This episode is comprised of three separate vignettes, each in a different animation style, that loosely connect.
The first is animated as a 1920s cartoon a la Betty Boop. Professor Farnsworth (Billy West) discovers a comet made of diamondium, the hardest substance in the universe, and sends the crew to gather a sample. Fry (West), having trouble with his relationship with Leela (Katey Sagal), decides to propose to her by blowing up the comet using one of the Professor’s bombs to create an engagement ring. He miscalculates and the explosion forms a completely new color in a rainbow (depicted in black and white), but also coats the Earth in diamond dust, trapping Fry and Leela in a giant gem.
The second is animated as an Atari game. The Professor uses a piece of the diamondium comet to create a microscope powerful enough to see the fundamental unit of the universe. After getting past all of the other levels, it’s revealed that the core unit of matter is a pixel. The Professor uses this information to create a successful Theory of Everything which explains how all of the fundamental forces interact. Unfortunately, this means he has effectively solved physics, which removes any purpose to studying the field. He is cheered up when Fry asks why the universe works that way, realizing that now he can search for what led to the creation of the universe.
The third is animated as a 1970s anime show. A race of aliens that communicate only through dance worship the diamondium comet and are enraged when the Planet Express crew blows it up. The Planet Express crew, here the Action Delivery Force, try to dissuade the attacking aliens, but cannot get through to them due to the communication barrier. Fry and Bender (John DiMaggio) try to do a dance to convince them of Earth’s intentions for peace, but fail. Zoidberg ultimately succeeds only after losing his shell and giving an extremely powerful dance (visualized as him standing still while the camera moves).
Of the three anthology episodes of Futurama that Comedy Central did, consisting of the Futurama Holiday Spectacular, Naturama, and Reincarnation, this is by far the best one. Each of these segments pays a loving tribute to a particular style of animation, and each of them is among the earliest for their respective styles. The first is done in the form of the earliest Western animations, the second in that of the first fully-animated computer games, and the last in the form of the first distinct Japanese anime. Each one pokes fun at the limitations of their particular genre while also paying tribute to it. The 1920s style sketch pretends to create a new color by working in greyscale, the Atari sketch depicts a fundamental particle by just showing a black pixel, and the anime sketch features a character dancing with subtlety by just moving the camera over a still frame, the same way that such series saved money using that technique.
Even more interesting is that the sketches aren’t truly independent. Even though this kind of episode would usually necessitate unconnected shorts, instead the mission to get the diamondium lens from the first segment and Fry blowing up the comet both set the stage for the second and third short. I know that may seem like a small thing, but I actually think it’s a brilliant way to shorten the amount of set-up needed for the other segments. It’s so seamless that you never really consider that we already saw the comet explosion kill the cast.
Overall, really solid episode.
Okay, so, when the Professor starts to use the diamondium lens in the second segment, he decides to use “a log [he] found in a hole in the bottom of the sea.” This is a reference to the song “There’s a hole in the bottom of the sea.” He then does the first few parts of that song, up to “there’s a snail on the tail on the frog on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea,” but then the Professor starts saying the smaller elements as “cells, molecules, [and] atoms.” Fry retorts that “those things don’t rhyme,” only for the Professor to say “things only rhyme below 10-5 angstroms.” He then names a bunch of subatomic particles: ions (not really a particle) and pions, muons and gluons, neutrinos and gravitinos. I love this joke because it turns a children’s rhyme into a comment about the absurd naming conventions in subatomic physics.
Bender enhances his robotic intellect so much that he becomes nearly omniscient.
Cubert (Kath Soucie), Fry (Billy West), and Bender (John DiMaggio) are playing a WWII combat game online, but keep losing badly to Walt, Igner, and Larry (Maurice Lamarche and DiMaggio), Mom’s (Tress MacNeille) idiot sons. Cubert says Bender is the weak link, something that Bender acknowledges due to his hardware being out of date. Cubert overclocks Bender’s CPU to compensate and Bender quickly becomes much more intelligent. Mom, discovering that Cubert violated Bender’s user agreement, sends an army of robots to reclaim him and has Cubert and the Professor (West) arrested. Bender manages to overclock his own secondary processor, making him smart enough to avoid Mom’s attacks and continually increase his own intellect. He leaves Planet Express to find seclusion from Mom.
At the same time, Fry and Leela (Katey Segal) are discussing their relationship when she starts to express doubt about the future. Eventually, when the Professor and Cubert are put on trial, Leela leaves Planet Express to go find a new purpose. Fry tries to find a new friend in Randy (DiMaggio), but ends up trying to kill himself by going over Niagara Falls. He survives and finds a cave containing Bender, who is now a mostly non-corporeal existence. Bender has hacked himself so much that he is now using reality as a processor, giving him essential omniscience. He informs Fry that Cubert and the Professor are going to be convicted and declines to explain if Fry and Leela will end up together.
At the trial, the deliberations conclude, only for Bender to show up a few moments later. He is denied the opportunity to testify, but then mentions loudly that the Jury probably won’t convict Cubert. Mom makes the prosecutor drop the case against Cubert, but Bender then points out that Cubert and Farnsworth are the same person, legally, so dropping a case against one drops them both. He is then picked up by Mom’s robots and reset to his old intellect. Leela later comes back to see Fry and ask Bender about their future. It’s revealed that Bender wrote down how Fry and Leela will end up. The pair read it and, although the audience doesn’t see what it says, it indicates that the two will be happy.
This is the third of Futurama’s four finales along with “The Devil’s Hands are Idle Playthings,” “Into the Wild Green Yonder,” and “Meanwhile.” I’ve stated before that all of these are excellent episodes, but this one feels the least like an actual finale, possibly because it focuses the least on Fry and Leela, who really were the emotional core of the show. However, this episode is still excellent, even if the ending feels a little tacked on, as does the C plot of Leela questioning her and Fry’s relationship. Also, it’s weird that this isn’t the season finale, given that it was originally the series finale.
