In the first chapter of Over the Garden Wall, two brothers get lost in the woods and find WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS SHOW. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Over the Garden Wall.
Oh, shit, I love it when a show throws me in the deep end right at the start.
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Now that that is out of the way… WHAT THE HELL.
It feels like it’s been a while since I started a new show, so this pilot felt especially jarring to me. That’s a good thing, though. I wanted to get a sense for what Over the Garden Wall was going to do to me, and if this is any indication, this is going to be a weird ride. We’re dropped into the middle of something here, and I don’t just been Greg’s and Wirt’s walk home. Even when the brothers arrive at the old mill, the man is in the midst of his own story, too. We learn who these characters are as their two stories collide in increasingly absurd ways, and I admire that. This show does not hold your hand through anything. You’re in the thick of it from the start.
“The Old Grist Mill” borrows heavily from a ton of fantasy and fairytale tropes, liberally spreading them across a surreal story that is equal parts comedy and terror. Seriously, I’m already impressed at how quickly that switch was flipped here. At one moment, I’m laughing at Greg because Greg is literally the worst possible character to ever get lost anywhere (let alone a terrifying forest like this). Then? That beast showed up, and this suddenly wasn’t all that funny anymore. It feels intentional, too! Visually, we’re not supposed to think this forest is a joyous romp on the way home. Nearly every scene in these eleven minutes is shrouded in twisting darkness. Hell, the very first joke cracked is about how openly creepy this place is.
I think that’s why I’ve so quickly latched on to Greg, who might very well be the worst possible person to ever be in any scary situation. He’s like all those tropes of foolish people in slasher films wrapped in one! He runs towards creepy people. He feeds werewolf-esque creatures candy. He cannot whisper to save his life. He wanders into dark rooms, he has no sense of self-preservation, and I find him to be endlessly hilarious. WHY DOES HE HAVE A TEAKETTLE ON HIS HEAD. Who cares.
Wirt is… wow, he’s nervous and anxious. AS HE SHOULD BE, THIS FOREST IS TERRIFYING. But I saw him as someone who’s generally kind of nervous, you know? If you’ve got a brother like Greg, I think anyone would be an anxious wreck all the time. He’s deeply concerned with his brother’s well-being, so he’s got the whole big brother vibe going for him.
Then we’ve got the unnamed man in the woods. More than anything else, he feels like a parody of the exact kind of character that he is. Seriously! He’s a solitary dude who lives in the middle of the forest, toiling away to keep his lantern lit so as to keep the Beast from killing him. HE SOUNDS LIKE A SHORT STORY, OKAY. That’s why I loved how straight the show played this. When the Beast actually shows up (thanks to Greg’s trail of candy), it’s just as frightening as the old man said it would be. What follows, however, is just… look, y’all. There are so many little gags crammed into that fight sequence that I’m certain I’ve forgotten some of them. My personal favorite? Greg finally getting an axe and then spanking the beast with the handle instead of using it like an actual weapon. WHY IS GREG LIKE THIS NEVER CHANGE.
And then the show upends everything all over again. A completely throwaway moment early in the episode – in which Greg sees a small turtle wander by and puts a blue bow on it – is brought back when the defeat of the wolf reveals that it ate that same turtle whole. The brothers defeat the Beast pretty much by accident after Greg throws some candy off the roof. In doing so, they ruin the old man’s life. He’s got no mill, the Beast is defeated, and he has no purpose anymore. It’s kind of a disturbing end to his story, isn’t it? Before long, the man is left with the broken pieces of his life, and the brothers continue home. Well, they’re warned about The Unknown, so I assume that will come up again?
This was a lot of fun. Weird as hell, but I think I’m in. GIMME MORE.
The video for “The Old Grist Mill” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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