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For a series set in a public park, Cartoon Network’s Regular Show does a great deal to expand the weirdness of animated television.
Masterminded by creator JG Quintel, the cartoon adventures of bluejay Mordecai and raccoon Rigby often slide into flights of lunacy, with ghost truckers, haunted arcade games, professional partiers and even “The Best VHS in the World.”
In advance of today’s release of the Season 3 DVD box set, Quintel spoke with Spinoff Online about the series’ surprise longevity, the expanding cast of a show with more than 100 episodes under its belt, and the craziness alternative-comics artists bring to the show. Plus, Cartoon Network shares an exclusive new clip from the DVD’s special features.
Spinoff Online: JG, in its years on air, Regular Show has bucked the trend of recent animated shows on cable. Up until recently, cartoons were expected to only run a set amount of episodes and then were canceled regardless of ratings. Between Adventure Time and you guys, that seems to have ended. Was that hugely unanticipated by you?
JG Quintel: It was definitely an “Oh, wow” kind of moment. I felt the exact same way. I’d been working at Cartoon Network for a few years before Regular Show got picked up, and that’s just the way it was. You’d get a couple of seasons – maybe four – and that would be a pretty good run. They’d wind it down, and that would be considered a strong run. Most shows were even shorter – usually just two seasons or maybe three. So especially for Regular Show, because it was so weird, it was surprising. I mean, I had a lot of faith in it. I knew we could make it funny, but I had no idea what Cartoon Network needed out of it or what they’d spring for or even what the fans would think. It’s really cool that they actually let us go this far and that we’re still going.
That longevity also comes with a creative challenge in terms of how to keep the series lively. With Season 3, it seems from the outside like the task was expanding on characters that were side players in the first two seasons – things like meeting Muscle Man’s dad or what have you. Was that your focus in this phase of the show?
Definitely Season 1 was all Mordecai and Rigby. In Season 2, we had a couple of other characters pop out, but it was still very much a show that was focused on Mordecai and Rigby. But with Season 3, we had already done 40 episodes so we had to start learning about our supporting characters, like Vincent, Skips and Pops. It was, “What kind of stories could we tell that show more of who they are rather than who we’ve seen?” That really helped open up a lot of space for new ideas and things we wouldn’t have been able to do with just Mordecai and Rigby if we’d just kept focusing on them. Obviously, we kept them in the episodes, but it was fun to branch out and start playing with things like the combination of characters you’d have in a given episode. That gave us a lot more life.
Do you have any episodes that stand out as the ones that got that idea across best?
Oh, yeah. Definitely in Season 3, one of the highlights for me was one of the last ones I boarded myself, which was “Eggscellent.” I just took that on as freelance because we didn’t have enough board artists to do the work. That ended up winning an Emmy and was one of my favorites. Then there are other episodes where our new board artists started coming on – guys where this was their first season to try it out, and it was really cool to see them grow. Toby Jones came in during Season 3, and Calvin Wong, who had been boarding, started doing it really well. Sean Szeles boards or things Benton Connor were doing made me like, “This is so good!” [Laughs] “Fancy Restaurant” and “Fuzzy Dice” are some of my favorites. We wrote “Fuzzy Dice” all out, but where the boards took it was so crazy.
Season 3 also had a big finale which was “Bad Kiss” – the episode where Margaret and Mordecai finally hook up, and then it’s immediately erased from existence. [Laughter] Did you consciously want to stay away from changing the core setup of the show too much?
At the beginning, again because we didn’t know if it’d get picked up again or not, we didn’t want to leave it finished where everybody was changed. But we wanted to keep our core structure as far as the relationships were concerned so we could keep going with it. We felt like there were a lot more stories we could still tell, and if we got Mordecai and Margaret together right away, we’d lose the opportunities to play up that fun awkwardness he has around her. So that episode was a chance to push forward and see what would happen if we got them that close, but then we take it back in a really interesting way that wasn’t just the “it was all a dream” cop out. I feel like we did a good job with the time travel element of that episode that was really Regular Show.
Regular Show is one of a few programs on now that has a lot of alternative-comics talents working behind the scenes – people like Helen Jo and Minty Lewis. While their comics might not exactly be kid-friendly, what about the sensibilities of that world seem to be a good mesh with your own sense of humor?
Because we’re an outline-driven show, we don’t have any scripts for the dialogue. A lot of our board artists come from a comics background, and they’re there to put that dialogue in and make acting choices that you wouldn’t necessarily done yourself. I see stuff all the time [when I’m recording dialogue] where I think, “I would never have done it like that, but it’s hilarious.” So it’s really cool to see how things change when they come to the table. Rather than be really narrow-minded, it gets broader, and there are little things that pop up and character moments that come because those guys have seen every episode and know where things can go. I love that alt-comics sensibility where they’re just writing for themselves first and drawing everything. That fits perfectly with what we’re doing on the show.
Do you think at any point you’ll sit down and do your own minicomic that’s totally removed from Regular Show?
I would like to in the future. I think if the show ever got calm enough for us to have the time, I would. It’s a really cool medium, and I haven’t really done that kind of comics. Maybe in the future.
So even though it’s Season 3 on DVD, you’re about to start working on episodes for Season 6 in broadcast. Does the production of one season to the next bleed into each other, or do you actually view them as separate in a significant way?
We’ll usually have a short hiatus for the artists, because it can be pretty grueling. These pickups across the season happen really quick, and at our craziest, we’re turning in one new eleven-minute cartoon a week. But they tend to start up pretty quick. We’ve already written a lot of Season 6. There are a lot of cool episodes coming up there, and I think people will be interested to see where we take the character. We’re definitely changing things now, so it’s going to be crazy.
Regular Show: Season 3 arrives today on DVD.