Let’s face it, Adventure Time is weird, but weird in the best possible way. It takes the crazed ADD creativity of youth, where absolutely anything can happen, infuses it with a kaleidoscopic colour scheme and a complete disregard for conventions and the norm and throws it up on the screen for 11 minute bursts of crazy. It has an obscure, sometimes absurdist, off-the-wall sense of humour that is breezily casual and flitters between juvenile gags and quite sophisticated character humour.
And even if you don’t have access to mind-altering hallucinogenic drugs, it’s still a pretty fun ride.
Here are some of my faves from the first 4 seasons. Season 5 is still in production, so I’m refraining from talking about it here (also……I haven’t watched it yet).
Adventure Time’s premiere season is probably its most inconsistent. The quality swings wildly between the hilarious and ambitious episodes that the series would perfect in season 2, to episodes so simplistic and unfunny that they could’ve belonged in any generic animated show aimed at young audiences.
Trouble in Lumpy Space 1×02 – The first episode I saw of Adventure Time and I was hooked immediately. This episode saw the introduction to one of the most consistently funny characters on television, Lumpy Space Princess. There is nothing new to a caricature of an entitled teenage girl who thinks she’s the shit, but if she’s also a giant floating purple cloud voiced by a man, then you’ve got comedic gold. Also the fact that this episode features the AT equivalent of pot-heads, combined with Finn’s habit of referring to Lumpy as LSP, highlights the many non-kid-appropriate layers of the series.
Evicted 1×12 – Another significant character introduction episode. Marceline is a surprisingly well-drawn and emotionally complicated character that mixes a confused teenage girl with daddy issues and a sporadically evil, 1000 year old vampire. Not many shows can pull that off but Adventure Time creates the sort of universe where a vampire rock chick who sucks the colour red for sustenance feels like a completely organic character. This episode is about as plotless as they come, but plot is never really the greatest concern for the writers. They’re more caught up with giving us bizarre musical interludes like this absolute classic.
The Duke 1×19 – Okay this is literally only here for the squirrel, my favourite one-off character (until he returns much later in Season 5’s Princess Potluck)
Season 2 is probably my favourite of the first 4 seasons. It gets off to a slow start (‘Slow Love’ and ‘The Crystals Have Power’ are especially weak) but from ‘The Real You’ onwards, almost every episode is gold; mixing the spazzy and light spontaneity of the earlier episodes with the darker, more focused episodes of the later seasons.
It Came From the Nightosphere 2×01 – One of my absolute favourites and perhaps the episode that is most referenced by future AT eps. This episode is AT at its funniest and darkest. Hunson Abadeer is one of the most frightening creations the show has managed, yet he still retains a smidge of fatherly humanity in his affection for Marceline. His interaction with Gunther also never fails to send me into fits of hysterics.
To Cut A Woman’s Hair 2×10 – Any episode that heavily features LSP without letting her obnoxiousness bog down the proceedings always gets the thumbs up from me. I’m constantly telling people that if they want my lumps, they’ll have to put a ring on it. There’s not a lot to this episode but it does feature one of the more memorable villains in the Witch who only wants to be beautiful. This episode also houses the momentous occasion of seeing Finn’s beautiful locks of hair for the first time in all their glory.
The Real You 2×15 – This is a clever little episode that has some creative storytelling, solid characterisation and interesting animation; somehow turning a story about intellectual inferiority into a disaster movie after the creation of 4th dimensional bubbles go awry. But what makes this episode so good? Werewolf Queen. It’s ALWAYS Werewolf Queen.
Mystery Train 2×19 – The 10-12 minute Adventure Time format is perfectly suited for genre pastiches. They use genre shorthand to allow for a full and interesting story to be developed over a very short period of time. The show uses this particularly well in its horror stories (like ‘Slumber Party Panic’, ‘The Creeps’, ‘Bad to Worse’ and ‘No One Can Hear You’) and in mystery episodes like this. This is maybe the series’ finest entry into Agatha Christie whodunnit territory, a well the show unfortunately doesn’t dip into very often.
Belly Of The Beast 2×21 – Possibly the most adorable episode of Adventure Time; as any episode about ravers who happen to be Teddy Bears must be. Yes! Teddy Bear Ravers. What more needs to be said?
Mortal Folly/Mortal Recoil 2×25-2×26 – Adventure Time’s first foray into darker serialised territory and it’s a complete success. The scenes of an infected Princess Bubblegum are truly disturbing and The Lich is a frightening creation. This is a perfect example of the type of ambitious storytelling that AT can get away with and signalled a slow movement away from the slight ‘for kids afternoon TV’ vibe that some first season episodes were plagued with.
