This episode we discussed the 2014 Cartoon Network show Over the Garden Wall.
Many thanks to Alex Ava for joining us for this episode! It was a delight and we wouldn't have talked about dogs without them. They are on twitter at @alabasterc, and instragram at @alabastercrippens.
The article that Adam mentions in this episode can be found here.
Adam: Welcome to Still Scared: Talking Children’s Horror. I’m your co-host Adam Whybray, alongside my co-host Ren Wednesday, and today we have a very special guest, Alex Ava, here to talk about children’s animated horror spectacular, Over the Garden Wall. Enjoy!
Ren: Good evening, Adam!
Ren:And good evening, Alex!
Ren: Joined up by the power of a Discord group call, we’ve got a guest on this show to talk About Over the Garden Wall, which is very exciting. One of our most loyal listeners.
Over the Garden Wall is a Cartoon Network mini-series from 2014. It consists of ten episodes, each about ten minutes long, and it follows two brothers, Wirt and Greg, as they travel through a mysterious wood called The Unknown, trying to find their way home.
It’s you who suggested this, Adam, so how did you come across it?
Adam: (makes pained noise) Oh, that’d be asking! Ain’t that just the way! That’s going to be my get-out clause, just quoting Greg saying ‘ain’t that just the way’ when I don’t know the answer to something.
Ren: I mean, did you watch it when it was first on?
Adam:I remember my friend Naomi got me to watch the first two episodes, and I quite liked it, and then I completely forgot about it. Naomi was absolutely right that it’d be to my tastes, and then it slipped my mind. I came back to it and I wasn’t sure if it was a kid’s show or not, I think I’d passed over choosing it for a few weeks because I wasn’t sure if it counted. But I’m very sure it does now.
Ren: It’s just turned up quite recently on European Netflix, so it’s a good time to get back into it.
Adam: That’s what triggered off the memory.
Ren: I’d heard mention of it on tumblr a few years back, but never watched it so this was the first time, and I watched it, and thought it was great, and told Alex to watch it.
Alex: And I watched it.
Ren: And here we are!
Adam: I think on tumblr it probably coincided with the spoopy skeleton memes that were all the rage a few years back?
Ren: Yep, and it was about the same time as Gravity Falls as well, which I haven’t seen either.
Adam: Oh my gosh, I bet there’s quite a lot of Mabel and Greg fanfic with them being friends! I’m going to have to research that afterwards. They’re quite similar and similarly adorable characters.
Ren: As usual, this episode will be full spoilers, so suggest that you go and watch it first if you don’t watch that.
Alex: And do really watch it because it is genuinely wonderful. I had no idea what to expect when it was recommended, just thought I’d turn it on, and it filled me with several bits of joy, which was really nice. Particularly from a horror thing.
Ren: So the narrator in the first episode introduces it with:
‘Somewhere, lost in the clouded annals of history, lies a place that few have seen. A mysterious place called the Unknown, where long-forgotten stories are revealed to those who travel through the wood’
And as that kind of suggests, the chapters in the stories are fairly distinct stories, that seem to happen in different time periods and different styles, but they are all threaded together by the woods.
Adam: Yeah, it’s a kind of over-layered palimpsest. Is that how you say it? That’s a proper academic word.
*Alex: *That is how you say it.
Adam: Yeah, it’s one of those! Like an over-layered collage of American history. But it’s all ‘ye olde’, I guess. Mark Twain.
Ren: I’d say it kind of spans sort of 18th century to early 20th century in different locations that they go to —
Alex: — and quite often a mix at the same time. Like a palimpsest you are getting different layers at the same time, so you’re getting jazz from one era mixed with visuals from an entirely different thing and a sensation of a much older world than that at times. So it’s very difficult to place where the kids come from, even when we do see that.
Adam: Yeah, and this is a bit early to be giving anything away, but I was quite surprised when they come from a time period much closer to our own than I expected.
Ren: You find out that they’re dressed in Halloween costumes, but this obscures what time they’re from for quite a while because they’re wearing these odd fairytale costumes.
