Wednesday, September 30, 2015

OtGW review: Schooltown Follies

[WARNING! This post contains spoilers for Over the Garden Wall! If you have not seen the series, SEE IT! Then you can come back and read this]

"A is for the apple that he gave to me, but I found a worm inside. B is for beloved that I call to him before he left my side."

"So, Beatrice, you sing the high part. Wirt, you sing the really high part."
"What?"
Beatrice, Wirt, and Greg are walking down a clear forest path. Greg is singing a song about going to Adelaide's house, to the annoyance of both Wirt and Beatrice. As Greg tries to assign certain parts of the song to them, Wirt stops to tie his shoe. Beatrice tells Wirt to keep walking, which he does (not tying his shoe), and she tells Greg that they are not doing any singing. When Greg protests, saying that they have to do something fun, Beatrice continues to say that they don't have to do anything.

"Greg, don't you want to be more like your brother? Just always doing what you're told?"
"Huh?"
"Just a pathetic pushover who relies on others to make all his decisions?
"Hey, what? I'm not a pushover!"
"Hold on, Wirt, let me get to my point."
"Fine."
Greg continues to protest, and Beatrice starts a lecture. She tells Greg to be more like Wirt: a pushover who always does what he's told and can't make his own decisions. Wirt denies being any of these things, but proves Beatrice's point when she tells him to be quiet. When Greg notes this doesn't sound fun, Beatrice says, "The world is a miserable place." According to her, life just isn't fun. This upsets Greg, and he says that he will do what he has to do. Beatrice is pleased to hear this, and requests that they pick up the pace. Beatrice and Wirt then realize that Greg is missing. He's run off on his own, saying that he needs to do his part to make the world a better place.

"No, he doesn't have a brain, he can't learn anything. Let's go, Wirt, c'mon! [whistles] Here, boy!"
"What? Did you say something? I can't hear you because I'm too busy doing what I'm told."
"What? What're you…? No, no! Let's go!"
"Oh, no. See, I'm a pushover, remember? I have to do what she tells me to do."
Greg soon comes upon a schoolhouse, which he has no desire to enter, and continues running along. Not far behind, Wirt and Beatrice are searching for Greg and happen upon the same schoolhouse. Thinking perhaps Greg went inside, they go to investigate. Inside the schoolhouse, the teacher (with a class composed of anthropomorphic animals) admonishes Wirt for being late to school and tells him to sit down. Beatrice tries to escape from the situation by saying Wirt doesn't have a brain and thus can't learn anything. But to Beatrice's surprise, Wirt goes and sits down. Annoyed by Beatrice's condescending comments, Wirt tells her that since he's a "pushover" he has to do what the teacher tells him to do. Beatrice tries to entice Wirt to leave by saying Greg might be in trouble, but that is disapproved when they see Greg outside.

"Whew, that lady's got some baggage."
"What's that? Young man, go to the dunce box!"
Beatrice tells Wirt that since bluebirds have short lifespans, the brothers are literally killing her every moment they delay. Wirt doesn't care. The teacher, Miss Langtree, tells Wirt that she won't have any nonsense in her classroom. She has had enough nonsense from her two-timing boyfriend, Jimmy Brown. And not only has Jimmy Brown appeared to have run off, but Miss Langtree's father is threatening to close the school and there is also a wild gorilla on the loose. Miss Langtree then starts singing the alphabet, using each letter to represent something concerning her missing boyfriend. Beatrice says that Langtree has a lot of issues, a comment that Miss Langtree thinks came from Wirt. As punishment, she sends him to the dunce box. Wirt happily obeys in spite of Beatrice's protests, and Langtree resumes her song.

"So my theory is hotdogs are not actually dogs, regardless of what they teach you in school. But you guys don't go to school, huh? I'm gonna stick with you guys."
Outside, Greg is hanging out with some other anthropomorphic animals who are not going to school. Greg, happy to be with kindred spirits (others who don't like school), suggests that they play Two-Old Cat. The animals don't know how to play and Greg plans to show them. As they go around trying to find two old cats, a gorilla comes running out of the bushes. Greg and the animals scatter. In the school, Miss Langtree is still singing her song and Beatrice tells Wirt that she is not happy with the situation, a sentiment that Wirt is perfectly fine with. The school bell is rung, and Miss Langtree assumes that it's already lunchtime. In actuality, Greg and his animal friends are trying to warn people about the gorilla. After a short chase, they manage to knock the gorilla down and go to hide out in the school, where they file into the dining room.

