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TV Picks: 'Adventure Time,' shows on writing, 'Muscle Shoals,' more

April 17, 2014|By Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times Television Critic | This post has been corrected. See below for details
  • Jake the Dog gets to the bottom of the cheesy crackers in "Wake Up," part one of the sixth season premiere of Cartoon Network's "Adventure Time."
Jake the Dog gets to the bottom of the cheesy crackers in "Wake Up,"… (Cartoon Network )

'Adventure Time' (Cartoon Network, Mondays). Pendleton Ward's splendiferous cartoon series begins its sixth season. (Which is not to say sixth year; it has been on the air only since 2010). By any standard of inventiveness, intelligence, imagination, ambition, care, fearlessness, boldness, openness, humor, poetry and love I'd care to live my life by, it is as good as anything on television; and better than many more ballyhooed series that only seem superior, in the cultural agora and critical Thunderdome, by virtue of being populated by fleshly beings. This is not the show's failing, but the world's. Its own world, and worlds within the worlds that world contains, represent a full spectrum of human emotion and existential whatnot. There is birth and death and transfiguration; killing and creating; love and desire; wisdom and flatulence. It is dark and life-affirming, funny and frightening; the nice can be naughty and the naughty nice. It is not a cartoon made for children, but it is not a cartoon not made for children. The magical and/or post-apocalyptic Land of Ooo, where Jake the stretchy dog and Finn the human go on quests and protect the Candy Kingdom from the Nightosphere and so on, has its predecessors in a host of tales that take place over the rainbow or straight on till morning; but it is completely its own place, with its own rapidly evolving mythologies, ways of talking, of partying, of mixing the extraordinary and the humdrum, the yin and the yang, the anima and the animus. (Sometimes it flips gender, to become the adventures not of Finn and Jake, but of Fionna and Cake, with all the other characters translated accordingly.) The season opener, an especially beautiful, strange and exciting two-part special in which Finn searches for his "human father" within the "nastified" cosmic prison the Citadel, also brings back Kumail Nanjiani, whose year this seems to be (see also: "Silicon Valley," "Portlandia") as Prismo the Wish Master.

BEST TV OF 2013 Lloyd | McNamara

'The Writer's Room' (SundanceTV, Fridays); 'On Story' (KLCS, Sundays). Although the public has long possessed a double consciousness when it comes to movies and TV shows, taking simultaneous interest and pleasure in the performance and the performer, real glimpses into the process of creation were for years rare; looks behind the scenes were largely stage-managed, or soundstage-managed, to reinforce the twin myths of Hollywood glamour and just-folksiness. But as the business of show business has increasingly become part of the show, with opening weekends and weekly ratings the stuff of general interest, so have the nuts and bolts of production, and a great flowering of panels and podcasts now afford endless opportunities for creative types to talk about how and why they do what they do.

Hosted by Jim Rash, who plays the dean on "Community" but also shared an Oscar for the screenplay of "The Descendants," "The Writer's Room" begins its second season this week. The special sort of communal effort that goes into creating and maintaining a television show is its subject. The suggestion of an actual writer's room that served as a set last season -- I had been hoping for a show actually filmed inside writer's rooms -- has been replaced by something more generic (brick walls, comfy chairs, flower arrangements), and there have been some variably productive new segments crowded into each episode's 22 minutes -- "fan on the street" interviews, celebrity tweets, questions submitted via Twitter and (better) a segment called "Defend This Scene." But it remains interesting, even when the show is one you don't particularly like, and too short. Rash's hosting reflects his dual expertise. "Scandal" is up first this year, which includes sessions with the creators, staff and stars of "Sons of anarchy," "House of Cards," "Pretty Little Liars," "The Walking Dead" and "The Good Wife." (Comedy has been shut out, sadly.)

Now in its fourth season, "On Story" is a PBS series seen locally on affiliate KLCS (licensed to the Los Angeles Unified School District), and a production of the Austin Film Festival, which also makes it available, via its treasure-trove website, (Past episodes are also archived there.) Built around excerpts from festival panels, it sometimes focuses on a single writer, sometimes brings in multiple writers to explore a theme, and caps off the half-hour (a public television, not a commercial TV half-hour) with an independent short, and is very much focused on the work. Vince Gilligan, who is still "of 'Breaking Bad' " and is always good to listen to, appears Sunday; coming episodes will feature Paul Thomas Anderson, Callie Khouri, Frank Darabont, Rain Johnson and Jonathan Demme, among others. There is also a podcast, linked to the website, and a book of interviews you can buy to own.

CRITICS' PICKS: What to watch, where to go, what to eat

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