What time is it? It’s time for me to step in for Oliver to review the latest episode of Adventure Time!
And I’m delighted to do it. This is a terrific show, and it fits beautifully in that gray area between kid and adult entertainment in a way that manages to satisfy both a desire for sophisticated (i.e., weird) writing and plain old silliness. This is basically what would happen if you asked a bunch of 12-year-olds to make a cartoon, only it’s the best possible version of that, like if all the 12-year-olds were super geniuses and some of them were Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and the Marx Brothers. What gets me the most, what makes it possible for me to throw on an episode any time I happen to be bored or a little bit blue, is the show’s untarnished enthusiasm for, well, everything. There are the occasional bits of meta commentary and a fair amount of (generally hilarious) gross-out humor, but every character has a distinct voice, and they’re all wonderfully, gloriously sincere. Even the sarcastic vampire is, deep down, a complete sweetheart. This is a show that makes you feel happy, without ever coming across as mawkish or cheaply sentimental. It’s just darn sweet, in all senses of the word.
I’ll admit to being something at a loss as to how to review an episode, but at least I’m pretty sure “Goliad” was a good one. Putting on my critic's hat, I guess I would say this didn’t quite come up to the level of glorious madness that the best episodes achieve (the stuff at the toddler school took a while to get going), but it still had a pink sphinx with a third eye on a stalk, and cloning (ish), and mind control, and Jake getting force-fed a large chunk of the local candy population. It also had an unexpectedly awwwww ending, and a climax that hit the right balance of silly and spooky. The plot: Princess Bubblegum, having realized she might not live forever (“I would if I could,” she whispers to Finn. “But modern science isn’t there yet.”), decides to create a replacement who can take over ruling the kingdom in case anything happens to her. Using a standard mixture of candy, algebra, and her own DNA, she makes a pink sphinx named Goliad. Like all scientists, Bubblegum has worked herself to exhaustion, and while she gets some much-deserved shut-eye, Finn and Jake volunteer to teach Goliad everything there is to know about being in charge. Despite their best efforts, this goes about as you’d expect, but while it was probably a bad idea for Jake to lose his temper in front of someone so young and impressionable, it’s hard to blame him or Finn for what happens next: Goliad decides that yelling at people isn’t worth the effort, so she pops out her third eye and opts for some mind control. (Okay, sure, Finn did tell her to use her brain, but I don’t think “third eye zapping” was what he had in mind.)
While I don’t want to overthink this, it’s definitely neat how the show sets up one expectation—Jake and Finn are going to screw up teaching Goliad how to be a princess!—and then just runs off in another direction. Goliad is definitely a problem child, but her almost immediate desire to take over the castle is more a flaw in her design than it is any mistake our two heroes made. Goliad’s third eye also grants her mind-reading abilities (Science, is there anything you can’t do? Apart from immortality, I mean), and when she realizes Bubblegum wants to undo the mess she’s made, things get real. This leads to the best gag in the episode, as Finn desperately tries to keep Goliad from reading his thoughts, even though he can’t help thinking of the exact thought he most needs to protect. (It’s a visual bit, hard to describe, but at one point, Bubblegum gets a dolphin head.) Realizing there’s no other way, the princess makes a second sphinx, Goliad’s brother, Stormo. Goliad and Stormo fight, and, as their powers are exactly matched, wind up locked in eternal psychic battle. Finn asks Bubblegum why Stormo, unlike his evil sister, is a hero, and the princess tells him that this time, she used some of Finn’s DNA in the mixture.
That right there is what I love about Adventure Time. In a straight-faced-but-still-totally-ridiculous episode, they find time for a small moment of heart. And there are a ton of great touches throughout the seven-minute running time, from Finn and Jake messing around with a stick fort, to Jake vomiting up townspeople after everything calms down. If you boiled down the message of this show to a few sentences, it would be the same simple credos all children’s cartoons embrace: Friendship is wonderful, believe in yourself, being a good person is important. And yet the lessons are never forced or faked. It’s like getting to run around in the backyard with your best friend, only this time, the lava pits and monsters are real, and the cute girl next door is the most awesome crazy scientist in the world. Man. It’s hard to think of a better time than that.
- I thank you for your kind indulgence. Oliver will return next time.
- Graham Linehan’s daughter did the voice of Goliad. And she was great.
- I don’t know who “Don Juan Cherry Tempo” is, but I’m going to steal that.
- Man, Goliad goes from childlike innocence to the full Ayn Rand in about an hour. That’s gotta be a record.