Do not just adjust your set: Adventure Time children TV show wipes out humans

Adventure Time is a show that's based in a post-apocalyptic world where humans have been wiped out. Oh, and it's for children. James Vincent investigates the appeal of a true original

When the setting for a TV show is a post‑apocalyptic world in which a nuclear disaster has wiped out all humans, except one, you'd be forgiven for imagining a series that consists of dodging zombies (à la The Walking Dead) or is a made-for-TV take on Cormac McCarthy's The Road.

Gory, or heartbreaking, or both, right? Not if you're watching Adventure Time, a children's cartoon with an unusually bleak-sounding set-up that is bright and bonkers, as well as bringing a meditation on gender politics, moral philosophy and love in the modern world.

Now in its sixth season, Adventure Time is about a teenage boy (Finn) and his dog (Jake) fighting monsters. It's also a doomsday fable about the difficulty of adult responsibility, an ensemble sitcom that's happy to end episodes on a fart joke and a rolling parade of the manic excesses of the imagination.

Having started out as a stand-alone short created by the American animator Pendleton Ward, it was leaked online in 2007, went viral, racked up three million views in a year and was swiftly commissioned. Now aired in 194 countries, it attracts more than two million viewers monthly, with adults making up a third of its audience.

"I've heard it compared to a kid's imaginary play," says Adam Muto, the show's co-executive producer, who's been on board since the pilot, variously as an animator and writer. "And we try to make it seem effortless but it's hard. There's so much work that goes into it."

At the first glance, the plot summaries read like exactly the sort of overly specific randomness that would have any sensible adult rolling their eyes pityingly. In one episode from season five, Finn gets hung up over a nascent relationship with Flame Princess (imagine a princess made of flames and you're pretty much there) and builds a giant pillow fort to let his mind "fester a bit". Crawling inside, he finds himself in a pillow world that he can't escape from and is forced to accept a new life, settling down with a pillow wife, raising a pillow family and eventually dying in bed before being zipped through the cosmos to emerge as his teenage self, pushing his way out of the same fort. Flame Princess rings and Finn forgets that anything happened to him. All this is crammed into an episode just 11 minutes long.

Adventure Time is full of oddballs and jerks. The show's haphazard mythos includes the god-like Prismo, an omnipotent two-dimensional being who gives the characters friendly advice and homemade pickles, and the straightforwardly evil, such as the Earl of Lemongrab, a totalitarian ruler whose only pleasure comes from eating his own clones. "It's usually just observation," says Muto, who is casual about the show's claims to emotional depth. "It's mostly about relationships and people can read into it what they will."

Adventure Time: full of odballs and jerks.

Adventure Time has been developing season to season. The early episodes established the bounds of the universe and the relationship of Finn and Jake (the former an irrepressible optimist; the latter a shape-shifting dog with the savvy outlook of an older brother). But in recent seasons a more sombre back-story has emerged, with the show's setting – the Land of Ooo – revealed as the post-apocalyptic earth and its inhabitants mutants.

If all this sounds a bit try-hard, or even just insane, you might need to experience for yourself a cartoon that manages, like all good art, to contain multitudes – encompassing highs and lows, visual gags and songs; creating something that's elegiac, sinister, and tender all at once.

"It's so hard to describe," Muto says. "On its face it's just a really simple show about this boy in blue and his yellow dog. People go into episodes expecting something very specific and they won't get that. The best way to approach is just not expecting anything; just let it be what it's going to be."

'Adventure Time' is on Mondays at 5pm on the Cartoon Network

Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine