The end of last month brought news of the coming end of an era. Cartoon Network’s critically acclaimed and much loved series Adventure Time with Finn and Jake will be ending in 2018. I’ve seen a lot of the early stages of mourning for the show around the Internet and I certainly sympathize as a longtime viewer myself. But even though I will miss having new episodes of the groundbreaking show to look forward to, I’m ready to see it reach its conclusion. Because endings aren’t necessarily a bad thing.
It’s never fun to lose a quality animated series and Adventure Time is one of the best. In its early days, it came across as a light humorous adventure series that examined and poked fun at with the tropes of role playing games. But once that still very appealing surface was scratched, it revealed a deep and complex network of characters and themes ranging from growing up and first romances to the nature of heroism and worldwide cataclysms. It’s simultaneously simple and complex, a huge epic narrative, yet still very intimate. Individual episodes can go from ridiculous to thought provoking to deeply emotional to just plain bizarre. As you may be realizing from my attempts to sum it up, it’s almost impossible to adequately explain unless you’ve seen it.
So with so much to love about Adventure Time, how can it be good that it’s ending?
The fact is, shows end. I know this is not news to any of you, dear readers. But it can be hard to accept when it’s a show you love. But having a definite end point – one over a year away with promises of over seventy hours of new material between now and then – means that the series will get a proper sendoff. And that’s not always a given. Continuing storylines are still a relatively new development in American produced TV cartoons. Back in the 80s and before, the ending of an animated television series was often nothing more than just one more epsiode, completely interchangeable with the dozens that preceded it. Viewers might be treated to one last multi episode story, but it was rarely a real conclusion to the narrative. Between dealing with networks that could not be counted on to run episodes in order and not always knowing whether they’d be renewed for another season as the current one was being crafted, TV animation creators didn’t have much incentive to create a true final episode. Even as a continuing narrative becomes more and more common in animated television, creators can’t always depend on getting to tell the whole story. Series can still be cancelled without much prior notice or even renewed unexpectedly. Working towards an ending down the road can mean risking a series ending on a cliffhanger if the next season never happens. Compared to a final episode that’s the same as any other or a story cut short, the promise of a set number of new episodes plus shorts and a possible movies sounds like a pretty good deal for Adventure Time.
Ending before all the storylines conclude isn’t the only unpleasant fate a show can suffer. Some shows actually run for too long, the best episodes long gone and the current offerings a pale imitation. The reasons vary. The show may be so ppopular and profitable that its lifespan is extended beyond what the premise can support. Key cast members or creative forces may leave. The show may be unable or unwilling to evolve and end up just trying to repeat ideas that worked before. Whatever the reasons, it’s always disappointing to see a once great show become a shadow of its former self.
Another benefit to the audience, aside from seeing a hopefully satisfying finale for the characters, is seeing the people involved in creating the series go on to something new. It’s a rare show that can provide an outlet for every talent and idea everyone working on it has. How many great shows would we have been denied had the creators stayed with an earlier success for a few more seasons?
Endings, to anything, are inevitable. The goal of a great TV series should not be to keep running forever, but to explore the ideas of its premise and characters fully and bring those ideas to their logical conclusion. Adventure Time has been an amazing and groundbreaking piece of television animation and I’m confident that the people who have made it for us will do justice to its finale.