Tag Archive | Emily Partridge

“Do No Harm” Review

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Original Airdate: January 23, 2017

Written & Storyboarded by: Emily Partridge & Laura Knetzger

Two Swords was a great introduction to grass Finn’s character, or Fern as he’s finally christened in this episode, though it left me wanting even more from his character. Do No Harm quickly delivers, and cleverly chooses to separate both Finn and Fern in order to expand on their characters individually. What makes this episode so great, however, is the strong parallels that are ingeniously tied together between the two boys.

Aside from All the Little People, this is one of my favorite episodes that Tim Kiefer has ever scored. The ambient harp used throughout this one’s duration gives it both a hint of whimsy and a slight unnerving feel, which really hits home during Fern’s mini tantrums. Part of why I enjoy Do No Harm so much is 1. because of how nice it looks. 2. because of how nice it sounds. The slow transition from Finn to Fern as the sunset rises in Ooo and Kiefer’s score plays gently in the background is already one of my favorite scenes and it’s in the first five seconds! With an added killer story, this one really has a lot going for it.

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It’s nice how this episode continues to paint a picture of how much Finn and Jake differ when it comes to strangers/people who they aren’t necessarily close with. While Finn is generally more kind and accepting (as he grew to be with Ice King and how he was with “Moe” in The More You Moe), Jake is a bit more judgmental and awkward. Finn is more times than most the awkward one of the duo, though Jake experiences such social crutches when he fails to fully understand people. Jake is inclined to better click with those who fit his type and lifestyle, so he tends to struggle with those who need special accommodations because he isn’t really able to put himself in their feet. Finn advises Jake that Fern is just another version of himself, but even so, Jake previously had trouble empathizing and understanding Finn’s own emotional trauma a year earlier. From its inception, it’s certainly a recipe for discomfort!

Despite discovering some aspects of his true identity in the previous episode, Fern is still somewhat under the impression that he’s Finn. I’m not sure if its denial, or if another part of his brain is operating during these periods, but I’m glad they kept this aspect going to really hammer in his inability to conform. Even when faced with his favorite meal of meatloaf (I love how this is a recurring trait of Finn’s character), he’s unable to consume it. This could easily be seen as a moment that simply seeks to explain how the grass bod works, but it’s also a key indicator of Fern continually losing more and more aspects of his former self that he once found pleasurable. Again, it really paints a depressing picture. How is Fern supposed to be happy when he can’t even enjoy his favorite meal properly?

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Though it’s unnecessary for him to have to explain himself, Finn still goes out of his way to apologize to an unconscious Susan for what happened with his grass sword. It’s a touching moment, but ultimately, I think our little guy is too hard on himself. He mentions not being strong enough to stop himself from hurting her, but it was a situation that was out of his control. The main purpose of his apology, however, is to draw on similarities between he and Fern. Fern is constantly mentioning how he can’t do anything right, even though most of his shortcomings are circumstantial at best. In a similar fashion, Finn blames himself for his own shortcomings that he really doesn’t have any control over. This brief emotional interlude is cut short when Doctor Princess enters Susan’s room and immediately appoints Finn as a physician. In what has to be one of the funniest Adventure Time moments in the past few seasons, Doctor Princess reveals to Finn in confidentiality that she isn’t actually a doctor, and it just happens to be her surname. The Doctor Princess is neither a doctor nor a princess. Her character is essentially one big, mysterious dead-end. Regardless, Finn chooses to take on the position and learns some new aspects about himself in the process.

Meanwhile, over on Fern and Jake’s side of things, the two boys get wrapped up in finding something for Fern to get involved with. Fern is unable to play flute, another one of Finn’s favorite hobbies as of recent, as he begins to go through yet another breakdown. Again, it might be seen as a cool aspect of Fern’s character that he doesn’t even need to breathe, but when its something as simple, given, and humanistic as that, it really sets out to hammer in how abnormal Fern’s entire existence is. Jake does manage to pull through in a pretty heartwarming way, as he reminds Fern of what his (and Finn’s) true favorite activity to embark on is: adventuring and slaying evil. They head to a grassy maze, in what feels like a fun return to AT‘s video game-esque dungeon scenarios. Much like Blade of GrassDo No Harm is heavily reliant on the color green, but in the best, least nauseating type of way. As we soon find, this is just one of many similarities that this episode shares with Blade of Grass. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. As Fern battles off grass demons, he begins to feel good about doing good in general.

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Finn, similarly, feels great being able to help others out. Whether it be a splintered Mr. Fox or a back-broken Ice King (whose toes also taste like jam, for whatever reason), Finn simply seeks pleasure from being able to treat others, of which later ties into another aspect of his past, and also kind of channels in to Finn’s maturity by this point in the series. While Finn loves adventuring and beating up bad guys, his main goal and desire in life at this point in time is to simply help others and make it so that their lives thrive. It’s a really sweet sentiment from our big, baby boy.

While Fern continues to sweep through lower-tier enemies, he finally ends up on the other side of the maze, of where the boys convene with the Grassy Wizard. I totally didn’t expect the Grassy Wizard to ever appear again, but damn, I’m glad that he did. He plays a much bigger part in the series than the staff likely thought when first introducing the grass sword, and it makes sense to revisit his character as a potential source for answers and closure. Those two elements are exactly what Fern is looking for, as he begins to question Grassy Wizard on his current state and what his birthright truly is. It is interesting how, here, Fern refers to Finn as a separate person from himself, contrary to how he was acting earlier in the episode. By this point in time, to the remainder of the series, Fern has pretty much realized that, no matter how much he feels as though he is, he simply isn’t Finn and has to move on from that idea. Though, despite not being the same person as Finn, their similarities are practically uncanny, and that goes beyond the two sharing the same anatomy and memories. Grassy Wizard plays the part of Fern’s shitty, neglectful father, as he basically admits that he only created Fern as somewhat of a joke and because he thought it would be “cool.” Grassy Wizard reeks of Martinisms, failing to understand even the slightest bits of empathy, but gets his comeuppance as Fern wallops him in a punch that’s nearly identical to the way Finn punched “Martin” in The Tower. Fern has now experienced yet another moment that places him in the same place that Finn was once at, though, while Finn learned to accept Martin and move on from his hatred, Fern nearly beats Grassy Wizard to a pulp, thinking that’s what he’s supposed to do. Jake quickly informs Fern that it isn’t exactly natural or healthy to go about defeating evil this way, as Fern finally realizes that he simply isn’t Finn. No matter how good it feels to do things that Finn would want to do, he isn’t able to take on those tasks with the exact same flair, further alienating him from what he believes to be right and true.

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Finn begins to experience this same form of dissonance as he realizes that his efforts to help others essentially failed. Finn and Fern are essentially on the exact same wavelength: they want to do something that they know is good and helps others, though they aren’t exactly sure that they are cut out for the job. These two stories come to a culmination when the two reconvene at the hospital, and Fern realizes that, despite doing things “as Finn would,” he just isn’t Finn, and he has to find his own path in life, via a beautiful departure on Starchy’s new motorcycle. One thing I also love about this ending is it recycles the same music from the ending of Blade of Grass, when Finn learns to accept the grass sword as a part of him. Here, this score is used as Fern accepts himself for something that he is realistically not and chooses to take on a new journey to truly figure out who he is in the process.

Also capping this episode off is the revelation that Susan is alive and well, proving that Finn’s medical advice was indeed correct, and further leading us into the Islands miniseries.

I really love Do No Harm. It’s a terrific character study of two boys faced with hopes and desires, but ultimately coming face-to-face with their own shortcomings and insecurities by the end of it. Fern worries that he isn’t anything like Finn, though if the events of this episode prove anything, the two are more alike than he could possibly know. My only issue with this one is that I feel as though Jake’s concern wasn’t entirely believable within the grass maze. We’re supposed to believe that Fern is going too far in his efforts to defeat tertiary bad guys, but I dunno, haven’t Finn and Jake involved themselves in similar carnage in episodes like Dad’s DungeonDungeon Train, or even Memory of a Memory? Finn evens mentions in Puhoy that he “kills stuff lots of times,” so I feel as though this aspect of the episode didn’t necessarily hit home in painting Fern in a poor light. But overall, it’s another really strong episode to flesh out Fern’s character, and a sweet episode for Finn in the wake of the eight part miniseries based around himself and his past.

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Favorite line: “I don’t even have a medical degree. I just came in here one day for an X-ray, and my first name is Doctor, so, well, one thing led to another…”

 

“The Thin Yellow Line” Review

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Original Airdate: March 19, 2016

Written & Storyboarded by: Emily Partridge & KC Green

Through the past couple seasons, we’ve seen how various different major and secondary characters view Princess Bubblegum from their perspective. Though, one important point of view that hasn’t been explored in great detail is from those who spend the most time around the princess: the Banana Guards. Aside from their strong loyalty and love for the princess, they’ve mostly been in the background, while slightly more intelligent Candy Citizens such as Starchy and Cinnamon Bun (I did say slightly more intelligent) have been able to pinpoint her shady behavior as a flaw of her character. The Thin Yellow Line puts the Banana Guards at center stage to present an almost cultish look at PB’s alleged hierarchy, and how the Guards themselves feel entirely confined by their environment in fear of their own demise. It’s also a cool to see that, outside of their identical appearances, each Banana Guard possesses their own unique character traits and personalities.