Adam: And I guess the way they speak - Wirt kind of speaks like a romantic-era poet and Gregory speaks in sort of, odd truisms? I don’t quite know how you’d describe Greg’s speech patterns.
Ren: Yeah, quite a particular way of speaking and singing half the time.
Adam: He kind of speaks in the slogans you’d imagine on a packet of nineteenth century cough drops.
Alex: One of the thing I like about him is that he has a tendency to pick up phrases and things from other people, so he’ll pick up something that someone else has said in a very different tone and a very different situation. I like that trying to make sense of the world by trying to pick up on what other people are saying.
There’s one particular bit where Wirt is demanding (urgently) ‘run run run run run run!’ and Greg doesn’t, because Greg doesn’t do what Wirt says very often, but a few moments later is running, and he’s going (lazily, musically) ‘run run run run run run run’. Like a statement of fact: I am running. Rather than a call for people to run, and things like that I think are very sweet about him.
Ren: So they also have as their sort-of companion, she’s a bit ambiguous, but a bluebird called Beatrice who half-way through the series reveals that she used to be human but after throwing a rock at a bluebird was cursed along with her whole family to turn into birds.
When they meet her she promises to take them to Adelaide of the Pasture, the Good Lady of the Woods, to help them find their way home. But in Chapter 6 it turns out that Adelaide is a witch who wants a child servant in exchange for the embroidery scissors that will turn Beatrice and her family human again, and she’s been leading them to that.
Adam: And you can tell that Adelaide is a witch because she has a giant Miyazaki head, like the witches in Spirited Away.
Ren: Yep, both her and Auntie Whispers are very like the Spirited Away witches.
Adam: Each episode, I think, is broadly based around the style of a different animation studio. So that episode is broadly the Studio Ghibli episode, and you can tell because the kids have to do housework, and Miyazaki is very keen on children doing hard labour around the house.
And then one of the earlier episodes with the Highway Man, who’s one of your favourites, right?
Ren: I love the Highway Man.
Adam: — is very much a Max Fleischer/Betty Boop tribute.
So why do you like the Highway Man?
Ren: It’s just so odd. They go to a kind of early eighteenth century tavern. Approximately.
Adam: I was totally believing your historical authority there!
Ren: And all the people in the tavern have jobs, like ‘I’m the tailor!’ ‘I’m the midwife!’ ‘I’m the doctor!’ and this man standing on the stage says ‘I’m the Highway Man’ and Wirt says (nonplussed) ‘OK’, and then he launches into this bizarre little song.
Alex: Quite a dark little song as well!
Adam: Almost like a murder ballad or something Tom Waits would sing.
Alex: And he just kind of blurs back and forward on the stage.
Ren: Yeah, the animation goes super distorted and his face looms forward and then slinks back, and he shifts around the stage in this odd way, and then ends with him making this throat-slitting gesture at Wirt.
Adam: It’s kind of like a Betty Boop cartoon, but rendered in 3D, but with 2D animation techniques. Which is impressive.
Ren: It’s just really hypnotising.
Adam: Did you watch it on repeat?
Ren: Yeah, I did. I got to that part in the episode, and then went to YouTube and found that clip and watched it a few more times.
Alex: I really like that episode in general, because it did have lots of short songs that all told very odd narratives about what was going on in that tavern. When they decide that Wirt is the ‘lover’, and that’s his role to take in the town, they then just decide to to base the whole economy of the town on the fact that they’re going to be a wedding.
It’s alright, everyone’s got a job and a role to play in getting Wirt married and making this marriage the ultimate celebration, and it really does feel like they’ve finally found their purpose. I love that.
Ren: (sings) ‘There’s work for all when little boys get married!’
Adam: The songs are pretty perfectly pitched because they’re convincing as eighteenth-century ballads, but they’re always just slightly awkward. But not so awkward that they’re not memorable. They’re genuinely quite good songs, but they’re just slightly off, or the phrasing is slightly bad.
Ren: Quite a lot of them Greg makes up on the spot —
Adam: — and he’s always singing ditties to himself.