Season 3 is another highly enjoyable season (quite possibly my second favourite after season 2), but one that moves the season closer to its second incarnation as a more serious, sophisticated and serialised show, exorcising most of the smaller, sillier, ‘kids show’ episodes and further developing the world of Ooo.
Memory Of A Memory 3×03 – A clever, twisty little episode that offers a bit of insight into Marceline while offering a cool Finn and Jake adventure through her mind and memories. It’s great seeing a call back to the fries incident first referenced in 2×01 as well as the hilarious dancing Finn baby, from Finn’s under-acknowledged past.
Too Young 3×05 – Ultimately the writer’s realised they could only milk so much out of Finn’s crush on PB, hence the introduction of Flame Princess at the end of the season. But at this point in the series, the writer’s still managed to find conceits to maintain the crush without it becoming tedious. This episode is also notable for its introduction of Lemongrab, one of the altogether creepiest, most hilarious and screechily annoying villains of the show. His ‘dungeon’ and ‘unacceptable’-related catchphrases are always good for a laugh.
Fionna and Cake 3×09 – The first of the alternate universe episodes and a great success. But beyond the novelty of seeing the inhabitants of Ooo turn inside out and upside down, the episode still works as a funny stand alone adventure. My favourite bizarro world character is probably Lord Monochromicorn. Also, the song is kinda cute.
What Was Missing 3×10 – A great almost-bottle episode that highlights the character strengths of Jake, Finn, Marceline and Princess Bubblegum. For a show that features only Finn and Jake in every episode, Adventure Time has an incredibly strong back bench, which feature both hilarious gaggy, wacky characters like LSP and well drawn, characters who could easily handle a spin-off like Marceline, PB and Ice King. This episode is also a testament to the role of music in the series which is both playful and odd electro-pop, with an occasional weird avant-garde tunelessness that just highlights how left-of-centre this immensely entertaining show can be. Favourite part is definitely Jake inexplicably showing the agro rocker version of himself. The ending which shows that PB cherishes Marceline’s present is definitely an aww moment and highlights how well this show can build a fully-fledged story around such a slight premise.
Thank You 3×17 – Just a beautifully simple story that almost exclusively focuses on the story of a previously (for the most part) unused character, a Snow Golem, and his adoption of a Fire Wolf pup. This is as sweet as Adventure Time gets. There are no real villains, nothing ultra quirky or sarcastic (although much needed laughs are provided by the Ice King subplot), just a story of the creation of an unlikely friendship that is incredibly moving, without falling into maudlin sappiness.
Holly Jolly Secrets (Part. 1 & 2) 3×19-3×20 – In terms of two part episodes, I was tossing up between choosing this set or season 4’s ‘Return to the Nightosphere/Daddy’s Little Monster’ two parter. I chose this because because it really nails how far Ice King has come since his first appearance in ‘Prisoners of Love’. He’s seamlessly moved from evil, angry, pervert to a highly sympathetic character, and one of my favourites. This episodes does suffer from being a tad thin and I’d say the episode could have been made as a single part episode, but the extra time adds to mystery of the tapes and allows us to better get into the mindset of the Ice King. The conclusion of the episode and the realisation that the Ice King is simply a victim of circumstance is as sad as any other AT episode up until that point.
Season 4 saw Adventure Time treading a more serious, complex and serialised path. Don’t get me wrong, the show could still go to silly and wacky places but the series begins to show a more focused approach to its storytelling here. While this isn’t my favourite season of the show, it is the best so far in making Ooo seem like a lived-in universe with a history and a strong bond connecting all of its inhabitants, whereas earlier seasons felt almost like each episode occurred in completely different dimensions (which is part of the early season’s wacky, hyper fun).
Goliad 4×10 – A clever yet somewhat disturbing tale of a science experiment gone wrong. Princess Bubblegum has always intrigued me as a character. Despite her great intelligence and leadership skills (though this perhaps questionable, see Princess Cookie below), she also seems like the one Adventure Time character most likely to go crazy and destroy Ooo. Although Goliad is never as scary as she could be with the somewhat annoying British child’s voice she’s given, Finn’s attempts to not give away their secret plan to Goliad is high entertaining. The final image with the creature made of Finn’s essence locked in battle with Goliad for eternity is surprising powerful.