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I wanna first start off by saying that the mural painted by Banana Guard 16 (in actuality, it was painted by Joy Ang!) is absolutely gorgeous and has so much detail put into it that it’s impossible to soak in everything on a first glance, and it’s only fair that I analyze it from left to right. The beginning of the mural features what I could only assume to be the catalyst comet, of which likely signifies the “beginning” of Ooo. Of course, it also ties into the overall mystery of how the Catalyst Comet and the Great Mushroom War correlate, and what exactly said comet brought with it. Though, some form of magic surely came into existence when it hit, and may have also had a part in creating the Mother Gum, of which is shown next in the mural. The Mother Gum is then shown sending PB off on her way, as rays of light and brightness surround her. Though, once PB’s figure enters the mural, the bright, white clouds turn menacing and dark, signifying her descent into a perceived bit of unscrupulousness. This includes:

  • The snakelike Neddy, of whom looks content within the nectar tree. As Banana Guard 16 later mentions, he believes that PB “trapped her brother Neddy,” meaning that the general understanding of Neddy within the Kingdom is that he was a possibly dangerous, but provided the Candy Kingdom with a beneficial resource. Hypothetically, this led PB to make the decision that he should be forcibly kept within the kingdom, where he cannot harm anyone and can only provide for the kingdom.
  • Marceline’s bat-like form is seen in the background, meaning that the Candy Kingdom citizens possibly aren’t comfortable with PB’s relationship with Marceline, given Marcy’s somewhat rebellious and uncanny nature. It seems like some form of underlying prejudice towards vampires, that has existed since the olden days, or reflect the stigma that surrounded Marceline when she initially started hanging out with PB. As we’ve seen during the Stakes miniseries, this stigma towards vampires still exists and is potentially harmful, so it’s quite likely to me that the citizens in general may feel intimated by Marceline and uncomfortable with her hanging out with the princess.
  • The ceiling of eyes is representative of PB’s heavy surveillance system of which she watches over the entire kingdom. Though she has recently weened off this method, she’s still viewed with NSA-type paranoia as someone watching the citizens’ every step.
  • The middle section is devoted to showcasing Goliad and Stormo, who are being heavily watched over by the Gumball Guardians. Despite still being locked in an eternal duel, Goliad is also depicted as having an eye on the Gumball Guardians, being ready to strike as soon as something interferes with said psychic battle. It’s also worth noting that, while one Gumball Guardian is locked in a staring contest with Goliad, the other looks off onto the side, while the prison within the cage remains unsupervised. This could represent the dangers hidden within the Candy Kingdom that remain overlooked (one of which is dealt with later) or touch on the fact that the Gumball Guardians are essentially useless in the face of danger, as seen with the Lich attack, the army of Gunters, the vamp cloud, and so on.
  • Towards the end, we see a stitched up Lemongrab, referencing the merging of Lemongrab 1 and Lemongrab 2 after Lemonhope’s attack. The inside of his head is also shown, as his brain is split in two. The implication here reads to me that, though PB stitched up and fixed Lemongrab, she will never be able to fix the broken mess that she sought to create. His body may be one, but he brain will always be in two.
  • And finally, that brings us to the last piece, that returns to the bright color scheme of the first panel. Princess Bubblegum is essentially portrayed as a goddess, with her swan eloquently in back, as an army of Banana Guards stand before her. This shows how, despite all of the dark matters under her belt, the BGs are still willing to worship her no matter what because they know that everything she has done has been for the kingdom. Though, Banana Guard 16 acknowledges through the mural that, if anyone were to defy her, they’d end up in the dark clouds just as everyone else who has betrayed her.

There’s certainly a lot going on, and it’s most definitely the most interesting aspect of this episode. Though, that isn’t necessarily a criticism, as a good portion of this one is a lot of fun. It’s not as deep or dark as the mural, but it provides for a lot of great Banana Guard gags with terrific animation and drawings.

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This one was actually co-boarded by KC Green, a pretty well-known webcomic artist. He has his own ongoing webcomic called He is a Good Boy, is working on the Rocko’s Modern Life revival comics, has drawn every Pokemon everand previously ran the webcomic series Gunshow, of which is widely known because of that one dog meme that was literally everywhere for a period of time. I really dig Green’s style in general, and his zany, cartoon-y drawings really fit for this type of episode. The style of this one honestly reminds me a lot of season two’s design, when artists like Jesse Moynihan and Somvilay Xayaphone were still trying to get a feel for the shape of the characters, and ended up creating some really humorous drawings and faces in the process. Here, it’s the same, though arguably more intentional, and provides for a lot of stretchy and emotive expressions in the process. I especially love the various faces Finn makes as he realizes that Banana Guard 16 is the vandal. I’m totally fine with the subdued and calmer animation in later seasons, though it’s welcomed to have an episode like this, which is likely the most expressive the show has been in years.

I usually think Banana Guard humor is hit-or-miss, but it hits pretty hard in this episode. I love how this episode manages to exaggerate their bumbling and moronic nature to extreme lengths, while also making them somewhat rounder and more vigilant at the same time. Like, you have that scene at the beginning where they’re rolling around and tripping over each other, but then you have the moment when they actually convict the boys and punch the lights out of Jake. That’s right, the motherfucking Banana Guards one-upped F&J. It’s so refreshing to see them actually be half decent at their job, even if they’re hilariously tricked in the next minute that Finn and Jake are new guards. The Thin Yellow Line plays with this back-and-forth between character portrayal a lot, and it’s a ton of fun.

