Christmas Can Be Cool – Regular Show’s “Christmas Special”

5 Dec

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Regular Show is an animated show airing on Cartoon Network. I started watching it over the summer and have kind of fallen in love with both it and its Monday-night partner Adventure Time. Content-wise, it falls somewhere between SpongeBob SquarePants and The Simpsons, not quite as innocent as the former or as irreverent as the latter – it’s subversive to a certain degree, but never aggressively so. Although its primary audience is probably discerning preteens and teens, it seems to have also drawn a lot of pop culture-obsessed nerds in their 20s (i.e., me). Their 30-minute (most episodes are half that) Christmas special just aired on Monday, but it impressed me so much I wanted to say a few words about it.

One of the strongest episodes of the series to date, bar none, it finds a way to satisfyingly incorporate all of its major characters as they go on an epic quest to destroy a magical present with the power to destroy Christmas forever. One thing that intrigues me about Regular Show is the way it handles pop culture references. While the plot is an obvious nod to Lord of the Rings, it also refreshingly distances itself from LotR just enough that one could say it resembles any archetypal Hero’s Journey. Additionally, its creators avoid the typical “see-what-we-did-there” winking-and-nudging that shows like Family Guy fall prey to all the time. If anything, Lord of the Rings functions more as an influence than the kind of meta-joke it would be on some other, “edgier” show. The special somehow manages to check off all of the expected plot points and thematic resonances we expect of our Christmas specials while remaining true to its characters and its own slacker spirit. It relies a little too much on novelty and audience familiarity to be a proper introduction to Regular Show for newcomers, but it’s still a massive achievement.

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