The issue of why Muscle Man is called Muscle Man is one of Regular Show’s great unanswered questions, but that’s overestimating its importance. Really, Mitch Sorrenstein’s improbable nickname represents Regular Show’s biggest unasked question. It’s never called into question, and Mordecai reveals his own lazy assumption—that the nickname was just meant to be ironic—midway through tonight’s episode. In that context, a secret origin as a champion bodybuilder doesn’t contradict what we already know about Muscle Man—but it does feel oddly literal. Until tonight, the fact that Regular Show’s tubbiest (but strongest) character is called “Muscle Man” was just a charmingly absurd detail, an incongruity that helped build the show’s sense of surrealism. It required no more explanation than Hi-Five Ghost’s status as a high-fiving ghost; it was just an intrinsic part of the show’s universe. To turn Muscle Man’s name into a plot—and one with a fairly linear logic to it at that—seems like a bit of a gamble.
The big reason why said gamble pays off is that “Power Tower” finds such a delightfully offbeat way to explain Muscle Man’s bodybuilder past. The episode takes the subject of muscles and showing off said muscles in a competitive environment, and it sidesteps some of the obvious associations—hard work if we’re being positive, ego and vanity if we’re not—that one might make. As the episode reveals, the young Mitch Sorrenstein wasn’t initially interested in pumping iron; he was just wanted to hang out with his idol, Muscle Dad. Indeed, the flashback only shows one instance in which Mitch actually picks up a barbell, and that’s to save his father from being crushed. Mitch becomes Muscle Man not because he sets out to be but because of what might well be termed his innate noble virtue; being ridiculously ripped is a byproduct of, maybe even a reward for, his love for his father.
Then there’s the matter of Muscle Man’s technique, which is flawless regardless of what shape he’s in. Again, technique isn’t something that Mitch has to cultivate through hard work—it’s presented as a natural talent. Yes, Muscle Man does have to practice to regain his skills, but this isn’t a point of emphasis. “Power Tower” presents bodybuilding as something that Muscle Man is naturally brilliant at, and so the big question of the episode is whether that talent is enough to overcome his subsequent self-destruction. Though that might be too strong a term, as Muscle Man only left the competitive bodybuilding circuit because winning all the time became boring. Muscle Man was randomly gifted something that others train like lunatics in order to achieve, and yet it never meant much of anything to him. The younger Muscle Man enjoys the adulation of the huge crowd in attendance at the Bicep-tennial, but the truly significant moment comes when he locks eyes with his beaming father.
In a sense, what all this means is that Regular Show can turn Muscle Man into a champion bodybuilder without violating its slacker ethos; it would be too much of a violation of what Muscle Man and the show are all about to reveal that he trained to become as ripped as he once was. Even if Mitch was attained physical perfection through dumb luck, he is able to regain his crown through sheer bloody-mindedness. He’s obstinate enough to believe that he can pull off the Shredder, the impossible move that killed in agonizing fashion the last poor fool who went for it. As is usually the case, Muscle Man puts his life in danger on a matter of principle, even if that principle resides somewhere between unclear and stupid. Mordecai and Rigby argue that the Shredder isn’t worth attempting over something as silly as Ping-Pong privileges at the local gym, but by that point Muscle Man is working to prove a much larger point. That specific point is that nobody other than Starla gets to call Muscle Man “Mitch,” but it’s possible to see why that might be worth fighting for. After all, if “Power Tower” demonstrates anything, it’s that Muscle Man isn’t a nickname. It’s a state of mind.
In certain respects, this episode echoes last week’s “Bank Shot,” which explored how Rigby dealt with the possibility that the one stupid thing he is great at could be snatched away from him. In both episodes, the protagonist relies on guidance from a loved one. But while Rigby’s brother Don was on hand to instill confidence in his little big brother, Muscle Dad’s videotaped appearance from the beyond the grave serves a different function. After all, Mitch has never lacked faith in himself, so his crisis of confidence only begins about 10 seconds before he discovers his father’s last gift to him. Muscle Dad’s uncanny foresight provides Mitch with the tool he needs to defeat that jerk in the competition. The focus here is less about Muscle Man rediscovering a part of himself and more about him reaffirming his relationship with Muscle Dad. Neither man denies the possibility that the Shredder could end in fatal disaster, but both believe that it’s worth the risk. They might well be idiots, but they are motivated by an unconditional love that transcends the very possible stupidity of their decision-making.
“Power Tower” is an unabashedly positive episode, with only the Ping-Pong-hating Dale positioned as an antagonist. The judges and the crowd at the Bicep-tennial are surprisingly supportive of Muscle Man—any initial disappointment about his lost physique is replaced with respect for his impeccable technique. The temptation here is to create some contrast between hard-earned skill and natural gifts (or something as basic as brains and brawn), but I don’t think that works. After all, a major point of “Power Tower” is that this comes naturally to Muscle Man, so he isn’t really winning in a way that is intrinsically better than that of his competitors. Once more, it’s less about the specific process as it is the thought behind it. Muscle Man is competing for something bigger than personal glory, and so the real point is that his performance goes beyond superficial metrics. He gains the respect of the crowd because he understands the importance of technique. Muscle Man achieves perfection because he’s willing to try for it at all. Talent and natural aptitude can bring someone to the brink of such an achievement, but it’s Muscle Man’s mix of courage, stubbornness, and, yes, stupidity that allow him to actually achieve it.
- As you may have noticed, the animation on this episode did look weird, and J.G. Quintel has confirmed that that was a mistake.
- Mordecai and Rigby are mostly on the sidelines for this one, but I do appreciate the fact that they completely fail to pick up on what Dale is doing when he insists they keep playing Ping-Pong.
- From now on, I want all my fights to be broken up by Hi-Five Ghost. He seems very calming.
- “The Shredder has two meanings. For one, if done correctly, it shreds all of the competition. Two, if you falter in the slightest, it will literally shred all of your muscles, leading of course to an instant, agonizing death.” “Talk about a double-edged sword.” This wasn’t one of the all-time hilarious Regular Show episodes, but that exchange was a perfect and very amusing distillation of every dumb sportscaster exchange.