What time is it? Time for cult classic series “Adventure Time” to end

By Eric Stone
October 20, 2016

Image from Cartoon Network

After eight years and an upcoming ninth season to air, the immensely popular and beloved Cartoon Network series “Adventure Time” will be coming to an end in 2018. Considering the large impact it has had on the animation industry and the media in general, this was a big shock for most audiences, and even the staff themselves.

I won’t beat around the bush, “Adventure Time” is currently my favorite show, period. For all non-viewers of the series, that statement might leave you confused and curious.

“Isn’t “Adventure Time” that show with the boy and the stretchy dog that makes absolutely no sense?” is the most common response I get, and if you watched an episode or two, that response might be spot on. However, in the past six years it’s been on the air, “Adventure Time” has become so much more than that to me.

If you are unfamiliar with the plot, the show stars one of the last known humans, 12-year-old Finn Mertens, and his best friend/brother Jake the Dog and their adventures in the post-post apocalyptic Land of Ooo. Among some of their friends are ruler of the Candy Kingdom, Princess Bubblegum, Marceline the Vampire Queen, the sad and lonely Ice King and Finn and Jake’s sentient gaming console, BMO.

A simple concept and an almost childish sounding one, but considering that Finn ages as the series goes on, as well as these other characters being strongly fleshed out and given hidden depth beyond their original kid-friendly personalities, the show becomes all the more identifiable and thought provoking.

I could go on and on about all the various secondary and tertiary characters who get their chance to develop and expand over the course of the series, but the show still primarily centers around Finn, and as he grows older throughout the series, he enters the awkwardness and confusing times of adolescence, as well as experiencing hardship, loss and identity crises as he begins to enter his adult years.

As I was roughly around the same age as Finn when the show started, I find that I quite literally and figuratively grew up with this show, and feel that, no matter how nonsensical the world gets, I can deeply identify with the situations our main character has to go through. Even when going through the tough and confusing process of entering my teens and adulthood, I never quite felt too lost in the process, because I always had “Adventure Time” to look at these problems with humor, honesty and potency. That, in my opinion, is something special.

And throughout these past seven seasons, the show has dealt with such heavy-handed issues such as parental abandonment, loss, sexuality, existentialism, identity, memory loss and most prominently, depression. All while staying true to its origins and having self-contained “silly” episodes in between.

But even at its most self-contained, almost every character, event, or even non-sequitur will eventually make their way into the story somewhere down the road, even if it takes four or five seasons later for that to happen. No one is forgotten, and everything that happens has a direct effect on each character, whether expressed in words or in subtlety.

The brilliant writing behind “Adventure Time” derives not from mainstream artists and writers, but many under-the-radar indie artists who express their style in often beautiful and surreal artwork. I was lucky enough to get in contact with a couple of current and past writers, who shared their input on the show’s cancellation and some of their experiences working on the show itself.

“Eight years spent working on AT, pretty much from its birth to its death, has been an extremely wild ride, I gotta say,” current writer and storyboard artist Thomas Herpich said in an email. “Some aspects I’ll be glad to be done with, and some I’ll miss a lot.”

Herpich started out as a prop and character designer in season one before being promoted to a storyboard artist in season two, and still writes for the show today. He has won two Emmy’s for the episodes he has worked on in 2015 and 2016 respectively, “Walnuts & Rain” and “The Dark Cloud.”

Image from “The Dark Cloud,” an Emmy Award winning episode written and storyboarded by Herpich.

When Cartoon Network released their official statement about the show’s cancellation, “Adventure Time” creator Pendleton Ward stated that, ““Adventure Time” was a passion project for the people on the crew who poured their heart into the art and stories. We tried to put into every episode something genuine and telling from our lives, and make a show that was personal to us, and that had jokes too!”

This method of making “Adventure Time” episodes based on personal experiences was also reflected by past storyboard artist Jesse Moynihan, who worked on the show from seasons two through seven. Many of the episodes Jesse has worked on include experimental themes surrounding life and love, as well metaphorical imagery.

“It’s helpful to draw from your own experiences and questions in order to flesh out a fictional world,” Moynihan said in an email. “I believe the more specific the experience, the more intimate the connection between creator and audience.”

While Moynihan often tackled heavy-handed subjects in the episodes he worked on, he also included the offbeat and unusual humor that “Adventure Time” has become so well known for. “Whenever I felt like I was able to execute a scene that communicated some kind of statement about the mystery of existence in an effective and funny way, I experienced deep satisfaction.”

As I had mentioned, the theme of growing up plays a large part in the show as Finn continues enter adulthood. The writers of AT can relate to this, as for many, working on the show helped them grow as writers as well as people.

“Sometimes I felt like we were working on something very special and different, but other times I couldn’t figure out how to measure that against other shows and the feedback they were getting,” Moynihan said. “I came to realize that this special value was arbitrary and couldn’t really be gauged by any reliable standard; the only thing I could rely on was my own internal experience of working on the show, and my feeling of growing as a writer during my time there.”

Likewise, former creative director and writer Patrick McHale, who later went on to produce the award winning Over the Garden Wall miniseries, reflected on his past career working on “Adventure Time.”

“It [working on “Adventure Time”] was great, but was actually really stressful, because it was the first time I had so much responsibility,” McHale said via Twitter direct message. “Being a creative director was a strange place to be because it’s sort of a middle management position; it was my responsibility to make sure everyone was following Pen’s vision for the show… which meant that I sometimes had trouble knowing what I was specifically adding to the show myself.”

McHale wasn’t specifically writing, storyboarding, designing, coloring or acting on the show. Instead, he was overseeing each of these aspects as well as offering his opinions as well as ideas to each staff member, which he found to be difficult.

“I think it was worth it because I’m really proud of how the show turned out and what it became, and I also built up a good reputation with the studio while working on AT, so that helped me get my own miniseries afterwards,” McHale said.

McHale also expressed his growth as a writer and storyteller from working on the show.

“It gave me the opportunity to learn the ins-and-outs of the process on a show that I was actually proud of making,” McHale said. “I also learned a lot from working and theorizing with Pen; he’s got amazingly valuable insights into character moments and entertainment in general.”

While these writers enjoyed looking back at their past, they inevitably look ahead toward the future, as their anticipation toward the end of the show draws closer. Moynihan was slightly skeptical about the show’s big finale.

“It really depends on how they decide to end it,” Moynihan said. “For me, personally I’d run out of ideas for the show and so I decided it was time to leave and be replaced by someone with a fresh take, hopefully they figure out a good way to resolve the series!”

McHale also spoke with uncertainty about “Adventure Time” ending, but noted that the reaction from fans was mostly positive because they are “glad it’s ending while the show is still good.”

“It’s going to be hard to figure out an ending that’s going to be perfect for everybody, but I’m excited to see what the crew comes up with,” McHale said. “I’m excited to see the very last shot of the series.”

While it’s terribly sad to see it ending, “Adventure Time” has brought joy into people’s lives for many years, and has had a significant impact on television history. It has changed the definition of what a kid’s animated show can be, and has had a large influence on most modern day cartoons.

With two years left in the bag, “Adventure Time” will have enough content to satisfy people for years. Even with 236 episodes and counting, the show still proves to be fresh in its humor and poignancy.

In the words of creator Pendleton Ward, “It’s a special thing, I think.”

Eric Stone

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