One of the odder aspects of Regular Show’s storytelling formula is that, for all its wildly imaginative flights of fancy, a sizable chunk of its episodes end in the exact same way: a knockdown, drag-out fight between our heroes and some preposterous, supernatural foe. I know from my forays into the comments section that these frequent fight sequences are not universally popular, with one argument I’ve seen being that they represent an unnecessarily repetitive, even reductive element in what is otherwise a refreshingly inventive show. My own criticisms wouldn’t go that far, but it’s fair enough to say that these fights often have to be enjoyed in a different way than the storytelling that precedes them. The first eight or so minutes of the typical Regular Show episode are most sensibly judged in terms of comedy, character development, and frequently surreal plotting. The final three minutes, by contrast, are often far shaped by the show’s visual inventiveness and the ambitiously kinetic depiction of its action sequences. Such scenes are impressive, but they can feel a bit hollow on the occasions that they only appear to exist as showcases for action-centric animation.
The key to Regular Show’s most successful climaxes then is a real sense of connection between that unfolding visual madness and the storytelling that comes before. Some of the show’s big fight sequences really are just outright tangents, enjoyable on their own terms but decidedly imperfect conclusions to their episodes. These do not constitute fatal flaws, perhaps, but such bouts have to be really great to earn their keep. There are occasions in which a high-octane climax can be the satisfying logical endpoint to the preceding story, as with Mordecai and C.J.’s motorcycle chase away from a bunch of aggrieved demon parents in last week’s “Play Date.” In other instances, the surreal action serves as a way to make literal the episode’s character-based themes; that’s what happened to Mordecai in “Bad Portrait,” in which he took on a bunch of poorly drawn, overly judgmentalal Bensons. The very best such conclusions manage to fulfill both of these functions all at once.
And that brings us to Rigby’s showdown with Bert Coleman at the end of tonight’s episode. The actual dialogue between Rigby and Bert Coleman—more than that, the passion that William Salyers and Troy Baker bring to the lines—is sharp enough that Regular Show doesn’t need the visuals; this final sequence could have worked just fine with the pair just standing next to each other in the arcade (or, heck, even in a radio play). And, yes, there’s a hypothetical version of this episode that features a more down-to-earth rendering of this final quiz, one in which we get to see just the perspiration and the uncertainty on Rigby’s face as he strains to find each answer, with his friends’ reactions lending additional weight to the proceedings. I wouldn’t have minded such a straightforward depiction of Rigby’s return appearance on Expert Or Liar… but this way is just so much fun.
More than that, this is an absolutely vital use of Regular Show’s ability to push its climaxes into absurd territory, because it validates Rigby’s belief that this is truly a life-or-death struggle, a quest for non-humiliation. It takes something that is only immediately important to Rigby and Benson and offers the audience a way to engage with it, to take it just as seriously as they do. That’s particularly important here, considering just how silly this entire setup is. That’s to the immense credit of “Expert Or Liar,” just so we’re clear; Rigby plots do tend to work best when he is allowed to rage against something utterly pointless, and it’s hard to imagine a more pointless kind of rage than wandering the city streets, randomly accosting people and yelling, “Bert Coleman!” This is a joke that could really only work with Rigby; Mordecai can be plenty dumb, but even he would be able to think things through just enough to realize that Bert Coleman isn’t going to be in disguise as literally everyone he meets. Indeed, after the initial encounter with the old man and his map, none of the others even give him the slightest cause to assume that they are who he is looking for.
It’s a terrific capper to this sequence to reveal that a single day’s search has reduced Rigby to a half-crazed street vagrant, a pitiful figure who I’m going to go ahead and assume probably would have expired that night if Benson hadn’t come to rescue him. Rigby and Benson represent an ingenious pairing, because once again it provides the audience with multiple ways to buy into the apparent absurdity of the central conflict with Bert Coleman. Not convinced by Rigby’s hyperactive anger at the prospect of lost dignity? Well then, here’s Benson with his own, pathos-infused tale of game show humiliation. His shame cuts far deeper than Rigby’s, and “Expert Or Liar” doesn’t shy away from just how much Benson lost that fateful day on Say That Word! The unconvincing toupee that falls apart the very moment he realizes he has lost his dream is bad enough, but consider just why he’s on the game show in the first place. As he tells the host, the prize money will allow him to quit that horrible job at the park. Benson has fashioned a content enough existence in his position of very minor authority, but the job began for him as just as much of a stupid dead-end gig as it did for Mordecai and Rigby.
Let’s not forget a key detail when discussing any Regular Show episode: “Expert Or Liar” is pretty damn funny. The whole concept of a bullying game show host who spends his time wearing absurd disguises and confronting people about their alleged expertise is a great engine for comedy. More generally, there’s a fun sense of a larger world here, one in which seemingly everyone has their own personal story to tell of humiliation at the hands of a game show. One of the best, goofiest gags comes at the arcade, when Benson steps forward to relate publicly his own past shame. On cue, somebody recognizes him as the guy who didn’t know how to say “bandana” and flings a banana at him; that’s the kind of joke that’s very funny as a bit of unexpected visual comedy and that becomes even funnier as you try to work out the underlying logic of the gag.
Between this and “Bank Shot,” Regular Show’s fifth season has now given us two superior Rigby episodes. “Expert Or Liar” gets by more on its laughs and its visual inventiveness—pretty great things to get by, it must be said—than by the character insight on display in that earlier episode, but both succeed for fundamentally similar reasons. Rigby can have his moments of insight and clarity when dealing with Mordecai’s latest insecurities, but he’s generally the show’s silliest character, one capable of investing everything in the absolute silliest of quests. The central conflicts of both “Bank Shot” and “Expert Or Liar” are, at their root, deeply, deeply dumb. The fact that both Rigby and Regular Show as a whole take such conflicts so darn seriously is what makes those episodes so hilarious.
- There are some terrific shout-outs in the climactic video game sequence. The obstacle course itself is a fairly clear allusion to the original, decades-old showdown between Mario and Donkey Kong, and I’m never going to say know to a Garrett Bobby Ferguson reference.
- I just don’t know, you guys. Even when Thomas is being helpful, he’s just such a useless twerp about it. Why bother to let Mordecai explain his ridiculously complicated plan before offering your much more straightforward way of tracking down Bert Coleman? Huh, Thomas, why?
- The final shot of Muscle Man beating up that dude on the assumption that he’s Bert Coleman was a thing of beauty.