“Ah, summer break. A time for leisure, relaxation, and taking ‘er easy… unless you’re me.”
It was the evening of July 13th, 2012 – Friday the 13th, as luck would have it. The time was approaching 9:30. Being the most boring man in existence, I was turning in for bed. (Yes, even during the summer, I go to bed relatively early. You know the quote from Ben Franklin.) However, my brother wanted to watch this new episode of this show on Disney Channel. I was convinced it would be moronic, but I let him have the benefit of the doubt.
At 9:30, “The Inconveniencing”, the fifth episode of Gravity Falls, aired. Little did I know that my world had forever been changed.
…OK, maybe that’s a bit hyperbolic, but the point still stands.
The next morning, I sought out the WatchDisneyChannel app. I watched the two episodes available – “Tourist Trapped” and “Legend of the Gobblewonker”. Much to my amusement, I realized that, hey, I really, really liked this show. And, truth be told, I enjoyed almost every minute of it. I tried my hardest not to miss an episode. When given the opportunity to start a blog, this was one of the first shows I ever reviewed. I even joined the Mystery Shack forums. Even the episodes I disliked at first slowly grew on me.
However, it was during a re-watch of “Boyz Crazy” that I finally was able to fully comprehend just how complex and tragicomic the show could actually be. That one episode, even though it’s no longer my favorite episode, was the one that made me finally realize that I didn’t just love the show – I downright admired it.
First, let’s get some things I would change about the show out of the way. As implied in my ranking of the episodes, I would’ve scrapped a couple of them, mainly “Roadside Attraction”, and fleshed out some characters a bit more with replacement episodes. A “B-Plot” or two would also be revamped a bit. Maybe they could’ve done a bit more with the finale…
…really, that’s about it. In fact, those are minor compared to the positives this show had. And, whoa, were they positives. There are quite a few reasons why this show stood out to me, from least important to most.
First, the mystery. Whereas other shows let themselves get tied up in nonstop plot threads until they suffocated, this show knew how to maintain a balance. In fact, it seemed to curb the introduction of new plot threads after the introduction of the Author, although newer ones gained more prominence – largely as parallels to Stan’s own troubles. It was all woven together in a very fantastic way.
Beyond that, the show was, on a technical level, amazing. The animation style, while more on the conservative side of the spectrum, never felt lazy. It always felt developed, fluid, and brilliant, plus filled with little gags that more obsessed fans managed to point out and analyze. Direction lent itself to something deeper. The voice actors gave their all, even for bit parts. The show’s music, composed by Brad Breeck, was always astounding. Scoring simply on the show’s art and music, this is already one of the best ever.
The technical brilliance was just one of the factors that allowed the show to communicate and effectively execute it’s varied themes. The ideas of forgiveness, trust, power and the corruption within, growing up, the loss of innocence, and the tight bonds that families hold – all of them came through so well, accessible to a wide variety of audiences.
Then, there was the comedy. As mentioned above, not every joke connected. However, in a world where shows feel like they have to rely on either dark comedy or pop-culture references, Gravity Falls had a rather good balance. Jokes ranged from the high brow to the low brow. Parodies and jokes about history mingled with slapstick. The blend itself, the proportion of dark comedy to light comedy, was very good.
On the flip-side of that lies the drama. Dramedy, when executed well, makes for some great TV – comedy grounded by the ability to create emotional investment in the show. And, damn it, the drama of this show was brilliant.
And why was the following executed so well?
Because of the characters.
From a writing point, Gravity Falls went beyond most other shows. Characters that I felt were the least developed were still pretty cool or funny. Even characters I hated, such as Pacifica and Robbie, were given more pathos and depth, and thus, became entertaining.
As far as our protagonists went, Dipper and Mabel were entertaining, complex characters who became more mature and/or introspective as the show went on. They had virtues, vices, and both of them got a great amount of analysis. Yet, they really felt like twelve-year-olds (even if Dipper didn’t sound the part, but again, damn it if Jason Ritter didn’t give it his all.) Ford himself turned out to be quite human – this once-idolized man brought down to Earth by his own bouts of selfishness. In a way, though, this just made him better.
This does not even start with Stan… he might be among my favorite TV characters of all time. From the quirky, arrogant shopkeep, he’s become one of the most emotional, tragic characters of all time. In many ways, he becomes the anti-Walter White – slowly rising from the depths of humanity to become one of the most human characters of all time.
It seems cliche, but they felt less like characters and more like people. Friday nights (and, later, Monday nights) felt less like “watching a TV show” and more like “watching our best friends open up about themselves, and watch them try and escape the maze of hell, only to wind up further inside.” There’s a reason why fans endured hiatuses that have lasted up to a year.
Because the characters were that exciting.
Because, through them, a world that was so small was still so rich and exciting.
Because Gravity Falls was that exciting. It felt like a world come to life. It felt like the writers tried their damnedest to make this show not just acceptable, not just good, but something far better.
Can I say they succeeded?
Do you even have to ask?
Gravity Falls, from beginning to end, was among the best shows to air on TV. In fact, until Steven Universe had its midseason hoopla, I would argue that it was the best cartoon on TV. No other show has made me care so much about every aspect about it.
And now, it has reached the end. In fact, this post comes just under two weeks shy of the third anniversary of my first GF-related post.
What else do I have to say?
If you worked on the show, thank you for caring so much about the material you put out. In an age of uncertainty, an era where it sometimes feels like the world is going to hell in a handbasket, you have provided a form of escapism that never felt overdone. For thirty minutes at a time, people could escape into a world that was so mysterious, so rich, so fun.
If you were a fan of the show and watched every episode, let’s just say that some (over half) of you were more dedicated to this show than I ever was, deciphering everything in the show, coming up with insane headcanons, etc. For fans of all levels of dedication, thank you, as well.
You… we, arguably… have come together to make one of the best TV experiences that I think ever happened. I am not kidding you guys.
But… who knows? In a few years time, I might look back on this show and wonder what in the hell I did with three-and-a-half years of my life.
The chances of that, though, seem very low.
No matter what happens, I can’t say that I will ever truly forget Gravity Falls. It was the first show since The Simpsons that I can say I really became a fan of – I watched every episode. In fact, I waited for every episode with bated breath. It happened to get me through a rather stressful part of my life, and for that, I am grateful.
As I write this, I am getting emotional. A part of me doesn’t want to post it. In a way, once I hit “Publish”, a small part of my life will be closed. Sure, there are three over shows I’m reviewing right now, and I will likely go back and review Gravity Falls over again, but… this feels relatively monumental.
However, one of the themes that this show has is that the future, while it shouldn’t be forced, shouldn’t unnecessarily be held off, as well. And with that, I move on.
So, how shall I close this Gravity Falls requiem?
Well, put it this way. Even if the town of Gravity Falls, Oregon, only exists in the confines of fiction, we all have that one town (or place) that defined our childhoods, or a locale that currently captures our curiosity, despite having never visited there.
Therefore, I leave Gravity Falls with the music of The Dream Academy (which I do not own)…
…and I guess there are no words better than those from Dipper himself.
If you’ve ever taken a road trip through the Pacific Northwest, you’ve probably seen a bumper sticker for a place called Gravity Falls.
It’s not on any maps and most people have never heard of it. Some people think it’s a myth. But if you’re curious, don’t wait. Take a trip. Find it.
It’s out there, somewhere in the woods…