This episode does a good job of having the A and B plots both arise from the same incident, which is a useful narrative tool in sitcoms, particularly since they both sort of represent two different viewpoints on modern computing. Bender’s plotline involves overclocking his central processing unit, which is a term for attempting to increase a CPU’s clock rate, or how often a computer sends an electrical pulse to synchronize all its components. When this is increased it can theoretically make a component’s operating speed higher, but it risks causing overheating issues or power issues if not done properly. If it works, though, you can make parts exceed their factory settings. On the other side, though, most companies will either consider a part warranty void if the part is overclocked (which makes sense as it reduces the lifespan of the component), or, as in this episode, will require users to sign contracts stating they won’t overclock it. That policy, as is stated in this episode, is kind of crazy, because it means that a person who has a part in their computer cannot use it as they want without it potentially violating that agreement. Moreover, some software actually contains licensing agreements (remember, you don’t actually own your software, which is a discussion for another time) which ban the software from being run with overclocked parts. So, you can’t improve your own property. I appreciate that this episode addresses the issue in a funny way.
Overall, aside from the part where Fry and Leela just spontaneously have a weird talk about being on-again off-again, this is a pretty great episode.
I’m going to do two. First, the fact that Bender uses Niagara Falls as both a power source and a cooling source is a reference to an apocryphal prediction by a supposed “Professor of Electrical Engineering” from New York. If you take an electrical engineering class, you’ll probably hear some mention of a supposed professor from before the microchip was invented who predicted that supercomputers were impossible, because you’d need Niagara Falls to cool all of the Vacuum Tubes required. Nowhere on the internet have I even seen someone try to name this professor, which should tell you how real the quote is, but it still gets around.
Second, one of the books that Bender reads is Ayn Rand McNally Atlas Shrugged. This is a combination of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and the classic Rand McNally Atlases. I love this one because, before this episode aired, I used the same joke at a trivia night I was hosting for a “Before and After” clue.
Fry dooms humanity to die in a plague. This is timely.
Fry (Billy West) catches a cold from an ice fishing trip, recalling the time that he fell through the ice when fishing with his father Yancy (John DiMaggio) and got sick. However, it turns out that the common cold had been eliminated several centuries prior, meaning that humanity has now lost all immunities to the disease. The Planet Express building is quarantined as everyone gets sick and Bender (DiMaggio) is asked to take care of the crew. He quickly gets fed up with feeding people and breaks out of the quarantine, infecting the surrounding EMTs, medical staff, and police. It quickly starts to infect everyone in New New York and everyone blames Fry for it. Richard Nixon (West) orders that the entire island of Manhattan be shrink-wrapped and thrown into the Sun in order to eliminate the virus completely. Farnsworth (West) reveals that he can make a vaccine, but they’ll have to find an unmutated strain of the virus, which only exists in Fry. In order to get it from him, the Professor will have to grind Fry into a paste.\
Flashing back to when he was getting over a cold as a kid, it’s revealed that Fry, having been put down by his father, decided to try and win the Science Fair and defeat his rival, Josh Gedgie (David Herman). The winner’s experiment would be sent into space. Fry tried to train his guinea pig to be an astronaut while Gedgie ended up winning by doing a study on virus propagation.
Fry realizes there’s a sample of the virus on the Nerd Search satellite containing the science fair winners and the crew busts out of containment to find it. They find it on the moon Enceladus and discover that Gedgie’s virus was so well-preserved that it is still viable. Farnsworth successfully makes the vaccine. The episode ends on a flashback to ice fishing with Fry and his father and a sincere moment of bonding between them.
This is one of those Futurama episodes that kind of sucker-punches you with the emotional finale. It’s particularly surprising since Fry’s father, Yancy, has always been such a hard-ass towards his son. This episode recontextualizes all of the times he seemed to abandon Fry to his future as Yancy really just having faith that Fry will be okay. I sometimes feel like this was part of the Comedy Central run’s attempts to rectify the more harsh parts of Fry’s backstory the way that “Bender’s Big Score” tried to soften the impact of Seymour’s fate. This would come up again in the next season towards the final run of the show with “Game of Tones,” where Fry gets to try and fix his relationship with his mom.
As for the future plot, I didn’t find it to be one of the funnier episodes, but the concept was actually pretty solid. There’s no advantage to developing antibodies if you aren’t exposed to disease, meaning that mothers won’t transfer antibodies to their children, so eventually resistance would break down. It’s a little ridiculous that there wouldn’t be any saved vaccines archived somewhere, but after a few centuries, particularly with the implied periods of Earth being overthrown by aliens, it’s not the craziest proposal.
Overall, I have a soft spot for this episode.
Fry’s experiment in the past was to try and make his guinea pig into an astronaut. During his attempts, we see a montage of Fry subjecting the pet to a number of simulations of NASA training exercises. First, he’s bounced into the air via trampoline and given a tiny parachute to land. Then, he’s shot into the air in a shampoo bottle. Then he’s spun around on top of a record player at high speed. During this montage, the song “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” keeps playing. At the end, the record that the guinea pig is riding is revealed to be the soundtrack to Mannequin, the film for which the song was written by Starship, the band that spun off of Jefferson Starship. So, the guinea pig’s space training montage is set to Starship, which I just find hilarious.
It’s another time-travel episode, but this time we kill George Washington.
Fry (Billy West) gets a night job at the Head Museum, feeding the heads of the former US Presidents. He invites the crew over to the museum for a party, but when they drink the liquid around the heads, they find themselves transported back in time. Farnsworth (West) hypothesizes that the opal used to make the head fluid keeps the heads trapped in a temporal bubble. After learning from George Washington’s head (Maurice LaMarche) that one of his ancestors was a traitor to the US, Farnsworth, Fry, Leela (Katey Sagal), and Bender (John DiMaggio) travel back to stop him from betraying the revolution. The four encounter Ben Franklin (LaMarche), who tells them that Farnsworth’s ancestor, David Farnsworth (David Herman), is working as a counterfeiter and they discover that he’s at Paul Revere’s smithy in Boston. They capture David and destroy his counterfeits, but in the process Fry grabs a lantern from the Old North Church just as they are pulled back to the future.
They emerge on an Earth that is now British. All of North America is now West Britannia, due to the UK winning the Revolutionary War. It turns out that Fry taking the lantern led to Revere warning of the British coming by land, instead of sea, leading to a swift defeat. David Farnsworth was knighted for killing George Washington, making Farnsworth a lord and a rich man. However, upon finding out he’s also the consort to the horrible queen of England, Farnsworth steals her opal and uses it to go back and change history again. This time, he almost kills David Farnsworth, leading to the name being cleared, and Bender being on a flag.
