[18 May 2005]
I’m not an animal, I’m a house-cat!
The star of the most syndicated cartoon strip in the world, Garfield has plenty of critics. Take his first big screen appearance in last year’s Garfield: The Movie. The film was slaughtered by critics, who called it “repetitive,” “unappealing,” and “bland.” What a pity, then, to discover that the old Saturday morning cartoon show, Garfield and Friends, suffers the same problem.
While the film was a live-action version of one of the cartoon’s seven-minute segments, the cartoon is three-panel strip stretched to fill its running time. Three panels usually equal one joke, and the same ends up happening in the show. It’s not the premise that needs an originality injection, but the one-note plots that are tired. Unless you’re a kid, the only reason to tune into the show is Garfield’s one-liners, the more acerbic, the better.
Garfield and Friends: Volume Three, just out on extras-free DVD, features episode after episode of the same old Garfield-gets-in-a-fix scenario that, without those one-liners, are pretty well pointless, because every fix is something you’ve seen before, likely in a previous episode. In episode 54, Garfield’s owner Jon takes to performing magic. When the rabbit he is supposed to pull from his hat quits, guess who takes his place? Or, in episode 56, a wise old man comes to Jon’s place to teach “enlightenment,” something Garfield openly resists. It’s no stretch to imagine just who’s going to exit the Arbuckle home with a new philosophy that includes less meditation and more lasagna and TV. Jon tries out an adventure weekend in episode 49: who spoils it with his overwhelming need to be center of attention every second of every day?
It’s always the same—Garfield gets into strife, fixes said strife, sits down to eat. Gag repetition has the same effect, with the writers having to find ways to remind us that Garfield’s a big, fat, lazy cat. But if adults might seek a bit of cat development or story arc, kids are fine with repetition. It seems like order.
Still, the show has its moments, usually when it reflects the best parts of the original comic strip, such as its dry humor. In this season’s first episode, number 50, “DJ Jon,” Garfield uses the occasion of Jon’s new job to explain to viewers the horrors of pubic broadcasters, based on their annoying voices and tendency to list things as if reading out the music charts. “Every year,” Garfield says, “dozens of otherwise worthwhile human beings take that horrifying step and become disc jockeys!” The “public service announcement for the prevention of disc jockeys” features reenactments of the complete badness of the DJ. Right up until the end, when Garfield ruins Jon’s new career by having him accidentally slam his station’s sponsor on air, the humor in this episode is random to the point of bizarre: “Here’s the Surgeon’s new hit,” Jon announces on air at one point, “I Wanna Hold Your Pancreas!”
It’s completely out-there moments like this that suggest the show isn’t just for kids. In episode 51, while watching TV, Garfield stumbles across a cop show advert that promises, “Tonight, we attempt to track down another dastardly, dishonest, dangerous criminal.” He turns to the camera and says, “I’m waiting for them to go after the guy who edits movies for television.” It’s funny, but for whom? Without the one-liners, though, Garfield wouldn’t be Garfield. Unfortunately, they’re not consistent, as the animated cat falls back repeatedly on kiddy antics for cheap laughs.