Every so often an established TV show will have an episode or story that goes right off the rails of what we would expect. The most common case is when an otherwise serious format goes downright silly for one episode. The X-Files for example was well known for it with at least one episode a series dispensing with its own otherwise serious and brooding mould for something a light hearted. Another of Glen Morgan and James Wong’s shows, Millennium, had a very famous episode called “Somehow, Satan Got Behind Me” in which four demons meet in a doughnut shop. These episodes offer a break from an otherwise deep series but when the situation is reversed (i.e. an otherwise light hearted comedy turns dark) people are often mixed in their responses.
Anyone who grew up in the late 80s/early 90s like myself knows of Garfield and Friends. The lazy cat who loves lasagne and lives with his owner John and the happy-go-lucky puppy Odie entertained children for years. It began as a comic strip written by Jim Davis and was animated in to a hugely successful television series which ran from 1982 to 1991. When Garfield: His 9 Lives was released initially as a graphic novel in 1984 and then animated in to a TV special in 1988 it offered an explanation for much of Garfield’s quirks through his past lives. Most of these lives were funny or cute in some way to reflect the light hearted nature of the show.
But then we get to Life No. 7.
Life No.7, known as “Lab Animal”, put a shockingly dark twist on the world of Garfield. In this ‘life’ Garfield is a tabby looking cat who is captured by a laboratory for use in animal experimentation. It is not clear exactly what the experiments are for but after receiving an injection Garfield falls asleep and wakes up a short while later. When the scientists open his cage to continue with the experiment he escapes and leaps through a window. He is pursued by a pack of dogs and escapes by holding on to the undercarriage of a helicopter before falling in to the woods apparently having escaped. He drinks water from a nearby stream but as he does he starts to change. Garfield transforms in to a dog and becomes the same breed as the ones chasing him thus allowing him to blend in. The last we see of this life is the Garfield-Dog looking at the camera with ominous green eyes.
Everything about this short story is a departure from traditional Garfield ranging from the topic to the animation and style. It is surprisingly dark and as such seems so out of place with the rest of Garfield. It is in fact a mini-horror story, albeit watered down for children, and I have to say it is a fascinating and entertaining one. It is fast paced and genuinely unsettling in places exposing children to the world of animal testing. This should have caused much more of a fuss amongst parents than it did but because it was Garfield it somehow fell by the wayside after all Garfield was good natured fun. Not this time. If you haven’t seen the episode then it might seem bizarre that I am complementing the excellent directing and the score all of which build an ominous atmosphere throughout. The final scene with the Garfield-Dog’s eyes glowing hints that there is so much more to this story but of course we will never know.
This is one of those wonderful one-offs that appear every now and again and was definitely the highlight of Garfield; His 9 Lives for me.