Television is a vast wasteland filled with discarded husks of sitcoms, endless reality shows and the occasional oasis of entertainment. It’s a lot of territory to cover. As a result, I can’t always be there on the ground floor to alert people about the coolest, hippest shows about to premiere. I have, for example, only recently discovered the joy and wonder that is Cartoon Network’s “Adventure Time.” I’d browsed the occasional episode since its debut in 2010 and found it interesting enough—but I recently hit some sort of critical mass and am now a rabid, proselytizing fan.
The rainbow-colored, notebook doodle of a cartoon relates the adventures of Finn (a gung-ho, sword-loving 13-year-old hero) and Jake (a magical, shape-shifting yellow canine). Together, they roam the princess-filled Land of Ooo goofing off and performing various good deeds. Watch more than a few episodes, however, and you’ll start to realize “Adventure Time” is filled with offbeat humor, bizarre characters and a deep backstory.
I believe I hit my critical mass on the series upon realizing—after my fifth or sixth full episode—that the entire thing is set on a postapocalyptic Earth. Yes, those are collapsed buildings, rusting tanks and mangled street signs scrolling by in the background. That means that all the strange candy people, grass ogres, whywolves, rainicorns and talking animals aren’t simply whimsical flights of fancy—they’re hideous nuclear mutants run amok. “Adventure Time”—the singular creation of animator Pendleton Ward (“The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack”)—rarely speaks directly about its setting or characters. Watch several in a row (or log some time on the “Adventure Time” wiki), and you’ll start to piece it all together.
Over the course of three seasons, Ward and his writers have created a rich fantasy world filled with rambunctious heroes, enjoyable villains, complex interpersonal relationships and gobs of surreal humor. Sure, it’s aimed mostly at tweens and young teenagers, but its mythology is dense enough to inspire a dedicated following—even among the non-target demographic. The episodes are mostly fun, stand-alone adventures with Jake and Finn fighting monsters and solving puzzles. But each appearance by a major character adds a little more to the expanding tapestry. Finn, for example, really likes brainy and compassionate Princess Bubblegum (but she’s 18 and not all that interested in a 13-year-old). Although he’s not quite old enough to actually want to kiss a girl, there’s some interesting emotions between Finn and abrasive-but-cool undead musician Marceline the Vampire Queen as well (although, she’s a thousand-year-old monster and way too sophisticated for naive little Finn). Then there’s the ongoing question of whether Finn is actually the last human left on Earth—a weird and morose question to ask about the hero of a kids’ cartoon.
Cartoon Network has been smart/stingy enough to release just two meager DVD samplers over the last couple of years, forcing fans to watch this cult phenomenon exclusively on CN. If you aren’t already doing that, then perhaps it’s time. Adventure time!