Trying to describe Cartoon Network’s Regular Show is a bit of a task. It’s part classic animated slapstick, part new-school ensemble sitcom, and all weird. It is, more to the point, the brainchild of writer-animator J.G. Quintel, who also serves as part of the principal voice cast.
Tuesday marks the release of Regular Show: Slack Pack, the series’ DVD debut. It’s a collection of a dozen episodes, six from each of the first two seasons. Stand-outs include the mystical musical debut “The Power,” rock ‘n’ roll fantasy “Mordecai and the Rigbys,” time-traveling radio freak-out “The Night Owl” and the positively infectious “This Is My Jam.”
Obviously music plays a big part in the show’s unique charm, as does an eclectic cast of characters ranging from the principal players Mordecai and Rigby, a sarcastic blue jay and mischievous raccoon, to an unflappable yeti and an angry anthropomorphic gumball machine. This DVD collection does a fine job of highlighting all that’s great about this wholly surreal property, but sadly — like the recent Adventure Time release — it’s light on the bonus features.
The special short “Rah-ha Ring Tone” is interesting enough, but it’s hard not to think that the fans deserve more. Like maybe a real ringtone. Still, Slack Pack is a must-buy for Regular Show devotees of all ages.
Quintel was nice enough to talk to me about the show itself in a way that only a giant, stoic bird truly could. He shed some light on the writing process as well as the staff’s unwavering devotion to the property, which goes a long way in explaining the bizarre magic of Regular Show.
Wired: The title of the first Regular Show DVD release is Slack Pack; are Mordecai and Rigby just slackers, or do they have some redeeming qualities?
J.G. Quintel: You know, I think they have redeeming qualities, but it all comes down to how most people are. When you have to do your chores you’re like “Uh, God, I don’t want to do that.” It’s just the reluctance to go do something that isn’t fun. So I think that they tend to go there, but then when stuff gets important that’s when they turn it on and they actually get the job done … or get off their butts to go do something.
Wired: What about the rest of the cast — Pops, Skips, Benson and the rest of the crew — what are their roles within the show?
Quintel: Benson, he’s the boss of everybody — he manages the park. And he’s a gumball machine, so it’s kind of like he represents the machine. Pops own the park, but he doesn’t run it because he doesn’t really want to. He’s like the aloof old man whose happy all the time and kind of running around. And then Skips, he’s kind of the guru of the park that actually — he’s been around longer than anybody at the park. And he knows… everything. Like he pretty much knows everything, and anybody that has a question can ask him and he can help them figure out what they should be doing.
Wired: What about Muscle Man and fan-favorite High Five Ghost?
Quintel: Well, Muscle Man and High Five Ghost, they’re kind of like the equivalent of Mordecai and Rigby. I think they have a little bit more experience than them — they’ve been there longer at the park — but they’re about equals as far as how they’re employed at the park. They do the same types of jobs. But Muscle Man’s just like the guy that does his work, but at the same time is always calling out inappropriate stuff. Making jokes — cracking jokes at everybody’s expense — and thinking he’s funny, but everybody else just looks at him like, “Huh, what did he just say?” And High Five Ghost is kind of his sidekick. He doesn’t say a whole lot, but he laughs and is always around for the supportive high five.
Wired: Which is an important role in and of itself.
Quintel: Oh, yeah.
Wired: Regular Show boasts a pretty unique collection of voice actors: you and Sam Marin voice a lot of the characters, but Skips is actually done by Mark Hamill. Is it weird to have Luke Skywalker as the voice of your cartoon yeti?
Quintel: You know it is because the voice — I mean when you watch the show it’s so distinctive and so… gritty that you couldn’t imagine that it comes out of him! But Mark is like such a pro. He comes in and… When he comes in he sounds like Luke Skywalker to us, but then he turns on the Skips voice and it’s like “Wow, that’s crazy!” So it’s really neat to have him around and we’re really glad that he wanted to do it.
Wired: Obviously you’re the voice of Mordecai — and if I ever doubted that, I am totally convinced now — but is that the character you most identify with?
Quintel: He is actually. He really kind of embodies what I think I was like during college. Specifically when I was going to art school at Cal Arts.
I don’t know, I took it seriously, but at the same time you, like, mess around and you’re going to parties. That’s that time when you’re hanging out with your friends and getting into stupid situations, but you’re also taking it seriously enough. He was that guy, and my regular voice felt like the right fit for that.
Wired: One of my favorite episodes is included in the Slack Pack DVD release: “This is My Jam” from season 2. Who among you actually penned “Summertime Loving, Loving in the Summer (Time),” likely the best worst of all time?
Quintel: Did it ever get stuck in your head?
Wired: Oh, it’s my ringtone! I’m not even lying. When you called in that’s the song that played.