Princess Cookie 4×13 – Season 4’s first classic episode. Adventure Time is particularly adept at affectionate parody. In this case the ‘you can be anything you want to be if want it enough’ moral behind this story of a cookie would wanted to grow up to be a princess, is initially laughed at for its inherent bizarreness, but eventually we are allowed to empathise and even root for Princess Cookie, going as far as making PB quite villainous for wanting to lock Cookie up forever. This show is nothing if not inclusive, and it’s never wilfully mean-spirited like some of its animated counterparts. The ending, with Finn, Jake and PB banding together to crown Cookie as Princess Cookies is simultaneously laughably absurb and kinda touching. The episode also has a lot of cool, funny touches like Cookie’s chocolate chip henchmen and Cookie’s death scene* which starts off very tense and cinematic, develops a genuine pathos and then quickly undercuts it with an hilarious ‘I glubbed up’ (Scrub’s Donald Faison does a great job voicing Cookie, embodying all his quirks as well as giving him a quiet dignity).
* (the link contains the entire episode)
Card Wars 4×14 – Some of the best Adventure Time episodes are the simplest. This entire episode is simply Finn and Jake playing a (super cool) role-playing board game. The major conflict is resolved by Finn letting Jake win to protect his dignity. It seems simple and trite, but AT excels in using simplicity to drive character, putting Finn’s generosity and true sense of mateship on display while highlighting Jake’s insecurities, but also his genuine affections for Finn.
Also: BMO CHOP. If this were a real attack, you’d be dead.
Sons Of Mars 4×15 – Remember when I said ‘some of the best Adventure Time episodes are the simplest’, like, one paragraph ago, well…….some are the exact opposite (Hey! This is a layered show alright?). Case in point, the episode following Card Wars which sees Magic Man turn Jake into himself to avoid being punished for his crimes by his 4 faced brother Grob Gob Glob Grod. Finn attempts to rescue Jake by using Magic Man’s Martian transporter, but it is too late as Jake is mistakenly killed. The King of Mars, Abe Lincoln (natch) must visit Death and offer his life in return for Jake’s, turning him into stone.
Seriously how many 11 minutes episodes of television would attempt a story so brazenly complex and out-there. Not only does it tell this story but it also drops hints about Ooo’s infamous mushroom war (we can see the giant crater in Ooo as Finn flies to Mars ) AND offers a suggestion for why Magic Man turned so mischievous (it involves his former love Margles and a tragic event on Olympus Mons). The episode also calls back to characters like Magic Man and Death who have had significant roles in the past. As I mentioned earlier, this is one of those episodes that demonstrates the truly fascinating and complex universe this series has created.
The episode ends with one of the greatest AT scenes ever. So great and bizarrely non-sequiturial that I had to transcribe it below:
Tiny Manticore (flying off into the distance): "I am the true coward. Hiding from sincere expressions like a vampire in the nude who hides from the light. Thank you, brave hero. I was freed from bottle jail, but my new prison...is shame. MY NEW PRISON IS SHAME!!!" Finn: "What's he sayin'?" Jake: "His says my new prison is shame"
BMO Noire 4×17 – Like I mentioned before, the formal constraints of Adventure Time allow it to excel in genre exercises such as these. And what an absolutely adorable genre exercise this turns out to be. This episode works as a sort-of semi sequel to the BMO segment of ‘5 Short Graybles’, where he/she/it was talking in the mirror to him/her/itself. Can I mention how adorable this is again? BMO is a character that is very well used on the show, only appearing sparingly rather than being overused as a cutesy sidekick. The conceit of this episode is particularly enjoyable for its riffs on film noir genre conventions: the beautiful femme fatale in Lorraine the chicken, the wrongly accused anti-hero in BMO, the informant (a welcome return from NEPTR), the rat (actually a rat in this case). This is a fun and stylish showcase episode for BMO that, like the best AT episodes, embodies the joys of letting your imagination run wild, while at the same time managing to hint at the sadness of BMO’s existence, a video game machine that was invented to be played, but stays locked at home while Jake and Finn go off adventuring. Best line of the episode goes to Jake: “Our chicken’s name is Lorraine?”
Honourable Mentionables: Prisoners of Love (1×03), Wizard (1×11), City of Thieves (1×13), Dungeon (1×18), Henchmen (1×22), The Eyes (2×02), Loyalty To The King (2×03), The Pods (2×13), Death In Bloom (2×17) The Limit (2×22), Wizard Battle (3×08), The Creeps (3×12), No-one Can Hear You (3×15), The New Frontier (3×18), Incendium (3×26), 5 Short Graybles (4×02), Return To The Nightosphere/Daddy’s Little Monster (4×05/4×06), Ignition Point (4×22), The Lich (4×26).
Any quality episodes that you think I’ve overlooked?