This season of Adventure Time hasn’t felt as earth-shattering as the last (I know Oliver might disagree with me on this), but it’s not because the episodes have been any less stunning. We’ve gotten the heart-breaking family drama of “The Tower” and “Ocarina,” the epic sweep of “Something Big,” and the mind-boggling animation and show-stopping musical number of “Food Chain.” But, for me at least, watching Adventure Time has lost just a touch of the wonder it used to produce before. Sitting down to watch every episode is still exciting, but not quite like opening a present on Christmas (or Chanukah if you’re me). This might be because, as Finn has gotten older, the show has grown with him—season five might have been the sweet spot between childishness and maturity, the moment where the show was at the height of its powers while everything was still fresh and wonderful.
But life gets less surprising. Finn’s childlike awe at all of the cool stuff he gets to do in Ooo mirrors our awe at the new world we were dumped into at the beginning of the show, but eventually that sort of surprise wears off, and familiarity breeds contempt. In order to keep getting that rush of excitement and continuing creative energy, there needs to be some novelty in the show, which explains why episodes like tonight’s focus almost entirely on supporting characters at the expense of the main cast. Even though this season started with arguably the biggest thing that’s ever happened to Finn and Jake, there have been more episodes than usual this season that have barely featured our heroes. “Thanks For The Crabapples, Giuseppe” highlights the way they’ve become increasingly incidental to the show, which is now content to leave them and explore all the other weirdoes who populate Ooo.
In this case, Finn and Jake are first kind of jerks about not wanting to go on a road trip of “lame wizards,” then discover that the wizards never wanted them on the trip (Ice King claims they’re “out of our league”) when they run out of the house with backpacks on. The fact that the world doesn’t revolve around Finn and Jake builds off of last week’s episode, where their stereotypically heroic, chill lifestyle is presented as just immature and sad in a thriving, complex world that’s big enough to support all kinds of unique people. It’s exciting to watch Adventure Time’s scope slowly expand as the creative team boldly continues to paint its heroes in increasingly unsympathetic, self-involved light.
But that’s a subject best left for in-depth analysis another time, because “Thanks For The Crabapples, Giuseppe” focuses entirely on that road trip, which manages to include slam poetry, a giant butt (sort of), and a terrifying look into Tree Trunks’ love life, so it’s not like there’s a lot to complain about. Composed of Abracadaniel, The Ancient Sleeping Magi Of Life Giving, Ron James, Little Dude (formerly known as Finn’s Hat), Bo (“It’s…” Ice King sputters), Leaf Man, and the mysterious, wizened Giuseppe (who just shows up—that’s the kind of trip this is going to be!), the adventure throws together some of the show’s lower-tier, magical characters and sends them on a journey to try to create an entirely new school of magic, though only so they can be cool and less jerky than magical secret societies. After picking up Ice King and the water nymphs who live outside Finn and Jake’s pad, the wizards set out for Big Butt Rock to do their ritual, promising us a giant, magical, mineral ass crack that sadly never comes.
That’s okay, though: The real point of the episode is also the core of the road trip movie—showcasing the way characters interact when they’re just hanging out in a somewhat cramped space. Most of the wizards get effectively slotted into a road trip archetype while getting more shading as characters: Abracadaniel is the bus driver and carefree optimist who describes the trip as a “destiny will guide us kind of thing.” He’s also kind of gross to the water nymphs (particularly when he tries to impress them with his “rainbow wand”). Ron James is the overly enthusiastic planner of the road trip, excited to fuel their new magic with “a-has, deep feels, and woo-woos,” and also one of the cooler wizards, using magical eye twinkles to attract the water nymphs. The Ancient Sleeping Magi is the whiny, lazy member of the party, who complains about pushing the bus. And Little Dude writes anti-authoritarian slam poetry. It’s a testament to how efficient and detail-oriented the Adventure Time team is that so many wizards and their relationships get additional characterization. In particular, best bros Abracadaniel and Ice King continue to complement each quite nicely—and their headgear swapping so Abracadaniel can use ice magic is one of the highlights of the episode.
The actual road trip moves, dream-like, through vignettes like the collection of the water nymphs, a stop in a farm when the bus breaks down, and a spooky swamp after Ice King accidentally gases everyone. It echoes all of the places you might imagine a standard road-trip movie taking place, with only the briefest of moments expecting that viewers will be savvy enough to get the gist and apply their own experience with, say, angry farmers in movies. The most powerful of these quick scenes is Giuseppe’s beautiful spell for his daughter, the only real piece of characterization we get for this entirely new resident of Ooo. Switching to a flashback animation style more reminiscent of the title cards, it condenses an entire life story of love and pain into just a few seconds, playing off the dead bodies littering the background of the suburb the road trip starts out from. This is the sort of thing Adventure Time does on the regular, but it’s worth pointing out both because it’s being done really, really well here and because I don’t get to write about the show all the time.
Giuseppe’s spell is beautiful, but his silent presence in the episode is perhaps the only big sticking point. The farting old man’s use of incredible magical abilities and subsequent dissolution into ethereal tree blossoms (which create his face) is exciting and beautiful, and it’s easy to imagine an argument for his character introducing mystery without a proper explanation, but it also feels in some sense predictable. It might just be that Adventure Time is awe-inspiring so consistently, that the manner in which it inspires is easy to spot, but the focus on the crabapples in the wizards’ new rings and winking, glowing forest gives off the sense that the episode has just ended abruptly because that’s what Adventure Time episodes are supposed to do—something most episodes manage to avoid. It’s true that as the show moves into, essentially, middle age (or a more cynical adolescence), the seams might show up a little more frequently. But getting older can also replace the joys of childhood with renewed, adult appreciation for things. If this episode is any indication, everything on the show continues to be tightly constructed, touchingly written, and frequently hilarious (Birwizard!). If the only real complaint is that the show’s greatness is occasionally predictable, that’s pretty math.
- Proposition: Ice King might be at George Costanza levels of all-time TV character greatness.
- I have a soft spot for the eternal weirdness of Tree Trunks, so I absolutely lost it when Ron James swapped heads with her. And Ice King switching heads with the Magi is the sort of joke that’s easy to see coming, but still lands.
- A thousand thanks to Oliver for letting me fill in for him—Adventure Time is one of my favorite shows on the air right now, and I’ll pretty much always jump at an opportunity to write about something I love that much.