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Over the Garden Wall

Another autumn, another rewatch of Patrick McHale’s Over The Garden Wall. This mini-series is a spooky, occasionally scary, show about Americana, death and growing up. 

McHale is better known for his work on Adventure Time. Yet, Over The Garden Wall has enough similarities to make the connection clear. If you are a fan of Adventure Time, stop reading this and watch Over The Garden Wall.

The show follows two boys — Wert and Greg — and an inconsistently-named frog. In a magical introduction, the audience is told the boys have wandered into The Unknown: a dark and eerie forest where things are not as they appear. As they wander through the woods, they meet a variety of bizarre and charming characters. Unfortunately for Wert and Greg, most of these charming characters have a sinister motive or tragic backstory behind them. As the story unfolds, McHale’s larger thematic ideas unfold.

McHale investigates ideas of maturity and whether one should develop along societal expectations or go about it in their own fashion. In a rather grim take on a typical coming-of-age story, all of Greg and Wert’s adventures are set against a backdrop of death and decay. As a story focused on the fall season, winter must inevitably come. And with winter comes cold and darkness. 

Over the Garden Wall (Cartoon Network)

Parallels to Halifax

Being in Halifax, most of the Gazette’s readership is familiar with dark, freezing winter nights. Fall in Halifax is lovely as well, as the season progresses the potential for romanticization only increases. The changing colours, the festivities and the Halloween vibe all create a fantastic fall experience in Halifax. Watching Over The Garden Wall, it’s eerie to see just how similar the show’s atmosphere matches Halifax’s. 

The most obvious clash between McHale’s vision of fall and our own is the show’s focus on Americana. Americana is an aesthetic focused on American history and culture. Generally, it denotes a whitewashed set of colonial icons: pilgrims in funny hats, plentiful fall harvests and red one-room schoolhouses. 

Halifax has a certain amount of these types of cultural symbols in its history, but not nearly as much as Boston or New York would. As a Canadian city, lots of our colonial history revolves around Halifax’s place within the British Empire, while McHale’s show is clearly tapping into an American market. Either way, it helps to establish the classic iconography that Over The Garden Wall relies upon. 

The Americana aesthetic consistently hides more sinister plot elements that are revealed at the end of an episode with delicious fairy tale twists. There is always depth to McHale’s characters; it’s this subtle world-building that makes the show worth rewatching every year. 

A lonely girl in a cottage in the woods who does chores all day for her evil-looking aunt. A sarcastic bluebird who aids Wert and Greg on their quest to get home has her own motives. A vaudeville-styled ferry filled with happy frogs heading to a bleak destination. 

The best part about this show is that I can tease you with all of this but when you watch each episode, the surprises are so good that McHale’s twists will still get you. 

If you’re seeking a retro throwback to simpler times filled with childlike wonder, Over The Garden Wall should be on your watch list this season. If, on the other hand, you like the spooks and scares that come with fall and Halloween, McHale’s show is sure to scratch that itch. 

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