Adventure Time returns to the short story format of past “Graybles” episodes in “Five Short Tables,” but with one big twist: Instead of having Cuber as the storyteller, tonight’s assortment of shorts is presented by Ice King, who tells tales about the characters in his ongoing Fionna and Cake fan-fiction. Having Ice King in charge means the stories are even more random than usual, and the episode’s main connective through line of tables is abandoned by the final story. Like the other “Graybles” episodes, “Five Short Tables” is an opportunity for the writers to explore different areas of the Adventure Time universe in smaller snippets, and it’s especially exciting because it’s exploring the world of Fionna and Cake.

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Writers/storyboard artists Aleks Sennwald and Kris Mukai have a lot of fun with the structure of this episode, telling stories within stories as the characters inside Ice King’s fiction craft narratives of their own. The episode begins with Cake serving Fionna some narrative flapjacks, but the story Cake is trying to tell doesn’t read with the amorphous blobs she’s made. They decide that they need to look to the outside world for inspiration, and over the course of the episode, Cake’s flapjacks become better defined as she commits to capturing the stories of other people in her food. Cake learns the basic art lesson that practice makes perfect, and as she spends more time on her craft, she sharpens it considerably. By the end of “Five Short Tables,” Cake is able to capture remarkable likenesses in her flapjacks, and exposing herself to more stories makes her better at creating her own.

The next three stories shift focus to the various princes in Fionna and Cake’s alternate world, starting with Prince Bubblegum challenging Butterscotch Butler to what looks like a game of checkers with living pieces. Butterscotch Butler defeats her opponent because she knows his deepest dreams (to lay on top of a bunch of candy people while Cinnamon Bun sits on him), ambitions (to become a Candy Pharaoh), and regrets (something involving Marshall Lee, perhaps a failed romance). Flashes of these dreams, ambitions, and regrets appear on screen as Butterscotch Butler brings them up, providing quick snapshots of Prince Bubblegum’s deeper psyche.

It’s unfortunate that Neil Patrick Harris isn’t available to voice Prince Bubblegum, and while Keith Ferguson does a solid impression, he doesn’t quite capture the enthusiasm and charm Harris brings to the character. The episode more than makes up for Harris’ absence with the other guest stars, though, and Madeleine Martin, Roz Ryan, Grey Delisle, and Donald Glover all return to the series to voice Fionna, Cake, Ice Queen, and Marshall Lee, respectively. They are joined by Hannibal Buress as Flame Prince, and his deadpan, aloof delivery is perfect for a character that walks around unaware of how his presence affects the world around him. Flame Prince’s story involves him walking around the library and setting things on fire, and Buress’ vocals are essential in making the humor land, particularly at the end when he reveals that he just came into the library to use the bathroom.

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Marshall Lee and Lumpy Space Prince’s short is all about using your voice to sell a story, and when LSP refuses to take cough medicine, Marshall Lee convinces him via an elaborate deception involving destructive sounds and a convincing vocal performance of danger. Marshall Lee pretends to come to LSP’s rescue against a vile enemy, and when it looks like he’s fallen in battle, LSP takes the medication so that his sacrifice isn’t in vain. Donald Glover commits fully to every line, and the intensity behind his performance makes the fight feel real even though we can see that it’s not actually happening.

The final short involves Ice Queen reading from her Flynn the human being and Jacques the raccoon fan-fiction, and it’s a dramatic shift in tone as Ice Queen’s fictional Ice President gets philosophical with his companions. “Feelings are action, and like all mortal action, they are doomed to failure,” Ice President says as part of a longer rant, and it’s hilarious to see how Ice Queen’s writing moves in a very different direction from the fan-fiction she currently exists within. A dulled color palette for Flynn and Jacques’ bit accentuates that change in the mood, but the richness returns to the coloring once the story snaps back to Fionna and Cake.

“Five Short Tables” is a fairly frivolous episode of Adventure Time, but there’s still a lot of thought put into these assorted shorts. The “Graybles” are always strange little diversions, but putting a new spin on that concept makes tonight’s episode a fresh addition to the “Graybles” series. It also shows that Fionna and Cake’s world is one that shouldn’t be ignored by this series, and I have no problem with the writers spending more time within Ice King’s fan-fiction in the future.

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Stray observations:

  • Fionna and Cake’s creator, Natasha Allegri, draws this week’s Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat! #6 from Marvel Comics. It is an absolutely adorable issue, and you can find a full review in next week’s Comics Panel!
  • I love the shoujo burst of sparkly pastels when Turtle Prince offers to read to Flame Prince. So much optimism, so quickly crushed.
  • Lumpy Space Prince’s scraggly mustache makes me laugh every single time I see him.
  • Cake: “Fionna! This character doesn’t serve any thematic purpose until much later in the meal.” Fionna: “Sorry, Cake. But these just look like formless blobs of sweet flapjack to me.”
  • Flour Demon: “You’re wasting me on breakfast!” Fionna and Cake: “No one asked you, flour demon.”
  • “You will outlive everyone you love. Cry for me, little mama!”
  • Fionna: “Hey, Ice Queen! I really liked your story! The imagery was tight.” Ice Queen: (Shoots ice beam) “Can you believe it was a first draft?” Fionna: (Deflects ice beam.) “No way!”

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