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
Keith from The Office ten years on

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams prepares to enter the House of Black and White as Arya Stark in Game of Thrones season five

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Albert Hammond Junior of The Strokes performs at the Natural History Museum on July 6, 2006 in London, England.

music
Arts and Entertainment
Howard Mollison, as played by Michael Gambon
tv review
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush in The King's Speech

The best TV shows and films coming to the service

tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Muscling in: Noah Stewart and Julia Bullock in 'The Indian Queen'

opera
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

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.

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003