Ren: I did have Potatoes and Molasses in my head for a couple of days.
Alex: I only spotted today that at the very end during part of the complex one of the bits of dramatic choral music coming in is ‘O Potatus et Molassus’.
Adam: That’s great.
Alex: It’s a lovely touch. One of the things that I thought about Greg, you can see it in the Adelaide song, and even he spots it there, is that he’s quite fond of doing that thing where there’s a perfect rhyme scheme throughout and then completely missing it and getting the wrong rhythm on the last line. And just revelling in it.
Adam: I guess, talking about the dynamic between the two main characters, is that Greg has this attitude summed up by his ‘ain’t that just the way!’, he doesn’t let things get him down, and he’s plucky and does his best, whereas obviously Wirt is a bit of a worrywort and agonises in great tortured poetry about being lost in the woods and not knowing what to do.
Alex: I really liked, going back and watching it again, that they start off immediately with Greg listing off a hundred names that would be a terrible name for a frog, and Wirt completely out of nowhere launching into this enormous tirade about how terrible the world is, and how he’s lost and at sea, and it sells them instantly as characters. You don’t have any explanation for it, but you do get it as time goes on. I like it.
Ren: The difference in their outlooks is quite key to the story as it goes on, because of the plot about the woods and the Edelwood trees, and the Beast. So we’re introduced to the Edelwood trees in the first episode, we meet the woodsman who grinds them for the oil he uses to keep his lantern lit. And he’s kind of an ambiguous figure for most of the series, because he lives in the woods and they’re always heavily shadowed and the screen is vignetted when they’re in the woods.
At one point Wirt accuses him of being the Beast himself, but it turns out that he’s actually being controlled by the Beast, or at least manipulated by the Beast. The woodsman believes that the soul of his daughter is kept in the lantern, and he has to burn the Edelwood trees for the oil that will keep it lit and keep her alive. But we find out that the Edelwood trees are actually people who’ve lost hope and died in the woods, so we see their twisted branches and gaping mouths, and I thought it was very reminiscent of the part in Snow White where she runs away through the woods and they’re all clutching at her clothes —
Adam: — ah, I didn’t notice that. But obviously a lot of the animation harks back to early Disney.
Ren: Yeah. So the woodsman’s been grinding up these lost-soul trees for years to feed the lantern that he carries through the woods, believing that he’s been keeping his daughter alive, but in fact, Wirt realises right at the end that the spirit of the Beast himself is alive in the lantern and the woodsman’s been feeding the Beast.
Adam: So what is the Beast? Philosophically speaking.
Ren: Um, yeah. Any ideas?
Alex: My stock answer is just capitalism, but I don’t think that’s necessarily the one here.
Ren: He has antlers.
Adam: Yes, he’s a kind of tall cowled figure with antlers. A bit like the forest spirit in Princess Mononoke, albeit more obviously malevolent.
Alex: There’s a glimpse of the Beast in the flashing of the lantern right at the end, in which I thought I was seeing a mass of octopus tentacles, and was quite shocked by that. But it was just half a glimpse.
Adam: Oh wow, like a semi-subliminal message.
Alex:There was definitely something there with these round suckers. And I think the Beast is something that gets caught on you and sticks. The way that the trees grow around people if they sleep too long or stay too long and lose hope, I think that’s exactly what the Beast is supposed to be.
Adam: The Beast perhaps, I don’t want to be as pat as ‘it represents depression’, but I guess succumbing to despair.
Ren: Yeah, I guess it’s similar to the Swamp of Sadness in Neverending Story, if you remember the memorably horrible scene where the horse gets drowned in the swamp because, well, the quote is: ‘everyone knew that whoever let the sadness overtake him would sink into the swamp’, and I think it’s a similar idea with the woods and the Beast.
They get various warnings from different people. They get a warning from the woodsman that they must not lose hope, and they get a warning from a woman in the tavern as well, in the form of song, she sings ‘Once your will begins to spoil, he’ll turn you into a tree of oil, and leave you in his lantern for to burn’.