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The episode also has a great mystery element that plays with the viewer’s expectations in a pretty logical way. I like how the Banana Guards aren’t just being ridiculous or conniving in the methods that they send Jake into utter paranoia; the BGs are secretive and hidden with these pleasures because they actually have something to lose in they get caught. It relates to their own paranoia with conforming to the standards of Princess Bubblegum, and the fact that they feel as though diverting from this conformity will ultimately result in a painful punishment. I expected these somewhat tense sequences to be a non-sequitur, but I’m actually glad they have a role in the overall message and conclusion of the episode.

Banana Guard 16 isn’t an especially interesting or likable character, but I’d argue that he’s not really supposed to be. He’s kind of just supposed to be an active voice among the mostly cowardice Banana Guards, and the episode does so successfully by actually giving him his own unique voice. He’s voiced by Tunde Adebimpe, of whom I’ve never actually heard of, though his credentials read that he’s a digital artist, which helps him connect with the character even better. The relationship he has with Finn is sweet; I like how Finn initially just uses him to close the case surrounding the vandalism, though actually ends up seeing the beauty and genuine nature of BG 16’s work. It’s also interesting to see how blindsided Finn is to Bubblegum’s darker side. Of course, the love that he feels for her probably has some part in this, though I honestly think that Finn just doesn’t pick up on this side of her. Granted, while some of what BG 16 was saying did resonate as truthful, he was exaggerating it in ways that simply paint PB to be an absolute tyrant, when she’s really just morally astute. Those sequences are just awesome though. You really don’t blame him for thinking of PB this way, because everything he’s describing does have some truth to it: she didn’t imprison Neddy, but she also didn’t help him beyond containing him; she had good reasons to imprison the “rebellious Candy People” of which, again, we’ll be exploring later; she “diced” the Rattleball boys, but that was only in the logic of them being too powerful for their own good. All of these conclusions are completed ethical, though embroidered.

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The funny thing about this devoted worship is that PB is totally perplexed by it; she has no idea that she’s regarded in such a way, and it goes back to what I was saying before of her behavior being a factor of her inability to go about protecting her kingdom in a healthy way. She knows that she doesn’t exactly have the trust of her people, but is kind of out-of-the-know when it comes to the monstrous perception that has been foisted upon her. Even Finn gets wrapped up in the paranoia surrounding him, and defies PB’s orders to help save his friend. While this episode works to showcase PB’s growth, it also is another interesting look at how Finn’s sense of morality has shifted over time. Back in Rattleballs, Finn betrayed the trust of his new mentor in respect of his loyalty to Bubblegum. Here, Finn betrays his own loyalty to what he thinks is morally just. There’s not really a right or wrong way around either of these situations, besides the fact that Finn is doing so for completely different reasons.

But of course, that paranoia is wasted, because PB has changed as well. She doesn’t view individuality as a conspiracy to take her down, but rather something to be celebrated. She no longer wants fear and uncertainty to be foisted upon those who worship her most, and wants to actually show how she’s changed since her reinstatement into the kingdom. The Banana Guards are able to freely express themselves as individuals, even that one BG that doesn’t have a special talent. Also, might I say that momma PBubs is lookin’ FINE in this episode. Emily Partridge actually modeled her outfit and appearance off of Elaine from Seinfeld, which is pretty apparent, but still suits PB well. Her outfits have been really on point in this season thus far.

My biggest fear following the Stakes miniseries was that PB’s development as a “nicer ruler” would make her a less interesting character, but this episode subverts those anxieties in the best way necessary. The Thin Yellow Line is a terrific exploration of the deep-rooted paranoia of the Candy Kingdom. It’s an episode that has a ton of fun with the naturally silly characters involved, but one that’s still executed in a genuinely tense and potent way. Not to mention that it also has that visual added bonus of KC Green’s expressive storyboarding feat, which is enough to make this episode memorable on its own. Upon it’s original airing, this episode was dedicated to Mandy Long, of whom I had never heard of initially. Upon research, it turns out she was a talented young artist that loved Adventure Time, and who tragically passed away on September 24, 2015. It’s incredibly heartwarming that the staff at AT would pay tribute to someone not on the direct staff, but someone who was just a genuine fan, and an exceptional artist to boot. I send my condolences to all of Mandy’s friends and family.

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Favorite line: “I grew these! Hi-da-ro-pon-i-cal-y!”

