Wednesday, May 29, 2024

The Start of an Adventure

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Now that Adventure Time’s (AT) Season 7 has wrapped up and it was announced that the show itself would end after two more seasons, I thought it was time to go back to the beginnings. Hello everyone, I’m Szofi and this is my first contribution around here. So, what time is it? Aaaadventure time!

Adventure Time is Cartoon Network’s (CN) universally loved and critically acclaimed series that’s been running since 2010. Originally drafted for Nickelodeon by creator Pendleton Ward, the show even had its pilot made for that network, but ultimately it ended up on CN. Seeing how Nickelodeon dealt with its more quality shows, I’d say Adventure Time is better off on CN anyway. Even the style fits the final network better, with its quirky humour and incredibly bizarre moments.

The first season is a particularly good example for this. The first time I rewatched early episodes I wondered whether I just forgot how ludicrous they are or if Season 1 really is even weirder than the rest of the series. After rewatching it again I came to the conclusion that it is just generally more bizarre than later seasons, which in itself is not necessarily a marker of quality. For me, the word “bizarre” is almost synonymous with the Adventure Time franchise; it’s what you almost have to expect when watching this show. Things are going to get random and messed up, and it’s all part of Ooo’s unique charm.

What is a problem, however, with Season 1 is the lack of direction. It clearly operates as an episodic series that shows little signs of wanting to have continuity or serious character development.

Don’t get me wrong, Season 1 is fun. If nothing else, we have to appreciate the variety in these 26 episodes: we go from candy zombies to an episode titled “What is Life?”, from magic to disappointing heroes. It is, by all means, an entertaining piece of television that I’m sure caused kids all around the world laughter and their parents plenty of raised eyebrows. So what are my issues, exactly? Let’s take a look at the very beginnings of Adventure Time, running through the episodes and talking about the season in general.

I was surprised to find out that the first episode has a 7.7 rating on IMDb, which counts as average for an AT episode, and also to look at reviews and find that people generally consider it to be a great start. I would agree that “Slumber Party Panic” does capture the essence of Adventure Time relatively well, but had it been the first episode I watched I wouldn’t have been interested in the series. It does capture the essence of weird quirkiness, but it doesn’t capture the other factors that make AT such a unique and great show. I’m talking about factors such as “adult” messages, dealing with heavy subject matters, excellent character development, and world-building. But then again, I couldn’t possibly expect all of these in a 10-minute long episode, especially not the latter two. So while I don’t consider this to be the strongest start ever, “Slumber Party Panic” is a decent and fun episode.

In a way you have to appreciate the show’s bravery, starting with an episode that jumps right into the story and doesn’t feel like a forced pilot. The reason why Adventure Time could, and in a sense had to pull this off is that a) there’s only so much you can do in 10 minutes and b) it had plenty of episodes to establish the Land of Ooo and its most pivotal residents.

In fact, I would argue that the whole of Season 1 is a sort of introduction, with almost all of the episodes introducing later returning plot points and characters. The four episodes following the first one all centre around some of the most crucial of these. “Trouble in Lumpy Space” is, of course, our introduction to the ever so fabulous Lumpy Space Princess and her home in general, while “Prisoners of Love” is all about Ice King and his obsession with kidnapping princesses. Following these is “Tree Trunks”, which is all about introducing the titular character. This might be the most bizarre so far, but that’s just the perfect start for a character like Tree Trunks. “The Enchiridion!” is the first one that I would consider to be part of the bigger continuity. It does a great job of exploring Finn’s character and cementing his role as the hero of Ooo, not to mention bringing in the Enchiridion itself, which is one of the catalysts of continuity beginning to show its first signs.

The following five episodes are a weird little mix. “The Jiggler” is one of the weaker episodes, for me it highlights the difference between earlier AT and the one that’s currently preparing for another mini-series. It’s good fun, but not really impactful on the viewer and is a complete standalone.

“Ricardio the Heart Guy” is, in contrast, exactly what works about this first season; it introduces a character who will come back later on but is also good to watch on its own. It also has the—in my eyes—unfortunate honour of being the first episode that implies Finn’s crush on Princess Bubblegum, but George Takei’s voice somehow makes even that better. Next up is “Business Time”, which, apart from poking fun at capitalism (#justATthings) also subtly turns the Land of Ooo on its head by implying the post-apocalyptic nature of the show’s setting.

Before we could dive into that depressing thought, the season continues with Lady Raincorn’s first major appearance in “My Two Favorite People”. It’s a great episode to explore character relations, and can I just add: Tiffany. Who would have thought he’d become much more important later on. After this is “Memories of Boom Boom Mountain”, a perfect opportunity to explore Finn’s heroics. Although, after rewatching Season 1 once more I feel like the whole of it builds on his role as the hero of Ooo.

