My favorite two seconds of the first Wander Over Yonder episode I ever saw:
That frame is, as its letters indicate, THE GREATEST. Funnily enough, as episodes of this particular show go, the episode is not the greatest, although it is “The Greatest.” Do you follow? Good.
Anyway, I got the preview download of this one way back in 2013 (free Craig McCracken!), gave it a look, wasn’t particularly moved, and proceeded to more or less forget about it until the Season 2 hype started. Not everyone fell hard for this show right away. There were those of us who grew to love it by degrees. Looking back, though, there’s a great deal to love here, and not just the apocalyptic red-pink color scheme. Craig has a field day in the opening establishing a pastel planet populated by huggable beings who look like Happy Meal toys, only to send a totalitarian army marching through its in-progress Bingleberry Festival on behalf of the local skeleton overlord, laser-gunning every pretty flower and cute creature in sight. The scene elicits genuine sympathy, but there’s something wickedly funny about watching a bubblegum town like Bingleborp get burned out like a Smurf village in a UNICEF PSA.
Into this maelstrom march our heroes, one of whom is eerily undaunted by the destruction at hand. If I had a complaint to make about this episode it’s that, while laying some good basics (Wander Wanders, Sylvia punches, Hater hates), it fails to deliver quite the elusive synthesis we’ll grow accustomed to over the course of the season. It’s good fun to watch Wander, in folkloric fashion, cut the bony legs out from under Lord Hater’s bloodstained robe by challenging him to a round of carnival games.
But the rapid-fire energy of the delivery doesn’t leave much room for subtlety, and it’s the shades of personality that the characters will reveal later (Wander, for instance, is not an oblivious will-o’-the-wisp so much as a clever eccentric with an empathy overload) that make their romps funny. This episode can be tiring as a first dose. It’s a lot more fun on the rewatch.
Even that hug at the end improves with context. The first watch doesn’t tell us much about the relationship between Sylvia (tough) and Wander (not so much); we know only that they’re traveling buddies. Further episodes expand on our understanding of their odd half-friendly, half-familial bond until a moment like this one goes from an obligatory cute cartoon ending to a genuine reason to smile and readjust the heartstrings.
This is why I tell people giving Wander a shot to wait it out–it only gets better as it goes, and Season 2 breaks the mold with a gleeful abandon that necessitates an understanding of Season 1 to fully enjoy. Every fresh episode gives this opening jaunt more weight. A third season would make “The Greatest” even greater.