“Jermaine” Review

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Original Airdate: April 23, 2015

Written & Storyboarded by: Brandon Graham & Jesse Moynihan

Connecting the dots to every tiny piece of established information in the Adventure Time world was probably the most difficult aspect for the writing team in the long haul. What I mean by this is that the series initially started out as a crazy and silly fantasy world with little restrictions as to what could be done in said world. Years later, those restrictions have mostly stayed the same, though to make the Land of Ooo feel more real and authentic, the series has taken a stance to be strong in its continuity so that those wackier early seasons could essentially be retconned as worldbuilding. Finn and Jake’s estranged brother Jermaine was included in the episode Crystals Have Power as a mere gag character; even Jesse Moynihan, who established Jermaine’s existence in this world, didn’t really think twice about what that creation meant and how it would affect the story down the line. And it didn’t for a while, as Crystals Have Power aired five whole seasons ago, and outside a brief mention in The Pit and cameos in Memory of a Memory, Jake the Dad, and Joshua & Margaret Investigations, the character has never had a proper chance to shine, and the writing staff, up until this point, had failed to find a rational way to include him in the story. Jermaine finally brings its title character to centerstage, and is a turmoil-fueled expedition that capitalizes on an interesting relationship between siblings that we really haven’t seen in the series thus far.

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The beginning starts off fantastically, courtesy of some great visual gags from guest storyboard artist Brandon Graham. This is Graham’s only episode in the series, but man, do his drawings stick out in a really fun way. The dream bit where Jake slides on Lady Rainicorn’s body is such a fun, bouncy sequence that features some stellar animation as well. The reveal sequence with Jermaine is plenty foreboding, and gives us a good idea of who Jermaine is as a character. The series ditched the Jermaine we saw back in Crystals Have Power: he no longer has missing teeth, prominent lips, and a deepened John DiMaggio voice. He keeps the unibrow, but is voiced instead by Tom Scharpling, who is quite obviously the voice of Greg Universe from Steven Universe. I can’t help but feel this bit of discontinuity is slightly distracting… I guess you could maybe argue that the dream sequence distorted Jermaine’s appearance like the nightmares in King Worm did, but I like this version of Jermaine better so I can’t really complain about the change on an entertainment level. His anxious state is well-defined by his almost compulsive recitation of “epsilon, eucrates…” that helps him stay calm, as well as concentrated. I also like that Jake and Jermaine are somehow always connected by their dreams, for completely unexplained reasons. It’s a bit of subtle character lore that has no role in the grand scheme of things, but is an interesting way to bring the two brothers together, considering their distant behavior elsewhere. Also, I think Graham may be the only storyboard artist who loves drawing Jake with toes more than Ako Castuera.

Jake’s stress and worry regarding his brother is also well-explored. One of the key components of Jake’s development throughout the series is that he’s aging at an unknown and incomprehensible pace, and that often leads to concerns on whether he’s being a good father, brother, caregiver and so on. Not only does Jake have kids of his own now that he wants to stay together as a close knit group, but he likely worries about Jermaine’s mental and physical health, and if something were to happen to Jermaine, Jake would probably feel responsible for not attempting to reach out sooner. This beginning scene is loaded with details as well: there’s that awesome coffee cup with a face, a living head within F&J’s cooler, BMO’s little karate practice, and Finn tinkering with who knows what. There’s so much going on in one brief scene, but it’s all jam-packed in a way that there’s always something really unique to look at. Guest storyboard artists oftentimes can be the most creative on a visual level, because it’s their one opportunity to get to work with such a creative and unique property, and Graham takes every opportunity he can get. My all-time favorite moment of his from this episode is the scene where Finn and Jake leave for Jermaine’s, as Jake’s stretchy legs propel the two forward, and we see a slow pan of Ooo’s descent from daytime into night. It’s only a couple of seconds and isn’t really significant to the story in any way, but it’s big on energy, beautiful, and competently drawn/animated. Always pretty awesome how successful Adventure Time can be in its simpler moments.

