Reviews · TV

‘Adventure Time: Distant Lands’ Lets One of Its Finest Characters Shine

The structure of the episode is obvious at times, but BMO remains uniquely delightful.
By  · Published on June 26th, 2020

Note — Throughout ‘Adventure Time,’ BMO goes by both he/him and she/her pronouns. In this episode, however, he/him is used exclusively, so that’s what I’m going to use here.

Adventure Time is a gift of a show that I’ve devoted no small part of my life to praising. It premiered on Cartoon Network in 2010 and ran until 2018 when it ended poignantly and beautifully. 

But part of what made the finale so lovely was its insistence that time is an illusion, and endings (even finales) aren’t real. Now it’s proving that point all over again by returning, this time on HBO Max, with four hour-long special episodes.

The first of those episodes is centered on the plucky little robot BMO as he travels the cosmos, befriends a rabbit girl named Y5, declares himself the sheriff of a troubled space colony, and bumbles his way into saving the day through sheer optimism. It is titled, quite simply, BMO.

And it is the most adorable/mildly unsettling thing you can hope to see this summer.

BMO began his tenure on Adventure Time as Finn and Jake’s video game system, somewhere between tertiary character and appliance. But over the years the little robot (voiced incomparably by writer and storyboard artist Niki Yang) evolved into one of the show’s most beloved characters, carrying some of its best moments with his childlike wonder, which sometimes overshoots innocence and rockets straight into charmingly bizarre.

Some standout moments include interrogating a chicken (and ex-lover) named Lorraine, hosting a bikini babe dance party, and taping an egg to his belly and singing a song about being impregnated by an “electric presence.”

BMO’s a weird little guy.

He also led the series finale’s song “Time Adventure,” a rousing, all-hands-on-deck Rebecca Sugar number that saved the day, while it simultaneously reflected on the fickle and arbitrary nature of the passage of time.

In short, BMO can, and should, carry anything.

And that’s good because the main plot of BMO might not be able to hold itself up on its own. The story is straightforward to a fault, with a transparently dastardly villain and a young hero forging her own path in a dystopian space colony. It’s very sweet, but it’s nothing groundbreaking or unusual.

But that seems to be deliberate. And this straightforward plot, with all the beats of an ordinary coming of age story, might be deceptively simple. Some of those beats are even treated with a gentle mockery: called Y4 all her life, BMO’s new friend admits she never liked the name and settles, after much deliberation, on the far more humanizing Y5.

In other words, the episode might be telling a simple story, but it clearly knows what it’s doing.

And anyway, the plot is more or less second fiddle to the sheer delight of seeing BMO as the hero of a grand adventure. And to the return of Adventure Time’s signature style of humor. And to the new, scattered bits and pieces of extended lore.

Fine. It’s the fourth fiddle.

It’s those bits and pieces of lore that are truly exciting. After all, one of the greatest joys of watching Adventure Time is sifting through the mythos and fitting together the pieces of a complex story that’s spanned centuries, galaxies, and an alternate dimension or two.

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to get into this lore without taking a hard left into spoiler territory, so I won’t talk about it at length now. That will probably be the job of a bigger breakdown after all four specials have aired. Suffice it to say, there’s a lot going on. In the meantime, I’ll only mention one thing. If you want to go in completely without spoilers, feel free to skip down to the red text.

If not, check this out mild hint at a reveal:

There are a couple of elements in the episode that feel a bit hard to place (not least of all a mysterious, suspicious character voiced by Stephen Root). But they’re put into much better context at the very end of the episode with a great twist that’s as informative as it is exciting.

Okay, back to the spoiler-free zone. 

Even without the smatterings of information to further flesh out the great Adventure Time canon, BMO is a sweet and hilarious standalone story, with a couple surprisingly shocking and inventive moments. At one point BMO is torn limb from limb. At another, Simone Giertz sings the closing credits song from Frasier.

Thankfully, Adventure Time is still willing to surprise us and to get real weird with it when it wants to.

BMO isn’t the perfect episode, but gosh does it do a lot of things right. Occasionally it feels generic, but there’s enough weirdness, more than enough hints that all the pieces are still sliding into place, and way more than enough BMO charm, that you can’t help but believe it’s all worthwhile. We’ve been in good hands with Adventure Time for years. I trust us to keep being in good hands, even with a change of network.

Honestly, above all else, I’m just thrilled to pieces to be watching Adventure Time again.

Adventure Time: Distant Lands — BMO premieres on HBO Max on June 25. Dates for the remaining three episodes have yet to be announced. 

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Liz Baessler is a frequent contributor and infrequent columnist at Film School Rejects. She has an MA in English and a lot of time on her hands. (She/Her)