 

“May I Come In?” Review

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Original Airdate: November 18, 2015

Written & Storyboarded by: Luke Pearson & Emily Partridge

May I Come In? might just be my favorite episode of Stakes, and it seems apparent that I’m not alone in that opinion. To be honest, it’s been a while since I’ve watched this episode, so I expected to revisit this one and get treated to a fun romp, but I kind of undermined just how well this one gets the atmosphere just right. I somewhat forgot why Hierophant was my favorite vamp to begin with: not only is he enjoyably hammy, but he’s also the most threatening out of the vampire crew. As a result, May I Come In? is possibly the most foreboding and tense episode from Stakes.

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The beginning starts out nicely, as another reminder that Jake really, really does not fuck with vampires. This is somewhat of his big breakout in the miniseries, as he finally overcomes his own personal issues to help out his friends and actually have a part in saving the day. It is kind of a shame that Jake virtually has much more of a role in this miniseries than Finn. I feel as though Jake’s little story arc is meaningful and has an effect on the story, where I could truthfully say that you can pretty much eliminate Finn completely from Stakes and not much would be missed. But that’s an argument for another day. I also like how May I Come In? handles the linear pacing of the miniseries. Stakes never feels sequential in the sense that every episode features our protagonists going from one vamp to the other. Here, it appears they’re going after The Moon, but they end up fighting against Hierophant instead. Feels as though the story is flowing very naturally, and subverts the audience’s, as well as the characters’, expectations.

The bit with the King of Ooo was absolutely delightful. KOO seriously gets funnier with each appearance, and his bit here is no exception. I also love the return of Crunchy, of whom I grew really fond of during this miniseries as well. Hierophant swarming the boys was relatively tense, even in his Koala-like state, which quickly turns amusing as he threatens the princess to tell him everything, to which KOO literally tells him everything. His tragic backstory cracks me up; I can totally picture a shyster like KOO growing up dirt poor and wanting nothing more but to cheat and swindle his way to prosperity as he grew older. The way KOO and Crunchy team-up to please Hierophant in a panic is really enjoyable, as we’re treated to a threatening transition into the next scene.

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Again, the atmosphere remains unnerving as we cut over to Peppermint Butler quietly cooking within Gumbald’s cabin. While probably not its main intention, Stakes partially doubles as a Halloween special, and no episode from the miniseries feels like a better contribution to that theme than this one. The scene within the cabin is lit really well, providing a bit of light and color through utter darkness. Save for a bit of humor, where Pepbut shakes his butt and taunts Hierophant for being a “sad old relic.” I really never get tired of hearing Steve Little’s expressive, high-pitched voice, and Pepbut’s texts to PB were equally as hilarious. One thing I appreciate about Hierophant’s character, besides the nice balance between being comedic and threatening, is the show’s ability to treat him completely seriously. So many Adventure Time villains end up just being passed off as “regular dudes” like Kee-Oth or Orgalorg, but Hierophant is treated as a legitimately intimidating guy who operates by his own rules, but could easily suck the blood out of you or rip you to shreds any second. He isn’t a villain that is entirely evil like the Lich, but he’s intimidating because he isn’t impacted by the own personal flaws that face him. Even if he isn’t invited in by the host of a house, he’ll still find an alternative way to act upon his prey.

LSP joining the gang for a brief period of time was good fun and nice for her to actually have somewhat of a role in their master scheme, even if she does fail miserably. The bit where Finn tempts Hierophant into biting him is another purposely uncomfortable sequence that ties back to vampires and rape culture, and I can only imagine the massive amounts of teenage girls who swooned over Finn when he lets down his long, flowing hair. Though I once again was a bit disappointed by how Finn actually contributed to fighting off Hierophant, I do really like his total “fuck this” attitude to almost getting bitten. Even in a situation when he is totally dominated by Hierophant, Finn is still mocking and snarky in his behavior. At least he came in with a fearless attitude.

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The sequence of everyone failing to constructively put together an attack plan was good fun. Loved LSP’s pride over “helping” as she just aimlessly throws stakes left and right without actually acknowledging where they’re going. Hierophant tampering with the garlic bomb was certainly tense. Once again, this could’ve easily played off as overly-long joke, but it works as a legitimately anxiety provoking bit that left me on the edge of my seat upon first viewing it. But of course, it fails and enrages Hierophant, as he morphs into an entire hodgepodge of different animals and creatures, providing for one of the coolest vamp designs thus far. Luke Pearson and Emily Partridge really helped this episode to succeed on a visual level. It’s a darn shame that this was the last episode that they boarded together (and Pearson’s last episode overall) because they managed to be one of my favorite teams from this season, even if they only worked on two episodes.