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The demons all have relatively neat and creative designs despite the fact that they’re mostly limited to be translucent silhouettes. It is a bit weird to have demons like Kee-Oth and Bryce who are very detailed and unique in their designs, and then to have a bunch of nameless demons that seem to all seem to share similar attributes exist as the same species. I mean, maybe there are different types of demons based on origin or landscape? Or maybe it was because said demons were surrounded by darkness? I dunno, it didn’t really bother me because I did like the designs of these background demons and the way they moved, so it was pretty easy to glance over the possible inconsistency.

Jermaine proves to be a really sympathetic and likable character in a very short amount of time, and I think his anxieties and stressors are elaborated on in all of the right ways. He isn’t just a stick in the mud for the sake of being a stick in the mud, he was practically forced to be responsible against his own will for the sake of his father, and isn’t able to enjoy the pleasures of life because this responsibility demands his full attention 24/7. Jermaine could simply give up his job whenever he likes, but the one thing keeping him there is likely the burdening guilt that he would feel for his dad. It could be implied that Joshua’s dying wish for Jermaine was to protect all of his belongings, and so choosing a life of splendor and enjoyment would surely feel like a betrayal to Jermaine, who simply wants to obey his father’s desires. This also paints more of a grim picture about the kind of person Joshua was. Again, I’m still in the stance that Joshua was a solid father, but I think his moral ethics and treatment of others certainly come into question. Once again, the demons seem to be somewhat of victims here, as Joshua likely stole from them either for sport or for kicks, even though a majority of these items seem to be of little value or importance, at least from an audience perspective. Second, I think Joshua’s decision to ask Jermaine to watch over the house doesn’t come from the direct reason that Joshua favored Jake, (though, I think that’s an entirely plausible thought; Joshua did give birth to Jake, after all) but rather that Joshua saw him as the most responsible member of the family that would reasonably be able to carry on his legacy with little issues. It was still entirely selfish for Joshua to ask Jermaine to practically give up his life over material possessions, though as much as we’ve seen of this awesome crib throughout the past few seasons, it kind of makes sense. Joshua and Margaret’s house is AWESOME, and filled with many different treasures aside from just demon cups and posters. Their loot collection nearly doubles as a museum of different artifacts and delights, and shows just how much Joshua was able to achieve in terms of loot throughout his lifespan. Of course, this is Joshua’s legacy, though. Joshua was not considering the thoughts and values of his son when he asked him to take on said responsibility, and it’s not fair for Jermaine to sacrifice his own wellbeing for Joshua’s belongings.

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The episode nearly excels at making Jermaine too likable to possibly the fault of its own, as Finn and Jake can come off as almost distractingly pesky. I wouldn’t say the brothers are completely flanderized or anything like that, but it is frustrating to see F&J cause consistent problems in Jermaine’s state of being when he just simply wants to be left alone. Granted, Jermaine needed that extra boost of frustration and anger to help him realize the true issue at hand, but I wish the brothers were a little more conscientious in regard to his well being. I mean, how did Jake NOT know that the salt trail outside was protecting the house from demons? Granted, the two bros still get their moments of likability. Finn going absolutely berserk after being in his house for the first time in years was just delightful, and I do like how the bros are completely on Jermaine’s side throughout the entirety of the episode, even when it means going against their dad’s wishes.