"Oh, potatoes and molasses: If you want some, oh just ask us. They're warm and soft like puppies and socks, filled with cream and candy rocks!"
Lunch time is rather dreary. The potatoes are bland and Miss Langtree's piano music is slow and sad. Wirt tries to eat, but Beatrice snaps that no one told him to eat yet. Greg, determined to make things better, spies a jar of molasses on the shelf and gets an idea. He asks Miss Langtree to play a livelier tune and she happily obliges. Taking the molasses, Greg sings a nonsensical song about potatoes and molasses while mixing the two together. Everyone soon joins in the song, playing some form of musical instrument. It seems that everything is brightening up, but then Miss Langtree's father comes in.

"I didn't invest in a school for fun! I thought we were trying to do important work here! Teaching animals to count and spell!"
The man is unhappy that his money appears to be going to waste. He only wants important work to be done at the school, teaching animals how to count and spell, not have fun. Miss Langtree begs her father not to close the school, promising it won't happen again. Mr. Langtree is determined to ensure it won't happen again: he takes all of the musical instruments and orders Miss Langtree to put everyone to bed.

"Ok, Wirt, I'll admit it. You seem like a pushover, but you're not."
"Oh?"
"Deep down in your heart, you're a stubborn jerk! When are you gonna give this up?"
"Maybe never! Maybe I'll never give this up."
Everyone, including Wirt, Greg and Beatrice, goes to bed. It's clear to Greg that all the animals are upset, and he himself is disappointed that in trying to make the world better, he only made things worse. Beatrice, meanwhile, admits to Wirt that she no longer sees him as a pushover. Instead she now sees him as a stubborn jerk and asks when he is going to stop being so. Wirt, in ironic defiance, says that perhaps he'll NEVER give up. This gives Greg an idea. Encouraged by Wirt's "never give up" comment, Greg tells Wirt that it's time to save the day.

"Ok, I think he's asleep. Let's go steal his stuff!"
"Huh?"
Wirt, Greg and Beatrice sneak out of the schoolhouse and into the woods. Unfortunately, Greg doesn't really have a plan. Then they spy Mr. Langtree. He laments to himself, saying that his home and life savings went into making a school for animals. He regrets that he needs to sell the musical instruments just so he can keep the school open. With the school problems, Jimmy Brown having run off, and the wild gorilla on the loose, Mr. Langtree just wishes that something would go right for once and falls asleep underneath his coat. Greg now has a plan: steal Mr. Langtree's stuff!

"What is this?"
"It's a benefit concert for the school."
"Ah, isn't it grand? All these fine people giving out of the goodness of their hearts? Not like my Jimmy Brown."
In the morning, Mr. Langtree wakes up to see that all the instruments are gone. He is very upset about this, until he stumbles upon a musical performance. All the animals are playing the musical instruments and people are coming to watch and give them money. Mr. Langtree wonders what is happening and Wirt tells him that it's a benefit concert to raise money for the school. Miss Langtree is very happy about this, but starts to go into another lament concerning Jimmy Brown. All of a sudden, the gorilla pops out and tries to attack her.

"So, want me to tell Greg it's time to get going?"
"Nah, let him have his fun."
Mr. Langtree, panicked, tells Wirt to do something. Wirt attempts to run at the gorilla, but trips on his untied shoelaces and falls against the gorilla, knocking it down. The gorilla's head flies off, revealing Jimmy Brown to have been in a gorilla suit. Jimmy explains that he joined the circus so he could buy Miss Langtree a wedding ring, but when he got stuck in the gorilla suit, everyone was too scared to help him out. Jimmy and Miss Langtree share an embrace and everyone cheers. Mr. Langtree happily reflects that something finally went right and Greg starts singing Potatoes and Molasses on the concert stage. Wirt asks Beatrice if he should tell Greg it's time to go, but she decides to let Greg have his fun. As they watch Greg conduct the concert, Beatrice tells Wirt to tie his shoe, which he does.