As you likely guessed, I adored Jake’s smart contribution by creating a house for his friends and possibly putting himself in danger in the process. This miniseries could have so easily played the joke of Jake being afraid of vampires throughout its entirety, but I’m glad we actually have him face his fears to help prevent Marceline, and others, from getting hurt. Following that sequence, we get an intriguing negotiation between Marcy and Hierophant. Hierophant also benefits from having a competent VA at the helm, being voiced by Paul Williams (other credits include him voicing The Penguin in Batman: TAS and being the composer of the God damn “Rainbow Connection.” My favorite song!) His connection to the Vampire King is equally as intriguing, and I wouldn’t mind even seeing a series of spin-off comics involving their chemistry back in the day. But of course, Hierophant’s shortcomings derive from the fact that he is indeed a relic of his time period, and unable to change because he simply cannot adapt to the times. Which provides his hilarious demise, when Crunchy pushes him into the Jake house and actually kills him. Who knew Crunchy would be the true hero of Stakes? PB’s absolute death stare at King of Ooo was just as appreciated, as he once more takes credit for being the “savior” that only exists within his head. The episode leaves for one final cliffhanger, as Marceline is infected by Hierophant’s poison, and Jake is feeling a bit nauseous from his vamp-filled dinner.

This episode’s gambit is simple, but truly effective: it’s very tense and atmospheric throughout its first half, followed by an exciting and energetic second act. It’s also a lot of fun, not only in its efforts towards humor, but also in its ability to incorporate a bunch of different characters at once. Every character proves to be enjoyable in their own right, either providing for humorous moments or their own interesting character development. And of course, this one truly soars from Hierophant’s star role. Definitely the best of the vamps, and one I seem to enjoy even more every time I view this episode.

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Favorite line: “I grew up poor, dirt poor. The other kids called me “little bubbles,” because we couldn’t afford a bathtub.”

“Football” Review

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Original Airdate: November 6, 2015

Written & Storyboarded by: Emily Partridge & Luke Pearson

I never thought that BMO would have as big of a psychotic breakdown than the one he had in BMO Noire, but Football gives that episode a run for its money. In a way, both episodes are quite similar; BMO Noire and Football feature BMO suffering from somewhat of an identity crisis, that is masked behind what seems to be nothing more than a silly game. The episodes also operate primarily in BMO’s perspective, leaving a lot up for interpretation regarding how much of what we’re seeing is actually real and how much is a product of BMO’s imagination. While these episodes share the same gist, Football manages to stand alone as its own thing by telling an equally unique and intense story.

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I always figured that Football would eventually end up starring in an episode of her own; I thought the exchanges between BMO and his imaginary friend in the first two Graybles episodes were relatively cute, but I always saw this concept as something that could be fleshed out into a scenario where BMO’s imagination once again goes haywire. And that’s exactly what happens here. The little interactions with BMO and Football at the beginning were funny and cute. Adventure Time has really mastered making BMO behave exactly like a child at this point in the series. Granted, it’s a fair stretch from the type of character that BMO started out as, but the commitment that went into this archetype the past three or four seasons has really made such a development seem convincing otherwise. When I think of BMO’s character as a whole, I think of childlike whimsy, and not the snarky accomplice we spent time with in an episode like Guardians of Sunshine. I enjoy both interpretations of BMO’s character, but I’ve grown to be more accustomed to the toddler-esque portrayal that has formed his character most recently, and appreciate the dedication that has reflected on it.

As I mentioned, both BMO Noire and Football focus on a game that has essentially gone too far. Though here, I think BMO’s feelings and attitudes are even more vague and difficult to understand. I don’t know exactly why he would want this, or even if he can control it. The episode does a great job with raising curiosity in terms of just how much of BMO’s “game” is supposed to play out, and how much of it is without BMO’s intention. In addition to that, Football really makes you question whether it is entirely within BMO’s imagination or has some kind of basis in reality. I mean, obviously I think it’s all just a mind game from the bot’s perspective, but in the Adventure Time world, and especially with BMO, you really never know. Football really could be some version of BMO from a parallel dimension, and while that’s highly unlikely, the episode still plays with those conflicting view points for an factor of entertainment.

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The visuals are really clever in never showing both BMO and Football talking at the same time. Every sentence is framed in a certain sense of ambiguity. I especially like when “Football” is staring at BMO’s reflection through the mirror, as BMO continuously makes various animated movements, all while Football remains still because the shot only shows the top left half of his body. That was a really smart move; the episode could’ve so easily just gone with the lazy and sloppy route and just had BMO sit still while talking to his reflection, but Adventure Time is much more innovative than that. Emily Partridge and Luke Pearson did a great job on this one from a boarding perspective. Even after being away from the storyboarding phase for quite a bit of time (Pearson left after Frost & Fire and Partridge debuted with The Prince Who Wanted Everything) the two still manage to have a deep understanding of the AT characters and how to properly work with the show’s environment. Similar to Mukai’s work on the past few episodes, it’s nice once again to get treated to the style of guest artists, and both Pearson and Partridge dish out some wacky and unique expressions for each character.

