Every Day is an Adventure

I remember, the first time I sat down to watch Adventure Time, remarking to my friends that I wasn’t drunk enough to watch this show after only the first episode. For those of my friends who are adults and trying to start the show, I usually recommend sitting down to it with a strong drink because while I adore the show, it starts off a little weirdly. It also continues weirdly, but it isn’t jarring once you’ve made the mental adjustments required to enjoy the show. They’re not strenuous, of course. It just takes a bit of time to adapt to the over-the-top action and characters before you start to see past the surface to the surprising depths of the story and character development arcs.

Like a lot of “children’s shows,” Adventure Time can be enjoyed on multiple levels. At the most basic, there are good lessons about how to be responsible, what it means to strong, how to deal with emotional problems, and how to treat people who are different from you, to name a few. These lessons are delivered through fairly straight-forward plots and the colorful fun of an action show with heart, making it an instant hit with most kids. For those looking for a bit more, there’s actually some complex emotional and interpersonal problems that happen through the various seasons that are resolved slowly. It can be difficult to watch if you want the sort of cleaner wrap-ups of most adult shows since, for example, some things are introduced in season 1 that aren’t addressed until season 5. Emotional development takes a long time, in terms of seasons and shows, but it happens at a rate that lets the adults watching the show appreciate what is going on beneath the surface but also lets the kids slowly see the changes happen in a way they’ll understand as they go through similar (if somewhat less fantastical) situations in their own lives.

For instance, a lot of the earlier episodes are non-sequiturs, with nothing to place them inside the show’s overarching timeline, but there are details that slowly fill in the world around the protagonists, Finn the Human and Jake the (magic) Dog. Finn’s sword is an easy indicator of when an episode takes place as he has a tendency to go through them a lot faster than you’d think. His behavior and age are much more subtle ones since they don’t mark most of his birthdays or give a number to his age that frequently. Instead, you can follow the show’s continuity using plot markers and shifts in character relationships. Old enemies become friends, allies reveal ulterior motives and become enemies, and background characters rise to sudden prominence before establishing a firm place in the long list of secondary characters.

The way information is revealed to the viewer can make it a difficult show to watch haphazardly. While understanding most episodes isn’t dependent on having watched all previous episodes, a lot of foreshadowing or important subtext can fall between the cracks in your understanding of the show. As information is slowly revealed, one small bite at a time (bites that increase in size as the show goes on as the first two seasons are particularly light on details), so much that you suspect is confirmed. If you pay attention to the background in almost any episode, you could reasonably draw the conclusion that Adventure Time occurs in a post-apocalyptic world. You could also conclude that humans are rare, magic has risen in the place of most of the sciences, and there’s an incredible danger present in the world that most people see as ordinary because of how screwed up the world became following whatever apocalyptic disaster befell it. Eventually, you get enough information to assemble a picture of the past on your own. Full reveals or complete pictures are super rare, but they become reference points for the show that help shore up the history you assemble as you watch it and you can usually tell where you are in the show’s timeline by references to these points.

My favorite part of the show is the way the writers use the same method of small hints and details mixed in with a few big reveals in the emotional development of the characters. Finn, as the primary protagonist, deals with the most as he grows. Jake, the secondary protagonist, has his share as well. Even a lot of the secondary characters (who occasionally have small arcs featuring them) have complex emotional journeys throughout the show. The best example of that is probably the Ice King, a certifiably insane wizard with ice powers given to him by a magic crown he wears. Not only does he feature in a lot of Finn’s emotional growth, he changes throughout the show from a pathetic villain to a tragic villain who can’t help himself, seeing as he’s been driven insane by the magic crown he wears. Some of the most powerful and emotional moments in the show come from his stories and the way people start to treat him as they grow to understand and somewhat accept him. There’s a whole list of other characters, some with their own special mini-seasons, that undergo growth and change, and each one gets their moment to shine, even the pesky whiny ones you want to just disappear.