Adam: That’s a nice potential misdirection because that does suggest the woodsman.
Ren: I think they’re singing about the Beast though?
Adam: Oh yeah, absolutely, but I can see how —
Alex: — at that time in the story you hear that as being about the woodsman, but actually it’s entirely accurate for the Beast as well, because it’s the Beast’s spirit in the lamp. So it’s one of those nice things to catch on the second time round.
Adam: Although the Beast himself seems to be quite a happy fellow.
Ren: You hear him singing in the woods, signing quite jollily —
Adam: — (deep bass Beast voice) ‘Tra la la la la la’. Singing fairly esoteric morbid things, like (Beast voice) ‘Tra la la - as your life stream uncoils!’ sort of thing.
Alex: Which is quite Goblin King from labyrinth.
Alex: I can’t remember the tra-la-la line but there is one.
Ren: He sings a kind of hymn at one point, like he’s kind of evangelising his way, he’s like ‘Come wayward souls and wander through the darkness, there is a light for the lost and the meek/ Sorrow and fear are easily forgotten/When you submit to the soil of the earth’.
Adam: Makes death sound pretty tempting!
Alex: But yeah, if you’ve got him pretending that the woodsman’s daughter is in the lamp the whole time, you’ve got this idea of grieving getting pushed down by that. That you must make sure not to take the lives of others and lose your own life, is quite natural in the grieving process.
Adam: I read a blog article by Krista Amira Calvo who writes about Over the Garden Wall: Children, Death and the Mystery of the Unknown and argues that it’s an unusually death-positive Children’s programme. And I couldn’t decide if I agreed with that or not, because on one level it’s all about not giving oneself over to death, but at the same time death is situated as being part of the natural order of things.
So in an early episode they obviously go to a village of pumpkin-heads, who seem to be engaged in some kind of mid-summer ritual, or harvest ritual.
Ren: It’s a Husking Bee, which is an actual event where people husk corn together.
Adam: It seemed vaguely reminiscent of the Wicker Man, that’s what I immediately thought of. But it turns out, because as we know, pumpkins can’t just dance around and spring to life, they need some kind of animating principle, which turns out to be skeletons! Because as tumblr lets us all know, the skeleton is inside you!
Alex: Classic memento mori!*
Adam: And the skeletons are all quite happy being skellebubs and dance around quite merrily and Wirt decides that he doesn’t want to stay in this place, and decides to take their leave, but is then informed by the chief skeleton pumpkin head ‘don’t worry, you all come to us in the end’.
Alex: I could make an argument for that episode in particular being death positive, because they are having quite a good party in there, and it’s only the misunderstanding of there being some living people there that causes any fuss, and actually all they do is ask to help them dig up some more graves, but not in a nasty way.
Adam: Although it’s quite a dark moment in the series, because Wirt thinks that they are digging their own graves to be killed and buried in, mafia-style.
Alex: It was definitely around that point that I was starting to think about the fact that the show is incredibly dark, and has a lot of really savage and haunting and genuinely threatening images, but because of the pace it’s got it never lingers long enough to actually be scary. It just immediately moves on to the next thing in a way that makes it feel quite safe and quite friendly, while still having this kind of core of real genuine horror.
Adam: Yeah, that’s a good way of putting it!
Ren: Yeah, you mentioned that to me, Alex, and then on my second watch I jotted down some of those moments that I noticed. Like in the Quincy Endicott episode, where they go to a grand manor house to try and get some money to ride the ferry, they meet a man called Quincy Endicott who thinks he’s seen a ghost —
Adam: — voiced by John Cleese!
Ren: — voiced by John Cleese, as well as Adelaide also voiced by John Cleese. This is a slight digression but I thought he was really good! And I was quite surprised.
Adam:Yeah, it’s quite easy to be quite disappointed in John Cleese these days.
Alex: It’s definitely good to not notice that it’s John Cleese, and not be suddenly overwhelmed by that in the narrative.
Ren: Yep. And Tim Curry as well, as Auntie Whispers.
