TV Review: Gravity Falls (2012)

“Trust no one.”

Gravity-Falls

Remember that time I got my first full-time job, and I couldn’t find the chance to update the blog I started in college because… adulthood?

Welp. I’m back. And it feels good to be back!

It all started last month, when I fell absolutely in love with an animated show on Disney called Gravity Falls. And, with the series finale airing tomorrow, this is the perfect time to tell you all why you need to check out this show (if you haven’t already).

Here it goes.

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Have you ever watched something for the first time and just know in your heart that it’s going to be a classic? Maybe it’s because the humor in Gravity Falls recalls the sharp wit and timeless absurdity of The Simpsons. Maybe it’s because the plot revolves around young kids stepping up to save the day, just like in Harry Potter or The Goonies. Maybe it’s because the characters are so delightfully original and fleshed-out, they jump effortlessly from the screen.

The series tells the story of Dipper and Mabel Pines, twin 12 year-olds who are sent to stay at their great-uncle Stan’s house for the summer, out in the cryptic woods of Gravity Falls, Oregon. Turns out “Grunkle” Stan’s house isn’t just a house — it’s a homemade tourist trap known as the Mystery Shack (think poor man’s Ripley’s Believe It Or Not). And guess who has to work there alllll summer.

While Grunkle Stan exploits the rumors of mysterious happenings in Gravity Falls to his wallet’s content, Dipper genuinely believes the town is unusual. And, when he discovers a old journal hidden in the forest, his suspicions are confirmed. Something bad happened to whoever wrote the journal, but, within the book’s pages, the author left behind a treasure trove of entries and clues about his findings in Gravity Falls — goblins, gnomes, zombies, you name it. Eager to investigate the journal’s secrets, Dipper and his sister Mabel embark on a mysterious, comedic, and shockingly linear (for a kids’ show) journey — all while telling one of the most compelling coming-of-age stories on animated television. And, as we learn in the pilot, there’s more to Grunkle Stan than meets the eye…

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Without spoiling a thing for you Gravity Falls newbies (a month ago, I was just like you), here is my review of this enchanting, hilarious series. I usually divide these into The Good, The Not-So-Good, and The Bad, but… is there anything outrageously negative to say about Gravity Falls? Anyone?

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First of all, if the show’s mysterious plot doesn’t have you hooked, it almost doesn’t matter. Gravity Falls has such a cast of vivid, inventive characters — they could be sitting around paying taxes and I’d still watch, tbh.

You’ve got the wildly imaginative Mabel (Kristen Schaal), the show’s voice of optimism.

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She fantasizes about cartoon men from the 1980s, she knits all of her own sweaters, she’ll unapologetically spend $500 on a giant hamster ball. She might be my soulmate.

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Mabel’s high energy and zaniness is only delightfully hilarious, never annoying — if she was written poorly, she could’ve so easily been the typical annoying, bratty sister stereotype we see in many cartoons. But Gravity Falls creator Alex Hirsch is a master at creating engaging characters who A.) conflict but also genuinely like each other and B.) never fall into boring, repetitive behaviors. Mabel may be a ball of crazy, but there’s a lot more to her: she loves her family, she thinks outside the box, and she always strives to do the right thing — she’s not a troublemaker.

Likewise, Dipper (Jason Ritter) is the show’s straight man — yet he’s anything but boring and predictable.

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Curious, determined, and as awkward as a 12 year-old boy can be, Dipper might not have as loud a personality as Mabel, but he still shines as a character. He struggles with the concept of masculinity, he fumbles when he falls in love for the first time, and he just can’t figure out who to trust — all are relatable issues for any viewer who’s entered adolescence. In Dipper, we don’t just see a protagonist that the crazier characters bounce jokes off of; his coming-of-age story is just as compelling, and sometimes even just as funny.

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Last but not least, there’s Grunkle Stan (Alex Hirsch), the kids’ summer caretaker. He lies for a living, he shoplifts for fun, he says things like, “Who wants to put on some blindfolds and get into my car?” at the breakfast table.

