Hulu/Cartoon Network/HBO Max Op-Ed: Why Everyone Should Watch Adventure Time

Come along with me to a show that managed to turn every cliche on its head.

SUMMARY

Welcome to the Land of Ooo, where magic thrives, princesses are plentiful, and heroes are born. Oh, it’s also Earth after a nuclear war wiped out almost all of humanity. Finn (Jeremy Shada) is the last human and a courageous hero with a love of adventure and fighting. His adopted brother is Jake (John DiMaggio), a magical shapeshifting dog who is laid-back and fairly lazy, mostly because his powers allow him to do almost anything. Finn and Jake act as protectors of the Candy Kingdom, which is ruled over by the supergenius nerd Princess Bubblegum (Hynden Walch). The pair often have to rescue her from the machinations of the Ice King (Tom Kenny), a magical king who is obsessed with kidnapping princesses. Finn is also friends with Marceline, the hard-rocking Vampire Queen (Olivia Olson). There’s also an adorable sentient computer named BMO (Niki Yang), the sarcastic Lumpy Space Princess (series creator Pendleton Ward), the fiery Flame Princess (Jessica DiCicco), Jake’s girlfriend Lady Rainicorn (Niki Yang), and an insane number of recurring characters.

Peppermint Butler, Cinnamon Bun, the Earl of Lemongrab, and Tree Trunks made the cut.

END SUMMARY

Adventure Time is the ultimate coming of age story, because it progresses in the same way that life tends to progress when going from childhood to the cusp of adulthood. This is embodied in Finn, who ages from 12 years old to 17 during the series and, apparently, 18 in the HBO Max revival that’s coming out this year. Likewise, the show itself starts off as a really simple and childish series about a magical land where dreams come true and heroes and villains are easily discernible. As the show goes on, though, everything starts to get more and more complicated, with the good guys revealed to be morally ambiguous and the bad guys revealed to be more sympathetic or having deeper motivations than we had previously been privy to. 

The show starts with a slumber party, ends with war and an eldritch demon.

That’s what really makes this show special, because it takes a simple outlook of “good people vs. bad people,” then slowly destroys it, the way that people will need to have it destroyed at some point in their lives. Now, the show doesn’t say that there aren’t truly bad people out there in the world, in fact it makes a point of having a few characters that are just truly bad and never really get redeemed, but it does show that a lot of them have been made the way they are, or that they’re really trying to do the right thing and they just haven’t been able to. Similarly, seemingly good or innocent characters are shown to have selfish or stupid motivations. “People are complicated” is one of the hardest lessons to learn, because even when you know that fact, we often still want to group people into “good” and “bad.” However, that’s rarely ever the case, when you see what made them that way. 

Even Magic Man, a character who exists to be a jerk, gets some motivation.

One of the other great things about this show is how thoroughly it blends storytelling ideas from throughout history, although it’s almost entirely Western history. We see a lot of influences from fairy tales, because Ooo is a world where you can spontaneously stumble upon an old woman offering cursed apples or magic beans or maybe just a random princess trapped in a tower. The randomness of happenings in the world allow for shorter-form storytelling, because they eschew set-ups. We also see a number of episodes derived from mythologies ranging from Greek and Roman to Egyptian, where our characters are just pawns caught in the grasps of higher beings. Then, there are the more modern stories where the characters are playing video games or addressing fan fiction. By combining all of these influences, the show gains a more timeless quality and a greater level of relevance to almost any viewer.

I mean, ghost gladiators are timeless.

The animation and the voice action are highly stylized, but that also lets the show play with styles more and convey more visually than many shows could. It mostly does a good job in making body horror and grotesqueries look cartoonish enough that they’re not really scary. The show does frequently do horror storylines or episodes, ranging from possession to murder to existential horror, but despite the darkness, the show’s animation and the emotional resilience of the characters manage to keep it bearable for any viewer. It helps that the show’s storytelling is unbelievably streamlined, with each episode being 12 minutes and yet often feeling like you’ve watched a full normal episode of television. They do this by using a lot of quick cuts and clever visual storytelling tricks to convey massive amounts of information in a few seconds.

3 Seconds of knife rain and you know why the characters can’t go outside.

The main reason why I want more people to watch this, aside from helping any viewer with their emotional development, is that the show teaches a valuable lesson that most shows can’t teach because they don’t grow the way this show does: Even though life is complicated, you can always keep fighting to do the right thing. What is “right” will always change as you get more information, so it’s tempting to just not learn more, but it’s better to learn and grow and change yourself. The right thing isn’t usually the easy thing, particularly when you have to accept that you might have been wrong in the past, but the world works out better for everyone, including you, when you work to change it for the better. 

Also, maybe be honest about your feelings before it’s too late.

The downside to the show’s brilliant structure is that the beginning of the show is extremely childish and simple, with humor that often is in the same vein. In other words, some of the episodes just aren’t that fun to watch for adults until around Season 3. If you want to just spend 15 minutes to test if the show will be for you, I would recommend watching the Season 3 episode “What was Missing.” If you like it, give the show a try. If, after seeing that, you want to get into the show without having to go through all of the early episodes, I recommend the following episodes in Season 1:

“The Enchiridion,” “Ricardio the Heart Guy (it’s got George Takei),” “Evicted,” “What Have You Done?” and “His Hero.”

For Season 2:

“It Came From The Nightosphere,” “The Eyes,” “To Cut a Woman’s Hair,” “The Silent King,” “Guardians of Sunshine,” “Death in Bloom,” “Susan Strong,” “Heat Signature,” and “Mortal Folly/Mortal Recoil.” 

So, if you just watch those episodes, you get most of the show’s set-up, but you only need like 3 hours to do it. Once you get to Season 3, the show quickly starts to get much stronger, especially when you get to “What was Missing,” and “Holly Jolly Secrets,” an episode that I put on my list of the best episodes of television

Overall, this is one of the best shows I’ve ever seen and the fact that it’s still going brings me nothing but joy. Please give it a watch. 

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

Cartoon Network Review – Infinity Train (Book 2): Something to Reflect On

One of the best short series of last year returns with a different lead and a different goal.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

After being separated from Season 1 protagonist Tulip (Ashley Johnson), Mirror Tulip or “MT” (also Johnson) is on the run from the Reflection Police or “Flecs” for leaving her mirror world. Pursued throughout the Infinity Train by Agents Mace and Sieve (Ben Mendelsohn and Bradley Whitford), she encounters a young man named Jesse (Robbie Daymond) and a magical deer named Alan Dracula. Together, the three make their way through the train to lower Jesse’s number so he can get out and hopefully so that MT can find her freedom.

InfinityTrain2 - 1Cast
Yes, she’s made of chrome. 

END SUMMARY

So, the last season of Infinity Train contained the revelation that the purpose of the train was to help people work through their issues until they’ve resolved their personal problems, represented by the number that appears on their hands. For example, Tulip, the protagonist of the first season, had to work through her issues involving her parents’ divorce. At the end of the season, having realized that she was not at fault for their problems and that she had been suppressing their fights for years, she finally came to terms with it. The show also revealed that the numbers don’t only go down. If someone, like the first season antagonist Amelia (Lena Headey), fights repeatedly against moving forward on their issues, then their number can grow, to the point that Amelia’s number was literally wrapped all over her body. 

InfinityTrain2 - 2Amelia
She literally tried to break reality rather than face her husband’s death.

In this season, we see that not everyone necessarily believes that getting off of the train is a good thing. We witness people deliberately fighting against self-improvement with a borderline religious fervor, claiming that the train is meant to serve them. It’s basically a perfect picture of one of the fundamental problems with humanity: We will rewrite what is considered right and wrong more often than we will change our behavior to be right. It’s a powerful message that is conveyed really well within the series. It’s not even the focal point, but it’s such an important thing to tell people that I have to applaud the show for it.

InfinityTrain2 - 3Graph
You can see two people here who have fought it strongly. 

I don’t want to spoil the actual primary messages, because in a show like this they’re inherently tied to character development, but let me say that they’re great choices for a show aimed at teens. The creativity of the train from the first season continues, but I have to give them extra props for Alan Dracula, the magical deer. He seems to be a representation of the train itself. He’s unpredictable, he’s hilarious, he’s helpful, but he also is slightly indifferent to the people around him. 

InfinityTrain2 - 4AlanDracula
Also, he looks great in heels.

Overall, I love this show and I want them to keep it going as long as they can. 

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

Infinity Train – Meaningful Messages Abound in this Mini-Series Masterpiece

A show about teaching kids to deal with divorce approaches it through universal messages and creative storytelling.

SUMMARY

Tulip (Ashley Johnson) is a 12-year-old girl who desires to be a programmer and software engineer. Her parents Megan and Andy (Audrey Wasilewski and Mark Fite) are currently getting a divorce and, due to their scheduling issues, are unable to take Tulip to her session of game-design camp. Angry, Tulip runs away and somehow finds a train in the middle of nowhere. She’s sucked inside and finds that each of the train cars is impossibly huge, each with its own theme and world. She’s aided by the two-in-one robot One-One (Jeremy Crutchley and Owen Dennis) and Atticus, the King of the Corgis (Ernie Hudson). Together, they have to find a way to get Tulip off of the train, which turns out to be more about Tulip than the train.

InfinityTrain - 1Cast.png
The King of the Corgis is a strong contender for cutest monarch.

END SUMMARY

This show is a hallmark of efficient storytelling. The entire series, binged, is 100 minutes long, meaning that you can get through the whole thing in less time than 2 episodes of Game of Thrones. Despite the relative brevity, the pacing of the show is so fast that you will swear you just spent a full day getting attached to these characters. It’s similar to Adventure Time or Over the Garden Wall, both animated series which use a lot of imagery and cuts to convey more to the audience than just the script would. They’re also series that routinely try to convey deeper meaning through extended metaphor rather than just telling the audience what to think, something this series also excels at. 

InfinityTrain - 2Hand.png
This, in particular, is a great storytelling device.

The art style isn’t super unique, but it is incredibly versatile, allowing for a ton of variety of characters and imagery without any of it feeling out of place. Given that the premise of the show is rapidly running through worlds, that was a must. The settings in particular are imaginative, running the gamut between worlds that are more metaphysical to the more grounded. 

InfinityTrain - 3Party.png
I mean, here’s a random party of monsters in costumes of other monsters. 

Each episode moves forward both the narrative and the metaphor of the show, as well as Tulip’s character arc. It’s pretty clear that this was a mini-series from the outset, because by the end of the season, she’s completed her journey both inside and out. If they do continue the series, I hope it’s the journey of another person through the train, rather than having to undo her progress.

InfinityTrain - 4OtherPassengers.png
We’re flat-out shown a ton of other people are on their own journeys.

The main thing is that the show gives you hints about the many things that you might need to do in order to move through a trauma, whether it be a divorce, a loss, or a similar life event. It doesn’t tell anyone outright or lecture anyone, but it conveys the importance of the steps to recovery through every episode. I really think it would help some kids going through tough times. 

Overall, I really recommend this show and I hope it keeps going. If you have 2 hours, it’s available on Amazon for like 10 bucks.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.