Alex: What?!?! I knew I should have looked up the cast list on IMDB! Well classically stealing the scene entirely, as he is incapable of not doing.
Auntie Whispers makes me shiver. The black gooey mass of her mouth was genuinely haunting. And sucking the marrow out of a tiny dark turtle. I’m very happy that that’s Tim Curry.
Adam: So what was the moment in the John Cleese at the manor episode?
Ren: There’s a bit where he talks about his money and he looks down and says ‘the things these filthy hands have done to make this money’. Not followed up on.
Adam: That’s the dark nature of capitalism!
Ren:And when Adelaide captures Greg and Wirt, she just throws off the statement ‘when I fill their heads with wool they become just like little sheep’.
Alex: Yeaaahhh. I did write that line down because it’s quite ( audibly shivers).
Adam: That’s very Other Mother from Coraline.
Ren: And also Auntie Whispers telling Lorna, her step-daughter, to sort the bones of the people who’d been eaten in the house before.
Alex: Got to have a hobby!
Adam: It’s very much this fairy-tale darkness, though, it’s very matter-of-fact that these dark aspects are just part of this world, and you don’t get too caught up on them, as you said Alex, they’re just another part of the rich tapestry of life.
Adam: Would you have liked it as a kid, do you think, Ren?
Ren: Yeah, I think so. I’m pretty sure I would.
Alex: I would have loved it. I grew up with my dad making the family listen to a constant stream of Gershwin and Cole Porter musicals and trad jazz and particular kinds of music that definitely set me up for this show to be absolutely just hitting me right in the buttons all of the time.
Still my favourite moment is Lullaby in Frogland, just the song on the steamboat with the frog and the bassoon. Everything is just perfect about that scene. It’s a big character moment for Wirt, as he realises that people might actually want to hear him play the clarinet, and seeing the frog who is called George Washington at that point let loose with this incredibly sweet singing voice, and this beautiful slightly haunting theme, name-checking the whole series. It’s a really good centrepiece, and it’s very me.
Adam: So shall we talk a bit about how things are resolved? As in the spoiler.
Ren:Yeah, so, do you want to go?
Adam: No, no! By all means. You’re better at explaining plot than I am.
Ren:You say that, but my mind’s sort of gone blank.
Alex:Are we talking about the Into the Unknown episode or the actual finale? You kind of have to do both, don’t you.
So basically there comes a time when all hope is lost, and things have got pretty nasty in the woods itself, so we just pop to an episode where we’re in the real world before the start of the show happens —
Adam: — in the 1980s!
Ren: Or ‘70s?
Alex:Or later… why didn’t she have a tape player?
Adam: That is a good point!
*Alex: * I totally think Wirt is anachronistic enough to still be making mix-tapes with clarinet and poetry right to this day.
Ren: It’s possible!
*Alex: * So in the modern era we see that Wirt is actually pining for a girl at school who is the school mascot, and it’s Halloween and the cops are trolling all of the kids and Greg is doing everything possible to support Wirt in getting together with Sara, and Wirt is absolutely not having any of it, and failing at every turn and blaming Greg.
I mean, I presume it would be awful if anyone hears your mix-tape of clarinet and poetry at that age. I do think he has a genuine reason to be scared.
Adam: Although Wirt is quite the clarinet player.
Ren:He just whipped out that bassoon playing. He didn’t even know how to play the bassoon, so he’s probably some kind of clarinet prodigy.
Alex: Woodwind extroadinaire.
Ren: I think this is part of the theme of showing Wirt’s character about how he gives up on the idea of asking Sara out, without even trying. He hears that Jason Funderberker is going to ask her out, and he just gives up, and I think that ties in with the fact that he gives up in the woods.
Adam: Even despite the fact that Jason Funderberker (Adam does an odd slow creaking voice) talks like this.
Ren: Yeah. Jason Funderberker has an interesting voice.
Adam:So Sara and Jason Funderberker and co go off for an age-appropriate juice party in the cemetery.
Ren: And they are actually drinking juice. And Wirt sneaks along trying to get his tape back without them seeing him.
Alex: Despite having very heavily laid hints that he should be there from Sara.
Adam: And a pointy hat.
Ren:They see him, and then the cops come into the graveyard and say: ‘kids, you’re all under arrest!’ and they start running away and then the cops say ‘no, we’re joking!’ but they don’t hear them.
Adam: And as cop pranks go, it just ends in misery.
Ren:They climb over this wall which is the garden wall of the title, because the graveyard’s called The Eternal Garden, fall over the other side, there’s an oncoming train, and depending on how you feel about the series as a whole, they maybe die.
Alex: They definitely go under water for long enough to kill a couple of children.
Ren: They roll down a hill, and land in a lake, and right at the end they’re dredged up out of this lake again.*
Alex: It’s quite odd how that happens as well, because you can jump from that moment to the very beginning of the show and it follows on exactly. That’s when you have Greg finding the frog, and deciding that his next quest is to name the frog. And you have Wirt having this dark graveyard of the soul and getting incredibly upset, and he starts immediately soliloquising about how awful everything is.
But at that moment it jumps into the nest of the bluebird family that Beatrice has left behind. It took me a while to notice that it had jumped to the present of the story at that point, the present in The Unknown, and I was just wondering if they had fallen into a tree somehow.
Adam: And we see them wake up in this hospital bed and there’s the intimation that this journey was real. It’s a bit like Narnia in that sense.
Ren: Yeah, it has the thing where they carry something back from this other, dream-like world. Which is Auntie Whispers’ bell in this case, which she uses to control Lorna who has a demon inside her. But the frog, who is eventually named Jason Funderberker, because Greg wants Wirt to name the frog, and all through the series Greg is giving the frog different names, but it’s only officially named once Wirt names it. Jason Funderberker swallows the bell —
Adam:(Jason Funderberker voice) Who, me?
Ren: And in the end the frog has the bell inside him in the hospital.
Alex: The frog also has the stockings that were being put on him by his manager. Which feels like a quite an odd point to bring back at that moment, suddenly to have a top hat and stockings on the frog. An odd one.*
Adam: I think it’s doing this David Lynch thing, like Wild at Heart or the most recent series of Twin Peak, where it’s not trying to say that one’s reality and one’s fantasy, they’re both meant to have equal credence, or equal levels of reality. So we see things wrap up in the fantasy world, with Beatrice transformed back into a human etc., I don’t think this is meant to not exist per se, it has just as much reality or truth of existence as what we consider the real world.
Ren: When the kids walk into the graveyard, they’re chatting about — I don’t have the exact quote here by Sara says something like ‘but should reality be decided by what humans can image?’
Alex: ‘No, you’re limiting the possibility of human imagination’ is the rather unusual comeback there.
Ren: So I think that’s a little nod to how we should consider the reality of The Unknown.
Adam: Radically pluralistic.
Alex: I think it’s definitely all true, I’m willing to commit to that. It all has a lot of truth in it in a way that pleases me quite a lot. One of my little geeky, freeze-framing and looking at the scene things was that the gravestone Wirt hides behind when spying on Sara and everyone when Jason Funderberker’s telling his terribly sleazy ghost story, is the grave of Quincy Endicott.
Ren: Yes! So there’s definitely an argument to be made that The Unknown is a kind of afterlife, if you fancy making that argument. When the train’s coming towards them there’s a snatch of a Woody Gutherie song where the train is representing death and it comes for everyone in the end. There’s a lot of references to death, is what I’m saying.
Alex: And I mean, I don’t want to go full Lost on anyone, but I would understand a reading of it that painted The Unknown as being a purgatory, and the hospital being a heaven where everyone’s reunited and things have worked out perfectly. I don’t like that reading, but I could understand it being made.
Adam: It’s a bit like the arguments you see online about My Neighbour Totoro, and Totoro being a death spirit and the child does actually drown in the lake in the film. I mean, I don’t think Miyazaki actually wants us to think that’s what happened, but I can understand coming to that conclusion.
If you’re a goth!