“Wizard” is both a moral tale and an introduction to magic in the Land of Ooo, a little glimpse at one of the crucial elements of the series as a whole. Following this would be “Evicted!”, but you know what, I’m not even going to pretend that I don’t want to write about Marceline separately, so for now let’s jump to “City of Thieves”. This episode combines the exploration of Finn’s character with a moral tale and a classic AT twist. “The Witch’s Garden” is more of a Jake-centric one, another tale exploring morality but again in a special AT kind of way. “What is Life?” is actually not as deep as it sounds, but it does introduce Neptr and shows a different side of Ice King. For perhaps the first time we feel sorry for him, and this is long before the tragic backstory stage. After this is “Ocean of Fear”, an episode that I’m very sorry they dealt with this early on, as I would have loved to see something similar in Season 7 instead of 1. The reason being that it deals with Finn’s oceanphobia, and while it is in a quirky and interesting way, I can’t help feeling like this could have been more.

Where else would you get a villain this relatable?

“When Wedding Bells Thaw” is another one for Ice King, which sees Finn and Jake reluctantly throw him a bachelor party. This again increases the pity that the audience feels towards this old fool, although in retrospect everything involving the Ice King is just sad. “Dungeon” is a classical adventure where Finn tries to prove he’s good without Jake, and it all ends with the power of friendship and respect, but it was hard to focus on that after AT’s version of a Guardian Angel. It’s one of the more bizarre ones for sure. “The Duke”, as well as being about perceptions and taking responsibility, is our first glimpse at another side of Princess Bubblegum, while “Freak City” is the debut of Magic Man and, again, one of the weirder ones, though AT is constantly redefining that word. “Donny” was perhaps the most interesting one to rewatch, as I didn’t remember much of it but, in hindsight, it’s one of the better quality ones that could fit into later seasons. I promise I’ll never forget you again, Donny.

AT’s idea of a Guardian Angel

The last four episodes are all highly regarded, and with most of them, I can see why. “Rainy Day Daydream” is all about the power of imagination, it fits the kids’ show formula without being bizarre (unlike the rest of the show) or too childish. “What Have You Done?” is absolutely delightful with PB’s Season 6 character arc in mind, after having seen her nastier side in “The Duke”, she really shows how far she’s willing to go for her kingdom here.

“His Hero”, along with “The Enchiridion!” is the only crucial episode to the bigger storyline, as it is Billy’s first episode and the first mention of The Lich. And after all this as the first season’s finale episode we have “Gut Grinder”, which would have been fine for the middle of the season, but as a finale, it’s just disappointing. If anything, “His Hero” should have been the last, but oh well, we can always just pretend.

Last but not least are the two Marceline episodes, “Evicted!” and “Henchman”, brought out of the chronological order because one does not simply gloss over the Vampire Queen. I won’t start singing odes about Marceline because there is a place and a time and frankly, there’s not much to praise about these two episodes, compared to her later ones. But I still find a few things important to note, the first being Marcy’s behaviour. In retrospect it’s easy to dismiss these early episodes as just being out of character for Marceline, and although I would argue otherwise, it’s still weird looking back after the whole “Stakes” miniseries.

This is especially the case in terms of how she is presented in her first episode, “Evicted!”, where she’s the antagonist of the story and only gets sorta-kinda-not-really redeemed. As of the end of “Henchman”, it’s clear that she’s not actually evil, just likes to mess with people, but it’s still not the Marceline we know now. It is, however, the Marceline that everyone fell in love with, because these two episodes proved to extremely popular and caused her to appear more and more in later seasons. Marceline and these episodes are also unique in a sense that the Vampire Queen is the only main character whom Finn and Jake haven’t met prior to the show.

We get to know her along with our heroes, which is perhaps another reason why she was so alluring to fans. Food for thought, because other than what I’ve already said, there’s not much else to discuss about “Evicted!” and “Henchman”. Well, actually, I could write thousands of words about each and every Marcy episode if you wanted me to, but we’re looking at the bigger picture right now.

This was my third time rewatching the first season, and I have to say I enjoyed it the most this time. I remember growing impatient with the show when I was first watching it, because Adventure Time was hyped as really deep if you look beyond the surface, and although Season 1 has its moments it’s definitely not what the fandom was talking about (hint: it was Season 4 instead). During my second time, I let it entertain me more, but I still couldn’t look past the sometimes unnecessary weirdness.

I still believe that it’s more bizarre than the rest of the show, but Season 1 is still worth watching and rewatching, even if it’s the weakest all in all. Even the animation was trying to find itself, with the facial expressions being all over the place, and perhaps we had too many episodes focusing on the same issue, namely Finn’s heroic nature. But all great shows have to start somewhere, and all things considered, Adventure Time did a decent job, diving straight into it and setting the tone for the Land of Ooo.

Images courtesy of Cartoon Network

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