 

Throughout it all, aside from the big reveal or big change moments, the show manages to keep an upbeat sense of humor and a positive look on even the most difficult situations. The characters rely on each other to get through their weak moments and humor is a constant aid as they try to cope with the world they actually live in as it pushes aside the world they want to live in. Even the most resilient characters are sometimes knocked down and we get to watch them struggle to their feet again. The entire show is a lesson in getting back up after failure until you succeed and learning to accept change and growth into your life gracefully.

I’ll admit the pacing can be weird early on and that it can be difficult to accept some of the asides the show makes as it slowly works its way through a difficult problem, but every episode has something important to say if you’re willing to look for it. A lot of these messages are repeated many times, but they’re usually important enough that it’s worth hearing them again. Plus, with how human they all act, even Jake the Dog and Princess Bubblegum (who is made of gum), it can be incredibly refreshing to see people struggle to deal with lessons they’ve already learned and taken for granted.

I recommend watching it. The seasons are pretty cheap on Amazon or Best Buy, but I wouldn’t recommend getting them on a streaming service as they are sometimes in weird orders and the season-by-season breakdown in the later seasons gets super wonky. It is way cheaper to get them on DVD or Blu-Ray than to buy them on Amazon or iTunes. If you want a show that will make you laugh so hard you cry and so sad you just have to laugh, that will take you on an incredibly complex emotional journey through the eyes of a wide range of very (mentally and emotionally, since “diverse” means very different things in our world than it’d mean in their world) different characters, and will leave you constantly wanting more, I cannot recommend Adventure Time strongly enough.

A Man of Numbers

All Theodore cared about was numbers and all he wanted out of his life was to find particularly challenging sets of numbers to play with. Let the others have their social lives and their romances. Numbers were all he needed.

Columns of reference numbers scrolled past as he looked for a break in the sequence. Each column’s total should equal all of its reference numbers added together which should equal the total of the column left of it plus the number of reference numbers in the column.

It was a tricky algorithm, but it ensured only he could create new reference numbers. If they didn’t all add up correctly, the program wouldn’t close when he tried to exit. It meant staying late, frequently, but he didn’t mind.

After almost two hours of searching, he found the new reference number and followed it to the document it represented. It was a few sheets of transcribed meeting notes someone had hidden on the network.

After he finished reading through them, his heart was racing as he typed an email to his boss. They were hiding something from their bosses and he’d found them! He hit send and went home. Tomorrow couldn’t come soon enough.

The next day, he met his boss on the main floor to watch two security guards and the man’s manager talk to the culprit for a moment and then gently guide him out. Theodore recognized his cousin Bill, as Bill tried to pull away from the guards.

Bill saw him and shouted. “Theo! Please!” The guards grabbed him and continued to guide him toward the foyer. “Theo! Tell them! We were just making plans to throw a surprise party for Gus’ birthday tomorrow!”

Theodore’s stomach lurched. Gus, his boss, turned to him and sighed. “Dammit, Theodore. Not again.”

Steven Universe is the Best

Where do I even begin.

I’ve watched the series all the way through four times since this summer. First time through was in “streaming” order, the default order available on Amazon’s video streaming service (you’ve gotta buy the “seasons,” but they’re worth it). The second time was in the correct order, based on continuity. The third time was with my roommates. The fourth time was because I was impatient, unable to calmly wait for new episodes to come out. Every time I watched it, I felt like there was more to unpack. After four times, I can definitely say there’s more to this show than I can comfortably cover in a blog post, so I’m going to apologize up front for what a mess this might be.

I love the music. I first became familiar with Rebecca Sugar (the show’s creator) through her work on Adventure Time and, when I found out she was the person behind the song from the “Stakes” mini-series, “Everything Stays,” I bought all of Steven Universe from amazon and started watching it as soon as I’d stopped crying. Music is such an integral part of this show, that I’m not sure any review or discussion of the show can even half-assedly cover the show without going into it. The theme song is catchy and the scenes appearing on the screen throughout it are heart-warming and colorful. In the very first episode, the protagonist, a young human child (Steven), unabashedly signs the commercial jingle for his favorite ice cream treat. The episode ends with a portion of a bright, yet rather sad song whose entirety we do not get until the second season (or until you went ahead and bought the soundtrack or looked it up on Spotify). The second episode begins and ends the same way, but we discover that Steven’s love of music came from his father who was in a band before he met Steven’s mother.

