It’s funny how weirdly specific our narrative expectations can be. When Hi-Five Ghost shows up to the gang’s valedictory drive into the crash pit holding a camera in a protective case and then proceeds to waste precious seconds discussing the matter, the savvy audience member knows that the camera is going to figure prominently in wherever the episode’s plot takes us. The show tries to disguise this a little bit by using Fives’ exposition as the setup to a Muscle Man gag, in which he praises such safety precautions and then immediately jams a bunch of expired fireworks into his car. But really, as soon as the camera is accorded such an inordinate amount of attention—in the context of Regular Show’s 11-minute running time, even 10 to 15 seconds is precious real estate—the audience knows that the camera is headed to the bottom of the crash pit; more generally, we know that our heroes are fated to take a journey to the bottom of the crash pit as soon as the thing is mentioned, even leaving aside the minor detail that the episode is called “Journey To The Bottom Of The Crash Pit.”
But then sometimes Regular Show swerves in its storytelling. When Rigby freaks out and tells his friends that they are getting too close to the pit, my natural assumption was that he was correct: Muscle Man had not left them sufficient time to bail out, and so he, Hi-Five Ghost, and Mordecai would all find themselves plummeting down the pit. The line feels like such obvious foreshadowing for imminent disaster, with Rigby left as the only person capable of rescuing his friends stranded down the pit. That in turn suggests an arc built around Rigby overcoming his cowardice, which is a rather amusing thought given what actually happens in the episode. “Journey To The Bottom Of The Crash Pit” is absolutely concerned with Rigby’s craven tendencies, but only as a running gag and as an engine to drive the plot forward. His total loss of cool is something the episode keeps returning to, as it reveals entire subterranean civilizations can sustain themselves indefinitely with the hilarity that Rigby’s cowardice provides. Rigby does briefly manage to rise above his constant feelings of terror, though he is unable to regain his dignity while doing so, as his one vaguely brave moment involves him screaming in shrill self-defense and grabbing away the camera from the surprised Carlocks.
The Carlocks, it must be said, number among the very silliest of Regular Show’s creations. The line about them being both the first and the last of their proud warrior race is inspired, as it underscores that there really is no sensible way to understand how their society works. If nothing else, it seems deeply unlikely that even Muscle Man would stash enough beef jerky in his various wrecked cars to sustain multiple burly Carlocks for over three decades; one can only imagine how devastated they would be if they learned that there was an extra pack of the stuff just sitting there in the glove compartment of one of Muscle Man’s old cars. Still, the finer points of Carlock society are beside the point. Where the episode more clearly struggles is in developing the actually crucial strands of logic for these guest characters. The talk of “sky people” is intriguing, and “Journey To The Bottom Of The Crash Pit” could well have had fun more clearly developing just what it means for an entire society to construct itself about our heroes’ casual idiocy.
As it is, Mark Hamill’s Carlock leader is just sort of generally selfish and corrupt, with no hint of greater reverence when presented with the possibility that the life-giving sky people might be standing in front of him. I’m suggesting a lot of alternate paths for this episode, I realize, and that’s because the story we do get feels unnecessarily rote. The Carlocks turn out to be evil—or, at the very least, antagonistic—because the episode needs a justification for its big action climax. Much as I’m not inclined to quibble with an ending that literally involves Mordecai driving a car up a wall, this doesn’t feel like the most interesting narrative possibility for this episode’s premise. After all, their leader’s mild jerkiness aside, the Carlocks don’t really seem like bad sorts; if anything, they have suffered unduly by being cooped up underground, forced to subsist on whatever they can scavenge from the aftermath of the park staffers’ fun at the crash pit. If ever there were an opportunity for a peaceful settlement with an episode’s absurd monsters, this so easily could have been it, with Mordecai and company retrieving the park camera by promising to send lots more cars down the pit, packed with all the supplies the Carlocks could ever need. The subterranean dwellers could even have threatened Benson with his much-feared lawsuit in order to ensure their continued survival down there.
“Journey To The Bottom Of The Crash Pit” doesn’t need to make those particular connections for the story to work better, but the episode would benefit immensely from greater cohesion. Benson’s line at the end when the gang presents him with the recovered camera isn’t connected to anything that comes before it. His subdued emotional state and musings about his father not yelling work well enough as a weird non sequitur, but this is an instance where Regular Show seems on the cusp of a larger thematic point. After all, the park staffers have just risked their lives and braved the horrors of the crash pit to retrieve the camera and avoid Benson’s wrath, but it turns out their boss isn’t really all that worried about them; he’s got his own life and his own problems to be concerned with. That feels like a potentially intriguing parallel with the Carlocks’ mistaken beliefs about the Sky People and the “gifts” that they supposedly bestow. Everybody’s life is shaped by some more powerful person, but that said person is—like most people—often too self-absorbed to realize the power he or she wields.
It’s not that tonight’s episode needs to get that deep in order to succeed. Regular Show can churn out low-key episodes or goofy, straightforward adventures that represent superior television. Those episodes tend to be simple and streamlined; they can have little random moments, but these tend to take the form of funny jokes or nifty ideas that don’t really require further elaboration. The problem with “Journey To The Bottom Of The Crash Pit” is that it bursts with fascinating ideas—Rigby’s cowardice, the Carlocks’ relationship to our heroes—and it never really does that much with any of them. The episode comes closest with the running gag that quite literally everybody loves to laugh at Rigby’s abject panic, and it seems only fair to end with the one element of the episode that I unreservedly loved: its treatment of Thomas.
Regular Show has quietly found a groove for its hapless intern, as our heroes heap abuse on him for what initially seem the flimsiest of reasons. He’s well within his rights to be suspicious when his colleagues ask so many questions about the cost of replacing the camera, but he’s a little too quick and a little calm in mentioning that Benson will probably fire them if they can’t retrieve the thing. Thomas is the worst in all the subtlest of ways, as he’s just affable enough to conceal the passive aggression that underpins his interactions with the gang. Plus, the whole bit in which he says he “knows a guy” at the equipment rental is entirely worthy of the gang’s groans. For a guy who isn’t even licensed to operate a backhoe, Thomas sure thinks he’s awfully clever. Such character work on the margins of the episode isn’t enough to make “Journey To The Bottom Of The Crash Pit” really succeed, but it’s a good reminder that a Regular Show episode is rarely a complete throwaway.