This episode would be completely forgettable if it weren’t for Ben Franklin. Yes, the man too interesting to be allowed into the play Hamilton somehow saved an episode of Futurama. That’s because he somehow got some of the only memorable lines in it, or was the subject of others.
First, when asked if Franklin is in Philadelphia, Thomas Jefferson responds “When he’s not in Charlotte, or Maribel, or Louisa!” Fry doesn’t get it. When they arrive at Franklin’s house, Louisa answers the door, leading Fry to finally say “Now I get it!” This is a reference to Franklin’s legendary womanizing, which is SO MUCH more than you would think. Second, he invented the “Franklinator,” a club with a badger tied to it. I have been trying to incorporate that device into a fantasy setting ever since this episode. I’m thinking it’d be a combination of bludgeoning damage with a bite bonus. Also, randomly you get the one with the chipmunk that does nothing. Last, he’s the only one who got to call our leads “sh*theads” on television, by mocking the ambiguous printing of S in the 1770s. Since it looked like f, Franklin gets away with mocking their ignorance by saying they’re “ftupid fhitheads.”
Aside from those moments, most of this episode was just unimpressive. It’s not bad, but it’s not great either.
Aside from the Franklin jokes, I have two other things I like in the episode. First, there’s a short cartoon in the intro featuring Zoich, the mascot for the 2014 Winter Olympics. Zoich, as you might guess from looking below, was based on the Hypnotoad from Futurama. I like the fact that the show acknowledged they had some real-world impact. The other thing that amused me was the part where FDR’s head says “The only thing we have to fear… is running out of beer.” This would make running out of beer equivalent to fear itself, which… yeah, tracks.
Fry tries to hatch an egg and ends up creating a monster.
Fry (Billy West), Bender (John DiMaggio), and Leela (Katey Sagal) stop by Fishy Joe’s restaurant after a mission, but Leela becomes upset about the fast food restaurant’s lack of healthy options and questionable ingredients. In response, Leela forces the crew to start buying their food at a farmer’s market. She buys a bunch of eggs that a farmer found in the woods and blackmails the entire Planet Express staff into doing brunch. After discovering that the eggs are fertilized, Fry refuses to eat his and instead decides to hatch it. Eventually, it hatches into a tiny blue alien with acid spit that Fry names “Mr. Peppy.” The group wants to kill it, but Fry tells them he plans on raising it.
After a few weeks, Mr. Peppy becomes extremely large, to the point that it can easily rip Bender’s limbs off. Professor Farnsworth (West) eventually discovers that Mr. Peppy is a Bone Vampire, a species that sucks the bones out of its victims. After finding out that Bone Vampires are extinct on their home planet, Doohan 6, the Scottish planet, and reproduce asexually, Leela suggests releasing Mr. Peppy to repopulate the species. After letting him go, the crew goes to a local pub on Doohan 6. They meet Handsome Major Angus McZongo, Esq. (Maurice LaMarche), who hits on Leela before informing them that the planet’s residents had killed all of the Bone Vampires because they kept eating all of the livestock. Fry insists that Mr. Peppy isn’t dangerous, so McZongo agrees to let the creature live for a few days while he tries to woo Leela.
Soon they find a collection of boneless sheep and McZongo declares that Mr. Peppy must die. Fry insists on putting his pet down himself. After hunting for hours, Fry finally shoots at the figure attacking the sheep, but it turns out to be Angus McZongo. It’s revealed that he pretended to be the Bone Vampire in order to regain his popularity as a hunter, due to Mr. Peppy being a vegetarian. They soon discover that Mr. Peppy has abandoned his vegetarian ways, however, and gone back to eating the bones from sheep. Rather than killing him, the villagers celebrate, because after the sheep get killed, they’re now just boneless hunks of mutton which can be easily sold. Leela and the crew later head to Fishy Joe’s again, where Leela orders the mutton, reasoning that at least they know where it comes from now.
This episode always seems like a natural extension of the episode of The Simpsons where Bart hatches what he believes are two bird eggs only for them to be ecosystem-wrecking lizards, which was itself a twist on the episode of The Andy Griffith Show called “Opie the Birdman.” The Simpsons episode was written by David X. Cohen, one of the creators of Futurama along with Matt Groening. It always feels like I’m glimpsing something about how fiction represents society’s progression when you see a plotline that starts with a sincere parable about parenting eventually becomes a sarcastic tale of good intentions wrecking a town and eventually a nearly surreal story of a monster that saves a village of strange Scotsmen in space. If you look over how fiction usually evolves, this tends to be cyclical, so maybe one day in the future we’ll be back to sincere emotional tales as the thing that people want to see again. Or maybe sincerity is dead forever. It’s hard to tell as of 2020.
This episode does have one of the more satisfying setups, because it doesn’t just get dropped after the plot moves to the second act. Instead, there’s a nice final scene where Leela accepts her small victory, even though she ends up putting a ton of cheese filling in her supposedly “natural” meal. Just like the rest of us, Leela’s only willing to try a certain amount to stand on principle before accepting a big bucket of fried goodness.
Overall, I enjoy parts of this episode, but the actual scenes with Fry hatching the egg and raising Mr. Peppy take like 7 minutes and are not particularly entertaining.
One of the people on Doohan 6 originally speaks in Gaelic when they meet him, which is understandable for a Scottish planet. Hilariously, Leela insists that they speak English, despite this planet likely being as strongly anti-English as it gets (just look up the history of Scotland for why that would be). However, the next two times they see him, he doesn’t speak Gaelic, but instead shouts a series of words with a heavy accent. The first time it’s “Gryffindor, Slytherin, Hufflepuff,” a reference to three of the Hogwarts houses. The second time, it’s “Dersu Uzala, Yojimbo, Rashomon,” the titles of three films by famed Japanese master filmmaker Akira Kurosawa. I wish they’d thought of a few more of these, but the gag still makes me chuckle.
So it’s come to this, a show within a show. Again.
Leela (Katey Sagal) visits her old Orphanarium to read a story to the orphans, but finds out they have eaten the books due to budget cuts. Leela tries to improvise a story, but it’s terrible and the children make their displeasure clear. She tries to write a better children’s tale and, unable to concentrate at work, heads into space to work on it. When she returns, she reveals that she’s invented a happy fantasy world called Rumbledy-Hump inhabited by singing creatures called the Humplings. The children love it and Leela is approached by Abner Doubledeal (Tom Kenny) to create a show based on the characters. She hesitates, but the children encourage her.
Leela and the rest of the crew work on the show together, with Leela writing in her “special place.” Despite her not thinking much of the series, it becomes a sensation and she soon becomes arrogant. When she has to come up with a script quickly, she heads off to write, only for Bender (John DiMaggio), who was getting a massage on the ship, to stumble out and discover that Leela actually isn’t writing the show. Instead, she found a planet populated by cute little singing creatures and just copies what she sees them do. Bender blackmails her with this information, but the show goes on as normal. When the orphans visit and tell Leela that they were inspired by her, however, she comes clean. She takes the kids and the crew to the real Rumbledy-Hump and they meet the Humplings. Doubledeal, realizing that the Humplings are real, just decides to film the creatures rather than make a show. He adopts all of the orphans to work on the set. Leela is horrified by the corruption of the innocent, but it’s revealed that literally everyone is happy with the arrangement except for her.
This episode is yet another story about a member of the crew becoming a celebrity, but this time it’s Leela that lets the fame go to her head. Unfortunately, the episode suffers because it hits a lot of the same general beats as “Bender Should Not Be Allowed On Television,” “Bendin’ in the Wind,” and even “A Leela of Her Own.” Leela becomes famous, then she becomes arrogant, then she’s revealed to largely be a fraud. The only difference in this is that, after Leela is shown to be faking, nobody really gets upset with her. However, that ending, combined with some of the fun satire of the nature of children’s television, does still make this a fairly enjoyable episode.
Rumbledy-Hump being real is probably the most predictable “twist” in the series, but the revelation that the Humplings actually prefer the convenience of modern “future” society was a solid subversion. It turns out that all of the innocence in the world is secondary to indoor plumbing. The creatures themselves were well-made, containing a nice sampling of all of the characters that kids shows usually like to feature: The moral center (Lady Buggle), the big eater (Doingg), the sweet girl (Princess Num Num), the coward (Feffernoose), and the one with the strange speech pattern (Garbly). I have nieces that are extremely young and I can confirm that this lineup seems pretty standard.
Overall, kind of a middle of the road episode.
Most of the insane songs that the Humplings sing are pretty amusing, but my favorite is still the implied song that gets cut off by the ad break. After Leela says “Oh, Hell” when Bender finds out that she’s just been copying what the Humplings say, they say that she said a Rumbledy-Hump “no-no!” In response, they sing the song about words that you shouldn’t say, which apparently is 98 words long. The words include “poo-poo” and “pee-pee” and “penis” and “gay,” which leads to a tremendous amount of speculation as to exactly what the other 94 words must have been. Did the creatures say “f*ck” and “sh*t” and “craptacular” in the process of describing all of the things they can’t say? That’s like using George Carlin to actually explain what words can’t be said on Network TV. Also, one of the words is “gay,” which apparently is an allusion to the then-recent bill in Tennessee that banned any teacher from even saying the word “gay.” That part makes me sad.
Bender dies and his spirit seeks revenge. Also, Ghostbusters.
On Parade Day (the day with all the parades), Fry (Billy West) dives in front of a runaway float and saves a human, letting a robot die in the process. Bender (John DiMaggio) yells at him because this act indicates that Fry values human life more than robot life, something Fry admits is true. Bender threatens to kill himself, but the crew point out that he regularly says that and never does it. When he goes to the suicide booth, it turns out that the booth is Lynn (Tress MacNeille), one of Bender’s exes. Lynn kills Bender, leading the crew to believe that he really did commit suicide.
Unbeknownst to them, Bender is now a ghost. He doesn’t realize it at first, until the Robot Devil (Dan Castellaneta) tells him he’s dead and haunting the computational cloud. The Robot Devil offers Bender a deal: scare Fry to death and Bender gets to live again. If he fails, then he spends eternity in hell. Bender discovers that, although Fry can’t see him, he can possess technology and use it to scare Fry. The crew don’t believe Fry until Bender takes control of Leela’s (Katey Sagal) wristlojackimator. They call in the robot Gypsy (MacNeille), who tells them that a robot ghost is haunting them. The Reverend Preacherbot (Phil LaMarr) is called in to banish the ghost, which ends up working by providing Fry with a “sacramental firewall” that keeps Bender 20 feet away. Bender pushes through the firewall and possesses it, using the software to project horrifying images onto Fry, causing him to have a heart attack.
Bender returns to the Robot Devil to collect, but it turns out Fry is still alive. Fry is sent to the Amish Homeworld, where electronics are forbidden, so that he won’t get shocked again. As Bender tries to kill him one last time, Fry laments that he misses Bender and that he now respects robot life. So, Bender stops trying to kill Fry and follows him to the Amish Homeworld to watch over him. When the rest of the crew comes to visit Fry, the Robot Devil also comes to visit. He tricks Bender into scaring some oxen, which causes a giant dome to roll towards Fry. Bender possesses the Robot Devil and uses his body to save Fry. This leads Fry to head home and Bender to head to Robot Heaven. However, Bender annoys Robot God into kicking him back into his body.
I love almost any episode with the Robot Devil and this is no exception, despite how little he actually appears in this one. The idea that the Robot Devil bears a grudge against Fry for taking his hands in “The Devil’s Hands are Idle Playthings” is amusing because it’s so petty. He’s literally got an entire underworld to run, but he also still complains about how his hands smell like candy corn because of Fry. The episode also takes a bunch of shots at some of his previous appearances, mostly his tendency to punctuate everything with a song. This time he does make it much more clear that the songs themselves are actually a big part of the torment of Robot Hell, including the fact that he’s rehearsing the exact song that he played for Bender in his debut episode. Admittedly, he does manage to rhyme pyrrhic later when improvising, so he clearly has a lot of talent.
The concept of a robot afterlife has long been played with in the show, but this is the first time that we consider the ramifications of Artificial Intelligence existing as data outside of a physical body. I think this is a fun reflection of how much technology developed during the run of this show, because when the show started cloud computing had only been in its infancy, and wasn’t really commercially viable until after the show was cancelled the first time. However, by the time this episode was produced in 2010, Amazon and Google had both started to offer cloud computing services. If computer science were to advance to a certain point, then it is possible that the cloud could eventually process, transmit, and store an amount of data that is greater than the sum total of a human, or artificial, consciousness. Maybe it is inevitable that, like Bender in this episode, we’ll find out that we can create afterlives for our own consciousness. Am I saying this episode is a prequel to Black Mirror’s “San Junipero?” Yes, yes I am.
