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Regular Show: “Maxin’ And Relaxin’”

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Let’s start with the good news and the bad news. The good news is that Regular Show is back tonight from its latest shockingly brief hiatus to kick off the show’s sixth season; if tonight’s episode is any indication, it’s going to be a damn fine one. The bad news is that TV Club won’t be reviewing the rest of the season. This is the end of regular coverage for Regular Show. But never mind that, because seriously, I can’t imagine a more perfect episode to go out on…

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The cleverest thing about “Maxin’ And Relaxin’” is how little actually happens in it. Technically speaking, there’s no conflict at all. Mordecai spends most of the episode freaking out about how his mother will prove so embarrassing that C.J. will run away in terror, but the episode is confident enough to leave that fear almost entirely in his head. There’s never a point where C.J. calls him out for his immaturity, and only briefly does Mordecai’s mom explicitly acknowledge her son’s concerns when he begs her to act normal; yes, she brings it up later, but only to apologize and to offer him a way out of watching Mordy Moments. His dad does push back a little when Mordecai asks him to not tell his wife that their son is coming over, but the episode just moves on with a shrug when that tiny plot thread is resolved. Even the surreal element features next to no collateral damage or bodily injury; Mordecai’s younger selves do briefly restrain him, but it’s really just to get the big idiot to listen. This episode absolutely has stakes—as the littlest Mordecai points out, cool women like C.J. don’t date guys who are jerks to their moms—but its remarkably subtle in how it develops the threat as something in the abstract.

In other words, this is Mordecai facing an adult problem. Yes, the way he deals with his issues for most of the episode is totally immature, but what “Maxin’ And Relaxin’” suggests is that he’s earned enough goodwill, enough trust for the show to let him work through those issues without burning his world down. C.J. and Mordecai’s parents ignore his outbursts—and really, his groans and hand gestures are pretty darn hard to miss—because they’re past the point where they feel the need to lecture him. Either he will shape up or he won’t, but the point is that he solves his own problem, and that isn’t really changed by the fact that Regular Show externalizes his thought process in the form of his younger selves. It requires maturity to work through and let go of your adolescent traumas, to embrace your own awkwardness and realize that part of being cool is not worrying about all the many, many times you have looked like a total dork. Mordecai’s corny introduction to Mordy Moments at the end of the episode is one of the least self-consciously cool things he has ever done. And that’s precisely why that is just about the coolest we have ever seen Mordecai, a point that C.J. sure appears to agree with.

Now imagine how the Mordecai of the end of season three would have handled all this. The second episode of this show I ever reviewed, “Bad Kiss,” involved Mordecai being so mortified by a lackluster first kiss with Margaret that he used a time machine to undo it. That was a Mordecai defined by his total inability to face up to anything outside of his very narrow spectrum of strengths. I doubt Regular Show could have told “Maxin’ And Relaxin’” back then or even well into season four. Indeed, that may be part of the reason we didn’t even meet Mordecai’s parents until their brief cameo at the end of last year’s Thanksgiving episode, because Mordecai only recently reached a point in his life where meeting his parents could produce a dramatically compelling story, one where he doesn’t just regress to all his worst teenage instincts but instead finds a way to grow beyond those past follies. Mordecai’s experiences pursuing, dating, and getting over Margaret—not to mention actually being called out for his weirdness and his missteps in those ever faltering interactions—and now his relationship with C.J. have allowed Mordecai to become a wiser, more well-rounded person. That character development is a big reason Regular Show has remained compelling even while cranking out close to 40 episodes each season; what began as a fairly formulaic show about two slacker friends and their absurd adventures has morphed into something far more complex and emotionally rich.

But yes, there’s another reason Regular Show has remained so vital even as it blasts past the 150-episode mark: This show is really damn funny. This is also an area where I’d argue the show has improved over the past couple seasons; certainly, we’re a long way away from the days when I described the show as “more pleasingly weird than especially hilarious,” which remains a key aspect of my Wikipedia-summarized opinion of the show. Well, let me officially update myself: This episode, and a good chunk of the preceding 74 episodes it’s been my privilege to review, is absolutely hilarious. Some of that comes back to the episode’s core strengths, as the animation of Mordecai’s various selves expertly straddles the lines between funny, embarrassing, and just kind of adorable. Crucially, the episode knows when to go for broke and when to show restraint. In particular, the interactions between C.J. and Mordecai’s parents eschew big one-liners in favor of more observational character work. That said, Regular Show knows how to execute a callback to perfection, as when first Rigby and then Mordecai’s dad gently ask whether Mordecai ever actually brought a woman back to his room.

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Really though, it’s the voice work that elevates this episode. William Salyers and Linda Cardellini aren’t asked to do too much as Rigby and C.J., but their knowledge of their characters shines through, with each bringing just the right level of affection to their character’s playful mockery of Mordecai. As for J.G. Quintel, this episode marks his finest work as Mordecai, bringing far more emotional nuance to the character and all his younger selves than he likely could have when Regular Show began. A major charm of Quintel’s performance has always been how naturally he plays in the role—unsurprising, really, considering he’s more or less playing himself. But Quintel is asked to give a much bigger performance tonight than we typically see from Mordecai, and he delivers; he nails the anguish and embarrassment in Mordecai’s various reactions to his mom’s behavior, but he also brings out the love and appreciation Mordecai rediscovers for her in what is one massive conversation with himself.

Then there are the guest stars. Ed Begley Jr. could not be more of a dad in his performance as Mordecai’s father, though crucially he doesn’t overplay his role. The episode leaves that to Katey Sagal as Mordecai’s mom. Now, I’ve seen nearly every episode of Futurama. I love Futurama, so I know how great Sagal is as a voice actor. But the part of Leela rarely allowed her to cut loose as she does here, and it’s incredible. Every single time I think there’s no way for Sagal to make her performance bigger or more outlandish, she finds a way to push further, but she never loses sight of the character underneath. Mordecai’s mom doesn’t act that way because she’s some silly caricature; she acts that way because she genuinely loves everything about her son and just wants him to be happy, even if she’s sometimes a bit oblivious about the details. Sagal suffuses even the most over-the-top aspects of her performance—I mean, she does yell about her butt at one point in an effort to get teenage Mordecai dancing—with that love, and that’s why she’s eventually able to downshift for the quieter scene in which she asks Mordecai if she embarrasses him. There are so many reasons to love this episode, but Sagal is worth the price of admission all by herself. Here’s hoping this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Mordecai’s parents. Or of Mordy Moments, for that matter.

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Stray observations:

  • As I said, this was pretty much the perfect episode to go out on, in that it is really damn funny, features great animation and voice acting, and represents the latest phases in Mordecai’s character development. All that’s missing is the park staff, but I guess you can’t have everything.
  • I don’t really have any final big-picture thoughts on Regular Show, beyond those I’ve already discussed in the review. After all, the journey is more important than the destination, and this episode isn’t actually a destination for anyone but me. That said, this episode does feel like, if not exactly a culmination, then an emphatic statement of all that makes the show so strong, and it’s nice to step away at a point where the show and its characters are in such a great place.
  • And so that just about does it for my coverage of Regular Show. I wouldn’t rule out dropping in for the occasional one-off review if the opportunity presents itself, but yeah, it’s pretty much over. Thanks to everyone for reading and commenting, and thanks to my editors for keeping these reviews going for two seasons—each of which comprised, like, a million episodes—even when not nearly enough people were reading and commenting. This was a lot of fun, and one of the most rewarding creative challenges of my reviewing career.
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