This episode differs from BMO Noire by having Finn and Jake incorporated into the main story. I feel mixed about F&J’s roles overall, as they provide for some really strong moments, and some instances that just stick out to me as kind of weird. First off, I love their willingness to go along with BMO’s game unconditionally. Even when it’s clear that BMO is struggling, Jake still does not break character or attempt to squash BMO’s imagination. The two act as terrific caretakers to the little guy, in both humoring him and trying to ensure that he is physically and mentally sound. Jake’s little speech about having “soul noise” and how it’s perfectly okay to not feel your best at all times was splendid. Though we rarely ever see Jake getting to be a parent to his kids, it’s so lovely that we get these little moments between him and BMO that show what an swell father he would be, if he still had the chance to actually raise his kids. Some of the more unusual instances come from the fact that I felt like the boys were a little too chill at moments. BMO wrecks up the whole Tree Fort and smashes the absolute FUCK outta NEPTR, and Finn and Jake seem totally indifferent to his actions. I mean, I get that the Tree Fort gets demolished on a regular basis, but it seems as though the two were a bit too unfazed by their little buddy’s emotional troubles. And the term “unfazed” could easily be applied to their behavior on the roof, where they just kind of watch as BMO falls off into the river. They aren’t even shown to react to such an instance, nor does Jake attempt to grab him (which he could easily do by stretching out). It’s sort of weird to watch F&J be terrific parental figures in parts of the episode, and then just kind of end up sidelined when BMO’s issues really start to pick up.

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BMO’s complete breakdown is delightfully intense. Again, while it’s clearly framed as a figment of his imagination, BMO’s distress still feels very real, and his emotional turmoil is quite compelling. You never really know where the episode is going to go with it, and keeps building and building until the very end, when BMO falls into the lake a cleverly “switches places” with Football. The ending is a simple, but nice resolution, that ties back into the fact that, under all of this baggage, BMO really is just a cute, playful child on the surface. Even with everything going against him within his mind, he’s still able to create a happy ending within the realm of his own imagination.

Other little things I enjoyed in this episode is the fact that NEPTR and Shelby are now considered part of the Tree Fort family, and it’s especially sweet, seeing as how they gradually start appearing more as secondary characters throughout this season. I still cannot believe how absolutely harsh it was for NEPTR to get beat down like that. I mean, the show usually shits all over him, but God damn. Also, I liked the silly addition of the dozens of grapefruits scattered around the Fort. It was quite absurd, and fun to imagine what kind of offbeat adventure brought that plethora of fruit in.

This one is pretty rad, though. It’s genuinely compelling, using its visuals and intense tone to its strongest abilities. BMO is an interesting gem who presumably has the most confusing issues in the entire series, and it’s always nice to see what kind of stories can lend themselves to his wild imagination, as well as his troubled psyche.

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Favorite line: “Why you gotta be so destructive today, BMO? You doin’ robot puberty or something?”

“The Prince Who Wanted Everything” Review

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Original Airdate: June 26, 2014

Written & Storyboarded by: Adam Muto, Emily Partridge, Kent Osborne & Bert Youn

Blecch. The Prince Who Wanted Everything is the first stinker of the Fionna & Cake series, and a pretty blatant example of how these experimental episodes don’t really have much of a reason to keep being produced aside from a feeling of obligation based on fan reactions. The first was done strictly as a surreal passion project; I don’t think anyone on the AT crew knew how popular it would be, but as Fionna & Cake was met with practically universal praise, it only made sense for another F&C episode to be created. Two seasons later came Bad Little Boy, which was also well-received and a mostly solid outing, but kind of showcases the problem with Fionna and Cake episodes in general: the characters are basically carbon copies. Fionna has some interesting insecurities that were touched on in her first episode, but every episode that follows has her simply take on the role of Finn-Lite. She’s a good-hearted, laidback hero, and that’s about it. And the other characters, Gumball, Marshall Lee, Flame Prince, and so on are never given enough attention outside of their star episodes to actually have any selection of interesting character traits besides being slightly modified from their counterparts. Cake, on the other hand, is the only character who actually has a stand out presence in all of these entries, yet she’s often only given a small amount of screen time so the “Character of the Week” can hog all of the attention. And this episode’s star character is Lumpy Space Prince: a deeply unfunny gender-swapped version of Lumpy Space Princess that does absolutely nothing insightful or interesting, aside from being another chance to reinforce LSP’s vanity once more, as if that wasn’t already emphasized enough. Cut Rebecca Sugar – who was practically the mom of Fionna and Cake – out of the mix and you don’t really have a competent entry.

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This episode notably starts up with Ice King tied up. Why is it notable? Because it’s freaking Ice King, you guys! We haven’t seen him in what feels like forever, and it’s a shame, because I feel as though he gets the least amount of screentime in season six. It makes sense, as this entire season mostly steps away from the main cast to delve into the lives of some of the lesser known citizens of Ooo, though Ice King doesn’t even get a fair chance to have an actual role in this episode. He’s simply a blank slate at the hands of his kidnapper, Lumpy Space Princess, and isn’t really given anything interesting to do aside from obliging to read LSP’s passion project. Could’ve been a much more enjoyable scenario if Ice King was argumentative about the way LSP wrote for his characters, or that he didn’t agree with where the story went, but he uncharacteristically goes along with it without saying a thing. Pretty lame.

