Over the course of its eight seasons and 261 episodes, Regular Show always balanced the scales between small-scale and epic storytelling. The show’s premise was as simple as you can get: two friends in their early 20s hanging out, making up goofy raps, and trying to avoid work. But it also had a taste for using its animated format in the service of surreal, apocalyptic plotting—demons, egg knights, and a bunch of baby ducks that transform into a giant, ass-kicking hero.
When Rigby graduated from high school at the end of the show’s seventh season, it signified the end of the characters’ arcs—everyone was ready to move on from the park toward whatever would happen next with their lives. So while this last season had a few moments of isolated character development, it was mostly crafted from the “epic” part of the show’s DNA, relying more heavily on fights and a bigger scope than catchphrases and solids. It’s an understandable decision, considering that J.G. Quintel and the rest of the writers had literally sent the main cast into space.
This is the Regular Show endgame: a final showdown between Pops and his evil twin brother Anti-Pops (voiced by Robert Englund, naturally), a fight that cyclically bookends the destruction and rebirth of the Regular Show universe. To have the entire series come down to a fight between two characters—one of whom was only introduced this season—feels a bit off. (Rigby’s graduation would have made more emotional sense, grounded as it was in years of him being an idiot.)
But to hear J.G. Quintel talk about after the first screening of the finale last week (during a panel I moderated), the decision made perfect sense. Regular Show was coming to an end, which sets the stakes at their absolute highest for the characters. So why not reflect that by sending everyone into space, and forcing them to defend the very existence of the universe?
The characters are going away no matter what, so the finale spends a lot of time saying goodbye to them—particularly in “Cheer Up Pops,” which finds the park gang getting ready for the end. Understandably, the mild-mannered, kind Pops is nervous about the fight, so the rest of the group tries to distract him with raps (Mordecai and Rigby), a cake that looks like his bloodied face (Benson), and fireworks (Muscle Man and Skips). Eventually, they throw a party, which reminds Pops of the stakes (all of his friends’ lives are on the line!) brings some of the show’s extended supporting cast together (the Guardians Of Eternal Youth, Death, HD-DVD and Blu-Ray).
Each of those characters gets their own brief sendoff over the course of the fight, too. Eileen directs everything from the inside of the final mecha form taken by all of the supporting cast. Muscle Man (Mitch) gets his last pranks in during an exciting, but ultimately futile attempt to trap Anti-Pops at the beginning, along with a final, phenomenal “my mom” joke. (“You know who else grows really big to show their dominance, but is actually really small deep down?”) And, frustrated to the end, Benson gets stuffed into the top of the robot. Eventually, he’s ground into the dirt when Party Horse does a head spin as part of his sweet dance move fighting. Also, Blu-Ray uses everyone’s memories to create the Regular Show complete series box set.
The introduction of the box set and Blu-Ray being placed in opposition to the villainy of Streaming is the first of many reflexive elements here, acknowledging the history and imminent ending of the show. The actual inhabitants of Lolliland—Frivola Kranus, Quadravi Kranus, and Weird Mushroom Guy—are all early drawings of Pops, in line with their in-world role as earlier forms of evolution before Pops and Anti-Pops. When Anti-Pops begins to literally break down the fabric of reality, the title of the show crumbles, post-its featuring early character designs show up, and Mordecai sees his own dialog show up on-screen. At one point, Pops takes a detour into the original short The Naive Man From Lolliland.
There’s something sweet about the big difference in this loop of the fight coming from Mordecai choosing to flying between the fists of the titanic versions of Pops and Anti-Pops before they collide. (Here’s where that character development comes in!) His and Rigby’s interference ensures that the world is only partially reset, leading to the genuinely devastating moment when the beginning of “The Power” starts playing.
Is Regular Show really going to end with a totally fatalistic cycle? It wouldn’t be the first time a TV show did something like this, ending at the beginning—and I briefly thought this was actually was happening the first time I watched the episodes. At the screening several fans audibly gasped. Thankfully, after regaining their memories, Mordecai and Rigby go back to the beginning, using the keyboard to return to the end and inspiring Pops to find the actual solution to the fight: a hug.
