Infinity Train‘s premise seems like it could be found in any popular book or movie: a teenage girl in love with video games and coding, freshly full of feelings thanks to her parents’ divorce, finds herself trapped in a supernatural, dream-like world that might as well be its own video game.
But a quick search around the Internet indicates that maybe people aren’t very aware of Infinity Train, the new miniseries from Cartoon Network and creator Owen Dennis. This is something that should be remedied, because Infinity Train is not only a brilliant program, it’s probably one of the best new shows you’re not watching.
Infinity Train’s pilot premiered on the Cartoon Network’s YouTube channel back in November 2016. It quickly gained recognition and a cult following. Back in March, Deadline officially announced that the show would be getting a full ten-episode season, which premiered on August 5.
Bypassing the fact that each episode is 13 minutes long (meaning you can probably marathon it in less than two hours after a long work day), Infinity Train follows the precedent set by shows like Steven Universe and Over The Garden Wall—that is, it’s a show filled with smart writing, an intelligent protagonist, and clever lessons that can resonate with viewers of any age. Young Tulip Olsen (voiced by Ashley Johnson) is an aspiring video-game maker with dreams of achieving her goal by attending coding camp. Thanks to a misunderstanding between her parents, however, Tulip finds herself out of luck when it comes to having a way to get to camp. She reacts the usual teenage way — she runs away from home — and in doing so, stumbles upon a train that seems to be heading to exactly where she needs to go.
Tulip soon learns the train she’s boarded is definitely not going to video game design camp, and also that the door of each train car invites you into a different world. Each world has its own set of obstacles and mysteries, and Tulip’s goal quickly becomes clear: solve the secrets of the train, find the mysterious conductor, and get herself home.
If only it were that simple.
That sentiment is something Infinity Train reminds us with each episode, whether Tulip is talking with a corgi, arguing with a diabolical cat, or performing a ritual in a crystal forest: it should be simple enough to get home. It should be simple enough to open a train door and escape. It should be simple enough to understand why the strange glowing number on Tulip’s palm keeps counting down and what that means. But sometimes, things that seem like they have a simple solution require us to look deeper and think harder; the show hammers this home with each episode.
Tulip reacts to her setbacks the way any teenager would, but even for those of us who don’t throw tantrums when something doesn’t go our way, it’s easy to identify with her frustrated feeling that no one is giving her a rule book on how to navigate this new world. It’s also easy to make the connection between Tulip’s reactions and the trauma she’s facing from her situation back home. Clearly, there’s more going on in Tulip’s head than she probably even realizes, as we see halfway through the season in an episode titled “The Cat’s Car” (wherein Tulip has to take a trip into her past and relive the before and after of her parents’ divorce). And what better way to work out those emotions than by escaping into a fantasy adventure full of talking animals, giant cockroaches, and supernatural occurrences?
As fantastical as each new adventure is, Infinity Train always makes sure that Tulip is offered a moment of pragmatic self-reflection, pushing character growth to the forefront. Early on in her journey, she acquires two companions: One-One (two robots put together whose mannerisms bear a striking resemblance to Marvin, The Paranoid Android from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) and Atticus, a corgi king voiced by Ernie Hudson. That Tulip doesn’t go through her struggles alone fosters the idea that even when we think we don’t need help, we can always use outside perspective and a supportive shoulder.
Many have compared Infinity Train to Over The Garden Wall, and it’s a comparison that’s rightly deserved given how inventive and emotional the show is. And between Steven Universe and Adventure Time, Cartoon Network is no stranger to animated shows that have curated adult audiences. But what Infinity Train does with each precious 13 minutes is truly something special. In a world where smartly written animated shows are few and far between, it gives us that spark of hope and optimism that reminds us we can fight for our dreams, be in charge of our future, and maybe—just maybe—get lucky enough to adopt a talking corgi along the way.
There’s good news for fans who are eager for more adventures: Cartoon Network has already announced a second season, though it probably won’t premiere until sometime next year. Until then, we’re left to ponder our theories about this mysterious world. And with all ten episodes available on Cartoon Network’s website, you’re left with the opportunity to catch up on one of the best animated programs of the year.
Images: Cartoon Network