The story itself poses an interesting concept, at least from my initial impressions. Lumpy Space Prince’s tale of running away from his parents and stumbling into Aaa (or Ooo… whatever is cannon at this point in time) could perhaps reference LSPrincess’s first experiences in Ooo and how she came across Finn and Jake, albeit highly exaggerated. Though, the way it’s executed is simply done in a way that we’ve seen so many times in other LSP episodes. Most of this episode just seems to retread the general idea that Gotcha! revolved around, which is that both Lumpy Space Princess and Prince misunderstand the type of people Finn/Fionna and Jake/Cake are and come to respect their simplicity and approaches to life by the end of the episode. The entire episode basically revolves around Lumpy Space Prince trying to understand how to live as a peasant but is constantly blindsided by his own pretentiousness. And God, how many times have we all seen the story of a rich snob who is enlightened by the simplicity of middle-class charm? It’s so overdone, and it isn’t carried out any more interestingly here.

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Lumpy Space Prince’s voice actor (at the Princess’s request, of course), Peter Serafinowicz, certainly boasts a competent performance, but again, I don’t think he’s really given much to work with. Lumpy Space Prince is at his funniest through his expressions; his anime influenced “Handsome Face” is pretty amusing, even if it is a bit overused by the episode’s end. Regardless, it provides for some welcomed diversity among the typically expressive dotted eyes in the AT world. But again, Lumpy Space Prince’s primary character trait is his vanity, and it simply isn’t fun or interesting to watch him. He also has the displeasure of singing one of the show’s worst songs, period. “That’s All I Need” has a pretty awful melody, terrible lyrics, and a less-than-satisfactory performance from Serafinowicz. Feel bad making such a superficial comment about his singing voice, but some actors are simply not meant for said performance. And if the song was actually catchy, funny, or added something to the plot, I could forgive it, yet it does none of those things. Aside from some cool cameos of characters we haven’t seen before in this universe (namely Magic Ma’am), it just feels like it’s there to take up time.

Fionna and Cake are simply in this episode to be observers. Cake has some funny one-liners, as she constantly breaks the fourth wall, but Fionna really just does not do ANYTHING. Aside from giving an unintentional piece of advice to Lumpy Space Prince, Fionna just stands there and occasionally has a line or two. Sad to see she’s given such a boring role after her emotive and passionate presence in the past two F&C episodes. The one cool thing is that she actually is using the Wish Star Sword that she acquired within the Fionna & Cake comic series. Pretty awesome to see that something in the comics was actually adapted into the series, and it’s pretty much just there as a subtle Easter egg for any readers of said series. Also, Fionna’s model got updated to where it seems as though she’s matured more in her stance and body weight, and it looks somewhat off-putting to me. I dunno, the more realistic her anatomy gets, the more awkward and stiff it looks when you pair it with her really simplistic dotted eyes and lack of nose. Just looks kind of wonky to me.

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I guess the ending where Lumpy Space Prince discovers that his indifference to his parents’ disapproval of his behavior is a bit of an introspective moment for LSPrincess, but it only makes me wonder what the point an episode like The Monster has in the grand scheme of things if LSP never truly grows as a character. I understand if the writing staff just wanted to keep her stagnant in her developmental process and never learn or grow as all of the other main characters do, but if you have an episode like The Monster where it seems as though she actually DOES learn something, than the episode merely feels like discontinuity. I can understand if her decision to move back into the woods was based on her stubbornness and belief that she can make it on her own, but it seems as though she merely goes back to thinking her parents are monsters who simply want the worst for herself. Nice to see she’s embracing herself and her own behavior, but silly that she’d view her parents this way after realizing how much they care for her in the past.

And, as the story ends, the book reveals itself as a simple method for LSP to find a man who is exactly like her. Yes, Lumpy Space Princess loves herself and thinks she is the greatest person imaginable. We get it. LSP is at her best in episodes like Bad Timing or the upcoming Be Sweet, where her self-obsessed behavior is shown to be a mere facade that covers up her insanity based insecurities. Episodes like The Prince Who Wanted Everything feel like a rehash of everything we’ve already seen and know about the character. It’s like one of the lesser SpongeBob SquarePants episodes that focuses entirely on Mr. Krab’s absolute greed. We get that he’s greedy, it’s literally his archetype. We don’t need entire episodes centered around this one-note joke about a character’s personality. It makes them seem less two-dimensional and entirely more shallow. Lumpy Space Princess may perhaps be the most one-dimensional of the main cast, though she at least proves herself to be at her most interesting when her narcissism plays a role in her absolute mental instability, or the rare example where she’s actually able to benefit others through her repugnant attitude (such as the Elements miniseries). Yet, this episode doesn’t do justice to her character or the Fionna and Cake series in general. With a whopping four writers at the helm of this one, I’d expect more of a successful outing.

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Favorite line: “Y’all seeing those big floaty faces?”