There are a number of other fun future touches in this episode that round it out. I think it’s hilarious that the Amish eventually move off-planet in order to maintain their lifestyle, but that, due to the passage of time, they still end up advancing technologically. Rather than just barns, they now live in geodesic domes. There’s a day dedicated solely to parades because there are too many holidays, which makes sense when you consider that Earth has been unified for hundreds of years. Also, this episode only makes sense because we learned in “Lethal Inspection” that Bender is mortal.
Overall, I think this is one of the better episodes of Season 6.
This one is going to hurt a bit. I think my favorite joke is when Hermes is going to call someone to “bust” the ghost of Bender. When asked “who you gonna call,” he starts to say Ghostbusters, but is interrupted by a voice that tells him that the number he is dialing has been lame since 1989. Why 1989? Well, I think there are three reasons: First, that’s the year that Ghostbusters II came out and, let’s be fair, that movie is not as good as the first. While I don’t think it’s a bad movie, it still represents a controversial sequel to an amazing film. Second, in 1989, Ghostbusters was supposed to release a game on the Atari 2600. This ended up being so late in the Atari cycle that it was never actually put out, a sign that the franchise was behind the times. Last, Arsenio Hall stopped voicing Winston on The Real Ghostbusters in 1988, so I think we can agree that was when the cool started to leave that show and therefore the franchise. Still, I do love the hell out of the original.
How you start is important to getting popular, but how you finish is the key to being a legend. After all, who wants to sit through 75 hours of a show for a giant letdown? Here are ten series that managed to really stick the landing.
Runner-Up: My Finale (Scrubs)
The Show: John “J.D.” Dorian (Zach Braff) is a doctor at Sacred Heart Hospital with his best friend Chris Turk (Donald Faison), Turk’s wife Carla (Judy Reyes), his girlfriend and fellow doctor Elliot Reid (Sarah Chalke), his mentor Dr. Cox (John C. McGinley), the head of the hospital Bob Kelso (Ken Jenkins), and his nemesis the Janitor (Neil Flynn).
The Finale: Okay, this is only a runner-up because I am not willing to deal with people sending me messages that say “technically, the show had another season,” followed by me slapping my face in frustration and saying “Then why did they call it Scrubs: Med School? How come it changes location, most of the cast, and central character?” But, the DVD release still says Season 9, so… fine. It’s not the “finale.” That’s particularly sad because I think it would be a strong contender for the number one spot here if it was. Unlike many great finales, this one didn’t rely on any kind of subversion or loss. Instead, this episode gives its main character, J.D., the exact send-off that we probably hoped he’d get.
It probably stands out because of the last 5 minutes of the episode, when J.D. starts to walk out of the building, and the show, and is suddenly surrounded by every guest from the show’s run that they could manage to fit and afford. As he walks down a literal memory lane, he finally stands at the exit, and we see a projection of the future he’s headed for, filled with love, happiness, and friendship. It’s a happy ending that never feels too cheesy or overdone.
10) The Last Show (The Mary Tyler Moore Show)
The Show: Mary Richards (Mary Tyler Moore) is a single woman who is an Associate Producer for WJM’s 6 o’clock news, starring Ted Baxter (Ted Knight). She works alongside Executive Producer Lou Grant (Ed Asner), and head writer Murray Slaughter (Gavin MacLeod). Mary’s best friend is Rhoda Morgenstern (Valerie Harper), Rhoda’s nemesis who is also Mary’s friend is Phyllis Lindstrom (Cloris Leachman), and Mary’s friend who works at WJM is Sue Ann Nivens (Betty White). The other main character, introduced later, is Georgette Baxter (Georgia Engel), Ted Baxter’s girlfriend.
The Finale: For a show that contains what I consider to be the single best episode of all time, it’s pretty impressive that it managed to end with what was, for a while, considered the “gold standard” of finales. It was a regular exhibit in screenwriting courses. The creators of Friends said it was a major influence in how they wrapped their show. The key is that it really is an ending for the characters as well as the show. When a new station manager (Vincent Gardenia) takes over WJM, he decides he wants to fix the 6 O’clock News ratings. Unfortunately, he determines that the only person worth keeping is Ted, the person who repeatedly causes the show to tank. Everyone else is fired, devastating Mary. To cheer Mary up, Lou Grant arranges for Rhoda and Phyllis to visit her (both now had spin-offs), with both offering vastly different methods of support for Mary (and hatred for each other). Ultimately, Ted tries to do a sincere send-off, but instead quotes the song “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary.” Everyone says goodbye, resulting in a group hug that no one wants to break, giving rise to the hilarious image of the entire team moving together in order to get tissues. Mary ends up smiling at the good times and turning off the lights on the set.
The key to this ending is that everything goes wrong for all the right people. Everyone who has spent years cleaning up Ted’s mistakes gets fired because of Ted, but because they kept making him look good, Ted keeps his job. He tries to protest the firings, but ultimately backs down when threatened, leading to Murray saying “When a donkey flies, you don’t blame him for not staying up that long.” When Lou tries to cheer Mary up, she calls in two of her friends… who hate each other and fight viciously. When Ted tries to be sincere, he just quotes a completely unrelated song. That’s what made the show great, watching people deal with all of life’s crap and unfairness with a laugh and a joke. It was the best way to end the show.
9) Come Along With Me (Adventure Time)
The Show: Adventure Time follows the journeys of Finn, the last human (Jeremy Shada), and his adopted brother Jake the dog (John DiMaggio), through the land of Ooo. They usually are accompanied by Princess Bubblegum (Hynden Walch) and Marcelline, the Vampire Queen (Olivia Olson), and sometimes the Ice King (Tom Kenny).
The Finale: The last episode of this show takes place far in the future from the normal timeline and the show now apparently stars two new characters named Shermy (Sean Giambrone) and Beth (Willow Smith), who appear to have a similar relationship to Finn and Jake. They go to meet with the King of Ooo, who is revealed to be BMO (Niki Yang), Finn and Jake’s AI game system. BMO tells them the story of the “Great Gum War,” what the show had been building to for a season, then tells them of the coming of GOLB, the anti-God of that universe. Ultimately, the war is averted and the world is saved, and Shermy and Beth take up the mantle of Finn and Jake.