Their support is futile, however, as Jermaine finally blows up and lashes out at his two brothers, but with most of his anger aimed towards Jake. And this built up anger is completely understandable as Jermaine’s absolute jealousy towards Finn and Jake’s way of life. How could he not be filled with envy? Jermaine is stuck in a position that he mentally has no way out of, where he has absolutely no way of growing personally or enjoying life as it was intended, while Finn and Jake get to live in utter luxury for doing what they love and never have to worry about money, responsibility, or fulfilling their own desires. While I thought Kim Kil Whan was too harsh in his approach to showing Finn and Jake that they’re privileged beings, I think Jermaine’s blow up is completely sympathetic and rational, and his level of inferiority is certainly felt. Joshua likely enjoyed hanging out with Jake more, because of Jake’s desires to be adventurous and to fight bad guys, while Jermaine was always the smart and rational one. Joshua presumably loved Jermaine as much as he loved his other children, but saw different things in him that required attention to different responsibilities, while Jake was the one that Joshua could have fun with and relate to the most. However, Jermaine’s argument is based on his surface level understanding of Finn and Jake’s style of life. I don’t know if anyone else caught this, but that brief shot of Finn’s distressed face as Jermaine utters, “you can go off and find your own fancy ways!” kind of made me think that Jermaine has no idea that his brother went through severe depression and emotional issues in the past few months. Finn and Jake may have luxury at their fingertips, but they’re certainly not immune to the struggles and trials that life has to offer regardless, though Jermaine fails to see that because of how long they’ve been apart for.

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The fight is certainly entertaining, with more fun little details, like the flying shoe and the “jazz-bazz” dragon, and the words exchanged between Jermaine and Jake are certainly dramatic. I think it might be executed a little too silly in hindsight… I mean, it’s essentially ended by Jake repeatedly passing gas. But, I think it’s well-timed, as Jermaine begins to realize towards the end of their brawl that fighting Jake isn’t going to accomplish anything. As Jake reminds him, “you could’ve left at any time,” leaving Jermaine to recognize that his grief is likely with his father, and his own decision to not move on from said guilt. I even kind of think that Jake’s goofy response may have tied into his youthful fart jokes that he was describing, and the fake fart he released as Jermaine hit him may have been a method Jake used as a child to cheer Jermaine up. I do wish Jake was a tad more serious during this scene, as he responds a little too casually to the whole ordeal, but it also reinforces how Jake deals with these types of situations to begin with. He isn’t a fighter, and would much rather solve his issues with jokes and joy rather than with fists. And, after Jermaine does release all of his negative energy, he’s able to tearfully let his parents’ house burn down, knowing that a whole new life exists for him beyond the materialistic nature of Joshua’s possessions. He’s off to a great start, as he and his newly-found demon buddy Bryce walk into the horizon. Bryce is cleverly voiced by Jon Wurster, who is Tom Scharpling’s co-host in their podcast series The Best Show. Steven Universe beat this team-up by only two weeks in Story for Steven!

So yeah, I think Jermaine is another really great family drama based episode for the series. F&J can get a bit bothersome at moments, and the episode can also be a little too goofy when it isn’t warranted, but I think everything else is shed in really great light. I never imagined Jermaine would end up being this interesting of a character, but Graham and Moynihan worked with his personality really well. Jermaine works off of jealousy, inferiority, depression, and guilt in an exceedingly impressive way, and is supported by great animation, characters, and a really neat setting. While I’m writing this, I’m gonna put this theory to bed right now while I have the chance: I don’t think Martin was supposed to be in that picture on Joshua and Margaret’s wall. The storyboard clearly suggests that it was just intended to be two random sticks figures within a picture, and while it may have been implied at the time that this would be a picture of Martin and Finn’s mother, how would Joshua and Margaret even acquire this? Wouldn’t Finn pass by the picture and think, “hey, why are there two humans in a portrait on our wall? Are they my real family, or something?” It just doesn’t make much sense, and I think it was merely either an animation misinterpretation, or it was included to be up for debate, but I’m willing to say that there’s nothing of substance to come out of this little detail, and I think it’s better left ignoring.

Jermaine also has a special outro, with the Booboo Sousa song replacing The Island Song. The Booboo Sousa song was co-written by Jesse and his brother Justin.

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Favorite line: “Give me my cup, or I’ll skull-cup you!”

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