The Apathetic Parent’s Guide to ‘Adventure Time’ and the Land of Ooo

Yes, it's technically a kid's show. But... is it really though?

Most kids shows have no appeal to parents outside (beyond offering some manner of distraction). This is not a problem. Shows like Paw Patrol and My Little Pony aren’t supposed to appeal to adults. However, it can be frustrating to watch the world’s most boring acid trip on repeat. That’s why it’s so exciting when a kid’s show comes along that parents might enjoy. Right now, no show on TV bridges the gap between parents and children better than Adventure Time, which seamlessly combines smart, sophisticated humor with a tireless devotion to being as goofy as possible.

Here is what every parent should know about Adventure Time, including why they should really make an effort to get their kid watching it as soon as humanly possible.

What’s Adventure Time About?

Adventure Time is the story of Finn the Human, a teen boy (Finn began the show as a 12-year-old and is currently 17) and Jake the Dog, a talking dog who can change size and shape at will. Jake is also Finn’s adoptive brother. The two live in the Land of Ooo, a post-apocalyptic wasteland that is the characters were born into and never seem to question.

Confused? Don’t worry about it. It’s supposed to be confusing because the plot of the show doesn’t really matter. Adventure Time is really just about Finn and Jake going on fun adventures all across their nonsensical world. So just sit back and enjoy the slightly insane and extremely silly ride.

Is There Anything I Need to Know Before Watching?

The in-show history isn’t really that interesting or relevant to the Adventure Time viewing experience. However, the history of the world in which the show takes place is worth a deep dive because it is utterly insane.

The show never gives a complete history of Ooo, but over the course of the series characters drop clues that allow the viewers to piece together a rough outline of this world came to be. And while it certainly isn’t necessary to understand the show, the pure level of commitment to building this elaborate and completely unnecessary backstory for a children’s cartoon deserves some recognition.

In the beginning, was the “Primordial Reality.” What exactly does that mean? It’s not entirely clear but the Lich, an undead being who is the show’s kind of antagonist, gives a brief explanation in the season six episode “Gold Stars, describing something an endless pool full of monsters. Most credit the transformation of the monster pool into Ooo to the existence of a multiverse. Basically, the suggestion is that Ooo is one of many parallel realities — one in which humans evolved and then had a Mushroom War. What is a Mushroom War? It’s a massive, planet-wide conflict that wipes out the bulk of the global populaiton. Nuclear weapons are, it is heavily implied, involved.

Radiation would go a long way to explaining the show’s characters, glitchy tech, and settings, specifically the utterly bizarre Candy Kingdom.

Again, none of this actually matters, but it’s just fun to mull while watching.

Will I Like Adventure Time?

Probably! At the very least, it’s far more likely that a parent will like Adventure Time than pretty much any other TV show their kid enjoys. Like Spongebob or the Animaniacs before it, the show manages to appeal to both children and adults by sneaking insanely clever jokes into the show at a rate that resembles The Simpsons‘ Golden Age. The show is also smart enough to understand the undeniable power of a really dumb joke, as it consistently relies on ridiculous, borderline nonexistent world-building and the power of repetition to force a stupid catchphrase (mathematical!) to mine laughs.

Adventure Time is a chaotic and strange show but the tight writing and strong characterization reveal that, unlike most kid’s shows, it’s a controlled chaos. And the show fully embraces the madness, weaving between being unbelievably silly and sneakily profound. It also just looks really fucking cool, in a Lewis Carrollesque way (wink wink). If an adult doesn’t like Adventure Time, it likely is because the show is a little too weird for their sensibilities, rather than being too childish or immature.

In fact, the real issue for a dad might be whether or not their kid likes it. One of the lone criticisms of Adventure Time is that the cartoon arguably works too hard to appeal to adults and forgets to appeal to its core audience. Kids respond to structure and repetition in TV and there is a chance the absurd nature of the show is just too weird. It also might be too scary, as the show features some potentially unsettling characters for young kids. But as long as that’s not the case, this may be the show that kids and parents can genuinely enjoy together.

Why is Adventure Time a Thing?

This was mostly answered in the “Will I Like Adventure Time?” section. Adventure Time‘s cultish popularity comes from its extremely distinct sense of humor. The show can effortlessly blend off-the-walls absurdity with clever anti-humor in the span of a single scene. But it also manages to not come off as pretentious or snooty, as the kid audience makes it so the show genuinely has to work on earning laughs instead of using humor as a way to not-so-subtly show off intelligence. Simply put, there is nothing on television quite like Adventure Time and that has earned it one of the most dedicated and vocal fanbases around.

Am I Going to Have to Buy Something?

Not really. Obviously, there is some gear associated with Adventure Time because it is a show for kids and kid’s shows primarily exist to get children to make their parents buy them shit. However, Adventure Time is relatively light on gear. In fact, dads can probably get away with buying their kid a graphic t-shirt and calling it a day. This show really is a godsend for parents in every conceivable way.

Anything Else I Should Know?

Adventure Time is packed with memorable recurring characters but the best has to be the Ice King. He begins the show as an evil, slightly deranged wizard who can create and manipulate ice and constantly antagonizes Jake and Finn. However, over the course of the show, he is given a certain level of nuance and, thanks to his heartbreaking backstory (we’ll resist spoiling), the Ice King is eventually seen as a more tragic figure than a villain. Plus, he’s voiced by Tom Kenny, who every child will recognize as the iconic voice of Spongebob Squarepants.

-This show has got a pedigree that would make even the most esteemed HBO drama green with envy. In its six seasons, it has won seven Emmys (including winning Outstanding Short-Form Animated Program two of the last three years), two Annie Awards, a Peabody and a BAFTA.

The theme song is understated but still pretty fucking great. Bonus points for concisely summarizing the premise of the show.

-All good things must come to an end and that’s sadly true for Adventure Time. It was recently announced that the show will conclude after its ninth season. But don’t shed too many tears, as the show will manage to air 142 episodes by its finale, which is remarkable.