’ status as talking animals, their boss is a talking gumball machine whose professional nemesis is a talking vending machine, so it really is completely arbitrary for Regular Show to declare a talking TV too ridiculous to believe—but then, that’s why it’s such a funny reveal.

Showing remarkable dexterity, Regular Show pivots back and forth between emotional finale and surreal deconstruction in the episode’s final minutes, as the suddenly human RGB2 gives Mordecai and Rigby his prized postcard, complete with touching message. He then appears to die, at which point Mordecai respectfully closes his eyes… except the guy snaps that he isn’t dead, just resting. It’s a delightfully schizophrenic ending to an episode that packs in many exemplars of Regular Show at its best; so many, in fact, that I can probably retire my critiques of the show’s problems with the quarter-hour format. “That’s My Television” can be overstuffed and lumpy, but it packs in so many great moments and lines that these weaknesses are easily overlooked.


Stray observations:

  • The Russian prime minister theoretically could refer to Vladimir Putin, though based on my 30 seconds’ worth of Wikipedia research, I choose to believe the super-fan in question was the late Viktor Chernomyrdin, who apparently had a remarkable and very quotable inability to speak his own language.
  • Rigby manages a moment of honest-to-goodness bravery and smart thinking when he uses the autographed box set to distract the mob and allow RGB2 to get away. I knew the little guy had it in him.
  • “Bravo, gentleman, bravo! Overall that was a pretty nice PG getaway. Way to reach out to the 18-to-35 demographic. Oh, and nice third-act climax, by the way. The helicopter explosion really tied it all in with a cherry on top.” Seriously, the network executive’s monologue is a piece of comedic genius. Our heroes’ silent, terrified reactions only add to the hilarity.