Ren: Shall we do our Textures of the Week?
Alex: Can I jump in before?
Alex: I just want to say that the animators of this show love dogs, and it’s really clear, because they make the most perfectly imagined observations about dog movements that I’ve ever seen. The first ‘ain’t that just the way’ where Greg has joined an evil monster into a friendly dog, and it’s going to be his best friend forever, the way that dog slopes off is perfect. Absolutely, that is a dog sloping away.
And then in the episode in the school, all the animals are tucked up in bed, and then the last dog does a little circle around before curling up, like they have to inspect the whole space, and that is 100% what Charlie does when he decides he’s going to curl up in a ball somewhere.
And even in Greg’s dreamland, where they briefly see the fourth welcoming committee which is just an enormous sour-faced dog with a cloud over it’s head. Even Charlie, who I think Ren may be able to testify, is one of the happiest dogs you will ever meet, him looking sadly up at your is the saddest thing. And that image conveyed that perfectly.
So I just wanted to say, they are good dogs.
Ren: This is why we have guests on the show to talk about things like dogs, which are outside of our realm!
Alex: I wasn’t going to let you go ahead again, with your only-cats agenda.
Although actually on the cat agenda front, one of my favourite moments in the flash into the modern world was the guy standing outside the party saying ‘of course there’s lots of other board games, one old cat, two old cats, stoolball’. Just that jump back to ‘two old cats’, the game that you assume was made up by Greg on the spot.
Ren: Which is where you find one old cat, and then you find another old cat and then… um.
Alex: And we don’t know what happens next because that cat was too old for two old cats.
Adam: I’m sure at Over the Garden Wall conventions this game is much played.
Ren: I hope so.
Adam: Right. (rattling noise)
Adam, Alex, Ren (slow, discordant) Texture of the week!
Adam: Quite an ambient one, that one.
Alex: I forgot that I was supposed to sing, I’m sorry.
Adam: You sang fine, you sang fine.
Ren:Who wants to go first?
Alex: I want to jump in and get the Highway Man’s face before anyone else tries to, sorry.
Adam: But what is that texture? Elastic flesh?
Alex: It’s just one of those things that you can only really do animated, because it maintains coherency throughout the whole thing but different elements pull forward and suck at each other, and it’s very vivid and with that Cab Calloway backing it’s very evocative, and I found it quite disturbing and unsettling. I like to think I’m old enough to deal with songs about highway men but apparently not when they’ve got a face like that! Just a strong overwhelming texture of movement.
Adam: Actually, I think the texture that you won’t know, Ren, but in the pilot for Over the Garden Wall they meet a man, can you remember his name, Alex? A man made out of vegetables.
Alex: He was called John Crops.
Adam: Ol’ John Crops. A humble man, and a man of vegetables and he had a vegetable car that was very satisfying. It looked sturdy like how a car should look, but also wet and engorged.
Alex: Sitting in that must have been the most unpleasant thing. There’s a vivid texture as they climb into this oozing lump of watermelon flesh. I thought when you mentioned that episode that you were going to say John Crops’ voice, which I love, because it has this sound effect that makes it sound like it’s been run through a 78 record, which is just a lovely detail. It’s one of the reasons I particularly enjoyed that bonus episode, that I recommend digging up.
Adam: How about you, Ren?
Ren: Well, I was going to say the shoots of the Edelwood tree growing around Wirt and Greg.
Adam: (distressed noise) You’re such a morbid chap!
Ren: But I have a happy one, as well. Kind of. Which is Greg’s eyes popping through the skin of drum on the paddle steamer. He has the drum on his head and his eyes just kind of pop through?
Alex: Entirely inexplicable! And from that moment on Greg is a drum, hitting himself in the face to make sure the song goes on.
Adam: I did like his demands ‘hit me, hit me in the face!’
Ren: ‘Drum me in the face!’
Alex: Also one other moment in that scene is how upset the frogs are at the absence of a bassoon.
Adam: The way they waggle their tongues!
Alex: Their distress at it!
Ren: There’s a whole paddle steamer of dressed-up frogs wailing and stamping their feet at the fact that they don’t get to hear the bassoon. Which is quite delightful.
Alex: ‘Hot dog, those frogs really love the bassoon!’
Ren: Any other general observations?
Alex: Just because we mentioned that, I just want to say that I do love a frog chorus. It’s one of my greatest faults in many ways. But just the perfection of that scene and how beautiful it is, and the kind energy of going down that thing and then the end of that episode being the complete breakdown of the group because Beatrice betrays everyone. It’s wonderful.
Adam: I heard fragments of that.*
Ren: Me too.
Adam: But I’m sure when I listen to the episode I will be moved by the profundity of your statements.
Ren: The call quality’s not been great.
Adam: But I think we struggled through.
Ren: I just wanted to give a little ‘Oh, it’s Melanie Lynskey, who’s in Heavenly Creatures’
Adam: Oh! Really? Who was she playing?
Ren:Beatrice! But she wasn’t using her New Zealand accent, so you wouldn’t know it was her.
Adam: That’s good, because she was very good in Heavenly Creatures and I haven’t seen her in much since.
Alex: She’s very good in this too. Watching it a second time round, she’s pulling off being quite mean to Wirt in quite valid ways, and I like Beatrice a lot, even though the second time around I was trying to hate her for the betrayal, it felt more justified than I expected.
Ren: Yeah, I don’t think she really knew what she was doing.
Adam: And there’s the odd joke at the end that because her mum’s been a bluebird for quite a while she keeps calling food dirt afterwards.
Ren: Yeah, I’m not convinced bluebirds eat dirt.
Adam: But I did like Wirt eating his dirt when asked to.
Alex: The eating leaves at the end is quite good. Because it’s quite a horrific moment, like ‘oh no, the tree’s started growing through you and you’re spitting out leaves!’ and Greg’s like, ’nah, I was just eating leaves’.
Adam: Yeah, I watched that with my sister and that really floored her.
Ren: Yeah, we haven’t had any Phoebe comments.
Adam: Phoebe comments are mostly that she really loved Greg. Especially the revelation that Greg wears a teapot on his head as part of an elephant costume. And she said she also really liked Wirt’s comment that his secrets are too secret to divulge.
Adam: Right, shall we do credits?
Ren: Do you want to tell people where they can find you, Alex?
Alex: Yeah, I’m Alex Ava and you will find me on twitter at @alabastarc and instagram @alabastercrippens, and in Hebden Bridge, although it would probably be a bit weird if you showed up and said ‘I heard you on that podcast’. And you’d have to find me first.
Ren: Cool. Our intro’s music by Maki Yamazaki, our outro music’s by Joe Kelly, our artwork is by Letty Wilson, and you can find us on twitter at @stillscaredpod, and email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, although we’ve yet to have a real genuine person do that.
Adam: What does that mean?
Ren: Oh, it’s just been adverts.
Adam: You don’t know, bots are pretty advanced now, they can listen to.
Ren: Well, hello all our bot listeners, I hope you enjoyed it.
Adam:(robot voice) Hello bot listeners.
Alex: Don’t mock them!
Adam: They’ve got the Russian government on their side! Sorry bots.
Ren: I’ve decided I’m just going to stop tormenting you by making you come up with a sign-off on the spot.
Alex: Ain’t that just the way!
Adam: That’s what I was going to do! Alex, you’re too quick! Foiled!
Ren: Ain’t that just the way, spooky kids.
Adam: (resigned) Ain’t that just the way.
Ren: See you next time!
- Maybe you all know this, but Alex had to tell me after the podcast, so memento mori means ‘remember you have to die’ and describes the practice of incorporating an emblem of death into a piece of art to encourage reflections on mortality.
- Dredged up alive, I should clarify.
- When he was given a record deal after singing in Lullaby in Frogland.
- Apologies for any odd disjointedness in this episode, the call quality let us down. However, on listening back, I think me and Adam did a decent impression of understanding what Alex was saying even when we couldn’t hear them.