Quintel: That is great! Actually that is one of our board artists, Sean Szeles, who I went to school with. He was ahead of me, and then we worked together on Flapjack. And when Regular Show got green-lit and I was looking for board artists he was one of the first people I went to, and he wanted to do it.
And he knows how to play guitar. He composes a lot of the songs that are original songs on the show. Yeah, that was one that really stood out. And when we were producing that episode, especially when we were recording it, everybody had it stuck in their heads. We were like, “Great, this just will not go away.”
Wired: But that’s how you know he did his job correctly, when everybody around the office is singing “Summertime Loving.”
Quintel: That’s right. And that episode has two really catchy songs, where you’re having, like, a battle of catchy songs in your brain.
Wired: I’ll not lie, I’ll cop to singing “Oh Snap” every once in a while, but primarily it’s “Summertime Loving.”
Quintel: Nice! Especially during the summertime.
Wired: Now speaking of music, Regular Show does something that few other cartoons do in that you license real world music in several episodes. You’ve included Mountain’s “Mississippi Queen” and “You’re the Best,” which most people likely know simply as “that Karate Kid song,” not to mention iconic tracks by Pat Benatar and Kenny Loggins. Is music an important part of your creative process?
Quintel: It is actually. At the beginning of the show, when we were putting together animatics of the boards before we had any animation done, we would use songs that we liked — licensed songs — to put together the music montages to see how it would flow and play. And the executives saw the animatics and they really liked how it was playing, and they said, “Why don’t we see if we can get some of these songs for this?” And we were totally down with that.
So they checked it out, and some of them were actually cool about us using their music. And so we license some of the songs when we can, when it fits with the story, and we always try to go for that ’80s feel. We really like how that kind of grounds the show in that era.
And just also that people who are watching the show — specifically adults — will remember those songs and go, “Oh, man, that song is awesome! I remember that song!” Whereas kids, I know that some of them probably haven’t heard those songs, but if they haven’t and they’re hearing them for the first time those songs are still really good.
It’s just cool that we get to use them.
Wired: As soon as the guy says “Mississippi Queen” in the “Weekend at Benson’s” episode, I’m looking at my son going, “They’re about to play a song, and it’s going to be awesome!”
Quintel: “It’s going to happen!”
Wired: You don’t say “Mississippi Queen” and then not play Mountain. There’s some sort of rule there.
But let’s talk a little bit about setting. Regular Show takes place in a world that’s like our own, if you set aside pesky things like, you know, evolution and the basic principles of physics. How do you determine what can and can’t be done in this world of the show? Are there hard and fast rules, or is anything possible as long as it serves the plot?
Quintel: That is the most important thing; it needs to make sense to the plot. I know that things get pretty out there and weird, but we don’t try to go to a weird place just for the sake of showing something that looks cool. We try to make sure that it’s central to the story.
You know, the structure tends to be like a regular, everyday kind of plot, I guess you’d say, where a character just wants something really simple. And they’re going for it, but because of the way they choose to get at it causes this really crazy thing to happen.
We really wanted to add that sort of supernatural, magical element to every show so that we’d feel like — we really like the way it takes advantage of animation as a medium. We really get to play with how things look and go to really cool worlds.
I think as far as all the things you see we try really hard to make it feel like the physics of it make sense once you’re there. So that it’s not just — I know we did an episode that aired a little while ago where they’re chasing after this graffiti artist. And when they get to his house it’s just completely white, there’s like nothing in it. We thought that that looked really cool, and then they start bumping into things and realize they’re in his house and outside of his house he likes spray painting on stuff but inside his house he just wants it pure, clean white like you can’t see anything.
That was a really neat one. There’s just been a bunch of different things where it’s really fun to explore where you can go with animation because I don’t think we’d be able to get away with this stuff in live action.
Wired: Not the least of which is a ghost with a hand on its forehead.
Wired: I guess this is my follow-up fan service question: Rigby is a raccoon, and while he can stand and walk upright, he often runs on all fours like a quadruped. By the same token, Mordecai is a blue jay: can he fly?
Quintel: I have seen that question many times! I don’t think he’s ever going to fly… in the way that I think people are hoping he will fly. I think he’s the shape of a bird, but I don’t like to think of his so much as a bird as a person. He’s a person. The same thing with Rigby, although he does get down on all fours to run because it looks pretty cool.
I don’t know that Mordecai would be able to escape a problem just by flying.
Wired: If it serves the plot, Mordecai can fly.
Quintel: Yes, pretty much. I think the only place where it will ever be acceptable for him to fly is in that live action short that we just released through Facebook.
Wired: Okay, we’ve talked a bit about the ’80s element in the show, but let’s talk timeframe. It’s distinctly modern — there’s commercial internet, obviously, and viral videos — but there’s all this throwback technology like cassette tapes and cartridge-based game consoles. How do you explain all this antiquated tech? What’s the allure?
