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Adventure Time - "Holly Jolly Secrets" Recap

In a special two-part holiday episode, Jake digs up a box of secret VHS tapes belonging to the Ice King. Finn, Jake, and Beemo spend the day indoors digging through the tapes, searching for the reason why the Ice King would want them buried. As the King realizes his incriminating videos have been unearthed, he becomes increasingly desperate to get them back before his secret is revealed.

After three seasons on the air, Adventure Time finally takes its shot at a venerable television tradition: the Christmas special. While the show is no stranger to taking off-kilter narrative turns, dedicating the majority of a Christmas special to showing the Ice King inanely shooting the breeze inside of his lair definitely raises the absurdity bar for the most surreal kids’ show on the air. In fact, it almost feels too surreal: a good three-fourths of the episode consists of the “the Ice King is an insane sociopath” message being blasted over and over again into the viewers’ heads, without anything in the story really progressing until the very end. The episode toys with the viewer just like how the tapes toy with Finn and Jake, until it blindsides everyone with a shocking twist that is almost not worth the ridiculous amount of buildup. Almost.

The Ice King’s final tape is an amazing yet disturbing look at the Ice King’s psyche that puts the rest of the episode and all of his appearances in the series into a new light. This scene alone is one of the best of the series and makes this special a must-watch. The biggest problem with “Holly Jolly Secrets” though is that it feels like the entire episode was built around that one scene, and everything else was just an afterthought to set it up. Even worse, it feels like the running time was stretched out to fill up a full half hour to satisfy the network’s demands for a Christmas episode (the snide “Cartoon Network presents an Adventure Time Christmas” visual gags don’t really help to dissuade that notion). This resulted in an episode where most scenes felt unnecessarily long or completely extraneous. Still, when this special hits its mark, it hits it right out of the gate.

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