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Why 'Adventure Time,' Now In Its Fifth Season, Is More Groundbreaking Than You May Realize

Photo of Eric Kohn By Eric Kohn | Indiewire November 13, 2012 at 1:23PM

While the vast enthusiasm for shows like "Breaking Bad" and "Mad Men" have lead the argument that television has entered a golden age of mature storytelling, animation has always thrived in the format with broad appeal indicative of different expectations that liberate the form. Even before "The Simpsons" proved the viability of adult-oriented primetime animation, "Looney Tunes" demonstrated the ageless appeal of slapstick comedy and demonstrated that visual humor has the capacity to entrance viewers of all ages with a more complex set of access points. ("What's Opera, Doc?" can please everyone from a seven-year-old who may find it delightfully colorful to a 50-year-old who can appreciate its take on Wagner's operas.)
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Ultimately, it wasn't that much of a radical break from previous iterations, but it did allow the show's writers to take a shot at slightly more advanced storytelling while introducing more complicated visual concepts and fresh characters. In essence, "Adventure Time" got to showcase a fully realized adventure without compromising its goofier sensibilities. The contrast between the two main characters helped maintain that balance: Finn, stuck in a bleak alternative universe of his own making, endured a greater battle than he's ever faced before, while Jake made a new friend at the end of time and chilled out in a jacuzzi.

Picking up where the previous season left off, Finn and Jake chased the menacing undead villain known as the Lich into a time portal that provided access to the multiverse, a waystation between various worlds. In the middle of a floating nothingness, the Lich arrives at the bright yellow Time Room, where a lanky pink shadow figure known as Prismo (voiced, with an amusing amount of lackadaiscal charm, by the comedian Kumail Nanjiani) has the power to grant any visitor a single wish. Upon wishing the extinction of all life, the death-obsessed Lich promptly vanishes -- but Jake and Finn, protected by their presence in the Time Room, remain behind. Prismo, just doing his job, quickly bemoans the Lich's grotesque appearance: "Might be the nastiest thing I've ever seen," he whines. And just like that, another memorable "Adventure Time" character is born.

Finn's alternate reality in "Adventure Time."
Cartoon Network Finn's alternate reality in "Adventure Time."

Finn's wish that the Lich never existed whisks him into an alternate but still post-apocalyptic reality. The abrupt shift into this new world, which recalls "Mad Max" and other staples of the genre, marks what may be the most daring transition the show has attempted yet, but like the rest of "Adventure Time," the details are polished enough to make it an immediately immersive experience.

While a now-altered Finn wreaks havoc on his new world even as he tries to protect it, upping the ante for gloominess, "Adventure Time" sets the stage for a hilarious ongoing contrast: Back in the Time Room, Jake watches the action unfold with an unbothered expression. Instead of using his wish to save his pal, he asks Prismo for a sandwich. Fortunately, Prismo knows better, leading to one of the show's most memorable refrains: "Dude," he says, "I can just make you a sandwich." So he does, and Jake continues to pore over the possibilities of his wish while bonding with his newfound pal. Somehow they wind up in a hot tub. The Cosmic Owl, an enigmatic character who has surfaced in earlier episodes, drops by with board games. Eventually, Prismo just talks Jake through the wish he needs to make in order to restore things to normal.

Magically sent back to the Land of Ooo, Jake celebrates his achievement and plans to maintain his friendship with Prismo, while Finn barely questions any of the strange cross-dimensional events that just unfolded. But why should he? Jake's final exclamation, when Finn mutters "What just happened?," illustrates how "Adventure Time" manages to traverse an ever-expanding mythology while shrugging it off in favor of keeping the show's exuberant playtime in flux: "It already happened!" Jake gasps. "Nothing happened!" What he's really saying is that no matter what happens, the adventure continues.

This article is related to: Television, Reviews, Adventure Time, Adventure Time, Cartoon Network, TV Reviews, Pendleton Ward







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