Are you looking for a show that washes over you in tiny, bite-sized morsels of magic but, at the same time, scratches a deep itch for complexity and mystery? Then come along with me.
By the numbers, Adventure Time is a monster of a show: clocking in at 10 seasons and 283 episodes, it might seem daunting at first. But with each of those episodes lasting less than twelve minutes, it’s oh so easy to find yourself pressing play for “just one more.” Heck, you can get through five in the time it takes to watch just one installment of The Wire. (Which, incidentally, you should also definitely be bingeing).
And the real excitement comes from just how quickly you can dash through these episodes because you never know what you’re going to find next.
Created by Pendleton Ward in 2010, the show expanded to house a large and immensely talented creative team (many of whom went on to found their own groundbreaking series, including Steven Universe and Over the Garden Wall).
This diversity of strong creative voices makes for one of the more fascinating elements of Adventure Time — its variability of style and artistry from one episode to the next. The foundations are always rock steady, but the directions it’s willing to travel for a scant twelve minutes are often surprising and always delightful. Maybe you’ll get a noir-style hunt for a missing sock. Maybe you’ll check in on the kingdom of lemon people voiced entirely by Rick and Morty’s Justin Roiland. Maybe you’ll get a world-shattering, paradigm-shifting glimpse into the past that deepens the lore of the show’s universe in a way you never even knew you were missing.
Each is just as likely.
And that’s incredibly exciting — never really knowing what you’re getting into each time you press play. It’s a lovely, gentle kind of worldbuilding that takes you by the hand and expands your understanding of the show’s universe – both its literal and spiritual secrets – in ways you can never quite anticipate.
But every now and again, it really wallops you. And those are the moments in which Adventure Time is at its absolute best.
That’s not to say that it’s not always good. Because it is. It’s all but unheard of to come across an episode that doesn’t charm and delight and surprise you in some way. But sometimes (and you never know quite when) a totally game-changing episode comes up, one that expands the lore and explains something you never even knew was a mystery, and it’s always a phenomenal experience.
Even more phenomenal is the show’s finale. A prerequisite for the perfect binge is, of course, a satisfying ending. Never mind the fact that Adventure Time is coming back for a handful of specials on HBO Max. Those are all supplemental to the 2018 finale, which is immensely satisfying.
It’s so satisfying, in fact, that I wrote an entire essay on it.
Of course, if you’re here because you‘re considering bingeing this show for the first time, you should probably avoid this essay at all costs, because it spoils everything. While we’re at it, you should also definitely avoid this even more in-depth essay I wrote about the evolution of Ice King, the show’s best character, whose gradually unraveling story makes for the show’s most heartfelt and intriguing moments.
If you want to dive straight into that intrigue, there’s something to be said for starting a few seasons in. Specifically, there’s something to be said for starting with “I Remember You,” the penultimate episode of season 4. This episode marks the first of a series of exceptional episodes that epitomize the emotional depth, extensive lore, and razor-sharp writing the show aged gracefully into, right at the moment it began aging more rapidly.
It’s not a requirement, and it may even be technically breaking the rules of the traditional binge (ssh!) but if you have even a passing familiarity with the show and want to dive straight in where the action starts and the show ‘s finest skills are on display, that’s the place to start. And then once you’re well and truly hooked, you can flip back to the first seasons and see where everything came from. (Or if you want a list of essential early episodes, come see me. I’ll hook you up).
However you choose to get there, once you reach the sweet spot of this show, there’s no getting out. It will envelop you in its magic, daring you to uncover its mysteries and assuring you every step of the way that it’s all going to be okay.