Pop Culture Confessional is a weekly column where our writers can divulge and indulge in their most deeply embarrassing cultural passion – and then tell you why it actually rocks. Everyone has a few dirty little secrets. Only the truth shall set us free.
“Dude, suckin' at something is the first step to being sorta good at something,” goes one of the better proverbs offered up by Jake, a magical, talking, shape-shifting dog in Cartoon Network's under-appreciated series Adventure Time. The show follows Jake and his best friend Finn, a 14 year-old boy bent on helping people and fighting monsters. They roam the land of Ooo, creator Pendleton Ward's vision of a post-apocalyptic Earth in which “magic has come back into the world.” This idea of magic's return plays out as a return to innocence: Princesses need saving, frontiers need exploring and basically all the simple dynamics of friendship and morality are back. The modern/postmodern cultural ambience that teaches us to roll our eyes at the themes of Adventure Time is explored with a naivete that can only exist after the slate is wiped clean, and, well, magic has come back into the world.
The show is not so much under-appreciated as maybe misunderstood – most just miss the point. People perceive fans' love for Adventure Time as some kind of wink-nudge admission to smoking pot or to being the zany kind of bro who has an encyclopedic knowledge of everything that has aired on Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network in the last 15 years (“Dude, remember Rocket Power?!”). But that's not what the essense of Adventure Time is.
Take, for example, the rich visual palette. Everything is vibrant and multicolored, and images frequently blend together and make wild transformations, especially when the plot involves dreams or travel between dimensions. There's also laughs to be had solely from the dialogue: Finn and Jake tend to favor out-of-context or just plain made-up slang. Actually, it's kind of interesting that as the show progresses, the dialogue gets more and more idiosyncratic, to the point where in the episode "Ghost Princess" (season three), Finn says things like, “What do you know about Ghosty P's getting murdalurdered?” and Jake comments, about a graveyard, “No wonder this is where the ne'er-do-wells go when they deezy." I guess as a rather literary person, I get a kick out of the inventive use of language, juxtaposing different slang and playing with grammar.
But ultimately, Adventure Time rocks because it is funny, and it is innocent (/sincere/heartfelt/maybe-what-I'm-really-trying-to-say-is-cute). Essential, also, is the interplay between the funniness and innocence. There's something rewarding about laughing at sheer clever, goofy, silliness, especially for college students with a sense of humor deeply ingrained as exploration of the taboo – I'm looking at you Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Looking back, even the things we maybe found funny as children often relied on a certain gross-out factor. Think about Captain Underpants books or big buckets of slime falling on people.
Admittedly, AT makes its fair share of fart jokes, but most of the humor is derived from goofy visuals and fantastic writing. Take, for example, in the episode "The Jiggler," when it becomes clear Finn needs to throw this dancing machine/creature in its mothers' bubbling goo pool so that it can survive, Jakes exhorts, “You gotta toss him in the soup, brother!”
But for me, the most rewarding moments in Adventure Time are those when the characters affirm their friendship. And of course this sounds sappy and would sound sappy in the show if the writers didn't find ludicrous and hilarious ways for Jake and Finn to do so. Hear me out. In the episode "What Have You Done?", constant frenemy Ice King, believing Finn to have died, holds his body in despair for all of like two seconds, and then casts him aside and moves on – he's kind of a sociopath, the Ice King. And so Finn, dejected, says to Jake, “Did you see how fast he dropped my lifeless body?” Jake, to console him, lets him know, “If I came across your lifeless body, I'd clasp you dramatically for a kajillion years. Hey why wait? Play dead.” And so Jake, limp Finn in arms, bounds away in fake trauma screaming “Why?!?!” in between chuckles. Or when, in "New Frontier," Jake's premonition suggests Finn won't be there when he dies, to which Finn replies, “So I guess I just have to stick by your side forever.” And then he like physically presses his face into Jake's side, and they start chasing each other around.
So Adventure Time's the only television show I've intentionally watched in months, thanks to its creativite animation and dialogue and its childlike moral compass. Also: damn funny.