There’s nothing more fun than a nice formulaic show. From crime procedurals to reality competition shows, the regularity of a format executed well can make you forgive the lack of more literary elements like “plot” or “dynamic characters.”
And now that the word regularity has been used, the awkward transition to the topic of this article is complete; it’s time to discuss an early 2010s Cartoon Network animated show. Regular Show is a member of two excellent pantheons: children’s cartoons that hold up into adulthood and formulaic shows which execute their chosen format perfectly. Despite being broadcast on Cartoon Network, ostensibly a home of shows for kids, Regular Show follows Mordecai, a human-sized blue bird, and Rigby, an appropriately sized raccoon, as they work at a park in their 20s and grapple with all the angst of early adulthood. In terms of formula, the show revolves around Mordecai and Rigby’s attempts to live life devolving into the disastrous and absurd. In the third episode, for example, Mordecai and Rigby need to work significant overtime to afford tickets for their favorite band Fist Pump (who, in my humble opinion, would be an excellent Lawnparties performer). Rather than take a few extra naps to work up the energy for such extreme feats of labor exploitation, Mordecai and Rigby summon the God of Coffee and blindly agree to sign away their souls in exchange for some extra potent caffeine (a deal many a Princeton student would probably be willing to make as well). All that is to say, the basic formula of a Regular Show episode consists of Mordecai and Rigby attempting to solve their mundane problems and said attempts quickly escalating into various levels of world-ending chaos.
However, what’s fascinating about the Regular Show format is how quickly one Lovecraftian horror is forgotten and another is duly faced. At least in the early seasons, Regular Show has no overarching plot, and continuity is completely irrelevant. One week Mordecai and Rigby will watch their friend Skipps be aged into non-existence by a panel of giant babies who control mortality, and by the next they will have moved on from this encounter and created a black hole in a government lab in order to get grilled cheese at their favorite restaurant. Mordecai and Rigby may be doomed to encounter one simultaneously life-threatening and ridiculous situation after another, but in the face of such an absurd life they hardly react to the terrors they face or experience any change as a result. Absurdity is just a perpetual presence.
In an important piece of context, this article was spawned by a recent marathon of Regular Show I embarked on with one of my best friends at Princeton. In an amazing demonstration of my inability to resist a whim, we had two distinct three-hour binge sessions after I saw a meme and decided it was our moral obligation to rewatch the show. On reflection, this was just the first example of the many ways in which our Regular Show marathon demonstrated the absurdity of regular life the show is all about. Despite having plenty of schoolwork and extracurricular activities to attend to, we decided devoting over twenty percent of our waking hours across Saturday and Sunday to a cartoon bird and raccoon was a worthy investment of our time, an admittedly completely irrational and absurd choice.
Furthermore, the context in which my friend and I marathoned Regular Show lends itself to utter absurdity as well. While both of us were quickly disillusioned by the institution of Princeton University, it is still worth considering just how insane it is that we attend Princeton. James Madison, Brooke Shields, and over one-third of the current Supreme Court went here, the endowment is larger than the GDP of several nations, and we’ve got some presumably smart people as the professors. If one listens to US News (which one shouldn’t), this is the most academically rigorous and prestigious university in America. And if one listens to President Eisgruber (which one also shouldn’t), we are technically the future leaders of America. This is all absurd; the historical and societal pressure on every Princeton student to succeed is ludicrous. Yet, my friend and I have become so thoroughly desensitized to the Princeton context that the absurdity of going here is just a part of our life and we can feel fine wasting part of our “precious” four years here on animated shows.
Zooming out even further, everything about our life at Princeton and beyond must be thought of as absurd. For example, a truly ridiculous string of events was required for me to end up in the middle of nowhere, New Jersey. First, the entire world had to be embroiled in a fifty year Cold War, eventually leading to the collapse of the Soviet Union, leading to both of my parents separately immigrating to the United States. Then, within the United States they both had to move to Connecticut and end up at the same kielbasa store on the same day in order to meet and eventually have me. The chances of my existence, let alone my ending up at Princeton where I would later meet my friend, are absurdly low. In another equally feasible universe, I am a humble Polish farmer writing a reflection for Warszawski Tygodnik. And even beyond my micro-lens of the universe, the chance of humanity, or any life on Earth, existing in its current form required so many improbable links in a chain of cause and effect. However, on a daily basis, we understandably don’t think about the absurdity of our existence due to how quickly it can collapse into existential dread. Instead, we pretend that existence is normal and become desensitized to just how crazy literally everything is. Put briefly, much like Mordecai and Rigby, we make the absurd into the regular.
Fundamentally, this is the strength of Regular Show as a show; it exists as both a pseudo-absurdist masterful commentary on life and a very entertaining cartoon. The jokes in Regular Show aren’t super complex (one of the funniest side character’s main gimmick is literally shouting “My Mom”) and one can easily turn their brain off and enjoy it as silly children’s programming. But, if you are willing to engage with the themes the show implicitly deals with, watching Regular Show becomes like looking into a mirror of daily life. Regular Show makes you laugh at immature jokes, but it also makes you write drawn-out think pieces for alternative campus weekly magazines. And, if anything, this just makes the show’s representation of the absurd regularity of life even better; sometimes the most “intellectual” thinking can come from the “stupidest” places.