Other Ten Percent 4/21/14

Apr 21 2014

Let us now praise superficially ridiculous narratives. In fact, let’s spend a whole week doing it since I think I’ve got five of these stored up at this point. And let’s start with Adventure Time since it started it’s sixth season this evening and last week The Awl published a full 10,000 word look at what makes the show so great. !0,000 word treatises by somebody other than me about fictional works I like are going to be a bit of a fixture this week.
Like everything else published by The Awl that story periodically disappears up its own ass in a desperate attempt to show you how smart it is but when it isn’t trying nearly so hard it gets at some really amazing truths around the show. It explores just how deep the themes the show explores have gotten and how wide the scope of the program has become.
I mean this is a show targeted at kids aged six to eleven and tonight’s episode (and oh my GOD the spoilers you guys) featured the protagonist’s arm getting RIPPED OFF in a desperate attempt to hold on to his father in a tragic loss of limb that’s been foreshadowed for literally half the show’s run (every alternative version of Finn we’ve ever seen has been missing his right arm) right after he confronts and defeats a universal avatar of death that explains that you can NEVER ESCAPE THE END OF ALL THINGS.
Six to eleven year olds!
The article also explores the creative environment that even lets a show like this exist and one of the things the article never explicitly states but that finally crystalized for me reading it is just how narratively unique Adventure Time has become over its run. A show that started out simple enough you could reduce it down to a parody of children’s cartoons has now evolved into the most effective blending of serialized storytelling and the anthology show I’ve yet seen on television and most of that is thanks to an expansive universe that trusts its audience to pick up the rules as it goes along. Fully half of the episodes in the show’s 5th season features someone other than the show’s two leads as its protagonist and though the show seems to be bringing Finn and Jake back to the fore at the start of season 6 so that Finn can explore his relationship with a father he never knew he had the overall season seems like it’s going to be sticking to that quasi-anthology-show format.
As the article says, “Going through a great Adventure Time episode is like getting into a video game for the first time and not knowing the rules of the universe, and fumbling through until, at a certain point, you’re playing the game without even [having realized] you’ve started.” Todd VanDerWerff has a quote (and for all I know he stole it but it’s extremely useful so who cares) that great television teaches you how to watch it. That’s hard enough on a show like Mad Men that’s organized itself like a thematically cohesive short story collection and has to teach you to “read it” but for a show like Adventure Time that might be a parody of a Dungeons and Dragons adventure utilizing only B and C list members of Adventure Time’s cast one week and a domestic drama about the relationship problems of a pig and a weird green elephant the next it’s downright amazing.
It’s a talent it shares with the best runs of NBC’s Community but it has a commitment to accepting different voices that a control freak (and I say that mostly with love) like Dan Harmon could never manage. Not only does Pendleton Ward let various storyboard artists go off and tell their own stories in whatever part of his universe thy feel like exploring that week he straight up just finds animators he likes and hands them an episode to do whatever the fuck they want no matter how weird. And it gets weird. Adventure Time manages to situate you on a wholly different point of view to its universe each week and it manages to do it AND tell a complete story with an 11 minute running time. It’s a format I expect to see an HBO show take on in about 5 years and once somebody uses it to explore murder or the drug trade or really unnecessarily explicit rape scenes I’m sure critics everywhere will hail it as the future of television but it’s here, right now, and (due respect to Kiernan Shipka) producing the single best commentary on childhood I’ve ever seen on television.

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