As I think everyone guessed earlier in the season, Pops’ kindness is finally the thing that allows him to end the fight. (So yeah, the mecha fight between Streaming and the combined form of half the supporting cast was not, strictly speaking, necessary… but also, we totally needed it.) But it requires a sacrifice. Pops dies, feeding emotions into Anti-Pops until they both drift into Lolliland’s sun.
Though Pops tells Mordecai and Rigby that the ending is happy, it’s still bittersweet at best. “Why did Pops have to die?” was my first question during the panel, and Quintel described his sacrifice as a way of symbolizing the sadness and loss that comes with the sort of maturity the rest of the characters have, finally, attained. Some time after Rigby’s graduation, the Regular Show gang is still ready to move on—the impetus for the series’ real ending.
In a sequence set, appropriately, to David Bowie’s “Heroes,” the dome returns to Earth several years after it originally left, and we see a good chunk of the characters’ lives. Mordecai leaves the park to finally take his dream of painting seriously, gets successful, grows some chest hair, and falls in love with another artist. (So much for the love triangle with Margaret and CJ!) Rigby and Eileen have a big family, as do Mitch and Starla. Benson and Pam get together, and oversee a new generation of park workers. High Five Ghost and Celia have a successful DJing career (also Fives has a soul patch and a beanie now). They erect statues commemorating Pops and Mr. Maellard. And at the 25-year park staff reunion, Mordecai and Rigby go find some old video games to play as a form of remembering their misspent youth.
This is heavy stuff, and probably a little intense for some younger viewers. What would it be like to try to grasp this kind of reminiscing when you haven’t made the memories yet? Still, amidst all this death and closure, there’s a lot of humor, exemplified by the shifts in the characters’ visual styles as they age. (Of course, there’s a lot of broader humor in the finale too, including a solid running gag where Anti-Pops has to take a space Uber to get to the fight, driven by a dude name Gilfoyle who’s real passion is DJing.)
During the panel, Quintel and Salyers listed the finale as their favorite episode. Like the structure of the season, this is, admittedly, a bit of a copout—the final sequence capitalizes on eight seasons and over 250 episodes’ worth of character storytelling, condensing 25 years of everyone’s lives to provide (earned) payoff to the show and, in part, relying on essentially the first and only instance of a serious character death. But the fact that “A Regular Epic Final Battle” successfully pulls this off at all is a testament to how great the show at large has been over the course of its run.
Regular Show was many things—a frequently surreal, borderline adult show on a network primarily for children. It let its crass streak lie fallow for a bit, but brought the dirty jokes back in force at the end. (There’s a pretty inescapable sex gag when Benson looks for the right button on Blu-Ray). It was a product of ’80s nostalgia that preceded a boom in similar, less inventive shows, and found much of what was fun in that era’s pop culture while also mocking its excesses. And it was a venue for endless “my mom” jokes, yelling “Ooooh,” and other running bits of juvenilia of the sort that structured Quintel’s adolescence—and, apparently, the adolescence of hundreds of thousands of fans. Regular Show was all of those things at once, which was part of what made it so special. But more anything else, Regular Show was fun.
- Mordecai: “Do you ever think about how many people we’ve seen probably die?” Rigby: “Yeah, I’m sure they’re all fine.”
- One of the past Pops-Anti-Pops battles was fought with pool noodles.
- If there’s big drawback of the space season, it’s leaving some of our favorite Earthbound characters behind—I wish we’d gotten a real sendoff for, say, Don.
- Quintel insisted that “Heroes” was the only song they’d really considered for the ending, to the point where he refused to look for a backup. Thankfully, they got it!
- I’m not past-life Regular Show reviewer Alasdair Wilkins, but I’m so glad to get the opportunity to drop in on this show one last time. Thanks for reading!