Earlier this week, feeling unwell and more than a little sorry for myself, I began searching through a list of shows I’d yet to watch, hoping that I could find something – anything – to bring me out of my malaise. After skipping past the usual ‘background noise’ shows like The Simpsons or Rick and Morty, I settled on the rather dark looking Over the Garden Wall.
I’d seen Over the Garden Wall a few times on my list, often hovering over it before moving on to choose something else. It looked like something I’d watch, and it piqued my interest, but never enough to give it a try. On this day though, my head full of fever and self-pity, I decided to break with tradition and press play, instead of skip. It was the right decision to make.
Based on a 2013 short called Tome of the Unknown, Over the Garden Wall is the story of two young boys who – for reasons not yet explained – find themselves lost in the dark, scary woods known simply as the Unknown. In order to find their way home, the boys, Wirt and Greg (voiced by Elijah Wood and Collin Dean), must traverse this terrifying landscape, outwitting and outrunning the monsters and murderers that seemingly lurk around every tree stump – including a horned rogue named The Beast, who is obsessed with taking the souls of lost children and travelers, seemingly trapping them as flames in his mysterious lanterns.
Yup, it sounds terrifying, and for your average kid, it probably is. But it is also one of the bravest, most accomplished children’s shows in years. Developed by Patrick McHale, and debuting on Cartoon Network, the miniseries ran for a total of 10 episodes, with each episode lasting a mere 11 minutes. Despite coming from the mind of McHale – who is perhaps better known as a writer on Adventure Time – Over the Garden Wall is not a brightly coloured, melting pot of zaniness and trippy, drug infused mania, but instead opts for a much more neutral color palette. Sure, there’s some off-the-wall characters thrown into the mix, something we’d expect from Cartoon Network and McHale alike, but they’re not the kind of bubble-gum princesses you’d want to meet on your quest. Instead they’re skeletons masquerading as Pumpkin people, or young maidens suffering from acute cases of demonic possession.
As for our heroes, well as the show reaches its climax, it is revealed they’re modern-day kids who jumped over a steep wall to avoid getting in trouble with local law enforcement one Halloween night, finding themselves in the woods of the Unknown. Things take a somewhat sinister turn though, when we realise that in their haste of leaping the wall, they’ve fallen into a lake and been knocked unconscious, with the entire adventure is taking place in their heads as they come closer and closer to death by drowning. In other word’s it’s all pretty messed up, and that’s why it’s so bloody great.
Despite all that I’ve said, please don’t be put off showing this to your kids. There’s enough slapstick humour to keep them laughing through the creepiness, and McHale knows his audience well enough to keep it on the right side of scary. So much so, most kids won’t even pick up on the adult themes and references, obsessing more with Greg’s teapot hat, or side quest to name his pet frog.
Over the Garden Wall is destined to become one of those shows that your kids will be talking about for years, and is sure to become one of the essential Halloween go-to shows for generations to come.