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Why Your Children's Television Program Sucks: The Garfield Show

The lead suspect has escaped via mail to Abu Dhabi.
Illustration: Jim Cooke

A look at the awful children’s programming you’re forced to endure before you can finally kick the kids out of the TV room to watch sports for eight hours. Image by Jim Cooke.

The Show

The Garfield Show

The Theme Song

[alarm clock rings]

[sax solo opener]

BAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA BA BA BA-BA

BA-BA BA BA BAAA BA-BA BA!

The Mythology

Created decades ago by cartoonist Jim Davis, who saw a commercial opportunity for a comic strip about cats because there were so many comic strips strictly about dogs, Garfield has become so popular and widely read that you almost certainly know the particulars and players in the Garfield Cinematic Universe, even if you’ve only encountered it via internet gags. There’s a cat. This cat is real fucking slovenly. He loves lasagna and hates Mondays. He’s more self-centered than the President but half as orange (ZING!). He’s the OG Grumpy Cat. His owner is a pathetic schlub named Jon Arbuckle who routinely dukes it out with David Seville for the title of Most Thoroughly Emasculated Owner Of Cartoon Animals. There’s a dog that slobbers a lot in the household as well. Somehow this adds up to hijinks.

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I loved Garfield as a child. I owned every Garfield comic strip book, including the Treasuries, which were printed in color. I even owned the first Garfield book, back when he looked like a state senator from Kentucky. I laughed at all the jokes, even one-liners about Beau Brummel and Brigitte Bardot that I didn’t understand. I owned dozens of Garfield stuffed animals. I had one with a pull string where the Garfield would say things like, “Color me unimpressed” every time you pulled it. Just like a real Internet commenter! Back when AJ Daulerio ran this site, he randomly gchatted to me one day, “I bet you had a lot of Garfield toys when you were a kid” and I was like HOW DID YOU KNOW? There was a Garfield book called Garfield Takes The Cake and I once thought up a SONG for it in my head, skipping to the bus stop and being like ♫ Garfield, Garfield! Taaaaakes the caaaake! ♫ I was not the most popular kid at school.

I also watched the original Garfield & Friends Saturday morning cartoon, with the title character voiced by the late Lorenzo Music. Davis once said that Music never let anyone see his face, which sounds dark and mysterious until you do a Google image search for “Lorenzo Music” and see his face pop up multiple times.

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That show ended back in 1994, and it was replaced over a decade later by The Garfield Show, an all-CGI animated showcase that seemed tailored specifically to people who were like, “I wish they could bring back the old Garfield show, only cheaper!” My fellow Garfheads, I am happy to report that they indeed did just that. I’m gonna celebrate by mailing Nermal to Abu Dhabi.

Episode Format 

Pretty much every episode of The Garfield Show involves him doing something selfish and lazy (eating all the pizza in town, for instance), which then precipitates a chain reaction disaster (oh no, Vito’s pizza is-a now out-a the pizza because of that-a crazy cat!). This is followed by Garfield audibly moaning and then reluctantly un-fucking everything—“Fine, I’ll force Odie to build Vito a second pizza oven,” for example—so that he can at last go back to being fat and lazy.

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That’s all foreseeable. It’s just the kind of shit you’d expect from a comic strip franchise that’s worked over the same jokes for decades now. But treating my man Garf, particularly in this iteration, as shopworn pablum for the masses fails to recognize just how deeply fucking WEIRD the broader Garfield universe is. It all feels so strange. It all is so strange. The characters all look like they got left on the cutting room floor of the Homer Cubed vignette from Treehouse of Horror. It’s a highly canny valley they occupy.

And in this universe, Garfield spends entire episodes doing things like harnessing the power to stop time, negotiating with lasagna-shaped space aliens, or capturing wild turkeys. You can tell that the writers on this show get bored even more easily than the title character does. “What if we had Garfield fuck a robot elephant?” The familiar Ugh It’s Monday jokes are merely the base of the show. Generous ladlefuls of LSD are then poured on top. Everyone’s tripping balls out here.