The reason this is on this list is mostly because it contains three great elements. First, the Great Gum War is literally averted, rather than fought. Finn ends up convincing both sides of the war to stand down, and does so by forcing each side to view the situation from the other’s point of view. This represents the culmination of Finn’s growth from a boy to a man, finally realizing that violent solutions propagate violence, but that forgiveness can bring true peace. Afterwards, Shermy, now representing young Finn, complains that he thought the War would be more important, like the end of the world, only for BMO to casually say “no, that’s what happened next.” Second, after the apocalypse is averted, Shermy and Beth, acting as audience surrogates, ask BMO what happened next, only for BMO to respond with “Eh, y’know. They kept living their lives.” I think this may be one of the most perfect summaries to end a show. It’s not a bland “happily ever after,” but it is a way to tell everyone that, even though life goes on, this story has hit the end. However, the true ending is Shermy and Beth taking the pose that Finn and Jake take in the title screen, meaning that the adventure will always continue. Lastly, we see Marceline and Princess Bubblegum finally become a couple. Given how much crap the show had gotten in the past for even hinting at this, I love that they decided “we’re at the end, let’s go for it.” This finale summed up everything that was good about this show.
8) One Last Ride (Parks and Recreation)
The Show: The series follows the lives of all of the people who work for or are associated with the Parks Department of Pawnee, Indiana: Idealist Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler), her husband Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott), her Libertarian boss Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman), her coworkers Tom (Aziz Ansari), April (Aubrey Plaza), Garry (Jim O’Heir), Craig (Billy Eichner), and Donna (Retta), as well as April’s husband Andy (Chris Pratt), and Leslie’s best friend Ann (Rashida Jones) and her husband Chris (Rob Lowe).
The Finale: By the end of the series, everyone is leaving and no one works for the Parks Department anymore. However, Leslie asks everyone to help her when a man asks them to fix a swing near his house. As they work together to navigate the bureaucracy to repair the swing, the show flashes forward and shows how almost every characters’ life progresses. We see Garry get a happy ending after being the sad sack for most of the series, Donna turn her success into helping children with her husband (Keegan-Michael Key), and Tom become a celebrity through writing a bestseller. Ron is shown to retire from his business to run a major park with Leslie’s help. April and Andy start a family and Leslie and Ben both become successful politicians, with one of them implied to eventually be president.
This episode should be terrible. It’s saccharin beyond anything else the series had done up to this point and it’s little more than an extremely elaborate “and they all lived happily ever after.” However, the way in which their flash-forwards are told give us a real picture of how all of these people, despite drifting apart, are always bonded by the events of the show. Even though they live in different parts of the world, they’re still a family and they always will be. Moreover, the world we see in the future is a hopeful and just one, with Leslie, who has always been thwarted by the stupidity of Pawnee, becoming governor of Indiana. We see a world where, despite still having problems, we find a group of people who are fighting for the right thing, even if they all disagree on what that is. To drive it home, Leslie even quotes Teddy Roosevelt’s line “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is to work hard at work worth doing.” We see a future where that kind of dedication is celebrated, and that’s what really makes this episode work.
7) Basil the Rat (Fawlty Towers)
The Show: Basil Fawlty (John Cleese) and his wife Sybil (Prunella Scales) run a hotel in England. Basil is an angry jerk obsessed with class mobility, always trying to become one of the elite, but his own incompetence usually dooms him. His staff includes the sensible Polly (Connie Booth) and the hapless Spanish waiter Manuel (Andrew Sachs).
The Finale: A health inspector (John Quarmby) informs Basil that the state of Fawlty Towers’ kitchen is below standard. If they don’t fix the problems in 24 hours, the hotel will be closed. At the same time, Basil discovers Manuel is keeping a pet rat, named Basil, in the kitchen, having been sold it as a “Siberian Hamster.” Basil tries to get rid of it, but Manuel protests and he and Polly hide it in the shed. After Manuel foolishly lets the rat back into the hotel, Basil the human poisons a veal shank in an attempt to kill the rat, but the shank gets cooked by accident. After every customer, including the returning health inspector, orders the veal, hilarity ensues. Eventually, the health inspector is handed the rat, but the cast attempts to cover for it as the episode ends.
The key to Fawlty Towers was the incredible combination of tight writing and amazing physical performances. Each episode typically took Cleese and Booth six weeks to write, which is probably why there are only twelve of them in two seasons over five years. This episode is the pinnacle of that, because all of the beats in the episode have to be precisely timed in order to keep the tension building. In the meantime, all of the characters have to keep scrambling and covering for their actions as they keep trying to find Basil the Rat. It also helps that this episode is the opposite of what Basil Fawlty had been hoping for. Rather than becoming an elite establishment, his hotel is almost closed down for being a dump, and at the end of the episode, it seems extremely likely that it will be shut down. Rather than a happy ending, we get a shot of Basil, having passed out from stress, being dragged unceremoniously from the room.
6) Weirdmageddon (Gravity Falls)
The Show: Gravity Falls is a town filled with strange happenings and mysteries. When two kids, Dipper and Mabel Pines (Jason Ritter and Kristen Schaal), come to stay with their Great Uncle “Grunkle” Stan Pines (Alex Hirsch) for the Summer at his Mystery Shack, they get caught up in the town’s weirdness, along with Stan’s two employees Wendy (Linda Cardellini) and Soos (Hirsch). Their greatest enemy is a dream demon named Bill Cipher (Hirsch).
The Finale: The final episode begins with Bill winning. He has finally figured out a way to enter the real world in his true form and he immediately reveals himself to be one of the most horrifying villains ever to be featured in a show for kids. He and his gang start to wreak havoc upon the town, until Dipper, Mabel, and the surviving cast fight back. Ultimately, they’re able to trick Bill into entering Stan’s mind, which they then wipe, destroying him as Stan’s dream self punches the demon out of reality. Then, finally, the Summer ends and the kids have to go home in a tearful goodbye.
