Recently, my friend George wrote about how often times we tend to latch onto very minor characters in fiction. He wrote an excellent blog post detailing an example of his favorite minor character from Star Wars, General Veers. It was a fun tribute and I thoroughly enjoyed it, and it caused me to reflect on similar characters I had grown attached to. My thoughts led me to Root Beer Guy, who is hands down the greatest character to ever appear in the cartoon Adventure Time.
Adventure Time is one of those shows I thought I’d never really get into. Admittedly, I’m a huge fan of Regular Show, and a lot of people tend to group the two shows together when they talk about them. I think this comparison is rather foolish, as the shows have nothing in common outside of being cartoons. Anyway, I hadn’t really given Adventure Time any real consideration until my girlfriend mentioned to me that she was a huge fan of the show. This intrigued me, and one day when I had nothing else to do I sat down and started watching Adventure Time on Hulu.
To say I was instantly hooked would be a lie, but when the first episode ended I didn’t stop watching–I immediately played the next one. My girlfriend is one of the smartest people I know, and if she loved this show, I reasoned, there must be something to it. So I stuck with it and by the end of the first season I came to really love it. I saw in Adventure Time not just a fun and vibrant children’s cartoon, but also an astoundingly smart and emotionally resonant world. This show is freaking brilliant, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone willing to give it a shot.
A few months in, I reached what would become my favorite episode: season five’s “Root Beer Guy”. I’ll be honest, before this episode I was not even remotely aware of Root Beer Guy, despite the fact that he had several minor appearances beforehand. The thing is, until this episode, Root Beer Guy was a nameless, mostly nonspeaking Candy Person who showed up in crowds of other nameless, nonspeaking Candy People.
Funnily enough, he appears much the same at the beginning of the episode. Lost in a crowd of Candy People, Root Beer Guy becomes the focus only after the crowd disperses, and he is left standing there alone. And though I did not yet know it, in that shot I was formally introduced to Adventure Time’s greatest creation.
Root Beer Guy is a regular, everyday Candy Person. What’s great about this episode isn’t just its eponymous hero, but its exploration of everyday life in the Candy Kingdom. There are telemarketers, public subway systems, unannounced marriages and lives… “Root Beer Guy” takes the fantastical Candy Kingdom and makes it mundane, and after five seasons, this world exploration is downright fascinating. Enjoy this clip of Root Beer Guy’s awful–aka normal–day:
Root Beer Guy longs for more than his seemingly boring life, and later that night, when his wife, Cherry Cream Soda, goes to sleep, Root Beer Guy pulls a typewriter out from underneath his bed and goes to work on his crime novel about Detective Joe Milkshake. That’s right, Root Beer Guy is an aspiring novelist. How could I not love him, really? As he types away, his narration is played for the audience, and I laughed aloud at this particular moment:
I kicked down the door with one swift and decisive motion. No! With one swift and decisive motion I kicked down the door. No! The door was kicked down by me, swiftly, with not many motions, but a whole lot of decisiveness was used by me–that was apparent to everybody!
Come on, that’s hilarious. Alright, so we know Root Beer Guy is bored, and we know he reads and writes crime novels. Well, that night, he witnesses Jake and Finn kidnap Princess Bubblegum!!! Gasp, right? Not to fear though, because Root Beer Guy is immediately on the case.
What I love most about Root Beer Guy is the courage he displays when he first sees heroes Jake and Finn the next day. Root Beer Guy walks right up to them and asks them point blank what they’ve done with the princess–this soda’s got balls!!! I love him!
What follows is amusing, clever, and all kinds of fun. Root Beer Guy takes on the persona of his fictional character, Joe Milkshake, and he’s intent on solving the case and saving the princess. He develops an amusing catchphrase: “Bingo bango!” Root Beer Guy says this a lot and it elicits a chuckle from me every fucking time. This case-solving business has harmful effects on his marriage, though. Root Beer Guy comes home to find his wife waiting for him in a French maid outfit, asking him in an accent if he’d like her to “turn down the bed.” In case you’re wondering, yes–this kid’s cartoon shows Cherry Cream Soda in lingerie asking for a good fuck. It’s absurd, it’s hilarious, and then it’s heartbreaking, because Root Beer Guy would rather continue his adventure than tend to the needs of his wife at the moment.
Further hijinks ensue, and I won’t spoil everything that goes down in this fantastic episode, but I’ll spoil the resolution: Root Beer Guy finds Princess Bubblegum, and she promotes him to Captain of the Banana Guard.
Root Beer Guy’s marriage is repaired–as Cherry Cream Soda puts it, “That was a great night, baby”…yes, someone got laid–and life is fucking grand. The final shot of the episode shows Root Beer Guy’s typewriter in the trash, because he no longer needs Joe Milkshake, a fictional version of himself, to feel fulfilled. All is well.
I was eager for more Root Beer Guy. He appears briefly in two more episodes, and is oddly absent in an episode that focuses on the ineptitude of the Banana Guard. I later learned his absence was explained via promotional art–he and Cherry Cream Soda were away on vacation.
I learned today while researching for this post that Root Beer Guy stars in his own comic book miniseries, Adventure Time: Banana Guard Academy. You better believe I’ll be picking that up asap. I am always eager for more Root Beer Guy.
Ladies and gents, we arrive now to the reason for this long post discussing and celebrating Captain Root Beer Guy: season six’s “Something Big.”
In the opening moments of “Something Big”, we learn a horrible truth: Root Beer Guy has just given his life in defense of the Candy Kingdom. I was shocked. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Root Beer Guy? Dead?! Surely not.
The show then offers brutal proof of his demise:
Here’s what really grinds my gears about this whole thing: Root Beer Guy dies defending the Candy People offscreen. Adventure Time doesn’t even have the decency to give our hero’s death the proper visual it deserves. Our ass-kicking soda hero goes out in a blaze of glory unseen. Root Beer Guy deserved better, guys. Truly.
In a blog post, the voice of Root Beer Guy and writer of his death, Jack Pendarvis, explains why he decided to kill Root Beer Guy:
He became the Captain of the Banana Guards but he never did much to improve them. I felt really bad about his failure on the job. I thought if he were dead I’d feel more comfortable with the Banana Guards staying so dumb. Nobody wants to see a smart Banana Guard.
Damn. What a tragedy, honestly. We lost Adventure Time’s greatest character because he achieved his dream, and the show couldn’t afford to lose the comedy the inept Banana Guards provide.
This post is simultaneously a lament, a celebration, and a eulogy of sorts, since the show forgoes mourning the character at all. How does Cherry Cream Soda feel about her husband’s death? I haven’t the faintest fucking idea, my friends. All I know is I was watching Hulu today, catching up on some Adventure Time, and in the midst of some heavy exploration of Finn’s PTSD and sexual misadventures (you read that right–this show is complex), Root Beer Guy wound up splattered on the field outside of Candy Kingdom. He died a hero, of course, setting up a force field to stop enemy forces from invading his home. Root Beer Guy died saving the lives of thousands (or maybe hundreds? Is anybody sure how many people are even in the Candy Kingdom?) and he deserved some damn recognition for it.
So tonight, I had a glass of root beer, in honor of a cartoon character. And then I sat down and wrote a blog post to inform all of you about this fictional character’s fictional deeds. In the fictional land of Oo, and in my overtly sensitive and imaginative heart, Root Beer Guy will always remain a legend.