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Characters

Garfield: Without voice-over help from Lorenzo Music or Bill Murray (who infamously voiced Garfield in the movie version because he claims he was under the mistaken impression that one of Coen brothers had written it), the showrunners picked veteran animated voice actor Frank Welker to play Garfield. You might remember Welker from The Simpsons, or from the new Scooby Doo. Like Music, Welker lends a laconic, oddly charming affect to Garfield’s monologues as he bashes alarm clocks to pieces and fills Jon’s bathtub with Hawaiian punch. I can’t believe I’m talking about this shit so seriously. BIG FAT HAIRY DEAL.

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Jon: Just your average perpetually single cartoonist (real stretch in character development with that occupation there) who spends every episode bitching about how his cat has made him an indentured servant, but then turns around at the end of those same episodes and is like, “I love my fat male dominatrix cat!” Hard to believe he can’t find a woman to share his horrible life with. In a twist, it is JON who the pet! O HO HO BET YOU DIDN’T SEE THAT COMING! What a powerless dipshit.

(sees dirty dishes still in the sink)

Oh shit the missus will NOT be happy if she sees those. I better wash them and then wash them again just to make sure they’re right.

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Odie: The dog. Drools all the time and is very happy and stupid. Just like every other dog, really. Odie is also blindly loyal to both Jon and to Garfield, and routinely gets enlisted in Garfield’s shenanigans, always to his eventual detriment. Hey Odie, go fight that saber-toothed tiger. Hey Odie, go whizz on that electric fence. Hey Odie, hold this pistol and tell the cops it was a heat-of-the-moment thing. Odie deserves better. Come live with me, Odie. I won’t trick you into tarring the roof when I accidentally burn the house down.

Nermal: Acknowledged by everyone (including himself) to be the cutest cat in the world. I’m not seeing it, personally. Even if Nermal really were the world’s cutest cat, it’s still a fucking cat, you know? It’s not like I’m beholding an $850,000 Bugatti. Garfield despises Nermal and routinely attempts to murder him. I like ol’ Garf’s go-getter style in that regard. Nermal’s an asshole. Also, he’s got a weird name. I read it as “Normal” for a good eight years at first.

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Liz: Veterinarian whom Jon routinely harasses every time he drags Garfield to an appointment (you’re not gonna believe it, but Garfield hates going to the vet WHAAAAAAAAAA?). And yet she still agrees to go out on dates with Jon! She should blow the whistle on that pitiful, cat-afflicted mope. Instead, karma has inflicted a different fate upon Jon: in the Garfieldverse, Jon is stuck in an endless loop where he gets rejected by the same girl over and over and over again. Why, it’s just like my teenage years HEY-OOOOOOOOOOOO.

Doc: Jon’s brother. A farmer. Hates being called “Doc Boy,” so Jon always calls him “Doc Boy.” Some enterprising Redditor out there has definitely drawn Doc Boy jamming a pitchfork into Jon’s chest, which admittedly beats the other artwork you’ll find at that site. Hey Jon, did you ever consider that, by trolling your brother like a fucking dweeb, you’re modeling poor behavior for your cat, hmm? Of course you didn’t.

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Pooky: Garfield’s bear. His Bobo, if you will. At this point I’m making Simpsons references just to keep you interested. Garfield loves his bear, which means that it winds up in mortal peril roughly every four episodes. Garfield inevitably ends up having to drop Odie into the middle of an Albanian gang dispute to rescue the thing from a band of opium smugglers and whatnot. The gag here is that Garfield treats everyone and everything like shit except for one inanimate object. Whatever.

[my kid shoots a Nerf gun at the TV]

YOU THINK THAT’S FUNNY, BOY? THAT TV IS WORTH MORE THAN YOU ARE!

Eddie Gourmand: Vile food critic who can make or break restaurants with a review, because it’s still apparently 1996 in this show. Anyway, Eddie is selfish and fat and arrogant, but not in the CUTE way that Garfield is all of those things. Honestly, this man is nightmare fuel. He’s distressing to see and hear. There’s lots of trippy nightmare fuel in this show!

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Drusilla and Minerva: Two little girls who occasionally visit to torture Garfield and poor Odie by dressing them up and shrieking at them. Ever watch one of those old Tom & Jerry cartoons where Tom’s little girl owner pretends he’s a baby and punishes him by forcing him to take castor oil? That girl was a fucking abuser. Anyway, this show has two of her.

Vito: The pizza guy. No one let Sal Paolantonio see how this show depicts Italian-Garfieldians. Madone.

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Best Episode

There’s one episode where Jon takes Garfield onto a TV show called “Pet Matchers” to see if the two of them are truly compatible, and the show reveals what’s obvious to everyone except Jon: that he sucks and so does his cat. The host then splits the two of them up, because we all know that TV hosts are legally allowed to determine pet custody. Then Garfield figures out that the host is a big fucking fraud and exposes him, which means that he and Jon can get back together again and continue to be utterly miserable forever. Yay?

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Worst Episode

Those Drusilla and Minerva episodes are brutal. Trust me when I tell you that those two are as annoying as Garfield says they are. Really, any episode that features ancillary characters like Drusilla and Minerva or Doc Boy is going to be unbearable. The Garfield Show has a dozen Scrappy Doos waiting in the bullpen to derail virtually any plot. Really, the only good side character is Nermal, and then only because Garfield roasts his cutesy ass every five seconds. And what better way to raise children than to expose them to low-level insult comedy?

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Pros

I’m biased here because I was little snot who used to love Garfield, but I’m fine watching this show with my kids when they queue it up on Netflix. God, that fucking sax solo is burned into my mind. It’s livin’ rent free in my noggin and bakin’ lasagna for the visitors. It’s in my head right now! GAHHHHHHHHHH!!!

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I can be as cynical as Garfield when it comes to Garfield, but I’m also a sucker for easy nostalgia. One look at that pink nose and those bigass eyes and Garfield’s clown-sized feet and I’m right back in elementary school in Orono, Minnesota, where kids beat my ass in tetherball and made fun of me for wearing prescription lip balm. Also, girls would cover their mouths to snicker anytime I walked past them in the halls. Truly, those were glory days. At my folks house, there are STILL Garfield plush toys lying around somewhere. Crack one open and a family of scarab beetles attacks you.

Anyway, Garfield sometimes learns lessons on this show. They even have little PSA interludes, which your kids will invariably skip.

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Cons

Why do you think I am the way I am? What do you think happens when you subject a child to a cartoon character who has shitty manners, cares only about himself, thinks perpetual cynicism is an endearing quality, never gets up, and constantly bitches about everything? Me. You get me. Turns out the Garfield was ME all along. Disgusting.

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You could easily argue, as I am about to, that Garfield is what’s wrong with AMERICA. He thrives despite his own monstrosity. That’s here! That happens for shitty people here every five seconds! Again, look at me! I have a job. I don’t deserve a fucking job. I should be scavenging for food in the dumpster outside Vito’s. Instead, I get to broadcast my dumbest thoughts onto the Internet for money. America is a crime, and Garfield is why.

And yet, I let my kids watch this shit. I’m like, “Aw, they like Garfield the way I do!” instead of being like, “OH SWEET BABY JESUS ON A CORNCOB NO, THEY LIKE GARFIELD THE WAY I DO!” The cycle begins anew. Don’t let this happen to YOU. Turn your kids on to more responsible fare. This US Acres book is only nine bucks!

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About the author

Drew Magary

Drew Magary is a Deadspin columnist and columnist for GEN magazine. You can buy Drew's second novel, The Hike, through here.