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Adventure Time uses theater to explore alienation and parental expectations

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Despite being the rapidly aged offspring of a shape-shifting dog and his rainicorn lover, Jake and Lady Rainicorn’s pups have been at the center of some of Adventure Time’s most grounded, emotionally mature episodes. Kim Kil Whan tried to get his dad to be a responsible adult in “Ocarina”, T.V. learned the harsh truth about growing up in “Diary”, and this week’s “Summer Showers” spotlights Viola as she deals with the pressure of her father’s hopes for her career as an actress. Viola is working backstage on a production of Lumpy Space Princess’ new drama “Summer Showers,” and while much of the episode deals with the egomania driving LSP’s theatrical endeavor, the heart of the story is in Viola and Jake’s relationship.


Jake hasn’t been an especially active father in his children’s lives, and he views their success as evidence that he wasn’t a horrible parent. He openly admits this to Viola when she lies to him and tells him she has the lead role in LSP’s play, to which Jake responds: “Sometimes…I wonder if maybe I haven’t been the best dad. Maybe I blew it. But you getting that part! That makes my entire life seem worthwhile.” It’s an exaggerated response, but writer/storyboard artist Graham Falk is using Jake as a stand-in for all parents that seek legitimacy through the success of their children. Jake doesn’t realize how much pressure his words put on his daughter, and something as small as calling Viola a “big-shot actress” places expectations on her that are very hard to meet in the world of entertainment, where talent isn’t necessarily what gets you the part.

“Summer Showers” resonates for me on a personal level because I’ve spent a lot of my life in theater. I was in plays and musicals in high school and college, did some professional acting before devoting my time to being a critic, reviewed a bunch of theater for a few years, and am now working as a dramaturge on a new drama opening in Chicago this spring. I’ve seen the theater world from quite a few angles, and I’ve seen people like Viola and Lumpy Space Princess in real life. I’ve been Viola and Lumpy Space Princess. I’ve felt that pressure from parents that just want the best for me, but end up making me feel inadequate because I haven’t matched the kind of success they expect for me. I’ve felt isolated from others and have escaped by creating art, although I’ve never produced anything on the scale of LSP’s show.


As a theater critic, I’ve seen my fair share of vanity productions like “Summer Showers.” They’re typically written and directed by the same person, which eliminates the system of checks and balances created by having a separate director. Sometimes (and it’s rare) a writer has the directing knowledge and talent to handle both roles, but more often than not, the writing and directing both suffer by not having another set of eyes. It’s easy to be blinded by your attachment when you’re in complete control of the material, and that’s the situation LSP is in, obsessing over tiny details like the size of raindrops on a coat when she should be thinking about big things like blocking and character development.

Viola has talent, as evidenced by her warm reading of LSP’s dialogue in her audition at the top of the episode, but she’s stuck on the run crew backstage because LSP has her priorities confused. LSP isn’t concerned about the quality of the art, and fixates on superficial elements of the production because the play is intended to fix her reputation rather than provide any sort of meaningful story. Pendleton Ward does exceptional work as LSP, elevating her to new levels of abrasive condescension as she berates Viola throughout the episode, but Ward also has a great handle on the more vulnerable side of LSP, which comes through in a rooftop monologue she delivers to Viola. LSP has realized that people don’t take her seriously and don’t give her the same respect they show other princesses, and “Summer Showers” is LSP’s chance to prove them wrong, and she does so by creating a chamber drama full of faux sophistication that manifests in the overblown dialogue.

You don’t need to have theater experience to appreciate this episode, and the general ideas of realizing one’s potential and seeking acceptance from others are universal. Paget Brewster gives a great performance as Viola, and her ability to bring gravitas to the dialogue of LSP’s play is essential to making this episode work. The final lines of “Summer Showers” have a generic pretension that is often found in vanity plays, but Brewster imbues them with melancholy to finish the production with some real emotion. Her performance greatly impresses her father, and her confession that her original job was to put raindrop on coats doesn’t diminish Jake’s pride, it amplifies it, ending the episode with a touching moment of connection between father and daughter.

Stray observations

  • Before the performance begins, there’s an exterior shot of the theater showing a crowd primarily composed of elderly candy people, which I’m assuming is an intentional joke about how senior citizens are the people most likely to go to live theater.
  • LSP’s director’s notes are just scribbles on a page.
  • Finn is falling asleep during “Summer Showers,” and I can’t blame him.
  • “Time is a slippery devil. Our lives are sudden. They come and go like…like a summer shower.”
  • “Stop interrupting me when I’m trying to explain things childishly!”
  • “This play is set in a country called Een-gland, and in Een-gland anyone called Tree Trunks is always called Miranda Hobson during the summer.”
  • “Have you finally figured out what rain looks like?”