Last summer, J.G. Quintel, creator of Cartoon Network's hit series Regular Show, wanted to record the program's original music onto cassettes and toss those into the crowd at San Diego Comic-Con. “Then kids will have to ask their parents for a cassette player,” he explains. “It will be awesome.”
He has also asked about releasing the series on Laserdisc. “It would be funny,” says Quintel, who has a Laserdisc player, in addition to a combination DVD/VHS machine, in his office.
Outdated technology isn't some sort of gimmick for Quintel — it's something that's embedded into the Regular Show universe. The central characters, Ribgy (a raccoon) and Mordecai (a blue jay), get obsessed with songs on cassette. They once embarked on a quest for a VHS cassette. In Monday's new episode, “Bald Spot,” another character, Starla, is seen talking on a pay phone.
“From the beginning, I really wanted to infuse an '80s vibe,” says Quintel of Regular Show, “because I grew up in the '80s and I remember so many things about that era that were cool.” He mentions 8-bit video games as an example. “The cover of the box looked so amazing and, then, when you actually played the game, it looked nothing like the cover.”
The catch is that this is a TV-PG show that plays prime time on cable network geared towards the under-18 set. Cassette players, VCRs and pay phones had fallen out of fashion before a good chunk of Regular Show's audience was born. In that respect, vintage technology isn't so much about nostalgia. It adds a whimsical element to a show with plots derived from real life and it's just one of the reasons that Regular Show has become a sensation on television, online and at fan conventions.
Influenced by The Simpsons and British comedies like The Mighty Boosh and Little Britain, Quintel has created a cartoon that's like no other currently on the air. It's fantastic, filled with anthropomorphic animals, muscle-bound people and even a walking, talking gumball machine. It's absurd. And, yet, at it's core, it's a simple slice-of-life show.
“We always try to make the episodes start from a real place,” says Quintel. Take the season 3 episode, “Access Denied,” for example. In the episode, Mordecai and Rigby are denied entry into a hot club because their clothes aren't hip enough for the door guy. Quintel had a similar experience when he tried to hit up a club with some friends. “It wasn't even that cool of a club,” he says. “They had video games in the bar. I think that's why we were going.” Regardless, Quintel's friend was wearing a hat he bought at 7-11. It didn't pass the door person's inspection.
“Right after that, they let someone else in wearing a hat, but it was a nice hat,” Quintel recalls. When asked why one hat made the cut, while another didn't, the door person responded, “Yeah, but that's fashion.”
Up next: How eating an enormous omelette led to an Emmy
Similarly, in “Eggscellent,” which won this year's Emmy for Best Short-Format Animated Program, is more true-to-life than what one might expect. In the episode, Mordecai and Rigby take stabs at eating a massive omelette.
“There's a restaurant in San Diego, where, if you eat a 12-egg omelette, you win a shirt or something,” says Quintel. “I tried to eat it and I couldn't even get close. I think I made it an eighth of the way through.”
Now in its fourth season, Regular Show has amassed a large following of kids, their parents and lots of young adults. While the show didn't struggle long to actually get on the air — Quintel was already working for Cartoon Network, on The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack, when he pitched the series — it did take time to build a following.
Quintel remembers his first Regular Show trip to San Diego Comic-Con, where he was on a joint panel with the team from the pop culture phenomenon Adventure Time. “There were pretty much no questions for us,” he recalls.
A year later, things had changed. These days, people show up to panels in Regular Show cosplay. Quintel has even spotted a family wearing the Eggscellent hats from the episode of the same name. The fans are also asking the kind of minutia-based questions that only come after watching a 15-minute installment of Regular Show dozens of times.
In some ways, this year's Emmy win was validation for what animation addicts have known for a few years. Regular Show is one of the smartest, funniest, weirdest series on the small screen. “It's a little hard in this medium, when you want everybody to watch it,” says Quintel. “I think adults automatically assume, oh, it's a cartoon, it's for kids.” That's certainly not the case for Regular Show. “We're definitely making it for ourselves,” says Quintel, “trying to make each other laugh.” So far, that tactic seems to be working remarkably well.