Throughout the entire series, music comes in at critical junctures, giving us a window into the interior lives of the characters or communicating something they’ve been struggling to verbalize. We see one of the Crystal Gems named Amethyst–an alien race that are nigh-immortal but came to Earth long ago–sing a song with Steven about leaving home because they don’t feel like they belong. We eventually see Garnet sing a song about the strength of working together. Pearl sings several songs, many of them focusing on relaying information or expressing an emotion she’s been hiding for a long time following the passing of Steven’s Mother (who gave up her corporeal form in order to give birth to Steven). Steven sings songs for every possible reason from communication to encouragement to the simple joy of singing with someone. Steven’s dad, Greg (my personal favorite character and someone I aspire to be), sings songs to his son whenever he tells him about the past. Music touches every part of this show and really captures the heart and soul of the characters. Everyone I know who has gotten into this show has subsequently looked up the music on their own. I am not joking when I say I got Spotify just to have access to the album everywhere I wanted to listen to it. I also literally just bought it right before writing this sentence because I realized I couldn’t listen to it in the car because I’m super frugal when it comes to using cellular data. There’s so much amazing music, but I can’t really go into specifics without risking spoilers because it is so tied to each episode. The music alone is reason enough to check the show out.

The characters are so incredibly real and Steven redeems every character from a show you watched growing up whose power was hokey sentimentalism. He is sentimental, kind, incredibly sweet, unbelievably caring, and one of the most emotionally mature characters I’ve ever seen in a TV show, at least at the end. He still messes up, of course, but watching him grow throughout the series is incredibly rewarding and good inspiration for learning to work through your own problems. I won’t share any of the other characters’ growth because watching them change over the course of the series is a huge part of the show. Just as they grow in strength, they develop emotionally. The plot is just as much about emotional growth and learning to deal with your emotional troubles as it is about Steven Universe learning to become a Crystal Gem and what happens between the Crystal Gems and their estranged homeworld.

The supporting characters don’t feel like supporting characters because they’re just as three-dimensional and vibrant as the main characters. They even manage to make a pink lion with no speaking lines a fully fledged character with a detailed emotional life. The world is full and unique to the story. There’s a wonderful number of references to things that match our world despite there being a huge number of things that also separate it from our world. The stories are touching and deal with real conflict, and not just the violent kind. Sure, there are monsters they beat down, but the more difficult conflicts for Steven to handle are people who refuse his help due to their own pride or the people he wants to rescue but cannot. The most heart-wrenching episodes include an episode where the conflict Steven faces is when he has to decide to not save someone in order to take care of himself. Every villain has their reasons and even the worst of them eventually earns a measure of sympathy. You eventually get a sense that there’s something bigger going on, something beyond the characters you’ve seen. That there’s someone else out there who made the decisions that eventually created the bitter hatred and sadness you see playing out in these episodes.

As much as I love the show, I feel I should caution you. Since the show hasn’t finished yet, and the recent episode releases have been rather inconsistent and random, don’t dive right into it if you’re struggling with some unresolved emotional burdens or something big and sad has gone on. While this show can be incredibly cathartic, there are a lot of emotional issues that haven’t been resolved yet and basically leave you feeling sad and somewhat mournful. The tone is melancholic and, despite the fact that many of the sad moments end happily, not all of them have been resolved yet. Still, though, I suggest watching it. Definitely cautiously, and definitely a bit more slowly, but the catharsis and the wonderful feelings you get from watching something amazingly well made are worth it.

There’s so much more I want to say, but I think I’ve said everything that’s important. Watch this show. Take the time to make sure you’re watching it in order (which has been much easier now that you can buy actual DVDs of Season 1 and it is Season 1 that is out of order on all streaming services) and don’t watch more than a few episodes in a sitting. Let the show digest a bit between sittings and you’ll enjoy it even more.