Tales from the Far Side (1994) — Scarier than cow tools

“Squawk! Is this loaded?”

Justin’s rating: Dark and twisted, just the way I remember it

Justin’s review: Growing up, I held three comic strips as the best of the best: Calvin and Hobbes, Bloom County, and The Far Side. I read all of these religiously, especially during school hours when I was supposed to be working on math or investigating western literature. Each of these strips brought their own approach and strengths, but easily the weirdest and most subversive was Gary Larson’s Far Side.

Written from 1980 to 1996, The Far Side was a single-panel comic that lacked recurring characters or traditional jokes. Rather, it focused on the bizarre setups, loads of science jokes, and characters that were fatter than some comets. Like everyone else, I had plenty of Far Side calendars to keep me chuckling for years after the strip ended.

But what I didn’t know was that Larson made not one, but two Halloween TV specials set in this ever-shifting universe. And you best believe that the second I learned this fact, I had left my family without a word to venture to the four corners of the globe to find and review it. Then I found out it was on YouTube and had to make a lot of apologies for certain statements I said as I was peeling out of the driveway that one fateful day.

Tales from the Dark Side originally aired on CBS on October 26th, 1994. Gah! Past Justin, why did you not watch this! What were you doing that was so important? Oh, you were reading Far Side comic books. You’re excused.

Unlike the comic strip, the animated special is, for the most part, dialogue-free. It flows from strange vignette to macabre gag, giving us situations like a Frankencow coming to life or a plane full of bugs flying into danger, all without chatter clogging it up. In a way, it’s very much like a silent movie, accentuated with a soundtrack that gets creepier and creepier the more this goes on.

Of course, this IS Far Side, and it stays true to its roots. It’s got the chunky, doofy characters, and it balances genuinely funny moments with subversive reversals. The way they’ve done this is perfect for a Halloween special, because the alternating spooky and silly aspects are ideal for the holiday. It’s just spooky and silly in a way that’s distinctly Gary Larson and none other.

For example, during the bugs-on-a-plane scene, a flight attendant bug comes along to offer different passengers little maggots (I think?) on a platter. When the bug gets near a praying mantis, we get a close up of the mantis’ face for a long second — and we know what’s coming before the camera cuts away and a now-headless flight attendant takes a few more steps with the tray before it stumbles to a final stop.

After going for about 20 minutes without anyone speaking, it was especially jarring to transition into an Old West setting with aliens and zombies — and have a cheerful narrator start chattering away. None of it seems necessary, so I question why it was thrust into it.

Tales from the Far Side may be one of the most unique Halloween specials I’ve ever seen. I had a blast spotting different little sight gags that faithfully replicated different comic panels that I know all too well. You wouldn’t think that carrots being eaten and alien hunters taking out earth hunters would be twisted, but that’s how both the comic and the show goes.

Didja notice?

  • The opening features many of the classic Far Side panels
  • Dog Igor
  • Frankencow has lipstick
  • The praying mantis eating the server’s head
  • I didn’t think I was going to be seeing this many maggots on a plane when I went into this special
  • The alien hunters
  • The Bacon Bunch
  • A laugh track while a pig is getting eaten alive is deeply unsettling
  • Elvis Presley’s skull
  • A bad day to be a big-headed stranger in headhunter territory
  • Old Deer drinkable blood
  • The egg yolk splattering the inside of the car
  • Boy that abrupt narration is really jarring
  • Deadhound
  • Zombies like to have fun on vacation
  • “Bob’s Monsters”

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