Thomas has always been a strange presence on Regular Show. His introduction at the beginning of this season as the park’s new intern was crucial to the plot of the opening adventure “Exit 9B,” as his signature on the document declaring the park a historical site was essential to the defeat of Garrett Bobby Ferguson, Jr. and his minions. At that point, Thomas had fulfilled his narrative function, and he could have easily enough gone back to college having earned his required internship credit. But the very next episode, “Starter Pack,” dealt with his integration into the park staff and explored the very real dangers of pranking Muscle Man. And then… nothing. For the subsequent 23 episodes, Thomas has been completely superfluous, only showing up occasionally for wordless cameos in group scenes. The only other Thomas moment I can even remember is from “The Christmas Special,” in which Mordecai and Rigby leave him with his head lodged in the staircase banister. That’s the closest the show has come to defining a role for him, as the relatively easygoing recipient of the staff’s casual cruelty—the butt monkey, to use internet parlance. But Regular Show hasn’t even cared enough about him to mistreat him. Heck, I’m not sure he has even spoken in 2013 before tonight.
Part of the problem is that Thomas has no obvious role to fill on the show. In Mordecai, we have the slacker hero. Rigby is the obnoxious jerk whose heart is generally in the right place. Muscle Man is the even more obnoxious jerk whose heart is also generally in the right place, and he’s also a bit of a romantic. Skips is the sage mentor who can solve any problem the others might encounter, even if he needs help sometimes. Pops is the lovable but fragile weirdo who wants to be one of the guys. Benson is the short-tempered boss who is still ultimately willing to go along with Mordecai and Rigby’s shenanigans, albeit against his better judgment. Hi-Five Ghost is the hard-drinking, wise-cracking private eye who never lets his personal demons prevent him from solving… sorry, I’m being told that isn’t the show’s version of Hi-Five Ghost, but rather the way I wrote Hi-Five Ghost in my unpublished fan fiction opus Hi-Five Ghost Meets Shaft In: The Case Of The Fidgeting Lemur. Fine, Hi-Five Ghost is pretty much a blank slate, but he’s at least visually distinctive in group scenes.
Together, those characters don’t represent every possible archetype, but there’s enough variety in that ensemble that Regular Show can tell just about any kind of story with some combination of those guys—and when the Park staff can’t fulfill a particular required role, there’s still always Margaret and Eileen. Thomas, then, is just as much of a blank slate as Hi-Five Ghost is, but Thomas lacks a unique look and a winningly silly voice from J.G. Quintel. His appearance isn’t boring, exactly, but it’s unremarkable, and as talented as voice actor Roger Craig Smith is—this is a man who has been Captain America, Batman, and Sonic the Hedgehog, after all—he hasn’t been asked to bring anything to the role beyond bland pleasantness. Basically, the only advantage Thomas has over Hi-Five Ghost is that he can more easily hold things, and that rather minimal skill isn’t nearly enough to earn a place ahead of Muscle Man or Benson in any given story.
As such, “Cool Cubed” has a place for Thomas only inasmuch as it has a place for a character without much of a preexisting personality. The episode needs a character who can hold a slushie (that eliminates Hi-Five Ghost), who is susceptible to peer pressure from Mordecai and Rigby (that eliminates Benson and Skips, and arguably Muscle Man), and whose face can clearly show the results of the ultimate brain freeze (which would again make Benson a bad fit for this story, as I imagine a gumball machine with brain freeze is really hard to draw). Even when Mordecai and Rigby travel inside Thomas’s head and meet the embodiment of his consciousness, this plot development takes them to what is essentially a frozen tundra that’s home to one mild-mannered, laidback goat. There’s almost a joke in how completely Thomas and Thomas’s consciousness take this all in stride, but outside the one rather amusing line in which the consciousness explains that of course he would be in his own head, there’s little here to raise Thomas above the level of non-entity. Thomas’s consciousness does get in a heroic moment when he throws himself in the way of the blast Cool Cubed intends for Mordecai and Rigby, and he valiantly demands that Mordecai and Rigby leave him to deep-freeze so they have a chance to stop Cool Cubed.
His appearance in “Cool Cubed” suggests Thomas is a character worth knowing, but even after an episode that went inside his brain, we still know precious little about him. That certainly appears to be by choice on Regular Show’s part, and the fact that Thomas will most likely recede back into the background for the next several episodes means this isn’t all that big a deal in the grand scheme of things. If Thomas never progresses beyond this point, in which he’s a bland utility player who can be slotted in whenever a story requires a neutral character, then I suppose there are worse things. But that means every episode that features Thomas in more than a cameo is effectively sacrificing its character dynamics in the name of episodic adventure, because it isn’t really possible to care about what Mordecai or Rigby thinks about Thomas when the audience doesn’t care about Thomas to begin with.
And, perhaps more to the point, I don’t really think characters work like interchangeable parts, at least not with a character as bland as Thomas. If the fourth member of Mordecai, Rigby, and Pops’ brain freeze expedition had been, say, Muscle Man, then it would have been more palatable to build an episode around a journey into his mind where we didn’t actually learn anything about him, as Muscle Man has already received plenty of character development elsewhere. And if that fourth person had just been some random guest character Mordecai and Rigby pressured into drinking the Cool Cubed, then that would keep the focus of the episode squarely on our heroes. But Thomas is theoretically a part of the regular cast, and so it’s disappointing to watch an episode that seems, if only for a moment, to be about the guy before it swerves away into something else entirely.
All this would probably be academic if the episode were entertaining enough to make the audience forget about Thomas, which really shouldn’t be that hard. But, much like its treatment of Thomas, this episode offers a bunch of potentially interesting or amusing ideas but then never really goes anywhere with them. It’s fun to see Pops’ old family doctor, complete with flying car that matches Pops’ sweet ride from last week, and it’s an interesting callback for Cool Cubed and his associate to so closely resemble the bad guys in the first season’s “Caffeinated Concert Tickets.” But they just slot into what is generally a bog-standard Regular Show plot, and the occasional inventive moment—Mordecai and Rigby returning to normal size and scrambling to find the transporter is a fun sequence in its use of scale—doesn’t change the fact that this episode just doesn’t know what to do with itself, and that has a lot to do with the undefined character at the episode’s center. Poor, poor Thomas. If I knew the guy, I’m pretty sure I’d think he deserves better than this.
- I did enjoy the general inanity of the brain freeze exercise, and I thought it was a potentially good idea to have Thomas immune from the brain freeze. It set up an intriguing dynamic in that the gang thinks it’s awesome when normal (regular, if you will) things happen, and Thomas seems lame to Rigby and company because he’s exceptional in some way. That could actually set up a larger plot in which Thomas is a quiet overachiever who seems hopelessly uncool to Mordecai and Rigby. I’m not sure that thing I just came up with would actually be a good direction for the character, but at least it’s a direction at all.
- The element I did find funny was the convenience store clerk and his dire warnings of doom, mostly because he called Thomas “bro,” and I often find that funny for some bizarre reason.
- I think I can now safely claim the world record for most time spent talking about Thomas. I eagerly await my trophy or medal or whatever other form of sweet, sweet recognition I’ve got coming to me.