You really never know what to expect with Adventure Time. We’ve had three new episodes this week, each has spotlighted Jake, and yet all of them have dramatically different storytelling styles. After exploring more complicated narrative territory in the last two episodes, “Jake The Brick” goes in a much, much simpler direction with a story that boils down to Jake watching animals in nature and recounting what he sees over a walkie-talkie. It offers no major developments for Finn, Jake, or anyone else in the cast, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a satisfying episode.
Writer/storyboarder Kent Osborne uses this simple concept to create an episode about a specific type of narrative: the emergency news broadcast. As Jake details events to Finn, Finn brings his walkie-talkie to the radio station, which broadcasts the story to the listening ears of nearly every character in this show’s sprawling cast. They are glued to this true story about a bunny caught in the middle of a storm in a structurally unsound warren, largely because of Jake’s immense skill in the telling, which makes this an episode that is also about the value of radio as a storytelling medium.
“Jake The Brick” is a pretty random episode with fairly low stakes, but it also shows the freedom this series’ creative team has to experiment with form and content. The bunny’s trials make for a very small-scale plot, but it’s told with a level of urgency and craft that allows it to reach a large number of people in Ooo. Those cameos are essential to the success of this episode. Even with DiMaggio’s talent for evocative voiceover narration, an entire episode of Jake simply recapping what he sees as a brick in a wall would probably be very boring, but folding in all those other members of the cast brings variety to the story while showing just how far the reach of Jake’s broadcast extends.
Watching Jake’s journalist experience, I’m reminded of the two nonfictional narratives that have been discussed a lot in the past week: the present-day unrest in Ferguson and the 15-year-old homicide mystery in Serial. Not because of the content of those stories, but because of the kinds of stories they are. Like the protests in Ferguson and other U.S. cities this week, the rabbit’s struggle becomes a major news story that reaches people far outside the area where the events are unfolding. An emergency news broadcast is still a story, and because it’s happening now, in real life, it has an immediacy that forcefully pulls the listener into the narrative. A national emergency isn’t entertainment, but there’s a plot unfolding there, which is why so many of them end up becoming big-screen features.
Back in the Golden Age of radio serials, there weren’t that many options when it came to discovering new stories. You could go to the movies or see live performance if you lived in an area with a theater, you could read a book if you had books (and knew how to read), you could listen to another person tell you a story, or you could listen to the radio. Nowadays, you can expose yourself to a new narrative in seconds, but back then, the radio was the easiest way for a huge audience to hear about something new. Because there’s no visual element, the listener uses the audio to create a mental image, and that added element of personal interpretation is one of the things that makes radio storytelling different than television, which took radio’s place as king of serialized storytelling.
Which brings us to Serial, a weekly podcast that details a 15-year-old homicide case, exploring the same story over the course of the season. Serial has taken the podcast world by storm, and I think a big reason for that is that it’s an audio-only experience. The production and writing are exceptional, which creates a strong mental impression that is colored by each individual listener’s perspective, and that mental picture becomes more detailed as the story continues. In a world where so much of entertainment comes via visual stimuli, it’s refreshing to take in a story that ignores the eyes. When you have the right storyteller, that audio narrative can be even more effective than a visual option, because the element of personal interpretation provides more interaction between the listener and the content.
By jumping to the different citizens of Ooo listening to Jake’s story, the episode forces the viewer to take in portions of Jake’s story the same way those characters are. We have more visual context because we’ve seen what the setting and characters look like, but specific moments are left to the audience’s imagination, like the climactic moment when an antagonistic deer destroys the bunny’s newly repaired home. Your mental image of those events is going to be different than my mental image of those events, even though they’re both informed by the same descriptions.
“Jake The Brick” is a clever exploration of emergency news and radio storytelling, but there’s also an inspirational element about chasing your childhood dreams, no matter how absurd they may seem. Ever since he was young, Jake wanted to feel what it would be like to be a brick in a brick shack just before it collapses, so one day he finds a dilapidated shack, takes his place as a brick, and waits to see what happens. He doesn’t actually achieve his goal, but he does end up touching a lot of different lives by sharing the story of what he witnesses during his experience. Childhood dreams may be ridiculous, but ultimately you never know what will happen when you try to make them a reality.
- A major theme of this episode is that there’s a lot of intrigue to nature on its own. Jake breaks his boredom by looking out in the wild and finding a narrative in animal interactions. Much of that intrigue come from beauty; Kent Osborne’s storyboards accentuate just how picturesque this show’s setting can be with expansive landscape shots during Finn’s journey to Jake’s shack, and the detail of the backgrounds combined with the lush color palette pulls the viewer deeper and deeper into the environment.
- Most unexpected cameos: Princess Cookies, Lemonhope, and Betty. When are we going to catch up with the Ice King’s former flame?
- “I really feel like I fit in. So to speak.”
- “I’m so bored.”
- “A carrot growing out here free and wild! Probably the result of a stray seed pooped out by a passing bird.”
- “It’s becoming clear the Mother Nature has not just knocked on the door, she has come in, sat down, and poured herself a drink.”