Figure this one out if you can. In the early 1990’s, the economy was in the crapper, I was a 20-something working my first post-college job, and the slacker animated comedy of choice was MTV’s Beavis and Butt-head. Despite being dead square in the target demographic for the show, I couldn’t stand it. Flash-forward about 20 years: the economy is in the crapper, I’m a 40-something with a resume that looks disturbingly like a career history, and the slacker animated comedy of choice is Cartoon Network’s Regular Show. Despite being laughably out of range of the show’s target demographic, I love it. Whether this is an indicator of exceptionally non-conformist tastes or a harbinger of a looming midlife crisis is left as an exercise for the reader; the punch line is that the Regular Show Slack Pack DVD yields up a potent comedic punch for me despite being way out of its intended audience, even if I have continuing issues with the way Cartoon Network and Warner Home Video handle their home video releases.
Actually, I do know at least one reason why Regular Show appeals while Beavis and Butt-head didn’t (and, even in the current revival, still doesn’t), and it starts with the fact that the lead characters of Regular Show are Mordecai and Rigby, a bluejay and a hyperactive raccoon in their 20s. The show is nominally about how the pair spend most of their days shirking their duties as groundskeepers at a public park, but once you hit their supporting cast, you realize that Regular Show is another step in Cartoon Network’s inexorable conquering of the surreal animated comedy landscape that began with Chowder and continued through The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack and Adventure Time. My problem with Beavis and Butt-head was that I knew Beavises and Butt-heads growing up and I didn’t like them much then. The joke was a bit too close to home because I knew people who actually did stuff that would have ended up in a Beavis and Butt-head cartoon (my favorite incident being the one about the kid showing off his new athletic supporter and protective cup by asking people to kick him in the nuts—an activity that came to a swift and sudden end when the next kid he asked happened to be wearing steel-toed boots). Next to Mordecai and Rigby, the major supporting players include a wise Yeti named Skips, a daffy elderly lollipop named Pops, and an uptight talking gumball machine named Benson who is their boss.
Toto, we are not in Kansas any more.
As with Adventure Time, spending too much time talking about the show’s setup or the plot of any given episode will either draw strange looks or guffaws, and which one you happen to get is a pretty good litmus test on what kind of person you’re dealing with. Almost every episode of the show starts off with a more or less conventional idea that has one surreal twist added to the execution, followed by a sharp left turn into Weirdsville somewhere near the middle of the episode that brings the whole thing to an end somewhere strange and wonderful and usually hilarious. As an example, the first episode of the show (and on this DVD) is “The Power.” The conventional idea is that Mordecai and Rigby decide they need raises to fix the giant hole in the wall of their apartment that they made after some idiotic roughhousing. The weird twist is that the pair find a magic wishing keyboard synthesizer that gives them whatever they want if they can make up a song asking for it, which they use to dupe Benson into giving them their raises. The sharp left turn into Weirdsville comes when Rigby accidentally sings a song sending Skips to the moon, causing the rest of the cast to mount up a rescue in the park’s golf cart. Then the giant shows up and…you know, you really just have to be there. Trust me, it ends up somewhere strange and wonderful and pretty funny, and the episodes get better from there. It gets better with “Just Set Up the Chairs,” which starts with Mordecai and Rigby’s resolution to prove that they’re not slackers and ends up with a massive battle with a giant destructive video game character defeated through button mashing. “Grilled Cheese Deluxe” starts with the pair trying to replace Benson’s lunch and ends with the pair saving the city from being consumed by an anti-matter explosion. “Over the Top” manages to pay tribute to both Ingmar Bergman and one of Sylvester Stallone’s lesser-known films (but one I remember with fond scorn from my childhood in the 80’s), as Skips ends up having to arm-wrestle Death for Rigby’s immortal soul.
Toto, I think we left Oz a couple dozen miles back there. No honking idea where we are now, but man is it strange.
The rest of the episodes on this DVD are “Death Punchies” (which reminded me a lot of the classic “Ti Kwon Leap” number a lot of people are familiar with from the Dr. Demento show), “Mordecai and the Rigbys,” “Rage Against the TV,” “This Is My Jam,” “The Night Owl,” “Prank Callers,” and “A Bunch of Baby Ducks.” One of the best things about the show is how far it can travel from start to finish in just one 11-minute episode. “This Is My Jam” starts with a song you can’t get out of your head and ends up in a battle of the bands light show with the song come to giant, oppressive life. “The Night Owl” starts with a stupid radio show contest and works in suspended animation, time travel, and a sweet classic car. “A Bunch of Baby Ducks” starts with a quintet of baby ducklings imprinting on Mordecai and Rigby and ends someplace so bizarrely, hilariously funny, I’m not sure whether it’s best not to give it away or if I can spoil the whole thing because it’s still outlandishly hilarious even if you know it’s coming (I opt for the former). I may not have direct empathy for the slacker attitude that pervades the show, but Regular Show greatly appeals to me because it definitely appeals to my sense of surreal, making me laugh a whole hell of a lot as it does so.
Like the Adventure Time DVDs, the Regular Show Slack Pack DVD pulls episodes from multiple seasons (in this case, the first two). Episodes are presented in anamorphic widescreen with a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. The video reproduces the show’s slightly bleached-out color palette perfectly and the audio is sharp and clear and brings out the best in the show’s frequent songs. Each episode is a single chapter on the disc, but since unlike Adventure Time, each episode gets its own credits sequence, so you don’t have the weird effect of seeing actors credited for parts that didn’t show up in the episode you just watched. The bonus feature on the disc is “Ra-Ha Ringtone,” an extra short that is, oddly enough, probably the least funny thing on the DVD.
I’m impressed that I can think Adventure Time is weird and Regular Show is weird, but neither show is anything at all like the other. But really, who cares? Regular Show is funny as hell, and the Slack Pack DVD gives you at least a dozen reasons why.