Both “James” and “Root Beer Guy” are episodes that spotlight new characters and their interactions with Finn, Jake, and Princess Bubblegum, but Root Beer Guy’s introduction is far more successful than his fellow Candy citizen’s. Why? Like another episode named for its central candy character, “Princess Cookie,” “Root Beer Guy” fully commits to spoofing a specific type of story, replacing a hostage-negotiation drama with a hardboiled mystery. “James” drifted away from the sci-fi survival horror aspect of the plot to tell a broader morality tale, but this week’s episode benefits from folding the moral questions into a narrative that never forgets what it’s parodying.
Root Beer Guy (Jack Pendarvis) is a restless beverage stuck in the soul-crushing routine of a telemarketing job and passionless marriage; a sad man whose only solace is the crime novel he’s been writing for 10 years, starring the take-no-prisoners, fear-loving detective Joe Milkshake. When RBG accidentally witnesses the abduction of Princess Bubblegum by supposed heroes Finn and Jake, he gets pulled into a world of intrigue that rivals anything he’s come up with in his book, discovering his true destiny as he dedicates himself to the investigation. Written and storyboarded by a single animator, Graham Falk, “Root Beer Guy” has a confident artistic voice that proudly caters to older viewers, using the tropes of crime fiction to tell a poignant story about one man’s desperate quest for purpose. Kids enjoy the mystery and the action and the talking candy, but RBG’s dead-end job, relationship woes, and growing ennui resonate with the show’s adult fanbase.
“Princess Cookie” and “Root Beer Guy” are memorable because they introduce fully developed characters with backstories and motivations, something that the main subjects of episodes like “James” and “Box Prince” lack. It’s not a surprise that stronger attention to character makes for a more satisfying episode. And Falk’s story achieves remarkable emotional complexity as it details the adventures of an anthropomorphic glass of root beer. Jack Pendarvis’ voice work perfectly evokes a middle-aged man who has grown weary from the constant boredom of his life, and his work is complemented by Anne Heche’s wonderful turn as RBG’s concerned wife Cherry Cream Soda.
Heche was approached for the role when Pendarvis commented on the wife’s similarity to her character in Donnie Brasco, and in a happy twist of fate, she agreed to play the part. It proves to be an inspired casting choice. Heche gives an intense performance that draws attention to the way RBG’s current mission has derailed his marriage and personally wounded the person who cares for him most. Heche’s emotional honesty contrasts with the silly context for some great moments of comedy, providing a constant undercurrent of personal drama that motivates the humor.
This episode paints a vivid portrait of RBG’s life, one that is rarely touched by the adventurous influence of Finn and Jake. When the heroic pair save some candy kids that have been eaten by a bright pink giant, RBG doesn’t get swept up in the mob energy and cheer with the group—he just makes a quiet comment to himself and moves along, so that he’s not late for work and the inevitable chewing-out his boss will give him. At home, he eats the same candy he always eats, and doesn’t get to spend intimate time with his wife in bed because she has closing arguments in the morning. He’s not happy with this life, but he’s able to find joy in his writing, even if it’s not very good. When he’s writing about Joe Milkshake, RBG experiences the excitement lacking in his everyday activities.
But all he needs is the right opportunity to make Milkshake’s fiction a reality. Being the only witness to a heinous crime is the exact opportunity RBG needs—and he only becomes bolder as obstacles get in the way of his investigation. He won’t let his wife’s worries distract him from his case, and if the Banana Guard can be tricked by Jake turning his flesh into a mock Princess Bubblegum, then they’re not fit to solve this mystery in the first place. It turns out the crime is a staged test for the Candy Kingdom’s security force, a test they fail miserably when they ignore all of RBG’s suggestions and handcuff him when he leads them to the actual culprits. Finn and Jake do such a great job protecting the Candy Kingdom that the actual security force has become weak and complacent, and if it weren’t for RBG, the abduction wouldn’t have even registered on the Banana Guards’ radar.
RBG used to escape his boring reality by writing fiction, but when he chooses to live the invigorating life he’s imagined for years, the universe rewards him. Solving the mystery of Princess Bubblegum’s abduction earns RBG the lucrative job position of Captain of the Banana Guard, giving him a new sense of direction and reinvigorating his relationship with Cherry Cream Soda. The episode ends with the happily married couple walking arm-in-arm past the trash can that now contains RBG’s typewriter, a tool he know longer needs to fix his outlook. Writing helped him discover the kind of person he wanted to be, and when he changed his perspective to look at the world like Joe Milkshake, a brand new landscape of possibilities opened up for him. RBG exercised his imagination and it eventually led him to contentment, creating one fantastic episode of Adventure Time along the way.
- I love the little details in this episode that flesh out RBG’s world, from visual touches like the crime movie posters and framed photographs of dessert relatives to extra dialogue like the background conversation between two coworkers that are planning to start their own company if they can get their hands on the leads. It creates a palpable sense of the history behind the current situation, making it seem like the viewer has spent more time with RBG than just 10 minutes.
- The Banana Guard immediately accepts Jake’s orange flesh Princess Bubblegum as the real thing, but when the actual PB emerges from a swamp covered in orange liquid, they don’t recognize her. It’s a clever way of showing just how dumb the Candy Kingdom’s police force truly is.
- “Besides, I miss you at night.” Talking sodas addressing their personal intimacy issues are hilarious.
- “Look at me, Root Beer Guy! I’m a cherry cream soda and I have the same needs as any other cherry cream soda. Or even diet cream soda!”
- “You haven’t earned the new leads!” Did Adventure Time just shout out Glengarry Glen Ross?
- “Ehh…and I took a boat out after 8 o’clock.”