Desert Island Series: Television
You may be stuck out there on that miserable, lonely desert island. Your family may very well have given up all hope that you’re still alive. You may be desperate for human contact. You may be forced to subsist on insects, coconuts and the odd fish (if you’re able to pull off a makeshift harpoon, which is doubtful in your case). But these are by no means reasons to let yourself get bored. This island has a solar-powered laptop with one movie, one full TV series, and the complete works of one musician/band. There may be some hidden folders that contain other content that will be discovered later.
Adventure Time is one of the most delightful, inventive, and entertaining shows that I have ever seen. It is my desert island TV show because there are so many episodes (200+ and counting) and has somehow managed to stay fresh and surprising throughout. Episodes are only 11 minutes long, but an astonishing amount of story can be squeezed into 11 minutes. The creativity is so rich and varied, and the show is able to successfully strike such a variety of tones, that it is also infinitely rewatchable, which is key when you’re stuck on a desert island.
The premise of the show is that Finn (a human kid), and his buddy Jake (a shape-shifting, talking dog) live in a treehouse in the magical land of Ooo. They spend a lot of their time helping out Princess Bubblegum in the Candy Kingdom, where everyone and everything is made out of candy, and…well….this is where you’d lose me if you were trying to persuade me to watch the show. The first time I tried to watch the first episode, I didn’t even make it five minutes in before deciding it was not my bag. Way too geared for idiot kids.
How wrong I was. There is a lot for idiot kids to love, no doubt, but in this case the idiot kids are onto something.
Here are some things Adventure Time has going for it:
This may be self-evident but a great series has great characters. There are many ways to make characters tv-worthy. Some are just funny, or really good at something, or charming troublemakers. Some have inner complexities that reveal themselves gradually as they manifest in interesting ways throughout a series. Some are great mainly because of the effect they have on other characters. In its 200+ episodes, Adventure Time has built a broad enough cast of characters and has had enough time to develop them that it’s got a bit of everything.
The friendship between Finn and Jake is massively charming, and while they themselves are not particularly complex, their enthusiasm and supreme competence at adventuring mean they are game for an endless variety of crazy stuff, and you’ll be surprised at how much fun it is watching the writers and animators experiment with the infinite possibilities of having a character who can shrink, grow and shape-shift at will. Meanwhile, many characters at first seemed like archetypes, like the Ice King, who seemed to just be an unpleasant villain who kidnapped princesses, and Princess Bubblegum, who seemed like just the kind of wise and benevolent ruler characters like Finn and Jake would need to point them in the right direction.
This simplicity is deceiving. The writers take their time layering in nuances to the characters and their backstories that make them very compelling, and the countless supporting characters contribute depth and texture to individual episodes and to the world of the series more broadly.
2. Amazing stories and so much variety
The people making this show really know how to tell a story. The 11 minute limit is not an obstacle for these people to churn out dynamite story after dynamite story. Chaff is unheard of. Episodes tend to jump immediately into the premise of the episode, and end very abruptly, which can be jarring at first but has become a signature of their unpretentious approach to lean storytelling.
There are episodes about love and loss, board games, nature documentaries, friendship and loyalty, artificial intelligence, the apocalypse, pie, skateboarding with your grandkid, finding your roots, vampires, Hell (basically), and more.
But the variety of topics is outdone by the variety of approaches to storytelling and tone. Some episodes are extremely dark. Some are tragic (yes, really). Some are ultra lightweight and silly. Some are deeply surreal. Most are funny.
Episodes are usually self-contained, but there are many ongoing storylines that are returned to every now and then. Some TV shows are great at one-off episodes, and some make great episodes that contribute to a bigger arc, but it is rare for shows to be as good at both as Adventure Time is.
3. Its Humanity And Humour
The show may be preposterous in almost every way, but at its core its humanity is what makes the show so compelling. The show is written with true affection for its characters, most of whom are flawed in various ways.
Adventure Time is very funny. In general it is not a comedy (some episodes might be), but it is made with a knowing wryness that helps balance out the show’s absurdity without making a joke of the absurdity. It somehow manages to occasionally wink at the audience while never descending into the death spiral that is self-parody.
Adventure Time is the perfect desert island show. It represents so much of what makes TV great. It has characters you will want to spend time with, comedy and drama, excellent short stories and sweeping arcs. And at 11 minutes a pop, you can easily fit whole episodes into even the most intense foraging schedules.
Check it out.