Cartoon Network has a nasty history of producing great shows that get lousy support on DVD. The home video landscape is littered with sub-standard and incomplete releases of shows ranging from their earliest hits (Dexter’s Laboratory, Johnny Bravo) to some of their more recent success stories (Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, Chowder, and Flapjack). So, it’s nice to see that this fate does not seem to be in store for Cartoon Network’s latest smash hits, Adventure Time and Regular Show. Last month saw the first two seasons of Adventure Time hit on Blu-ray (go read what we had to say about season 1 and season 2, he said self-promotingly), and this month sees the release of Regular Show: The Complete First & Second Seasons on a 2-disc Blu-ray set. If anything, Regular Show gets an even more impressive home video release than Adventure Time, since the Blu-ray is a nearly flawless presentation that is sure to satisfy fans of the show. It’s definitely a better package than the earlier “soccer mom” releases, which might be better for casual fans or for newcomers, but were definitely lacking for the serious fans.
The leads of Regular Show are Mordecai and Rigby: a bluejay and a raccoon who work as groundskeepers at a local park. Or, perhaps, I should say they “work” as groundskeepers, since nearly every episode of Regular Show starts with the pair shirking their duties and slacking off on the job. The surreal cast extends to Mordecai and Rigby’s co-workers, who include Skips, a raspy-voiced yeti who seems to know everything; Pops, a daffy giant-headed lollipop of a man; Muscle Man and High-Five Ghost, who…uh…you just kind of have to experience; and Benson, a gumball machine with a hair-trigger who has to manage the rest of the show’s motley gang.
The first disc of the show contains the 12 11-minute episodes that formed season 1, along with the bulk of the bonus features, while the second disc holds the 28-episodes that formed season 2. I find it remarkable at how well formed the show is right out of the gate, since just about everything that makes Regular Show worthwhile is on display in “The Power.” When Mordecai and Rigby’s roughhousing leaves a giant hole in their wall, the two try to use a magical electronic synthesizer keyboard to convince Benson to give them a raise. The pair abuse their newfound power with glee until Rigby accidentally sends Skips to the moon, setting up the outlandish rescue mission that forms third act of the episode.
Most episodes of Regular Show follow the same template: Mordecai and Rigby try a non-obvious solution to a simple problem, usually to avoid doing actual work. This leads to accumulating complications that build to a final, truly bizarre ending. It’s a formula that can be extremely non-formulaic by leaving so many opportunities to be creative in crafting plot twists. Replacing Benson’s grilled cheese sandwich leads to saving the universe from an anti-matter apocalypse in “Grilled Cheese Deluxe.” Something as simple as getting a song stuck in your head can lead to the season 2 episode “This Is My Jam,” which culminates in an extraordinarily physicalized battle of the bands complete with a wonderful Big Trouble in Little China reference (and really, anything with the good taste to include an obscure Big Trouble in Little China reference is already earning monster cool points in my book). Rigby borders on the insufferable in “Do Me a Solid,” where the complex rules of doing a “solid” for a friend lead to a double-date, a rather poor bargain, and the possible destruction of everything when Mordecai finally refuses to do one. The title characters of “A Bunch of Baby Ducks” become both problem and solution, but it’s weirdly amusing right from the pitch with Mordecai and Rigby becoming surrogate parents. Some episodes can even get me to snicker right from the title, like “Just Set Up the Chairs,” “The Unicorns Have Got to Go,” “My Mom,” or “But I Have a Receipt,” since they promise and then deliver the show’s trademark mix of the mundane and the outlandish.
While Adventure Time never seems to do the same thing twice, Regular Show plays largely the same theme in infinite variations. It’s a slightly older-skewing, less formulaic version of Disney’s Phineas and Ferb, except that the young boys in the Disney show are all about celebrating activity while Mordecai and Rigby are all about celebrating laziness. They are both equally inventive and happily bizarre, although the sharp left-turns into Strangeville are definitely stranger and more adult-themed than the flights of fancy of Phineas and Ferb. Like Adventure Time, Regular Show has a finely honed sense of the absurd and a nearly unparalleled ability harness that sense into something that can be laugh-out-loud funny, oddly sweet and touching, or both.
