Lost amid all the gleeful insanity of last week’s “Exit 9B” was Regular Show’s decision to add a new major character for the first time (counting Eileen as more of a recurring player). Thomas the intern has the potential to shake up the park’s dynamics and offer new spins on the existing relationships, but that isn’t exactly what happens in “Starter Pack.” Mordecai and Rigby’s objections to Muscle Man’s incessant pranks are more or less in line with how they have responded to his obnoxiousness in episodes past, except this time, they prank him back on behalf of Thomas. Exactly why they care so much is pointedly never made clear—as both Skips and Benson point out, Thomas doesn’t seem to mind Muscle Man’s pranks, so what exactly is the harm? They don’t have an answer to that beyond some rather nascent appeals to trying to do the right thing. But then, one of the great lessons of young adulthood is recognizing that it’s not your job to solve other people’s problems, even if it becomes crystal clear at episode’s end that Mordecai and Rigby are totally right to be worried about what Muscle Man might do to Thomas, albeit not exactly in the way that they thought.
“Starter Pack” opens with Thomas’ initiation day, as the entire staff pulls some good-natured pranks on the new hire to show that he’s now part of the family. The next day, however, Muscle Man does his best Walter White when he grimly declares the prank initiations are over when he says they’re over. Thomas is officially known as “Starter Pack” as far as he’s concerned, and his pranks become increasingly sadistic and mean-spirited. Mordecai and Rigby attempt to intervene, but none of their superiors see any problem that particularly needs addressing, as Thomas takes all of Muscle Man’s pranks with laid-back good humor. In a highly questionable attempt to resolve the situation, Mordecai and Rigby prank Muscle Man and pretend Thomas was really behind it, sending Muscle Man into a terrifying rage. But as is so often the case when dealing with Muscle Man, the pranker can quickly become the prankee—you know, if those were actually words. The point is, Muscle Man has a trick or two up his sleeve to deal with his busybody coworkers.
Even though the episode briefly seems to end with Thomas’ fiery death, “Starter Pack” is a relatively low-key entry for Regular Show. Everything that happens before Muscle Man’s rage explosion could more or less happen in real life, and it would only take fairly minimal rewriting to turn his outburst into a normal meltdown. There’s no time travel or gateways into hellish alternate dimension or giant destructive monsters this time around. Regular Show doesn’t require those more emphatically outlandish elements to succeed, but their absence does make “Starter Pack” feel somewhat minor.
Part of the issue is that the episode leaves its characters opaque, when even a little extra insight into what’s motivating Mordecai, Rigby, and Thomas could have elevated the episode. Make no mistake: I’m not even remotely arguing Regular Show should morph into a deep character study, and certainly this is an instance where keeping Muscle Man a blank slate solely committed to pranking in all its forms is the strongest, funniest choice. But Mordecai and Rigby have little reason to be so concerned about Thomas, and their single-minded devotion to helping him out leaves little room for their usual banter. For instance, it’s definitely in keeping with Mordecai’s past characterization for him to care about doing right by a coworker, but Rigby tends to be more self-absorbed. By making their goals identical, “Starter Pack” neuters some of the comedic potential of its two protagonists, and it creates the odd sense that Mordecai and Rigby are side characters in an episode that spends most of its time with them.
Thomas also remains a cipher throughout the episode, although to be fair, that’s a more successful creative decision. So far, the idea for his character seems to be that he’s just resolutely normal. He’s possibly from a reasonably affluent, upper middle class background, at least if the niceness of his car is any indication. He’s also closer to his mother than any of the other characters are to their relatives, which might simply be a reflection of the fact that he’s a little younger than Mordecai and Rigby and hence hasn’t yet struck out on his own. There’s some logic to keeping him so bland, insofar as Regular Show wants to capture aspects of an authentic workplace experience.
After all, Thomas isn’t Mordecai and Rigby’s new friend—he’s just their new coworker. As such, Thomas wouldn’t be expected to open up to them about his feelings, whether they’re about his mistreatment at the hands of Muscle Man or anything else. But that reading doesn’t make Thomas any more interesting, and “Starter Pack” doesn’t end up making the most compelling case for what he can add to the show on a regular basis. Mordecai can already function as the normal straight man when the show needs him to, and Skips, Benson, or a random guest character can do the job when Mordecai is freaking out. Thomas definitely seems like a realistic portrait of an actual intern, and he functions fine on the periphery of the story. Indeed, there’s an argument to be made that the ending wouldn’t work as well if we really got inside Thomas’ head, as it might blunt the impact of the final twist in which he joins Muscle Man on the big reverse fake-out prank. But the middle of “Starter Pack” drags when we’re kept at arm’s length from all the players.
Still, the episode isn’t without its charms, and Benson’s video on the dangers of pranking is a particular highlight. It’s a somewhat unexpected gag insofar as Regular Show doesn’t parody these instructional videos nearly as often as do, say, The Simpsons or Futurama. Honestly, it’s not hard to see why the show usually shies away from this type of joke, as its low-key slacker energy isn’t really a good fit for the fake corporate peppiness that characterizes these videos. While the video’s tone seems off at first, the gradual escalation of pranks proves a lot of fun, especially when the beleaguered worker is suddenly hit by a bus. In quick succession, he awakens in a coffin to protest his own funeral, then has his coffin blasted into mid-air when it explodes.
In a sense, it’s a microcosm of the craziness crescendo that’s found in other Regular Show episodes, and Muscle Man’s oblivious declaration that he can’t wait to try out the video’s prank suggestions is the perfect punchline for the sequence. Indeed, Sam Marin’s very funny performance as Muscle Man—not to mention the animation of his accompanying facial expressions—proves key to giving “Starter Pack” comedic momentum it otherwise lacks, whether it’s his excitement to try out these deadly pranks, his apparent anger at Thomas daring to prank his superior, or his wonderfully dismissive “Later losers!” once the truth is revealed, complete with gratuitous shirt rip. Muscle Man isn’t quite up to the task of making the episode work all by himself, but he certainly can’t be faulted for lack of effort.