(Sort of) REVIEW TIME!
Ok, so where do I start? I'm going to start with saying that I am not a professional reviewer, and so I can't really call these things reviews. They're more like personal opinions. I try really hard to see how certain things fail, and I'm sorry if some of them go completely over my head. This episode in particular is going hard underneath that microscope because, while I personally enjoyed this episode, among many Over the Garden Wall fans this is considered one of the weakest episodes. I haven't seen anyone who's actively disliked this episode, but it appears that most people agree that it isn't the best episode. I am going to try and see why.
Now, I'll say this again: I rather enjoyed this episode. It isn't my favorite episode, but I never thought of the episode as bad, weak, or boring. (That spot goes towards most of episode 8, but more on that later). The atmosphere was much lighter and more storybook-ish compared to the previous episodes. And this appears to be the most common criticism - pretty much the only criticism - toward this episode.
I can see where the people are coming from with this complaint. I mean, just in the last episode we had this incredibly atmospheric and creepy story. And in the episode before that. we had a demon dog chasing after our protagonists! We're pumped for another dose of surreal creepiness, and what do we get…? Anthropomorphic animals, bright and cheerful atmosphere, and musical numbers. It feels like a disappointment to not receive a tense and atmospheric episode, or a fast-paced and shock inducing episode.
Again, this is the most common complaint I've seen regarding this episode, and again I understand where it's coming from. Now allow me to deliver my personal opinion on this.
When I first watched this episode I was admittedly surprised by the change of pace. I actually wasn't aware of how surprised I was until I moved on to the next episode and realized, 'Hey, that was a weird episode.' However, I didn't think that the lightheartedness made the episode weak. I find that the episode helps you notice just how dark and atmospheric the overall show really is, as well as give you a break from all the darkness. It would be rather discouraging if every episode was dark and tense. The characters and the viewers would never be able to catch a break!
And really, the fact that people were already associating a certain atmosphere with the show after only two episodes is rather impressive. Two episodes in, and people were already thinking, 'Ok, Over the Garden Wall. I know your style. Come at me.' Then the show played with our expectations, giving us something we weren't ready to associate the show. The show didn't stay within its seemingly established boundaries of dark and atmospheric, but showed just how diverse it could be.
If you say this episode seems out of place and you don't enjoy it as much because it isn't as dark as the past episodes, that's fine. I understand. Me personally, I rather like this episode. Thank you for listening to my rambling, and let's move on to a different subject because I really need to wrap up this long over-due review.
How were the characters in this story? I thought that they were good. I found the interaction between Wirt and Beatrice to be fun to watch, with Beatrice's insults being met by a rather passive-aggressive counter-attack. The little conversation where Beatrice says Wirt is a jerk rather than a pushover is one of my favorite moments in the episode.
Greg got more screen time in this episode, and we get to see a little bit more than the goofy and oblivious little kid. He's goofy and optimistic for a reason: he wants to light up the world through that goofiness and optimism. I like the part when Greg realizes that his fun fest just made things more miserable. I wish the writers had developed that more, but I supposed there is only so much you can do in a short time frame.
Beatrice and Wirt also get some development in this episode. Wirt is becoming more confident and independent (which he proves, ironically enough, by pointedly depending on what others tell him to do), and Beatrice sees that the world isn't always and doesn't have to be a miserable place.
The music in this episode was more upbeat and childish, kind of like something you would hear in an old cartoon. And of COURSE I kind of have to talk about the best known song in the series: Potatoes and Molasses. This song so easily gets into your head, and I've seen mixed reactions of love and hate towards it. I kind of like the song myself, but my favorite song has got to be the teacher's song: Langtree's Lament. Seriously, it's a freakin' clever song! Look up the full song if you want to see what I mean.
So, I'm really hitting the time limit on how long I should be taking to write this episode review, so I better wrap it up. I liked this episode, and while it certainly isn't my favorite episode, I never found it weak. Just unexpected. All in all, I give this episode the overall rating of 8.9/10.
Join me next time when I review the upcoming episode: Songs of the Dark Lantern.

[Check out this charming little fanart of Miss Langtree and her class by mintyburps on Tumblr]

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