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Alex Hirsch has said before that, when creating Gravity FallsThe Simpsons was a major influence. To me, it’s safe to say Stan Pines is a mix of Homer Simpson and Moe Szyslak with a bit of Krusty the Klown thrown in — at least, at first glance.

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The series begins with Stan providing constant comic relief as the weird but harmless old bachelor who has no business looking after children. But — again, sans spoilers — the first season leads up to an exciting and dark tonal shift in the show, thus revealing one of the most creative and endearing backstories for an animated character that I’ve come across in a long while. The best part is, Stan’s surprisingly serious story is developed in such a way that it doesn’t feel out-of-character in the least — just another example of great writing on Alex Hirsch’s part.

A perfect combination of comedy and complexity, Stan Pines is now among my all-time favorite animated characters (right behind Mabel). On this one, you really just have to watch for yourself. I’m spillin’ nothing.

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The rest of the cast rounds out with the simple but lovable handyman Soos (Alex Hirsch), too-school-for-school Wendy (Linda Cardellini), and Gideon (Thurop Van Orman), a phony child psychic and Stan’s arch-business rival (and yes, that dynamic is absolutely as hilarious as it sounds). Likewise, the town of Gravity Falls itself is filled to the brim with vivid, always-hysterical reoccurring characters, featuring voices from the likes of Will Forte, Jennifer Coolidge, T.J. Miller, Kevin Michael Richardson, and more.

Man, this show is fun.

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While well-written characters and comedy are my biggest selling points, the mystery element in Gravity Falls is super fun and creative. From backwards messages to codes popping up in the opening credits to seemingly insignificant details in the sets, the show challenges you to figure out what the hell is going on in this town. Since I had the luxury to binge-watch the first two seasons, I didn’t spend much time picking the episodes apart for clues about the unfolding plot — but, looking back, it’s amazing to see how much planning and thought was put into setting up those dang mysteries.

Additionally, the creatures and challenges that Dipper and Mabel have to face are incredibly entertaining and creative. They also range from really funny to really frightening.

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The show expertly combines elements of science-fiction and fantasy within its universe of characters, and, as I mentioned briefly before, Gravity Falls has a true beginning, middle, and end within its story arch — not the norm for an animated series targeted primarily at kids. Luckily for us, the show’s linear style of storytelling leads up to a great, end-of-all-things climax involving demons and destruction.

Is there anything better than a well-developed modern American sci-fi fantasy? Nope.

The pay-off is worth it and the stakes get plenty high as the show progresses. If you’re a fan of Lost or Twin Peaks, you won’t be disappointed.

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In Gravity Falls, you’ll find humor that leaps effortlessly from meta to slapstick, memorable characters, and twists and turns to keep you watching episode after episode. I truly believe we’re living in a golden age of kids’ television, with shows like Adventure Time and Steven Universe addressing modern values, introducing timeless characters, and engaging audiences of all ages — Alex Hirsch’s creation easily joins the ranks.

It’s not only a show about mysteries and mayhem — Gravity Falls is about family, trust, and growing up. Throughout the course of the series, Dipper, Mabel, and Stan learn and grow from their experiences. Their relationships with each other also develop and deepen; especially when comparing the pilot to the most recent, penultimate episode of the entire series, it’s amazing to see how close and inseparable the protagonists have become.

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When an episode of Gravity Falls ends, everything doesn’t return to the status quo. Things change, and the audiences knows that the Pines family’s summer will eventually end.

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In conclusion, if you don’t give Gravity Falls a try and you don’t fall in love with these characters, you and I might have a problem.

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Just one last note: I’m so happy to have discovered something to inspire me to update this blog again. One of my resolutions for 2016 is to set aside some time from “real life” to write for myself — and anyone who cares to read! So, if you have anything you’d like me to review or chat about on this here WordPress machine, please let me know in the comments!

As always, thanks for reading. I missed you. 🙂

-Laura

 

 

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