J.G. Quintel talks about finding a satisfying ending for himself, the crew and the characters of his long-running Cartoon Network series Regular Show.
An abridged version of this interview original appeared in the March 2017 issue of Animation Magazine.
Animation Magazine: At what point did you start thinking about how this show was going to end and how you might do a final episode?
J.G. Quintel: It was kind of in the middle of season seven that we started to realize like, oh, we were going to get another pickup but it was for less than what we had gotten in the past. And I had always told the network, just, you know, let us know if you’re ready to end it, let’s talk about it because I want to end the show properly. I don’t want it to be something where we get caught off guard and then it just kind of is over. We could make something really cool. So we talked about it and we were like, yeah, this is probably going to be the last season so let’s start thinking about what that’s going to mean for us, how we’re going to build it out. Because normally we do some arcs within the season, but for the most part the episodes are stand-alone.
And there was always this idea of taking them to space. There were a couple of ideas that had floated around in the Regular Show universe that had never made it out, like the idea of Lolliland, which is where Pops is from in the student film. That was a big idea I always kind of gravitate back towards, but it didn’t feel right in the middle of the series. And then the idea of taking them to space was always something where it was like, ah, but it’s not going to be good. That’s like the end so it doesn’t matter.
It was kind of fun to have this final season to try out a bunch of things that you wouldn’t do otherwise and I think it really freed us to make something really out there.
Animag: The ending sees Mordecai and Rigby grow up and mature in a way that’s unusual for a TV show. How did you end up deciding that this was how you they were going to end up?
Quintel: I think with the core of Regular Show being about these two friends, and at a point in their life where they’re right out of college and a lot of those stories dealt with those types of things like trying to find a girlfriend or just hanging out with your buddies or trying to not get fired at work. So as long as we kept them there, the show would exist, but if they ever got out of that — which is the natural progression is to have a family, or whatever would happen to them if they got promoted, or whatever thing would take them out of that core element, then it would be over. So they were stuck there, always, in that role, and so when the show was over, it was: what would happen to them afterwards? They’re not going to be like this forever.
Like anything, people change and people grow and so to really push them to where they were going to end up later in their life I wanted to show people that so they could know that they moved on and they became these adults, eventually.
It’s kind of always fun to remember back to who you were before, that was something that was really personal to me. I remember when I first started the show, all of the stuff that they did, that was really fresh in my mind. Like things that my friends and I did in college like the “ohs” and the “hmm-hmms.” And then six, seven years later, it’ like we’re still making the same show but that was such a distant part of who I was at that point. So it was cool to see how the characters moved away from that, too.
I like that line at the end where they do a final “oh” and a “hmm” and go, I can’t believe we used to do that. People go through phases in their life you know, and it’s kind of cool to see them acknowledge that.
Animag: This seems very autobiographical in a way and you’re obviously drawing on your own experiences. What do you think some of the other people working on the show were able to bring to the show?
Quintel: I think a lot of them brought similar things. We all grew up at a similar time, a lot of us, and we’re all getting older. So some of us have families, some of us have girlfriends, wives, kids, like everybody’s bringing some of that to the table when we cut to the ending and show how these characters ended up. I think for a lot of people they’re going to end up with some form or another of that thing. It’s just life. And it was fun for us to pitch it around and see how it was working in the room and everybody on the show has been on the show for quite a while, so we’re all very close to these characters, and so it was fun to take it to that place. Like, Pops sacrificing himself so the other characters could live on. And it was sad for a lot of us. It was interesting.
Animag: It sounds like you were in a similar place. Did that make it easier to let go of the show and move on to the next thing?
Quintel: Yeah. We had made so many. It felt natural to let it be over and to end it properly and to try for that. It was really fun to make it and then at the same time being so close to it. It was the longest project that I’d ever been on and I think for a lot of people on the crew, it was the first project they’d ever been on and definitely the longest, so to say goodbye is emotional. We screened the last episode at the AMC Burbank for some ASIFA members and fans and I was getting choked up watching it, and I’d already seen it a bunch. I already know everything that’s going to happen, but to hear people reacting to it, it was powerful, it was nice.
Animag: What have you thought of the reaction to the episode, now that it’s actually aired and people have had a chance to see it and especially the long term fans of the show?
Quintel: It was great. To hear them, I saw a lot on the internet about people just thanking us for the laughs and the ride. It was almost like these were their friends too that they were tagging along with, getting to watch. And people talking about how the show brought them and their kids closer together, something that they could relate to with their kids. And they are sad to see it go. People talking about how old they were when they first watched it and how old they are now, like a lot of people started it in grade school and now they’re graduating high school or they’re in college. It was very touching to know that people, that a lot of people, are thinking this is something that is a part of their childhood that they’ll never forget.
That was really touching, that these drawings and these characters that we were just trying to make each other laugh could become such a thing. I have tons of things I remember growing up and watching that I’ll always remember and think back to and it’s neat that this is one of those things for other people.
Animag: Looking at the last season as a whole, what were the big creative challenges?
