For the next entry in my kid’s show series, I’m going to turn to perhaps my favorite cartoon as a kid: Garfield & Friends. To clarify: I’m not talking about The Garfield Show, that weird-looking CGI-animated series that started in 2009 that I haven’t seen any episodes of. Rather, I’m referring to the classic series that ran from 1988-1994. Each episode of the show was divided into three mini-episodes, two of which starred the recognizable characters from the Garfield comic strip: Garfield, his owner Jon Arbuckle, Jon’s dog Odie, and other characters such as Nermal, Pooky, and Liz. The other minisode would feature characters from one of Jim Davis’s other comic strips, US Acres, which featured farm animal characters such as Orson Pig, Roy Rooster, and Wade Duck. Little “quickie” sketches would air in between the longer episodes, and would usually be based on a Garfield comic strip that had already run in newspapers. Now, let’s break it down:
The voice actors, especially Lorenzo Music, were solid. To this day, when I think of Garfield’s voice, I immediately hear Music’s. Lorenzo read Garfield’s lines with an acerbic wit that fits Garfield’s comic strip personality perfectly. Music also was able to capture Garfield’s more tender side in the show’s specials such as A Garfield Christmas. I also liked Thom Huge’s performance as Jon Arbuckle and Binky the Clown.
On a related note, the show featured many prominent guest stars. Like another of my favorite cartoons, Captain Planet, Garfield & Friends’ popularity led to many guest stars appearing on the show, such as Mark Hamill, George Foreman, James Earl Jones, Robin Leach, and Don Knotts. The guest stars contributed to the great satire and parody the show did, which I’ll elaborate on more below.
There was a layer for adults. This is probably my favorite part of this show. The best kids shows, in my opinion, have a surface layer of simple jokes and plots that kids can appreciate, but have a few jokes or “big picture” moments that adults can enjoy as well. The show featured some excellent satire and parodies, such as the episode “Mini-Mall Matters,” which satirized American consumerism and the rise of “big box stores” in the 90s. Many recurring characters on the show are satirical figures, such as Al G. Swindler, who is a satire of used car salesmen, and The Buddy Bears, who are a satire of The Get Along Gang.
The show also has some hilarious parodies that both adults and kids can appreciate. In the episode “My Fair Feline,” Garfield gets kicked out of the house and wanders into an alley where a cat trainer has made a bet that he can train any cat off the street, so he decides to train Garfield. Astute observers will note that this plotline is similar to Pygmalion. Also, the episode “Double-Oh Orson,” is a funny parody of James Bond movies. Other parodies include X-Men, the Johnny Appleseed story, and the Edgar Allen Poe poem The Raven.
The show didn’t so much break the Fourth Wall as tear it down and grind it up in a blender. Continuing with the theme of intelligent humor, the characters frequently address the audience and acknowledge the fact that they are in a cartoon show. One of the most prominent examples of this is the episode “Mistakes Will Happen,” in which Garfield responds to fictional fan mail that complains of several mistakes that are made during the show. Another example is in the clip below, where Jon screams in fear upon seeing “characters from last season’s show!” Additional episodes feature characters fighting with unnamed network executives over the direction of the show, and asking the audience to check TV listings.
There were a few annoying characters. While many of the characters were endearing in their own quirky ways, Garfield & Friends sometimes runs established stereotypes of characters into the ground, which sometimes results in a repetitive and predictable experience. In addition, many of those characters just get annoying after awhile. This is mainly true of several US Acres characters, such as Wade Duck, who is constantly afraid of everything, and Lanolin the sheep, who is constantly arguing with other characters. The aforementioned Buddy Bears and Binky the Clown fall into this category too, although one could argue that they’re supposed to be annoying.
Some of the plots are a bit silly, even for a cartoon. I’d expect a cartoon to require me to suspend disbelief on several occasions, but some of the episodes take this a little too far. Among the sillier ones was in US Acres when Wade Duck goes nuts when he tears the “under penalty of law” tag off a pillow, and believes he’ll be arrested. The Garfield episode “Sales Resistance,” when Garfield tries to ward off a comically persistent salesman, falls into a similar pattern.