Regular Show shares other traits with Adventure Time as well. In both shows, the 11-minute running time of an episode ensures that the storytelling has no fat and no fluff, providing a built-in impetus to keep things moving because the format does not allow room for padding. I’d even speculate that the short length of an episode is implicit encouragement for both shows’ trademark weirdness, giving license to craft strange but internally logical solutions to storytelling problems just to make sure you can finish in time. But both shows manage to tell thoroughly satisfying stories that are so overstuffed that they feel longer than their actual running time (in a good way). While the park of Regular Show is more inherently limited than the wide world of Ooo, the setup of both shows gives them the freedom to do whatever they feel like, happily flinging crazed nonsense into an episode just to see what will happen. Both shows may center on a pair of leads, but sport supporting casts easily strong enough to build entire episodes around, represented here by the Skips-centric “Over the Top” and the Muscle Man spotlight “My Mom” (which even manages to make it funny in how Muscle Man repeatedly screws up one of the simplest, most juvenile jokes in the world). Finally, both shows manage to cross demographic lines to ensure that different age groups will laugh at entirely different things. The stupid behavior and short-term memory loss that launches the plot of the season 1 finale “Mordecai and the Rigbys” makes me think there’s something else in those cans very overtly labeled “Soda,” for instance. Kids may snicker at the absurdity, but there’s enough hints dropped that adults will laugh (maybe somewhat ruefully) over memories of happily misspent youth.
The Regular Show Blu-ray set is easily one of the best TV-on-home-video releases this year. The show looks great in high-definition, and the one and only major complaint I have about the set is that the 5.1 soundtrack promised on the packaging is actually only a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack in reality. The sound is fine as-is, but the misrepresentation on the packaging is still disappointing. Like the Adventure Time second season set, every episode gets a commentary track, and some even get two. Series creator J.G. Quintel is a fixture on all the tracks (except for some of the second commentaries), running some commentaries solo but more often joined by other cast or crew members. Because Quintel is also the voice of Mordecai, it’s easy to think that its an older, slightly more responsible version of Mordecai providing commentary on his own life, making the tracks where he’s just repeating what’s happening on screen and laughing at his own jokes feel like an extension of the show’s slacker aesthetic. There are very informative tracks to be found (my personal favorite is probably the one for “Over the Top” in season 2), but my favorite overall is probably the first commentary for “Grilled Cheese Deluxe,” where Quintel and writer/storyboard artist Sean Szeles spontaneously call up storyboard artist Shion Takeuchi and get her to participate in the commentary track over the phone. I’m not sure how much of it was staged, but Takeuchi’s annoyance at being interrupted in the middle of a work day seems genuine enough. The entire thing seems like the kind of overly complicated scheme Mordecai and Rigby would come up with to avoid doing too much work to record a commentary track, which perhaps makes it a quintessentially Regular Show experience.
There are a raft of other interesting extras provided as well. The best bonus on disc 1 is probably J.G. Quintel’s student short “The Naive Man from Lolliland,” which stars Pops, pretty much exactly as he appears in the show. It’s a shame that Quintel’s other student film “2 in the AM PM” isn’t included also, but the more adult content probably prevented it. Even just “The Naive Man from Lolliland” makes it pretty easy to see why Regular Show found its footing so fast compared to other animated comedies, though. The bonus “unaired pilot” is a bit of false advertising, since the entire thing was recycled to craft the season 2 episode “First Day.” More successful is Quintel’s recreation of the storyboard pitch for “The Power,” which is a joy to watch for serious fans of animation looking for a peek behind the curtain. Disc 1 also includes pencil tests, animatics, and CGI tests for several season 1 episodes; trailers and ads from San Diego Comic Con and TV; and an appropriately 80’s retro live-action music video for the “Party Tonight” song from “Mordecai and the Rigbys.” The “J.G. Quintel Interview” on disc 2 is actually a short but surprisingly informative tour of Cartoon Network Studios, as Quintel walks us through the production of an episode. The amusingly bizarre second bonus on disc 2 is a “mystery karaoke” video, with actor Sam Marin (the triple-threat who voices Benson, Pops, and Muscle Man) in the recording booth singing, but with the sound muted and his lip movements censored. Again, while it has nearly no inherent value on its own, it seems like the kind of weird thing you would expect as a Regular Show bonus feature. Or at least something that Mordecai and Rigby would find indescribably hilarious, which amounts to the same thing. There’s also an Ultraviolet download code, if you don’t like being burdened with control over your own digital video files.
So I’ve got 1,800 words down and still feel like I’ve failed somehow in fully describing the appeal of Regular Show. I could babble on about how the show’s slacker sensibilities combined with the bizarre magical realism balance each other out, or how Mordecai and Rigby marking time while they wait for something better to come along can resonate with adults living their lives of quiet desperation, or any number of other single elements in the show that are appealing (like the voice acting, the stylized animation, or the use of music), and still not fully capture the appeal. What I can certify for sure is that the Regular Show: The Complete First & Second Seasons Blu-ray is a terrific way to slack off and avoid whatever it is that you don’t want to do.
NOTE: Screengrabs are from the DVD releases and not the Blu-ray. The Blu-ray looks a bajillion times better, but it’s also copy-protected out the wazoo like all Blu-rays are so I can’t get frame grabs from it on my hardware.