Quintel: Well, we took it to space, which was tricky because we knew it was going to make a lot of people turn off. Like, “Ugh, space! Jumping the shark.” But we were like, we want to take it there to this intergalactic battle.
It was a lot of content to fill, so we had our traditional fun episodes at the top, but then we were simultaneously writing our more plot-heavy episodes that were going to take the whole arc of the series to close, that we needed to pepper in and figure out when those episodes were going to hit and hopefully everybody would watch them all. Because this is the first time we’d ever made a season that was completely, you need to watch it in order for it to make sense, so that was a bit of challenge, that we were keeping up with the continuity of where we were in the season and what we wanted to deliver story wise.
And then wrapping it all up, that was definitely a challenge, trying to figure out how to make sure that we were going to satisfy all the things people would want to see, and what we wanted to see, and kind of top ourselves because we’ve done a lot of crazy things over the years. You’re almost out of things. “We already did that! We already did that!” But I feel we figured it out and put in a bunch of things we had never done and a bunch of things I don’t think you could do unless you were going from that long of a run and ending it. So it worked out.
Animag: Were there any things that you wanted to get into the final season that you didn’t?
Quintel: I know that Margaret and CJ, that was a very big part of the show for Mordecai that kind of filtered through and it was something where I knew it would be nice if we could make that work, but I knew that there were two camps. I knew that it was a bit of a problem, because there were two camps of fans: People who liked Margaret and people who liked CJ. And with the way we played that story out it feels like he messed it up for both of them. There was no way he could get either of them back.
It turned into this thing where you felt like, for Mordecai, the true reality for him was he learned from his mistake and was able to move on. But because we had Margaret and CJ in so many of the episodes it feels a little bit weird not to have them represented more in the end, but it’s just kind of the natural order of it, I guess.
Animag: Visually and animation-wise, were there any real visual challenges?
Quintel: Not necessarily. I feel like we got a lot of things done properly. One thing that was a little bit tough was, in the final episode when Pops gets knocked into The Naive Man from Lolliland, the student film that he comes from, there was a bit of like a technical issue because in the film itself, there are cuts. So he gets knocked into the part of the scene where the waiter is talking to Pops at the table, and in the actual film it’s like they have this exchange and then it cuts to a close up of Pops’ face and then it cuts back to the wide shot. But that wouldn’t work for this moment, so we had to figure out how to bridge the gap and make new animation but try to make it look old, because I really wanted it to be like, the exact footage from the student film. But just logistically we ended up having Korea reanimate it, but stylistically to match that old footage. So that was a bit of a tricky thing.
Animag: Now that the series is complete and you can look back at where you started from, what is the biggest lesson you’ve learned or taken away from the entire experience?
Quintel: It’s all about character. Make sure that you have really solid characters and then you can put them in any situation and they’ll be funny. It doesn’t matter what they’re doing. I think looking back on it, it was lucky, all the characters that I put in, I could have put some bad ones but they all just jelled and it was very smooth sailing — like from the top and then it just kind of rolled. I don’t know if I thought any more about it than, this guy’s funny, this guy’s funny, this guy’s funny, I really like that guy, I want to put him in.
Animag: I’m sure you had no idea the show would last as long as it did.
Quintel: No way. I thought for sure it was going to be two or three seasons, tops.
Animag: Do you have an episode that you’d say is your favorite?
Quintel: I still really like “Eggcellent.” I thought that was a really powerful friendship episode and had like a fun, weird element to it. “The Power” is still a really special one. I like all the baby ducks episodes and all the laserdisc episodes, the format wars. And then the finale now. Episodes like that finale don’t come along that often, so that one is definitely one of my favorites.
Animag: I’ll flip that around: are there any episodes you feel like didn’t live up to your standard or were the worst?
Quintel: (Laughs.) Let’s see, I have the list in front of me and it’s huge. I think I remember “Replaced,” which is one where Vincent almost replaces Mordecai and Rigby with these two other workers. That one was for some reason a tough one and it didn’t have that special spark for me. And there’s a couple others that there’s some that just work so well and then there’s others where you’re like, hmm, that feels like we already did that before. But we always try really hard to make them unique and different. But yeah, that was probably one of the ones.
Animag: What do you have planned next?
Quintel: I want to make another show, so I’m thinking of stuff. I’ll probably enjoy a little bit of a break. It’s been an insane amount of time working on this show. I remember when I first started, them telling me, “You know it’s going to be a lot of work.” And I was like, yeah yeah, that’s cool. Six years later, I’m like, oh my god that was so much work.
Animag: Why do you like working in animation?
Quintel: It think it just plays into things that I liked growing up. I loved animated things, those were my favorite shows growing up. And from a young age, I loved drawing, and I remember getting old animation books from the library and being fascinated by them. And then making flip books and student films was super fun. And then I realized, oh, I just want to do storyboards. I just want to do that, I want to make my own show. And getting to do this, because I’m a pretty shy person normally and animation was this great way to draw everything you want to say and you could press play and you can be in the background while it’s playing and I don’t know why, I just really like the ability of animation to do anything you can think of. There’s no limits, just your own imagination. And I want to keep doing it. It’s just so fun I can’t imagine not doing it.