Quintel: I think part of it was growing up in the ’80s and ’90s and having all of those types of this: living through that upgrade of technology and seeing how it changes. Going through, like, VHS and Laserdisc and DVD and Blu-ray. There’s all these things, but to me probably one of the most memorable times, the most watching of TV, was going on back when there was cassette tapes.
I can remember VHS tapes and having to rewind the movie when you were done with it. And having a tape recorder where you’d record your voice and laugh at it; you’d be on that cassette tape. And cassette players in cars. All that kind of stuff was really funny to me, and I felt that in this world they would have mostly that stuff, as if it was almost like hand-me-down technology that they’re living with.
In their world people do have computers and internet and all that stuff, so that we can explore that as well.
But yeah, mostly I just thought it was funny.
Wired: Somehow I had managed to miss it in the original Cartoon Network rotation, but I finally saw the crank call episode, and it had those giant ’80s cell phones! There was definitely something to the aesthetic of Rigby and Mordecai with these enormous cell phones that I at least found very appealing. And hilarious.
Quintel: Yeah, that was a fun one. From the beginning we were like, “We’ve got to get an episode with ’80s cell phones; it’d be so cool!”
Wired: All right, J.G., Regular Show is TV-PG. There’s maybe a little bit of language and the occasional fist fight, but in last year’s Halloween three-parter “Terror Tales of the Park” Muscle Man is actually skinned alive by an angry wizard. How do you determine how far to push things with regard to content, and have you ever run into trouble with the network looking to censor Regular Show?
Quintel: You know, from the beginning it was a TV-PG show and they told us they wanted us to age it up from the TV-Y7 stuff we’d been doing in the past. And as soon as we found that out we tried to push it as far as we could, and, you know, there are limits to that as well. There are things that the network isn’t going to want to put on the air, and we understand that.
But we always push to get as much as we can, and then we’ll get notes, things that need to be toned down. Like Muscle Man being skinned in that episode — originally he was just skinned and says, “I told you I was ripped,” and then he just falls and dies. But, like, when we toned it down we had him flex then say the thing, so it’s like we were making almost this morbid joke that he hiked all the way there just to say this stupid joke. And I think those are the types of things where it’s like — you know, sometimes we can’t find a way to tone it down and we have to cut it out.
Like the most recent episode — we’re doing another Halloween special, like we want to try to do that yearly. I really like the idea of making a cartoon that’s kind of scary. I remember growing up and being allowed to watch movies that I probably shouldn’t have and actually having nightmares. But at a certain point you grow up and you don’t get those nightmares anymore. So it’s kind of like maybe it’s a cherished time. I can remember what that felt like; it’s kind of weird that it goes away to the point where you’re like, “Yeah, I can watch this, it’s not scary.” I don’t know if that’s being desensitized or what.
But in the one that we most recently did, we did push it so far that we did have to completely rewrite the last three minutes of the episode. It was so scary that they weren’t going to air it!
Wired: You mentioned earlier your work on the Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack, and I know you also worked on Camp Lazlo prior to that: both sort of delightfully strange properties. And now you and fellow Flapjack alum Pen Ward are holding down Cartoon Network’s night-time block with your own, admittedly bizarre, shows. Does the success of this surreal style of animation say anything about the current state of American entertainment? Are people specifically looking to that style now for some reason?
Quintel: You know, I’m not sure if it’s per se the surrealism, although I think that sets it apart a little bit compared to other shows that are on right now, but I think that it’s the story. I mean, we really work hard to try to make sure the stories are really strong and it’s always the first thing on our minds before we move forward to make any episode. It’s always about making sure that it’s a good story. I think as long as you have that you can kind of do whatever you want and people will like it.
Wired: Well, that makes sense, and I know we’re certainly enjoying it.
Wired: Hey, no problem. And I guess I have time for my bonus, ridiculous question: who was High Five Ghost before he died?
Quintel: I’m not really sure who he was before he died, but I think his hand connected with his head, like, when he died to combine that thing. Maybe.
Wired: See? There you go; you’re building that mythology on the fly. That’s the sign of a true artist!
Quintel: I’m trying. I just hope that doesn’t come back to bite me.
Wired: Yeah, you’re going to be at Comic-Con and somebody’s going to come up just furious about High Five Ghost’s origin story. And I’ll know it was all my fault.
Quintel: I know! I’ll tell them, you know, “It can change; it wasn’t on the actual show. That was me just thinking out loud.”
Wired: “It’s not canon!” But seriously, J.G., thanks for taking the time and answering all my ridiculous questions.
Quintel: Thanks. It was great!
Review materials provided by Cartoon Network.