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TV REVIEWS : 'Far Side's' Odd Universe on CBS

October 26, 1994|CHRIS WILLMAN

One might have assumed that "The Far Side" would join Charlie Brown, Cathy, Garfield et al in making the transition from paper toon to TV special when cows fly. But tonight, ladies and gentle-membranes, is that night: "Gary Larson's Tales From the Far Side," an appropriately macabre Halloween special, marks the cartoonist's first foray into fully animating his still lifes and still deaths.

The all-too-brief half-hour is made up of 10 vignettes that occasionally overlap in a transitional fashion that's overtly Pythonesque. Surprisingly, given how superb Larson has always been at writing punch lines, there's no dialogue to speak of--just visual gags, occasional guttural utterances and the alternately spooky and countrified music score of hepster Bill Frisell. Guess that will make for an easy sell to Latvia, no?

Well, not necessarily; the special does capture the wonderfully morbid--i.e., somehow truly nature-reflective--nature of the strip, which means it won't be for every country, or every kid. Larson continues to be obsessed with the black comedy that is the food chain, on up from insects (an airline flight full of bugs, where the in-flight movie is a certain Vincent Price flick) to deer (a terrific, sad sketch where a drunken buck watches home movies of his ex-doe) to humans to, of course, aliens (just because bipeds have to get their comeuppance too).

If it's not consistently funny, it almost hardly matters; there's joy just in seeing a universe that is all too instantly digested on a daily one-panel basis suddenly entering a dimension of time.

With Larson retiring the strip for good Jan. 1, fans can only hope there are more of these in the offing. He owes us, man.

* "Gary Larson's Tales From the Far Side" airs at 8:30 tonight on CBS (Channels 2 and 8).

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