It seems terribly cliché to cite the “end of an era”. But with the eighth and final season of Regular Show wrapping up on Monday, January 16th, it is, indeed, the end of an era for Cartoon Network. Alongside Pendleton Ward’s Adventure Time, which also premiered in 2010, J.G. Quintel’s Regular Show has helped to usher in a prosperous and popular upswing for the network, building its current spot as forerunner in television animation on cable.
Quintel’s wacky animated buddy comedy started life when he was attending California Institute of the Arts. Two of his student films would yield the basis for the main characters in Regular Show, which at its heart retains the delightful zaniness of the original shorts in many ways, even though over the seasons the art has improved and the characters have received a surprising amount of depth and development. Using his college-aged self as model for main character Mordecai the blue jay, whom he also voices, Quintel created Regular Show as a series of slice-of-life sketches during which even the most mundane of undertakings between Mordecai, his best friend Rigby the raccoon, and their co-workers at the park where they are employed as groundskeepers inevitably turn into crazy misadventures.
The series, while certainly appropriate for children, has garnered a popularity among young adults, as it pays homage to pop culture of the 1980s and 1990s while ostensibly being set in the present time – or, possibly, the future as the final season is set in outer space. Its canny humor and retro Saturday-morning feel appeal to those who grew up with network blocks of cartoons, nascent cable, VHS tapes and New Wave. Beneath the hipsterish inside jokes and fourth-wall winking, however, Regular Show is really just a very clever show about a group of work friends trying to get through the days together. This particular group of friends just happens to often summon otherworldly enemies, travel to strange dimensions, or end up having to save the universe from malevolence – or their own blunders.
Unlike a lot of modern television animation, though, Regular Show doesn’t pander. Its quality lies in the elements which make up the series, from its webcomic-inspired design to its synth-laden music (composed largely by Mark Mothersbaugh), and the diverse array of its unusual cast of characters voiced by the likes of Quintel himself, William Salyers and even Mark Hamill. This is a genuinely funny cartoon, with moments of heart thrown in at just the right times to endear its characters to audiences of all ages, and it will be sorely missed.
Some of the best moments of Regular Show have been mixtures of ridiculous, over-the-top comedy and just plain good character writing. While it never went as far as fellow Cartoon Network programs Adventure Time or Steven Universe, in that it didn’t follow a wide story arc or have a lot of world-building mythology, it still maintained itself with a core group of likeable goofballs whose intergalactic exploits were treated just like its insular stories of mundane life at the park. Whether dealing with time travel and evil space overlords or with Mordecai’s difficult love life and Rigby’s journey back to high school to get his diploma, Regular Show always stayed true to its roots as a buddy comedy with a flair for adventure and a genuine affection for its cast and the references it often parodied. Quintel’s obvious love of 1980s pop culture permeates the series without dating it – and one would be hard-pressed to find a modern television cartoon with a better synthpop soundtrack.
There has been so much that is wonderfully absurd about this series. At the heart of it all is a complex relationship between two very different characters, which through every conflict out of eight seasons and a movie has weathered everything from romantic drama to the fate of the universe. Mordecai’s nervy insecurity and Rigby’s blasé, overconfident laziness have remained core character traits – but even blue jays and raccoons earn some development in the Regular Show reality. With its trademark simple weirdness and lack of sentimentality, both characters have grown both as individuals and as friends; Mordecai and Rigby have both done some maturing without losing what makes them who they are, and the sweetest moments of the final season remind us that they, and their relationship, are at the heart of it all.
We’ll miss you, Regular Show, with your colorfully animated brilliance and crazy situations. We will miss every “monster of the week” villain, every moment Benson threatened to fire Mordecai and Rigby, every time Muscle Man set up for a “my mom” joke. We’ll miss the wisdom of Skips, the innocence of Pops, and the perfect symmetry of the brotherly affection between Mordo and Rigs. We’ll miss your scores of bizarre side characters and the deep, but never sugarcoated relationships between many of them with the main cast. Most of all, we’ll miss how much we laughed, and how the insanity of life at the park made no pretentious metaphors for the real world – and yet, we related nonetheless to so many of the conflicts. We can only hope that, whatever J.G. Quintel decides to do next, it will be as marvelously bizarre and hilariously, endearingly real.