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

This post has been corrected. See below for details.

‘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.

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‘Muscle Shoals’ (PBS, Monday). Like “Twenty Feet From Stardom,” that movie about backup singers you have told your friends about or they have told you about and you really mean to see soon, “Muscle Shoals” -- theatrically released last year and coming to PBS this week via “Independent Lens” -- tells the story of the artists behind the artists whose names went on the label. (Musicians like David Hood, Roger Hawkins, Jimmy Johnson, Barry Beckett and Spooner Oldham, little known to most, but already legend to readers of album credits.) Set among the studios and players that turned an “undescript little town” (as local and love-hated Grateful Dead backup singer Donna Jean Godchaux calls it) into a recording capital, it begins, unfortunately, with a voice-over from Bono (“It’s about alchemy, it’s about turning metal, the iron in the ground, the rust, into gold”), who has surely exceeded the statutory limit on documentary appearances and is about the thousandth person you’d think of in connection with Alabama-made soul music. But Wilson Pickett’s “Land of 1000 Dances” promptly arrives to clear the palate.

Again like “Twenty Feet.” it tells a story of white and black musicians working together, though here -- in the early days,at least, when Rick Hall, the man behind the men behind the music, was cutting Arthur Alexander and Percy Sledge and Aretha Franklin, before the town became a recording destination for the likes of Mac Davis and the Osmonds -- it was a matter less of black singers bringing flavor to white artists than of white players backing up black artists. (They were widely assumed to be black.) It’s also a story of city people and country people coming together to make a certain sort of soul music apparently not replicable elsewhere. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards remember recording there as familiar footage from “Gimme Shelter” rolls; Percy Sledge, Jimmy Cliff, Candi Staton, Clarence Carter, Greg Allman, Aretha, Alicia Keys are heard from, along with Johnson, Hawkins, Hood and other studio regulars; in one thrilling moment, Oldham teases from a Wurlitzer his seductive introduction to Aretha’s career-changing “I Never Loved a Man the Way That I Love You.”

First-time director Greg “Freddy” Camalier wanders a bit and goes on a little long, and he gets a mite fancy with the slo-mo now and again; and, like many show business stories, his film is less interesting once everyone grows settled and successful. But he has a great central figure in Hall, whose life was marked by deprivation and death: “We grew up like animals,” he says of his childhood, and he wound up “bitter, somewhat driven -- I wanted to be special. I wanted to be somebody.”

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‘Les Petits Meurtres d’Agatha Christie’ (Acorn). This strange thing, produced in France from 2009 to 20012 (and currently in production with different stars), takes the plots of Agatha Christie mysteries and dresses them in Gallic weeds. Set in the late 1930s, it stars Antoine Duléry as Superintendent Larosière, who is a poetical drunk and a dandy, and Marius Colucci as Inspector Lampion, who is more straightforward, and gay. Some might interpret the title to say that it is Christie herself who is being murdered here -- “The Body in the Library” is mostly set in a brothel -- but there is something quite wonderful about these re-settings, to Paris and the provinces, shot through a kind of uncorseted joie de vivre not quite native, yet not really foreign to the originals. There are crimes to solve, bien sûr, but also eggs to cook, properly, and eat. Available on home video and to stream via Acorn TV.

[For the record, 4:45 p.m. April 18: A previous version of this post incorrectly referred to the “Adventure Time” characters Finn the human and Jake the dog as Finn the dog and Jake the human.]

Twitter: @LATimesTVLloyd


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