Bonus Post: Regular Show and Adventure Time Musings
Editor’s Note: this post recounts a brief conversation between my friend, the tiger Alexius, and Mr. Harold Zo’s partner in the band, Quivver. They wonder about what makes Regular Show as good as it is, and compare it to another Cartoon Network show that has gained a passionate following in recent times. Enjoy.
Alexius: You make a good point about how Regular Show and Adventure Time are both relatively sparse and cheap in terms of their animation, and yet make a virtue out of being cartoons. Do you think it’s safe to call them cartoons? We both take animation pretty seriously, unlike some people…
Quivver: I think both of them qualify as cartoons if you take that to mean animated shows that are intended to be humourous. Me, I think the word is taboo except within circles that are already interested in animation as an art form. There it makes sense. No one is going to use it to put a show down by calling it a cartoon if there’s that trust. I mean, I don’t think there’s any other proper word for something like Looney Tunes. We would be losing a rich word, but I would avoid using it in normal conversation because it gives the wrong idea.
Alexius: Good point about that. Just to flesh out your idea with an example, if we were to call Regular Show a cartoon, we would be alienating a whole group of people who would think it’s just for…
Quivver: For kids.
Alexius: For kids, yes. I’d appreciate fewer interruptions, since it makes me trip up. Now, where was I…OK. The reason why Regular Show works is that it presents a kind of inviting fantasy world. This is a world that people, especially young adults who are stuck in dead end jobs or kids who feel alienated at school, can gaze at and say “wow, I wish I lived there.” I want a world where there is a magic keyboard that can manipulate people to your will.
Quivver: Don’t be so sensitive, first of all. Sorry. No, really. (Drinks glass of water) There is a difference–I want to keep talking about how the word “cartoon” fits Regular Show if you don’t mind–
Alexius: Go ahead.
Quivver: Cartoons, to me, are all about joy in some way. About the joy of warping reality and mining comedy from the crazy stuff you can do because of the medium. Regular Show isn’t a gorgeous piece of work. Adventure Time is a much more visual show. I think that cartoons are all about a kind of spectacle. Almost like a riot. You get to see things comedically taken apart. Still, by the end of every Regular Show episode, everything has settled back into this dismal reality. I mean, Mordecai and Rigby are depressing characters.
Alexius: They are, but they’re entertaining and we root for them because they have not lost their spirit. Even if that spirit, that drive or desire to succeed, is channeled in bizarre or self-destructive directions, we see a genuine verve for life in them. That is even more true in Adventure Time, where, although Finn and Jake are arguably more “free” and live in a “better” situation, they also live amidst a giant nightmare of post-nuclear destruction.
Quivver: I think the basic format of each show differs in other important ways. Regular Show takes place in a world that, gumball people and talking raccoons aside, is still recognizably our own. Bills need to be paid, Rigby doesn’t have a high school diploma, chores need to be done. That means the surreal digressions that form the basis of each story have to be resolved by the end of each episode, or that normalcy and reliability is messed up.
Alexius: It would be destabilizing, and you’re saying Regular Show relies on that.
Quivver: Whereas Adventure Time is much stranger and in a way more radical. Its fundamnetal tie to our world is a devastatingly sad one. Our world is gone, and it’s the horrible sins of man that have produced the candy-colored fantasy world we lust after. I mean, we talk about Adventure Time being something of an escapist or nostalgic fantasy, but it has a very dark core.
Alexius: When I think hard about it, I have to ask: would I pull the trigger and destroy humanity knowing that what will emerge from the plutonium soup is in many ways a wonderful place?
Quivver: There’s an awesome chasm there. It’s at the same time beautiful and cheery, and we love Finn and Jake because they have such a beautiful bond and want to bring peace and righteous ass-kicking to the world. But also horribly sad, and the show has not been afraid of examining that loss, especially as it’s gone on.
Alexius: This is way too intellectual for this conversation…
Quivver: Such modesty.
Alexius: (Laughs) But hear me out. I think Adventure Time could serve as a metaphor for a person’s movement through a critical desert. I think it’s Paul Ricoeur who wrote about there being a first naivety that passes through the desert of criticism but, ideally, emerges with a second, wiser enchantment on the other side. Adventure Time is about how human evil utterly disenchants the world. Modern science leads to the utter devastation of all life, and the planet’s reaction is to generate this world that is a celebratory riot of the irrational and surreal and the pre-modern and childlike. It’s a dark, dark fantasy, but the humanity of the characters, even those that are technically mutated freaks, makes the show so sincere and heartwarming that it’s only in certain moments that you notice how crushing it is.
Quivver: And, to bring it back, Regular Show puts the emphasis on our own time. Our own time is bleak and depressing and mundane. So we escape into these transgressing fantasies. But they end. That’s why I think the title of the show is brilliant, because it not only speaks to the subversion of the show in an ironic way (it’s anything but…) but also the actual circumstances of the show. It’s clever.
Alexius: And Regular Show is in some ways the more conventional show. It’s a stoner comedy without weed. What makes it seem so weird is that it’s on a network ostensibly meant for children. I’m not sure that’s really ever been entirely the case, though. I mean Seth McFarlane worked on Johnny Bravo ten years ago or so. It’s always been a channel with a split audience.
Quivver: Regular Show has some heart, though, which I discovered slowly. While its characters are far less noble than Adventure Time’s leads, they also struggle with problems that are more literally relatable. Instead of dealing with giant monsters or ghosts or magic men or Martians–though those do enter sometimes–they have problems like how to afford rock concert tickets or getting the hot girl. They’re normal problems, sometimes even Seinfeld-level absurdly meaningless problems (like trying to be player 1 in a video game) that are (re)solved with ridiculous means.
Alexius: So which is better?
Quivver: I think I prefer Regular Show, but only as an…uncanny representation of how I actually thought when I was in my early twenties. I swear half the tracks and songs I made at that time were the same kind of thing. I think if Regular Show were actually on an adult channel or in a block like Adult Swim, it might be even better and more transgressive. Where I give Adventure Time credit, and I do love that show too, is that it is a perfect show for the channel, for the kind of show it is. It’s ridiculously creative and warmhearted, and I don’t think it would be improved at all if the characters swore or had sex. Regular Show could thrive better with fewer restrictions, though restrictions do make people creative. That’s a hard question.
Alexius: Yeah, it is. I think I prefer Adventure Time, for exactly the reasons you stated. Well, I have to get working on my Prosthetic Memory review.
Quivver: It’s been awhile. I’m glad I could talk to you.