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

Regular Show: “The Last LaserDisc Player”

Illustration for article titled Regular Show: “The Last LaserDisc Player”

Even though Regular Show takes a break from the Mordecai and Margaret storyline this week, the verve and energy that were so evident in “Family BBQ” carry over in a big way to “The Last LaserDisc Player.” On paper, this episode falls into one of the show’s most oft-explored sub-genres, one that we might refer to as the wacky quest. This is a particularly pure example of the form, as Mordecai, Rigby, Muscle Man, and Hi-Five Ghost stumble upon an ancient, two-year-old conspiracy to destroy all the world’s laserdisc players in the name of VHS supremacy. That’s a typically absurd scenario around which to build an episode, but what sets “The Last LaserDisc Player” apart is just how completely the show commits to its premise. This story exists because somebody at Regular Show deeply, unashamedly loves laserdisc and obsolete formats in general. That readily apparent affection for the story’s subject helps sustain the episode’s high energy level, as though the creative team were finally realizing a longstanding dream of making jokes about laserdisc’s crystal-clear picture quality and unreal 44.1 kilohertz sample rate, and it also provides the episode with a wealth of specific details it can mine for humor.

As I’ve mentioned before, Regular Show tends to take a fairly loose, absurdist approach to its pop culture riffs and parodies. Outside a fairly dead-on Warriors riff in “Picking Up Margaret,” most episodes evoke certain recognizable cultural touchstones without ever quite crystallizing into one particular parody. Indeed, even when the show built a Road Warrior homage into the recent “Trailer Trashed,” it sidestepped most of the obvious jokes or parody targets. There’s certainly something to be said for that approach; Regular Show is refreshingly not reliant on reference gags for its humor. The only trouble is that, by largely avoiding such outside influences, Regular Show’s crazy quest episodes can sometimes feel a little repetitive, as though there is precious little new material for the show to explore.

That’s where the episode’s clear if baffling passion for laserdisc is such a boon. The show takes the time to include tons of hilarious specific references to all things laserdisc, VHS, and obsolete formats as a whole. It’s funny in a general, familiar sort of way that the gang’s laserdisc is at the center of an ancient secret war. It’s hilarious in a far more specific, uniquely satisfying sort of way that the librarian has to insert the laserdisc into the mystical chamber, then promptly flip the thing over and reinsert it when the chamber displays, “PLEASE FLOP SIDE TWO.” That integration of random laserdisc and VHS trivia makes for some of the funniest little moments. I suppose the VHS villain’s message—“SP to LP! SP to LP! Time to fast forward!”—shouldn’t, technically speaking, be considered a joke, but it’s a hilariously clever integration of all the random terms I haven’t thought about since switching over to DVD for good. The villain’s final, perversely rhapsodic remark about laserdisc’s 44.1 kilohertz sample rate might just be my favorite random gag in the show’s history. It’s the crazed but entirely logical end result of the format wars, it’s weirdly effective as a character moment, and it’s technically accurate.

The episode’s extensive mining of all things laserdisc-related also provides more structure to the show’s more familiar elements; indeed, those really specific references to laserdisc and VHS allow the show to portray the format wars themselves in the most bizarre terms imaginable. The machine gun-wielding VHS shock troopers are a terrifically random creation, an army of mullet-bound ‘80s holdovers whose look goes neither commented upon nor explained. In other episodes, their strange, anachronistic getup—never forget, the Format Wars all went down just two years ago—might be overstretched as the primary gag in a scene, but here, it’s just one of several funny little background details. And VHS itself gets one hell of an endorsement, as the man’s pitches devolve from the solid but uninspiring “VHS… quantity!” to the shamelessly blasé “VHS… can’t tell the difference!” to the undisguised death threat “VHS… VH-death!”

“The Last LaserDisc Player” recalls the classic South Park episode “Towelie,” which I’d really have to consider the gold standard for stories in which apathetic heroes are reluctantly dragged into some ludicrous, convoluted question. The Regular Show characters aren’t as belligerent in their lack of interest as their South Park counterparts, but the episode mines some good gags from their indifference. The voice actors’ delivery adds a lot here; when the librarian declares the Disc Masters would be glad to die to protect laserdisc, William Salyers provides the line of the night with Rigby’s bizarrely measured response: “I don’t know about die, per se…” This episode provides an emphatic answer to a frequent critique I’ve had this season, most notably in “Firework Run”: The main characters have often seemed content to just quietly go with the flow in these crazy quest episodes, and so this episode opens up a new kind of Regular Show joke with the characters’ bemused reactions.

Indeed, there’s a sly sense that this episode is deconstructing the typical Regular Show formula, in particular the show’s handling of Muscle Man as an all-purpose fixer. Old Mitch Sorrenstein once again takes charge of the initial laserdisc hunt at the electronics store. Even though this situation really doesn’t seem nearly as dangerous or delicate as the time he tried to buy some fireworks from Hector, he still insists that the others be quiet so he can do all the talking. This time, however, his entreaties are met with ridicule from his supposed friend, and so the episode’s focus shifts back to the ensemble, which by default means the focus is back on Mordecai and Rigby. Admittedly, this is a relatively minor element of the overall story being told, but Regular Show trots out an expertly deployed and relatively rare callback when Muscle Man’s so-called friend shows up, explains his boss totally fired him for making fun of our heroes, and then instantly proceeds to get caught in the perfect aural blast of the Laserdisc Guardian.


What’s great about that is how it brings that tiny gag full circle, providing a sense of continuity to the episode’s potentially random craziness. Few Regular Show episodes could really be accused of being tightly structured, but there’s some clever symmetry in how the story returns to seemingly abandoned story points. After all, the real point of this episode was to watch the 2112 Time Attack on laserdisc, and that’s how the gang—accompanied by the guardians of obsolete formats—close out the story. Not too surprisingly, it turns out this movie really is as awful as one would assume, and the director’s original vision really does blow. But hey, at least the picture quality is outstanding. And, in the end, isn’t that what really matters?

Stray observations:

  • Whatever else you want to say about that librarian, he aged a ton in two years.