Let’s Talk About Television: Adventure Time

I am going to step away from talking about movies for a bit and talk about a television show that has become near and dear to my heart, “Adventure Time.”  Featuring the main characters Finn, a brave 13-year-old hero, and his best friend Jake, a dog with magic stretchy powers, the show offers plenty of laughs for the young and the young at heart.

In addition to taking plenty of cues from the worlds of Dungeons and Dragons and video games, contemporary show creators have drawn comparisons of the subversive humor in “Adventure Time,” to that of “The Simpsons” and “Pee-wee’s Playhouse.”  The animation style has also drawn iconic comparisons as Fred Seibert, of Frederator Studios fame, says the animation is reminiscent of Max Fleischer’s work.

The “Adventure Time” story began back in late 2008 when the pilot debuted on Frederator Studios’ “Random! Cartoons” on the Nicktoons Network.  Following the initial premier, the show fell off the mainstream radar, emerging here and there on the Internet.  After languishing in production limbo for 15 months, Cartoon Network picked up the show for a season with Frederator Studios, the group that brought shows such as “Dexter’s Laboratory” and “The Powerpuff Girls” to prominence, as the producers of the series.

Following the exploits of Finn and Jake, creator Pendleton Ward, along with his creative staff, offers a surreal and bold product that does not shy away from serious themes while carefully keeping the majority of the show silly and light-hearted.  While the show is now in its third season, you can trace back this careful balance throughout the series.  By paying careful attention to the backgrounds in episodes, a grim theme emerges, one confirmed by Ward; the show occurs after the nuclear apocalypse, referred to in show as ‘The Great Mushroom War.”

Generally staying in the background during the first season, select episodes in the second season approached the theme more directly.  The final two episodes of the season, “This Mortal Folly” and “Mortal Recoil,” addressed apocalypse and the consequences on the land of Ooo, previously Earth.  Through the apocalypse, another dark element emerged.

In the episode “Susan Strong,” the audience, who by this point may suspect something, comes face to face with why during the show’s opening, Finn is called “Finn the Human.”  Coupled with the realization was the most gut-wrenchingly depressing sequence since the episode of “Futurama” in which Fry found the fossilized remains of his dog.

Don’t be mistaken, however.  At its heart, “Adventure Time” is a fun-filled romp following the stories of two best friends, but the creative team behind the show carefully layers this cake so that almost every viewer can find something to enjoy.  Almost every episode stands alone as a self-contained story, but when all the pieces are brought together, the sum greatly exceeds the parts.

When you throw in the list of guest voices such as, Andy Samberg, Neil Patrick Harris, Paul Reubens, and Mark Hamill, the show displays some credibility in the acting community.

On a final note, “Adventure Time” is not afraid to take risks. In addition to the serious thematic elements listed previously, the show goes out on a limb in other ways, too.  By popular demand from the audience, the show aired a gender-swapped episode two weeks ago, featuring Fionna and Cake.  When the team working on a show like “Adventure Time” listens that vehemently to fans, it’s hard to say where the ceiling for the show might be.

I can’t recommend this show enough.  Nominated for the Outstanding Short-program Animated Program Emmy in 2010 and 2011, grown-up critics agree.  I first became hooked in May of last year and this is the only show that I go out of my way to watch the premiers.  Heck, I planned my class schedule this semester to accommodate my viewing habits.

If you want a specific episode to test the water, I recommend “My Two Favorite People.”  Highlighting the charm and humor found throughout the series, “My Two Favorite People” serves as a great microcosm of the show

New episodes premier on Cartoon Network at 7 p.m. CST on Monday with reruns throughout the week.  In addition, all the episodes become available on iTunes after both parts of the episode air.  A DVD of select episodes, titled “My Two Favorite People,” goes on sale the 27th of this month.


Final Grade: A

Rating: G-PG