The greatest strength of Gravity Falls was that it always focused on how the characters felt and what they were going through internally more than externally and this finale is no exception. The strength of the episode isn’t just in finally showing us the power of Bill Cipher and having the team overcome him, it’s that the last 20 minutes is just having a slow, sad, emotional goodbye from all of the characters to the two kids that changed the town so much. We see some nice flash-forwards explaining that most of the characters will be okay, and still be the eccentric oddities that we came to love, but also that everyone will be separated in their own lives. Maybe they’ll be together again one day, but it seems likely that this is the end of this story. It ends with a cryptogram that deciphers to: FADED PICTURES BLEACHED BY SUN. THE TALE’S TOLD, THE SUMMER’S DONE. IN MEMORIES THE PINES STILL PLAY. ON A SUNNY SUMMER’S DAY. I’ll admit that I still tear up reading that, because it’s just that adorably sincere.
5) All Good Things… (Star Trek: The Next Generation)
The Show: It’s the 24th Century and mankind has spread itself among the stars, meeting new life forms and threats along the way, and forming the United Federation of Planets. The top ship among the Federation fleet is the Enterprise-D, captained by Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart). Along with crew members William Riker (Jonathan Frakes), Data (Brent Spiner), Worf (Michael Dorn), Geordi La Forge (LeVar Burton), Dr. Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden), and Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis), Picard explores the unknown along the Final Frontier.
The Finale: Picard finds himself unfixed by time, his mind jumping between the present, twenty-five years into the future, and seven years in the past, just before the show’s pilot. These jumps are random, making people think he’s going mad. In the present, he goes to investigate a space anomaly. He then uses a jump to convince his future ex-wife Beverly to travel to the same anomaly, which is happening in the future as well. In the past, he declines to go to the anomaly so that he can have the encounter at Farpoint with Q (John de Lancie), an omnipotent being who threatens humanity. However, it turns out that Q is actually causing Picard to jump through time, telling him that solving the mystery of the anomaly is the only chance to save humanity. Picard discovers that investigating the anomaly is actually what causes it, and sacrifices all three different versions of the Enterprise to stop it. This is revealed to be Q’s test and that Picard passed, saving humanity.
It’s one thing to manage to tie in the themes of a show with the finale, it’s another to literally tie the entire series together into one single cohesive expression of what the show is about. Star Trek has always been about humanity at its best; challenging the unknown, exploring the unexplored, bettering themselves for the sake of being better. This episode reveals that the entire series, from the Pilot to the end, was a test of whether humanity can evolve, with Picard as its focus. Picard proves not only that he can solve a four-dimensional problem, but that he and his crew are willing to sacrifice themselves in three different time periods in order to save the universe. It proves again that humanity has limitless potential both scientifically and socially, if only we can evolve beyond our selfishness.
The Finale: Fry (Billy West) decides to propose to his longtime flame Leela (Katey Sagal), and uses a device that rewinds time by 10 seconds (and has a 10 second recharge time) to set up the perfect proposal. Unfortunately, he ends up breaking the device, trapping him and Leela in a frozen world. Together, they live a long and happy life, until they’re discovered by the Professor, who fixes the device. He warns Leela and Fry that when he undoes the time freeze, it’ll take them back to before the episode started, with no memory of the events. Fry and Leela agree that, while they enjoyed growing old together, they both want to do it all over again.
This show gets bonus points because Futurama actually had four separate finales: “The Devil’s Hands are Idle Playthings,” “Into the Wild Green Yonder,” “Overclockwise,” and then this one. Despite having tried to wrap the show up multiple times, I am always impressed that this one is, in my opinion, the best of the four. It’s not just telling us that Fry and Leela will ultimately find happiness, we get to see them being happy together, with each of them clearly influenced by the other for the better. It helps that so much of the episode is really funny before that. We see Fry messing around with time in a number of fun gags, a throwback to the pilot, and Fry dying multiple times to the point that Leela starts to get bored with it. It’s a solid set of comedic scenes that turn into a sincere and emotional third act, which is basically what Futurama did at its best.
3) Goodbyeee (Blackadder Goes Forth)
The Show: Each season of Blackadder featured Rowan Atkinson as a different descendant of the Blackadder family. This one was a Captain in the British Army during WWI. He was commanded by the incompetent General Melchett (Stephen Fry) and his nemesis Captain Darling (Tim McInnerny). Each episode features his attempts to get out of actually having to fight, usually involving Blackadder’s incompetent aides George (Hugh Laurie) and Baldrick (Tony Robinson).
The Finale: Blackadder finds out that there’s going to be a full-scale attack the next day, meaning that he, along with all of his soldiers, will be running all-out into No Man’s Land. Since all of them will likely die, Blackadder pretends to be crazy in order to get sent home, but it fails. He tries to contact the British High Command to get sent home, but it fails as well. Darling is sent to the front line, despite his attempts to protest, while Melchett sits miles back. George and Baldrick discuss their losses during the war in a humorous way, until finally George admits that he’s afraid of dying. Blackadder and the rest of the group go over the top and are killed, with the shot fading to a silent poppy field.
It was a tradition for each season of Blackadder to end with death, usually that of the entire cast, but it was always done in a comic fashion. This entire season had frequently played off the massive casualties of World War One as a dark joke, which set everything up to do a similarly humorous or absurd conclusion to this season, but instead, they played it perfectly straight. It’s a sad, somber, painful ending to the show. It’s a subversion of the nature of the series, but it fits the theme of the season, that war is hell. The show sacrificed its own cast to make sure that people remember that the price of war is blood and tears.
2) Felina (Breaking Bad)
The Show: Walter White (Bryan Cranston) is a chemist who finds out he has terminal cancer. He decides to partner with his ex-student Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) to make meth in order to provide for his wife Skyler (Anna Gunn) and his son Walt, Jr. (RJ Mitte). He does surprisingly well, eventually becoming a kingpin.
The Finale: Having managed to lose most of his money and betraying Jesse in the last season, Walt threatens former partners to leave a fortune to his son and decides to “make things right.” He rigs a machine gun to a mechanical arm and tries to make amends to his wife for all of his misdeeds, having a conversation in which she points out that his actions were always about him, never the family. Walt goes to meet the Aryan Brotherhood members holding Jesse hostage and uses the machine gun to kill almost all of them, with him and Jesse killing off the survivors. Walt is mortally wounded, but dies smiling surrounded by meth cooking equipment as Jesse escapes.
