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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Adventure Time: "Bad Timing"

Illustration for article titled Adventure Time: "Bad Timing"
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Who’d have thought Adventure Time would hop on to the whole “time is a flat circle” phenomenon? The main action of “Bad Timing” is presented through a circular frame, with the rest of the screen serving as a psychedelic dimension populated by cutesy cartoon microbes. That dimension exists outside of time, and those microbes are transported there via a time travel device created by Princess Bubblegum. If they want, they can view the natural progression of Ooo time through the flat circle in the middle of their environment, but they’re preoccupied with goofing off in this world where physics doesn’t exist.

This episode is all about bending time, so I might as well start by dissecting the end, when the viewer finally discovers the reason why this episode has such a drastic visual approach. Lumpy Space Princess has fallen in love with her old high school lab partner, Johnnie, but when she suspects that he loves Princess Bubblegum, she uses PB’s time travel device on him and sends him into the other dimension. This happens because the time travel device is a phasical sphere flooded with infowaves, logging every second and every molecule that passes through it. Rather than sending someone into the past, the time travel machine puts that person inside a molecular copy of a past self, so if the machine is used on someone that hasn’t been logged by the machine yet, they are thrown out of time completely. That’s what happens to poor Johnny, a kind-hearted man whose only bad decision was falling for a lumpy purple girl at a bar.

The dimension of microbes surrounding the action in this episode takes background gags to the extreme, and it’s impossible to catch everything on the first watch. (It doesn’t help that the Cartoon Network logo blocks everything that happens in the lower left hand corner.) Beyond providing comic asides, the surrounding area also uses color to evoke different emotions in specific settings. LSP and Johnnie’s meeting in the bar is surrounded by a dark combination of blue, black, and green, and when they go back to the place Johnnie is subletting, the colors switch to more warm and sensual purples, pinks, and reds. When a truck crashes into the Candy Castle and explodes, the background switches to bright red, dulling in the episode’s sad final moments before cutting to black.

The only other episode this season co-written and storyboarded by series creator Pendleton Ward was “James Baxter The Horse,” an exceptional exploration of creativity, and “Bad Timing” sees Ward and co-writer/storyboarder Kent Osborne moving into more experimental territory to create a visually stunning, emotionally resonant story. As the voice of LSP, Ward has a specific affection for the character, and this episode does incredible work developing her character and creating a sense of empathy for one of the show’s more absurd characters.

Just before LSP sends her new boyfriend out of time, she delivers a touching monologue that illustrates why she’s such a great character on this show. Heartbroken after seeing Johnnie at a business dinner with PB, LSP desperately needs to vocalize her feelings. Sipping on root beer, she talks about how in every relationship she gambles with her heart; she goes all in, because the payoff is true love. When she closes her eyes and thinks about Johnnie (or her ex-boyfriend Brad), her heart feels light. Her problems go away and she can smile. If she were a bigger person, she would be able to give that love away and let PB have it, but she doesn’t know if she’s that big. Turns out she’s definitely not, and after delivering her touching speech, she throws a root beer Molotov cocktail through the castle window and sends a truck crashing through the front door.

LSP is a person who is enthusiastic and passionate to a fault, dedicating herself so completely to her lovers that she ends up going to insane measures when any sign of trouble appears. That same obsessive mindset applies to her relationships with friends and enemies, although she’s least intense with her friends (unless she’s talking about her lovers or enemies). LSP’s personality can be obnoxious, but in the right hands, there’s an endearing quality underneath all the crazy behavior. When she loves, she loves with her whole heart. When she hates, she hates with her whole heart. But she always gives her all.


Even without the visual gimmick, “Bad Timing” is an outstanding episode of this show, delivering a constant stream of hilarious jokes within a story that addresses some surprisingly mature subject matter in a completely kid-friendly way. Johnnie is a bottler and distributor of lumpy gas seeking a contract with the Candy Kingdom so that his business can take off, and he only reunites with LSP because they both happy to be miserable in the same bar. They used to be lab partners and she called him “Ugly Johnnie,” but he’s really grown up, and LSP is enamored because, as always, she’s eager to give her heart to anyone that might take it. LSP gives Johnnie posture tips so that he can wow PB at his presentation and ends up giving him the confidence he needs to secure the contract, and in return he showers her with the affection she’s always wanted.

It’s the perfect relationship until LSP’s fears destroy it, and after she uses the time travel machine on Johnnie, she begs PB to use it on her and send her back to before she ever knew Johnnie. It’s already a depressing ending, but as PB wipes LSP’s memory, Johnnie appears in the outside dimension and watches his true love forget him. It’s already impressive that Adventure Time can tell two time travel stories in a row that both end with the protagonists losing their memories and still have the episodes be completely different experiences, but it becomes downright astonishing when they’re also delivered with this level of thought and imagination.


Stray observations:

  • Best microbe gags: The peanut that rips itself opens and frees the two nuts inside, who play together and cheer when the peanut reassembles itself into a strange four-legged green blob. The two microbes shooting arrows at each other, then at the balloon carrying a microbe in the air above them.
  • Even the title card and opening credits of this episode are in the circle frame. 
  • Adventure Time has really mastered the adorable, horrified scream. 
  • I need an entire episode set inside the Candy Tavern on Karaoke Night. Tree Trunks singing “Slow Boat To China” is nowhere near enough.
  • More Manfried is always appreciated.
  • Breakfast transition = amazing.
  • “Ice King’s done it better before, with magic.”
  • “Hey, time, where’s my fiancée? Am I right?”
  • “I’m sah-ryyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy. I’m sorry you’re so stupid.”
  • LSP: “Why can’t I get over you?” Bartender: “Have you tried burning an effigy, that’s what they do in movies.”
  • “Talk is cheap, Johnny!”
  • “That chair? Oh, it used to be over there, but I moved it.”
  • “So Bubblegum thinks she can horn in on my territory, sip from my soup after I cut all the onions? Yo, think again, tranch!” Second use of “tranch” in two weeks.