Gravity Falls Review: Season 1, Episode 3: "Headhunters"

Three figures, only one with dignity
In fair Oregon, where we lay our scene.
From retro grudge to break a nouveaux peace
Where wax-made hands make wooden floors unclean.
From forth the fatal hands of Mabel Pines
A wax figure of Stan loses his head.
But Stanford’s wax head had no connection
To Archibald Cox and eighteen minute gaps.

Airdate: June 30, 2012

Synopsis: Dipper, Mabel, and Soos stumble across a hidden room in the Mystery Shack. Said room is full of wax figurines. Stan reveals that he once had a wax museum, but it didn’t bode too well for him financially. He decides to reopen it, and commissions Mabel to make a new figure. She makes one based off of Stan. The figure itself, plus the poorly-organized press conference announcing the relaunch, makes the wax museum fail once again.

The night after the press conference, the wax figure is decapitated. With the cops on other business, Dipper and Mabel set out to find the vandal. Who is the vandal? Well, let’s just say they were close to wax Stan… and far from regular Stan.

Review (SPOILERS): One of the many, many, many things that drives people to watch Gravity Falls is the relationships between the characters – especially between our protagonists. After all, many TV shows showcase something of a power struggle between siblings, or partners/bosses in detective-type shows.

What makes Gravity Falls unique in this regard is the relatively egalitarian relationship between Dipper and Mabel. This episode cements this idea. Neither of them are a “leader” or a “follower” – they both participate in the investigation, contributing equally, while adding their own quirks to make the characters relatable.

We got a glimpse of that at the end of “Tourist Trapped” and during parts of “Legend of the Gobblewonker”. However, in the latter, the two were buoyed by Soos, and the latter was more to introduce the characters, with the dynamics being secondary. Here, the focus is on Dipper and Mabel. The dynamic that they have is brilliantly played – whatever conflict there is between them comes not from a desire of power, but due to their contrasting personalities.

It really is refreshing to see a show without a battle in the balance of power. Granted, shows like that are not to be knocked: House of Cards (both versions) and Red Dwarf showcase an antagonistic relationship between the main character and another character or two or ten. However, not every show can be Lister v Rimmer, or Frank Underwood v the President. It’s nice to see a friendly relationship such as the one between Dipper and Mabel written so well.

Their plot is actually intriguing enough as it is – not only is the twist generally, uh, “twisty”, but the climax is actually pretty scary. It’s the first time the show actually went into a sense of terror, rather than just use peril for comedy.

One might wonder whether the wax figures were really nuts before their interactions with Stan, or whether being locked away drove them mad. That’s our moral dilemma for the episode – relatively small, but worth thinking about.

John Oliver (Last Week Tonight) does a brilliant job as Wax Sherlock Holmes – managing to convey a form of comedy and terrifying leadership in his character. Oh, and getting Coolio and Larry King to guest star? Ignore the hiatus – this really shows what Disney thinks of the show; they had so much faith in it, and were so impressed, that the third episode got high-end voice actors. Brilliant.

That’s not even getting into the rest of the characters. Sherrif Blubs, Deputy Durland, and Toby Determined, as far as gag and minor characters go, are all brilliantly written, multi-dimensional, and hysterical. Kevin Michael Richardson, Keith Ferguson, and Greg Turkington are all fantastic voice actors.

While not a “must watch” episode, it’s definitely a fun one, showing the show’s evolution in the three episodes alone.

Trivia:

  • While Stan’s reaction to losing his wax self might seem exaggerated, recent events do show a… darker side to this loss. Still, a bit egocentric, eh?
  • Come to think about it, Soos’s keyboard is a bit tragic, given that he got it on the day that he realised his dad was a damn deadbeat!
  • When I first did the review, I read on the Gravity Falls Wiki that one of the detectives on Duck-Tective was voiced by Gavin McTarvish, who voiced Warden Ackerman in Series VIII of Red Dwarf. Turns out that was just a rumour. Also, I said in that review something along the lines of “weak Dwarf is better than no Dwarf.In hindsight… not so much.
  • One thing I don’t like is that they gave Richard Nixon… nothing. C’mon. Nixon would’ve been awesome. Two words: Billy. West.
Favorite Scene: The botched exposure of Toby Determined, including… “Your little knees must be sore… from jumping to conclusions!” Yeah, it’s corny, but there’s also a hint of character in it. 
Least Favorite Scene: Take out the “Duck-tective” scenes – not because they’re not funny, mind you, but because they’re unnecessary – and you would get just a bit more wax figure lines and action. Thankfully, “Duck-tective” does help flesh out Dipper and Mabel’s character, so it’s not a total write off.
Score: 9

Gravity Falls Review: Season 2, Episode 4: "Sock Opera"

“WE HAVE A TITLE!”- Joel and the Bots, MST3K (“I Accuse My Parents”)

Airdate: September 8, 2014

Synopsis: Mabel’s “boyfriend of the week” is a puppet snob. Getting trapped in a lie, she needs to produce a decent puppet show. This interferes with Dipper’s goal to secure the password to the laptop they found a couple of episodes back. Running out of options and time, he manages to come across a certain isosceles monster, who is willing to make a deal… seemingly.

Review: While Gravity Falls normally has awesome character development, a sizable chunk of it has been centered on Dipper and Stan. Mabel seems to have been put behind as far as character development goes. This episode goes far in trying to flesh her out, and in doing so, continues a streak of fantastic episodes. Continue reading

Gravity Falls Review: "Gideon Rises" (Season 1, Episode 20)

Airdate: August 2nd, 2013

Took a page out of Duloc, eh?

Synopsis: With Gideon now in control of the Mystery Shack- uh, I mean Gideonland– the Pines Family (and Soos) have to crash at Soos’s Grandmother’s house. The world seems to be falling apart; Gideon has Waddles, the kids have nowhere to go, Stan’s store is gone, and Wendy will be shipped off to her cousin’s logging camp if she can’t hold a job in Gravity Falls. (In this economy? Enjoy the logging camp!) Threatened with being sent back to Piedmont, CA for the rest of Summer, the twins have to resort to drastic measures to try and take down the shack.

As this is happening, Gideon reveals the reason de jure for his takeover of the shack… as the last traces of his sanity evaporate. Stan, meanwhile, is trying to get used to the fact that his life is all but trashed… when he notices something fishy with the Gideonland buttons

Review (SPOILERS MIGHT BE AHEAD): