Saturday Morning Cartoons: ‘Garfield and Friends’

This week how about a real throwback to an earlier era of Saturday Morning Cartoons? Garfield and Friends first aired back in the good old days of widespread hand drawn animation, making its debut in 1988. With it’s watercolor style backgrounds and pre-full-swing-nineteen-nineties feel, it is a real throwback to a simpler time in cartoons.

When the show debuted, Garfield was already an American institution. Whether it was in the form of daily black and white strips in every major newspaper, in full color oversized strips in the Sunday newspaper comics section, in one of the many CBS animated holiday specials, or as a huge inflated (and sometimes, due to weather and hazards, deflated) float at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, Garfield was everywhere. And kids loved it. The aforementioned specials were beloved by children nationwide. Take, for example, the Garfield Halloween Special - one of the best Halloween cartoon specials of all time, in this humble reviewer’s opinion, next to Chucky Brown in The Great Pumpkin. A Saturday morning cartoon was the next logical progression. And in 1988, in the absence of modern utilities such as DVRs and streaming media, children and adults alike tuned in en-masse. They were not disappointed.
Garfield and friends came with a format not seen in most animated series at the time. Firstly, the show was not solely focused on Garfield and his surrounding characters, but on two syndicated comic strips, both created and penned by Jim Davis. Of course there is Garfield. The other strip, U.S. Acres, was also created by Jim Davis and penned by him and, later with the help of a collaborator, maintaining syndication alongside Garfield and appearing in newspaper comic sections from 1986-1989. Though widely popular with readers, it was harshly criticized in the industry as devoid of plot structure, however, that was some of the appeal for the fans.

Secondly, the show had three full adventures and three “quickies”, a feature not commonly seen in cartoons. Quickies typically lasted about thirty seconds or the literal duration of time it takes to read a comic strip. Perhaps that is because the show is based on a couple of strips. It is a the three panel setup to punchline in animated form. These included a U.S. Acres quickie, a Garfield quickie and the fan-fave segment “Screaming With Binky”, based around an incredibly popular side character of the show, Binky the Clown. Binky is a fixture of the comic strip and appears in the Halloween Special’s quickie-style opening scene that gets the story going.

The show truly felt like a huge production. Often it aired back to back for a full hour each week. Saturday mornings at the time because dedicated to the show for many children. It would sometimes serve as the last animated show of the morning, ending just before the stations would all go to live-action kids show formatting for the rest of the mid-day. In the late eighties, before the popularization of The Power Rangers, that live-action programming spelled the end of theSaturday morning television entertainment for the week to many.

Imagine if you will a time where your peers surrounding you sported Jordache Jeans, Hypercolor t-shirts, Jams shorts, Jimmy-Z tees, spandex was huge, and most clothing colors and decor in general were going towards soft pastels of fuchsia and baby/powder blue or blindingly bright neon. These styles ruled the late eighties and early nineties mainstream. Sure, there was the peak of hair metal and the early stages of grunge, but if you were a little too young to take notice of these, chances are you were wearing and celebrating the mainstream styles. Garfield and Friends exemplifies this generation’s era fantastically and is apparent right from the opening theme song. This is one of those rare shows where you really do feel a bit like you’ve gone through a time warp to the time of its creation. And before you get too nostalgic - yes, this was a great period for many things, but I’ll take today with Netflix streaming over waiting having to wait till Saturday, any day!

For the uninitiated, Garfield is a cat. He loves lasagna and naps. He hates Mondays. These facts are canon. Garfield lives with his owner Jon, a single bachelor, insane-person. Don’t believe that Jon is insane? Go ahead and check out “Garfield without Garfield” and you’ll get the picture. Another thing that Garfield is is a light-hearted good time.

U.S. Acres feels related to the Garfield universe, though it takes place on a farm as opposed to in a suburban household. It centers around Orson Pig, who is…. a pig. He is also a bit of a book geek and, secretly, a costumed superhero called Power Pig. Along with his barnyard buddies, Roy Rooster, Wade Duck (because ducks wade in water - get it? He’s even got an inner tube he wears everywhere with a mini-duck head whose facial expressions mimic Wade’s!), Booker, Sheldon, and Bo and Lanolin Sheep.

There are a ton of in-jokes and cross-over silliness between the two worlds during the show. You can tell the creators really had fun in doing so. But more than anything it is you the viewer who gets the bulk of the fun here. This is truly one of those shows that you can shut off your busy mind and enjoy. And it translates well. The show has been airing globally ever since its creation. I myself took comfort from homesickness in its broadcast in Sweden as part of the “Sommarlov” Saturday Morning Cartoon line-up during a 1991 foreign exchange trip.

Run don’t walk to your own Netflix rig/gear/setup this Saturday or any day and watch Garfield and Friends!