This episode works on so many levels. First, the title is an anagram for finale and a reference to the song “El Paso,” which mirrors the events of the third act. Like the subject of “El Paso,” Walt dies in the arms of his beloved: Meth. Second, it mirrors the pilot, both beginning and ending with sirens headed for Walt. In the pilot, Walt declines to shoot himself, but here, he dies by a shot from his own gun. Walt even dies in the same outfit he wore in the pilot. Third, it provides a satisfying conclusion to a series that was constantly escalating tension by doing exactly the opposite, being a quiet denouement for Walt after one last blaze of glory. The show was always building towards his death, and Cranston’s final moments on-screen send the character off in exactly the right way.
1) The Last Newhart (Newhart)
The Show: Dick Loudon (Bob Newhart) is a writer who moves to Vermont to run an inn with his wife Joanna (Mary Frann). While Dick is a relatively normal and sane person, the town is populated by eccentric people whose inability to operate within the bounds of reality constantly drives Dick crazy.
The Finale: After years of putting up with the locals, the entire town is purchased by a Japanese tycoon who wants to turn it into a golf resort. While Dick and Joanna make a show of wanting to keep the town the same and refuse to leave, literally everyone else takes a huge payout and vacates. Years later, Dick and Joanna now run their inn in the middle of a golf course. All of their former neighbors pay them a surprise visit, but quickly drive Dick crazy until he gets hit in the head with a golf ball. He then wakes up in bed… as Dr. Bob Hartley, the main character of The Bob Newhart Show, next to his wife Emily (Suzanne Pleshette). He reveals that the entire series of Newhart was just a dream he had, something that annoys his wife when he reveals that he was married to a beautiful blond.
This finale should be terrible, because the idea that the whole series was a dream would normally be stupid or seem like a cop-out. However, The Bob Newhart Show was a series about Bob Hartley questioning his own reality and Newhart was a series where everyone somehow played by rules that defied any established rules of logic, except for Bob Newhart’s character. It not only made sense that Newhart was a dream of someone who constantly questioned reality, it made MORE sense than any other explanation. Bob Hartley always defined himself as the “only sane man” in his life, so he still does that in his dreams. Bob Newhart essentially spent 20 years setting up this punchline across two different series and it served as a perfect finale for both of them. I think it’s telling that after Breaking Bad ended, Bryan Cranston did a “fake ending” where he wakes up as Hal on Malcolm in the Middle that was inspired by this. When the second best ending has to pay tribute to something, you know that thing has to be the best.
Let me know if there are any others that you think I should have added by posting in the comments or on my Facebook or Twitter.
It’s the grey goo scenario, but the goo is drunk off its nano-butt.
The Professor (Billy West) unveils his newest invention, the Banach-Tarski Dupla-Shrinker, a machine that can create two smaller copies of anything that it scans, and can be fueled by any other matter. The Professor asks Bender (John DiMaggio) to fold his sweaters, but Bender decides to duplicate himself so that each of his copies will only have to fold a single sweater. Bender places the Dupla-shrinker into his torso, eats a bunch of matter, then duplicates himself. Bender tells each of the smaller duplicates to fold the sweaters, but they don’t, instead just hanging out and drinking with Bender. The three join Fry (West) and Leela (Katey Sagal) on a delivery, where they mock a giant’s (Patton Oswalt) ugly appearance. Fry, naturally, tries to console the giant, which enrages it, making the crew have to escape. Back on Earth, Bender asks his duplicates for cigars, so they make copies of themselves using the copy of the scanner in their torsos to divide the work further. These four, similarly, keep finding reasons to divide themselves, resulting in Planet Express being overwhelmed by small Benders.
Bender is fine with the army of mini-hims, but the Professor explains that the Benders will keep duplicating until they consume the entire planet. The Planet Express crew hunt down all of the mini-Benders and believe they got them all, only to find that they missed one. That Bender quickly multiplies into a ton of subatomic Benders, which move as a grey goo. Eventually, the Bender army consumes all of the alcohol on Earth, which leads the Professor to hypothesize that they’ll soon die from lack of booze. However, the Benders start making alcohol directly at the molecular level, eliminating all the potable water on Earth. As a result of water becoming booze, the Earth gets wasted. The giant arrives on Earth and is insulted by all the drunks, leading him to go on a rampage. Fry asks Bender to save them, since he’s still sober. Bender contacts all the nano-Benders and tells them that he’ll fold the sweaters if they help him get rid of the giant. They form a giant bender and defeat the monster. Bender asks them to help him defeat other monsters, like poverty and disease, which leads them all to abandon Earth to avoid dealing with it. The day is saved, sort of.
I’ve always been a fan of media dealing with the Grey Goo scenario, because it seems like one of those inevitable threats in the future. There are more of them than you would think. As exemplified here, the Grey Goo scenario is the idea that a series of microscopic robots, able to alter matter on the subatomic level, could, in theory, duplicate to the point that they consume all of the available matter on Earth. It’s often viewed as a cautionary tale about the dangers of creating nanotechnology or artificial intelligence. This episode creates a humorous twist on a sci-fi apocalypse, something that is pretty much perfect for Futurama.
Perhaps the most bizarre thing in the episode that I keep coming back to is how Bender defines work. Bender views folding two sweaters as doing 2 things, whereas beating the giant is somehow only doing one-quintillionth of a thing, because the Benders all do it together. It’s like an embodiment of the idea that “The lazy man works hardest.”
Overall, not a bad episode. I do like Patton Oswalt’s portrayal of the giant with anger issues, although he doesn’t get used enough.
In a rarity for the series, I think the best joke is the device that drives the episode, the Banach-Tarski Dupla-Shrinker. The name is a reference to the Banach-Tarski paradox, which states that if you split an object up into a finite number of pieces composed of an infinite number of sets of points, then you can reassemble the object into two separate copies of itself that are equal in size to the original. Obviously, we cannot get this to work in reality because of conservation of matter. This episode would seem to solve that by having Bender consume matter in order to make the clones. While instinctively you might think that you’d have to use the material of a full-sized Bender in order to make 2 half-sized copies, that’s not the case. Since each of the clones is ½ of each of the previous generation’s dimensions, that means each one is, in fact, only ⅛ of the volume (½ length x ½ width x ½ height = ⅛ volume). So, to create 2, you only need ¼ of the mass of the previous model. It’s a fun play on an existing math paradox, so it was a gimme for the best joke.
Come along with me to a show that managed to turn every cliche on its head.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.