Adventure Time has been getting more experimental in its fifth season, from the alternate reality two-part premiere to the “Finn as God” and 3-D episodes, and the writers continue to experiment with what they can do in 10 minutes in “Shh!” Finn and Jake are silent for almost the entire episode, engaged in a contest where they can only communicate using a limited set of signs. The result is an episode that is not only a whole lot of fun, but can really only be enjoyed by viewers that can read. Considering how much of Adventure Time’s fanbase is composed of small children, it’s an admirable move to create an episode that will force kids to read while watching TV. God knows its impossible to get my little cousins to stop playing their Wii to read a book, but they’ll totally take a video game break for Adventure Time. This episode tricks kids into reading, and I firmly approve of that.
“Shh!” immediately reminds me of Buffy The Vampire Slayer’s “Hush,” which similarly uses signs to tell jokes in a silent environment. Finn and Jake only have 30 seconds to create the signs that they’re going to use for the entirety of their competition, and while Finn makes a lot of general statements that he’ll be able to use throughout the day, Jake moves very quickly to create a lot of signs about breakfast. When they encounter BMO, their limited signage causes problems, and BMO assumes that their silence and random written phrases are indicators that malevolent forces have replaced them. He hides in the wall until their competition is over, which is extra unfortunate because BMO has just invited a gang of Bikini Babes to come over and dance with them.
“James Baxter The Horse” looked at this show’s musical philosophy, and “Shh!” shows that philosophy being heavily applied to fill in the silence brought by Finn and Jake’s competition. The synth-heavy scoring just makes you feel good, and the song that BMO intends to use to soundtrack the dance party becomes his only comfort when he fears that his friends have been possessed. It sounds like BMO’s song is by Ashley Eriksson, who performs this show’s closing credits theme, which is even sunnier and more cheerful than what BMO is playing. It’s chill music that begs for some good swaying, and this episode ends with an extended dance sequence as the Bikini Babes and Party God crash into the tree house to celebrate the end of Finn and Jake’s contest. (Finn wins.)
Because so much of this episode has no dialogue, there’s a heavier emphasis on visual stimuli. When Jake goes inside the wall of his tree house, he discovers a new world containing families of mice, musical spider-webs, and mysterious Egyptian sarcophagi. The mouse and spider sequences feel especially like old Merrie Melodies bits, cute little scenes featuring anthropomorphized animals with evocative music in the background. (Check out the Mickey Mouse gloves on that spider.) It’s a great little nod to the cartoons that came before Adventure Time and are a part of the show’s DNA.
Going with the theme from last episode that this show is formulated to make people feel happy, those animal-in-the-wall scenes remind me of a scene in Preston Sturges’ 1941 comedy Sullivan’s Travels. A film director has been posing as a hobo to learn what hard knocks really are, and after a series of increasingly soul-crushing trials, he has a chance to forget about his troubles while watching a Mickey Mouse and Pluto cartoon. In a theater full of tramps living through the same hell as him, Sullivan has the opportunity to laugh and become a part of a community through something other than mutual strife and depression. These men become united through happiness, and that’s what Adventure Time does so well. It’s provides a type of joy that is so contagious it makes people want to connect and talk about it.
Last month’s Adventure Time #15 comic book shares some similarities with tonight’s episode, following Finn and Jake after they’re put under one of Magic Man’s spells that forces them to speak through images. Both stories are incredibly clever, utilizing their respective mediums to tell stylized narratives within the show’s framework; the comic plays with static images to create an immersive reading experience, while “Shh!” showcases the musical and visual spectacle that create world around the show’s hilarious dialogue. As the creators become more experimental, Adventure Time is showcasing why it has become such a cultural phenomenon, revealing a TV show that garners incredible results when it thinks outside the box.
- If you’re a fan of the Adventure Time comic, don’t forget to check out Kaboom’s Regular Show book, which debuts this week. Here’s a preview.
- Tonight’s episode is dedicated to Armen Mirzaian, an animator and writer for the series who died in a car accident in February. Mirzaian is responsible for some Adventure Time classics including “Slumber Party Panic,” “The Jiggler,” and “What Is Life?”
- My favorite sign in this episode is Finn’s “I love you, Jake.”
- A bikini babe holds up Jake’s “The jam?” sign while shaking maracas during the final dance sequence. Clever!