Television stories set around the time of New Year’s celebrations are hardly unheard of, but it’s far rarer for a show to actually air such an episode on December 31. Indeed, Cartoon Network has demonstrated true fearlessness in its programming of “New Year’s Kiss,” as this particular New Year’s Eve isn’t even happening on Monday, Regular Show’s usual timeslot. Assuming the episode doesn’t get lost in the holiday shuffle—Cartoon Network’s rerun-heavy schedule should help ensure that fans see the episode, even if they miss it tonight—it’s hard to shake the feeling that this episode represents the start of something big for the show. There’s precious little reflection on the year gone by, with all eyes turned towards the future; indeed, in the case of Rigby, the future rather obligingly looks right back at him. This is a time for resolutions and bold goals, and “New Year’s Kiss” feels like it represents Regular Show’s resolution for 2014. Just like the night of December 31 and its attendant New Year’s parties are an early preview of the year ahead, tonight’s episode may well serve as a prologue for Mordecai’s next big story arc. And just like his last story arc, it’s all about the romance.
But first, let’s go back to the opening scene in the café, in which the assembled crew of Mordecai, Rigby, Muscle Man, Hi-Five Ghost, and Thomas gather to share some coffee and discuss their various resolutions. There are some nice character beats here—Muscle Man thinks he’s so amazing that he can’t even make a resolution, and he’s gallantly defends the legitimacy of Thomas’ resolution to be more helpful to his mother—but the details and even the jokes don’t matter so much here. The real joy here is simply seeing these characters together engaged in casual conversation, with no surreal elements around to distract their attention. The show’s typically tight plotting demands that the characters usually only meet up when there’s some crisis to solve, so this morning coffee allows them the rare opportunity to bounce off of each other in friendly banter. After such a long break between episodes—there’s a real chance the gap between “New Year’s Kiss” and “The Heart Of A Stuntman” is longer than some of the hiatuses between seasons of the show—it actually feels like the audience is able to catch up with old friends, making the low-key beginning entirely appropriate.
Assuming there isn’t a multi-episode arc built around Hi-Five Ghost’s efforts to learn a second language (though one can dare to dream), the most important resolutions are Rigby’s vow to make this “The Year of the Rigby!” and Mordecai’s declaration that he’s no longer going to be a complete wimp when it comes to matters of the heart. He gets to put that to the test immediately with the entrance of Tracy, a striking young woman who manages to pull off the bold Medusa-inspired hairdo. Even though her Gorgon-like features must surely portend ill omens (I’ve studied the classics), Mordecai decides to chat her up. “New Year’s Kiss” wisely mutes his and Tracy’s conversation, forcing the audience to guess along with the rest of the park staffers. Mordecai still has his initial moment of awkwardness and uncertainty, but once he resolves to go for it, the episode treats it as a fait accompli, because Mordecai really has come a long way from the lovesick idiot he was when Regular Show began. He’s definitely not a lothario, but he has confidence enough to get a woman’s phone number. That represents significant character development, which in turn means Regular Show can move on to exploring different sorts of stories.
As it turns out, tonight’s story is primarily about Rigby, even if his tale is likely in the service of setting up a longer narrative for Mordecai. He wanders into what is quite possibly the oldest and hoariest of all time travel story setups, as he receives dire warnings from his future self that only serve to make inevitable the fate that the future Rigby intended to avert. Admittedly, Regular Show does manage at least one good twist with this setup. Because this is Rigby’s time travel story, it prominently involves toilets, which is always good for some fun, dumb gags; the future Rigby’s explanation that he communicates in toilets because he gets better reception is a strong contender for the most perfectly Rigby statement in the show’s history. Still, this particular time travel tale is so overused that Skips can barely work up the energy to comment on it, telling Rigby that he’s likely already doomed to failure and that the mechanics of time travel are so absurdly complicated that it’s probably best to not get worked up about it.
But that’s just it: Rigby, for all his voluminous faults and frequent apathy about most things, is exceedingly good at getting worked up about things when he thinks the situation requires it. As soon as the future Rigby passes the present Rigby’s rather flimsy identity test—I mean, how could anyone possibly guess that Rigby would make something as dumb as “Year of the Rigby!” his New Year’s resolution?—our Rigby is prepared to do what it takes to save the future, if only so that he doesn’t have to experience any more of those weird symbolic dreams. Rigby’s utter inability to communicate his concerns sensibly helps ensure that his warnings go unheeded by Mordecai, who assumes his friend is just jealous of his sudden good fortune.
This is where Regular Show’s storytelling can be so clever; even though Rigby initially makes it clear to his future self that he wholeheartedly supports Mordecai asking Tracy to the party, the episode’s absurd circumstances conspire so that Rigby must play the role of nosy, overprotective best friend. “New Year’s Kiss” is able to couch a much more clichéd sitcom story—the one in which Tracy only goes out with Mordecai to make her actual boyfriend jealous, and Rigby can’t get Mordecai to believe the truth—as a tiny segment of a much larger, weirder story. By evoking such familiar story beats, the episode is able to make the audience consider whether all of Rigby’s actions are just a manifestation of his latent jealousy and refusal to let Mordecai live his own life. After all, we don’t get much idea at all of the terrible timeline that the future Rigby wishes to avert; even if the present Rigby is cool with Mordecai dating again, perhaps the future Rigby’s idea of a cataclysm is simply a world in which Mordecai doesn’t have time to hang out with him anymore.
That’s just speculation, to be sure, but then New Year’s Eve is the perfect time for wild, unfounded predictions about what tomorrow might bring. “New Year’s Kiss” leaves it delightfully ambiguous as to just what effect Rigby’s poorly conceived temporal tampering actually has. It’s possible that he saves Mordecai from a disastrous kiss with Tracy; after all, if her real boyfriend is there to kiss her at midnight, he presumably would have been there to fight Mordecai in the alternate reality in which Mordecai kisses Tracy instead. But Rigby’s celebratory leaping does literally push Mordecai into a masked reunion with Linda Cardellini’s C.J., the cloud-headed woman whose heart Mordecai accidentally broke back in the third season’s “Yes Dude Yes.” She’s the closest thing Mordecai has ever had to a non-Margaret love interest, and their passionate, extended second kiss indicates that they have romantic potential that Mordecai didn’t recognize in their first story together. The look on Mordecai’s face when C.J. runs off, leaving only her mask behind, just about says it all. This is the start of something new for Regular Show. But Rigby is going to need to check the bathroom before we know precisely what. Like the New Year itself, the story teased at the end of this episode could be amazing or it could be a complete disaster. Here’s hoping it’s a bit of both.
- For those who would argue that I’m overthinking the implications of this episode, and the return of C.J. is just a one-off gag: Well, the one thing I can say is that Cartoon Network wasn’t sending out any pre-air copies of this episode so as to keep its story as top secret as possible. So I’m inclined to think that something in “New Year’s Kiss” is a big deal for the show, and C.J.’s return is by far the most obvious candidate.
- The line between weirdness and eccentricity is vanishingly thin. If you are planning to be eccentric, I think it helps to have either money or a British accent. Both, if at all possible.
- Here’s hoping Eileen finds the time she needs to work on that crafts blog of hers. The people have a right to know what Eileen thinks about crafts!