Part musical, part sibling drama, and part complete absurdity, Over the Garden Wall is a story that might be about death and is definitely about brotherhood.
The 10-episode animated miniseries was created by Patrick McHale for Cartoon Network. It tells one full story over its 10 episodes, coming in at a running time of about two hours. As such, it makes the perfect binge-watching project for a cold weekend.
McHale has worked on Adventure Time, and the sweetly absurdist comedy of that show carries over. But Over the Garden Wall has a subtler form of humor — and a darkly existential core that will leave you thinking. Here are a few reasons to take the binge:
1) The show is dark, but funny
Over the Garden Wall is a story about two brothers — a teen and a young boy — trying to find their way home through a mystical, mysterious kingdom. Early in the series, a talking bird asks the boys, "You two are lost kids without purpose in life, right?"
The miniseries frequently suggests the main characters are dead, then asks the audience to ponder whether that's true. The name of the show, as io9 has discussed, may come from a children's rope-skipping chant that goes:
Over the garden wall
I let the baby fall.
My mother came out
And gave me a clout
Over the garden wall.
But don't let that potentially creepy core scare you off. Over the Garden Wall masks it beautifully with smart, whimsical humor.
Over at i09, alliterator attempted to find as many of the references to other works as possible. It's an overwhelming task, since the entire show is packed full of allusions to famous literary works, Broadway numbers, and many, many, many fairy tales. There are musical numbers. There are poetry recitations. There are action sequences, but the show speeds past them to take its time on emotion. Overall, it's a brilliant mixture of sharp wit and the deep dark fears we hide from ourselves.
2) The brothers are great characters
The heroes of the show are Wirt and Greg, two brothers who are lost in the woods. Wirt is the eldest sibling and displays many of the stereotypical behaviors of an older child: he worries, he nags, and he sees himself as the protector of Greg. Wirt is a teenager, and throughout the series, his girl troubles and self-consciousness make him incredibly relatable. He's also literary. He quotes lines and lines of poetry and occasionally speaks in iambic pentameter.
Greg, the younger, stranger brother, wears a teapot on his head and carries around a frog whose name is constantly changing. Consistently, Greg is the one who leads the two further away from home, gets lost, or leads them into danger. He's supposed to be young and oblivious, but one of the beautiful things about McHale's characters is that everyone — no matter how seemingly silly — has hidden depth.
"I just wanted to have fun, change the world, and make it a better place," Greg says early in the series. It may not be a lofty goal, but it's a worthy one.
3) It's beautiful to watch
Over the Garden Wall is a dark show. Many of the frames are vignetted, and the wooded setting allows for McHale to set his characters' moods with gray skies and looming trees. The world the brothers explore is so carefully constructed that as each episode ends, it's easy to feel a fleeting moment of dread that the grey will take over, and the mystical characters won't reappear.
The characters look different from those on other Cartoon Network shows. Wirt and Greg are not the squiggly-lined, brightly-colored characters of the Adventure Time world. Their clothing is precisely drawn, and their faces show more nuanced emotions like worry and anxiety, instead of only the drastic lines of fear.
McHale uses desaturated colors to create his world, and it sets the tone for the characters' concerns about whether or not they will ever get home. The color palette, like the topic, is somber.
4) You can watch it in a single weekend
Not everyone is a great binge watcher, but anyone can finish Garden Wall in a single weekend. It isn't hard to spare the two hours (depending on snack breaks) it will take to watch the entire miniseries.
Even though television stories are often designed to draw out infinitely, Over the Garden Wall is part of the medium's renewed fascination with sprawling but self-contained narratives. When the last episode fades to black, the story does too. Every question isn't wrapped up neatly, but it feels like the time spent with Wirt and Greg is over. We might feel their absence, but the story has brought them to an appropriate place and left them there. And that's a lesson more TV shows could learn from.
Watch the preview for the miniseries here: