If you have somehow missed the awakening cult of pumpkin spice, sweaters, scarves, and Anne of Green Gables quotes about October, fall has arrived. As the leaves turn, the air cools, and we all brace for winter, now is the perfect time to invest in a fall tradition you never realized you were missing. This season, as you’re browsing through the ever-growing catalog of options on Hulu or Netflix to find something to watch on a chilly evening, do yourself a favor and choose to watch the best TV show you’ve never heard of: “Over the Garden Wall.”
“Over the Garden Wall” is an Emmy-winning ten-part animated miniseries that originally aired on Cartoon Network in November 2014. CN aired two episodes a night, with all ten episodes together running just under two hours. The show is the artistic brainchild of Patrick McHale, best known for his work as a creative director and writer for Cartoon Network’s hit show “Adventure Time.”
The tale centers on two brothers, Wirt (Elijah Wood) and Greg (Collin Dean), who find themselves lost in autumnal woods in “The Unknown,” a mysterious, haunting land populated by talking animals, pumpkin-wearing skeletons, and musically gifted frogs. They encounter a woodsman (Christopher Lloyd) who warns them of The Beast who wanders the woods, seeking lost children to devour. The woodsman points them towards a nearby town, setting in motion a series of gloomy misadventures as the lost boys seek to find their way home.
Throughout the show, the brothers and their human-turned-bird companion Beatrice (Melanie Lynskey) learn valuable lessons about leadership, responsibility, loyalty, friendship, and hope via their meetings with a colorful cast of supporting characters, voiced by an all-star cast, including John Cleese and Tim Curry. “Over the Garden Wall” is a beautifully written story that evokes fitting comparisons to classic, dark, German fairy tales such as those found in the Grimms’ fairy tales collection.
The Intertwined Lives of Two Brothers
Although each main character is complex and well developed, the evolving relationship between the two brothers throughout the danger they face is the highlight of the story. Wirt is a melodramatic teenager in a gnome costume whose poetic self-abasement and constant self-esteem issues lead him to be unnecessarily critical towards his innocent younger brother, Greg. Viewers learn in the fourth episode (“Songs of the Dark Lantern”) that Wirt’s mother remarried and had Greg with Wirt’s stepfather, establishing Greg as an unwanted intrusion in Wirt’s life. As a young child, Greg presents a constant challenge and annoyance to Wirt, both before and during their adventures in the Unknown.
Greg is a rare, masterfully written child character whose actions and dialogue are exactly what one would expect from a fanciful, playful boy: he is easily distracted, hyperactive, sometimes random, and relentlessly pursues fun. This causes no end of consternation for Wirt, who blames Greg and his behavior for their predicament.
However, in the first episode (“The Old Grist Mill”), the woodsman cautions Wirt that as the older brother, he is responsible for his younger brother, childish flaws and all. The woodsman charges Wirt to take his responsibility as the elder child seriously as the children attempt to find their way out of the Unknown.
It is quite a while before the woodsman’s advice takes, as Wirt continues to criticize and berate Greg more and more the further they travel, until impressionable Greg fully believes that their dire situation is his own fault. After Wirt gives up all hope, Greg takes responsibility in an act of loving self-sacrifice, hoping to secure a way for his brother to return home. Through Greg’s example, Wirt learns to take responsibility for his actions and simultaneously grows to value his heroic sibling.
Depth and Charm for Young and Old
Despite its award-winning quality, the show resides in relative obscurity with a nonetheless dedicated fan base. Fans spend time on the show’s subreddit puzzling through the many themes and references, with some suggesting that the show includes allusions to the works of Dante in the presentation of the Unknown and the characters found there. In any case, while technically a children’s show, “Over the Garden Wall’s” darkness and depth makes it well suited to young and old viewers alike.
The charming story is accompanied by a surprisingly excellent soundtrack, available to stream on Amazon Music and Spotify. It includes goofy, catchy tunes composed by Greg (“Potatoes and Molasses” and “Adelaide Parade” are highlights), as well as bluesy, soulful numbers such as “Old North Wind” and “Patient is the Night.” The soundtrack makes for an enjoyable listen on its own, but it serves to carry the sincere emotion of the playful story throughout all its twists and turns.
“Over the Garden Wall” is a fairytale for the modern day. It offers cautions and morals, as any good fairytale should, along with all of the adorable absurdity of contemporary animation and storytelling. It is a story with many layers, allusions, and subtleties that reward multiple viewings. Its near-Halloween setting makes it a perfect addition to your fall season, and its film-length total runtime it makes for a perfect movie night. So grab some hot chocolate, pull up Hulu or Amazon Prime, and head into the Unknown.