Gravity Falls Review: Season 1, Episode 1: "Tourist Trapped"

(Given that Gravity Falls won’t be back until June, I figured that I may as well follow up on a promise I made last year and re-watch pretty much the entire first season. What else do I have to do, anyway?)


Airdate: June 15th, 2012

Synopsis: Twins Dipper and Mabel Pines are shipped off one summer from their home in Piedmont, California, to the center of nowhere- Gravity Falls, Oregon. There, they are to assist their great uncle, Stan, in working at his gift shop. While running an errand for Stan, Dipper locates a mysterious book, labelled “3”, which contains many secrets to the town. “Remember, in Gravity Falls, there’s no one you can trust.” Meanwhile, Mabel has a goal: find an epic summer romance. She finds a moody dude, and the two hit it off.

Ne’er the twain shall meet? Dipper suspects something’s off instantly.

Review: First episodes are always going to be off- characters have yet to be fleshed out, plots may still need to be ironed out, and in the case of animated shows, the animation may look a bit… cheap at first.

This show doesn’t really have that problem.

Our main characters are introduced in such an eccentric manner- running from a massive gnome. Sad to say, their summer gets more insane from there. Establishing the characters comes after the opening theme- Dipper’s stern-ness and Mabel’s eccentric behavior are set up in such a way that doesn’t seem expository in the slightest.

Stan’s introduction is as bombastic as it is brilliant- scaring his own great-nephew. Even before the end of the first act, however, he says a quote about his fellow employees- “I’d fire you all if I could”- that seems to hint at possible demons inside of him, a secret that he might be hiding. Of course, he masks this by denying that anything in the town is strange through the entire episode- a precursor to the very last scene in the episode.

Same with Soos and Wendy- their introductions showcase the quirks in their character, yet also shows how close they seem to these two kids that they’ve never met before. It really is a bit of a feel-good moment when they assist the twins, yet still do so in ways that establish their characters. “Try not to hit any pedestrians”, indeed.

Mabel is quickly shaped up to be a three-dimensional character- moments of brilliance shine through her eccentricities. In fact, she formulates a plan that only she could know about- one involving a good old piece of lawn maintenance machinery. And at the end, she acquires something that showcases a small level of foresight and rationality inside her id-controlled brain.

Norman- the setup, the exposure, the aftermath- really is the first showcase of the twists that Gravity Falls will take. The hints at Norman’s true identity seem like such minute details, but when revealed, showcase that Gravity Falls is not a show that goes for the blindingly obvious details. (At least, except for the end of the season.)

The theme of this episode is the concept of trust- a concept re-explored in “Not What He Seems”. “Tourist Trapped”, in hindsight, contains many a scene that is cringeworthy in hindsight. It makes some sort of sense that Dipper trusts Mabel with the secrets of the journal, yet is reluctant to let her go out with her mysterious boyfriend without some sort of inspection. Whether it’s a brotherly instinct, or a neurosis that’s proven correct, is all up to viewer interpretation.

One thing that threw me was the use of narration- in a style similar to that of “How I Met Your Mother”. It seems like it was just there for basic exposition. The concept, so far, has not been revisited- the closest to a copy is “Little Gift Shop of Horrors”, with Stan’s links. Another aspect that threw me is the use of Family Guy style cutaway gags. Granted, these actually tied into the plot and character development. Still, the style of gags seen here will not be used in later episodes, if I recall correctly

Ending on a positive note, though… the voice acting here is already fantastic. Ritter, Schaal, Hirsch, Cardellini… all of the main cast give brilliant performances.

What else can I say? It’s a damn good pilot episode, with a cliffhanger that… well, let’s just say it really sets up the Myth Arc.

Watch it.

Tidbits

  • This episode actually got two nods at the Annie Awards- Ian Worrel for Best Production Design, and Kristen Schaal for Best Voice Acting.
  • Three more days. If Disney had waited three more days, the first episode would’ve premiered on June 18th.
  • I forgot to mention the comedy here- it’s pretty excellent. The “Rock that Looks Like A Face” gag is really the world-building that Gravity Falls needs- it’s brilliantly cynical.
  • Nikki Yang did storyboards for the pilot. She would go on (and has gone on) to voice Candy.
  • One more thing I feel like questioning is the scene where Wendy tosses the keys of the Golf Cart to Dipper. (“Try not to hit any pedestrians!”) Not that it was a bad scene- hell, no. In fact, it was brilliant. However, it makes the relative lack of development for Wendy all the more awkward- the two don’t necessarily have to always been in a status of romantic tension. I expected that Wendy and Dipper would settle into a role of two advisors to each other in the discovery of the town’s secrets, similar to Picard and Riker from Star Trek: TNG. Ah, a geek can dream.
Favorite Scene: Mabel’s gambit at the end of the episode shows a brilliance in the character that you would never expect.
Least Favorite Scene: Did we need to see a gnome puke up a rainbow? I know, the target audience would probably like that type of humor. Me… not so much. More personal tastes factor into this decision, though. 
Score: 8.75.
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