Like so many of my favorite TV shows, I heard about Gravity Falls from a friend of mine I met in college. She’s an artist (you can find her on Twitter or visit her website) who does some amazing art, so I recommend you check out the stuff she uploads when she gets the time during her incredible busy weeks. We met through shared creative writing classes and it feels like she’s been after me to watch Gravity Falls since then. For whatever reason, and I honestly don’t have even a crappy one, I didn’t watch the show until recently, when I saw it recommended to me in an email from Amazon. Apparently, it just came out on Blu-ray.
The first thing I noticed as I started watching the show was the unbelievably high quality of the animation. In the theme song, there’s a sequence where one of the characters waves his arms around in fright and the smoothness of that action took me by surprise. I quickly realized it was a Disney cartoon and I felt much less surprised. As I continued to watch it, though, my mild surprise turned to awe as I took in the incredible amount of detail that went into each episode and the series as a whole. The background is full of little details and there’s so much you’ll miss if you don’t pay attention. There’s foreshadowing, secrets to unlock, and always something new or exciting to see if your eyes happen to drift away from the central action. And that’s just the animation! There’s even more of all of that in the writing.
From the beginning, I was taken aback by the show as it subverted my expectations. Almost every time I expected something to happen beyond the triumph of the protagonists in the end, I was pleasantly surprised as the story twisted in a new direction. As the show drew me in, pulling me into the show so completely I completely set aside my expectations, I marveled at the hidden depths of the show. On the surface, the show is about a pair of twins, Dipper and Mabel Pines, who were sent to spend the summer with their great-uncle (or “Grunkle”) Stan who runs a tourist trap called the “Mystery Shack” near the town of Gravity Falls, Oregon. Dipper finds a mysterious journal, written by an unknown author, containing the secrets behind all of the weird stuff happening in this quaint little town. Their first episode includes an encounter with gnomes, their first explorations of the forest around their Uncle’s shop/home, and sets the stage for the rest of the show as them trying to deal with some supernatural situation that Grunkle Stan seems to know nothing about.
Unfortunately for me, the rest of the show was only two seasons. Fortunately, the creator intended it to only last two seasons, so there’s no rush to finish the plot in time nor is there any unsatisfying moments where some villain escapes or something unlikely happens so they can stretch another season out of the story. Everything is incredibly well paced and the plot does an excellent job of doling out twists so there’s a constant, steady progression of their quest to resolve the issues arising from Dipper’s constant meddling in the supernatural. Even better, there’s a constant stream of puzzles for the viewer to solve and little ciphers hidden throughout the episodes for the careful observer to discover that add an extra layer of depth to the show as a whole. They’re a lot easier to solve once you’ve watched the whole show, but they’re worth attempting the first time through since they provide a little commentary about the show as the episodes pass. This, more than anything else, shows just how meticulously planned the show was. No one just drops a code into their story without a good reason to do so. It’s too much worth, otherwise.
Now, to be entirely fair to Dipper, he’s mostly messing around with the supernatural in order to learn about the stuff he sees happening around him. Dipper often serves as the engine to push the plot forward and, given his obsessive and curious nature, is probably the most appealing character to all of the mystery and conspiracy buffs who got pulled into this show by all of the hidden messages. He’s friendly but shy and often requires a push in order to voice his thoughts or take action when there’s a threat. Thankfully, he has his sister for that. Mabel is bright, colorful, cheerful, and almost always the reason Dipper acts. Whether it’s because she needs his help, she’s been giving him a hard time about something, or because she’s cheering him on, she brings out the best in Dipper. At the same time, she can also challenge Dipper because she’s much sillier than he is. She has a tendency to act without thinking ahead but draws people to her side with her charisma and friendliness. As a team, they’re nearly unstoppable. Mabel is my favorite, though. I honestly don’t know how anyone could prefer anyone else given her sunny nature, the way she loves everyone so openly, and how she sees the best in everyone she encounters. Though, if someone picked Dipper instead, I’d understand given how frequently he sacrifices for his sister’s happiness and the determination shows when it comes to solving problems or saving his sister from some problem she inadvertently created.
When the show starts, the Pine twins are twelve and it shows. They have childish crushes and approach the world with the sort of wide-eyed wonder that most children have. Some of the older characters–mostly Grunkle Stan–use it to dismiss their adventures as nothing but wild imaginings, but we get to see them grow not just in character but credibility as their childish, open-minded nature is often what saves the day. Even better, we get to see them grow individually, using each other as foils as they slowly shift from whiny and self involved to confident and empathetic. It’s the best game of leap-frog I’ve ever seen. And not only do they grow and change, but you can see the impact they have on the people around them. They soften the hard edges of their Grunkle Stan, help Soos the repairman grow in confidence and capability, they redeem bullies and give everyone the chance to show their true self rather than the one-dimensional caricature they appear to be at first.
Honestly, I can’t recommend this show enough. There’s plenty of great humor in it from the little jokes we all love to some clever breaking of the fourth wall that reflects the community that sprang up around this show as it originally aired. They ride that line that Disney practically invented, of having a mixture of humor so the show appeals to both children and adults, so there’s something for everyone to enjoy. If you’ve got the money, I suggest buying the DVDs or Blu-ray of Gravity Falls, or at least watch it online in any number of places like Hulu or through a digital purveyor like Amazon.
Oh, just in case that wasn’t enough to convince you to check it out, Nathan Fillion makes a few appearances and it’s just amazing when he does. Watch it now.