Last month at the San Diego Comic-Con, Cartoon Network representatives announced that their animated fantasy series “Adventure Time” would come to an end on Sept. 3. Over the past eight years, creator Pendleton Ward’s cartoon has grown from an item of obscure cult worship to a backbone of the network (compete with comic, video game, book and toy spinoffs). Although it’s been speculated for some time that the series would be concluding, that end date has arrived all too swiftly, and frankly I’m still not ready.
A unique mash-up of Dungeons & Dragons, video games and boy-and-his-dog stories, “Adventure Time” followed the exploits of rough-and-tumble, quest-loving boy Finn and his laid-back, shape-shifting canine companion Jake in the post-apocalyptic Land of Ooo.
Aimed initially at children, the series quickly developed a loyal following of teens and adults. As it went on, the show accrued a dense mythology. Various storylines fleshed out the “Great Mushroom War” that destroyed Earth, turning it—a thousand years hence—into a magic-filled world ruled by candy people (see for reference: “Holly Jolly Secrets,” “Everything Stays,” “Simon and Marcy” and the heartbreaking “I Remember You”). It explored alternate timelines and parallel dimensions (“Finn the Human,” “Jake the Dog,” “Crossover,” “Is That You?”). It examined parent-child dynamics with surprising depth (“Fry Song,” “Daddy’s Little Monster,” “Joshua and Margaret Investigations” “Min and Marty,” “Escape From the Citadel”). And it even took time to check in on the budding sexual awakening of our teenager hero (“Go With Me,” “Marceline’s Closet,” “Incendium,” “Frost & Fire”) as he aged from 12 (in the pilot) to 17 (as of Season 9’s episode “Seventeen”).
Over the course of a 10-season run, fan-fave characters like Marceline the Vampire Queen (Olivia Olson), Princess Bubblegum (Hynden Walch), Ice King (Tom Kenny) and Lumpy Space Princess (Pendleton Ward himself) regularly interacted with choice guest stars (Neil Patrick Harris, George Takei, Kumail Nanjiani, Matthew Broderick, Henry Rollins, Maria Bamford, Emo Philips, Lou Ferrigno, Brian Posehn). The voice talent was memorable, the writing smart, the design imaginative and the setting occasionally quite surreal. “Adventure Time” was easy to obsess over.
Production had slowed to a trickle of episodes in the past few years. (Season 5 had 52 episodes! Season 10, a mere 16.) But the creators treated viewers with a trio of excellent miniseries—2015’s “Stakes,” 2016’s “Islands” and 2017’s “Elements”—to make up for it. Obviously not all of the show’s crazy, divergent storylines will be wrapped up in a neat bow by the show’s 44-minute series finale (titled “Come Along With Me”). This will leave viewers to speculate, as they always have, with fan theories and head canon. (Did “What Was Missing” imply Bubblegum and Marceline were once a couple? What’s the deal with Abraham Lincoln and Mars? Does Finn suffer from xenomelia?) But, for a series so rooted in imagination, that seems completely, adventurously appropriate.