“I guess the world really is as sweet as potatoes and molasses.”
– Father Langtree
Over the Garden Wall shifts tones between episodes with an effortless confidence that ought to, on paper, take several seasons worth of material to back up. We would need to know our main characters well enough to empathize with, become acquainted with the setting well enough to believe that it could extend itself beyond two dimensions, and be familiar enough with a standard rhythm to justify a detour.
In short-form animated television, the depth of familiarity needed for this type of leg-stretching especially requires a considerable amount of prologue. Adventure Time took at least two seasons before it ventured into darker territory and embraced the adolescence metaphor incubating at its core. Viewers, at that point, had become acquainted well enough with the nooks and crannies of Ooo and its diversity of inhabitants at their brightest moments, paving the path to more challenging territory.
Over the Garden Wall pulls off a similar modulation, albeit in reverse and in a considerably shorter amount of time. The series starts off dark, moody and slightly broody, and must rise to the occasion of turning on the lights for its third episode, “Schooltown Follies.” Jumping from the dark fatalism of “Hard Times at the Huskin’ Bee” to an upbeat, optimistic romp through a schoolhouse for snappily dressed animals ought to be a jarring transition.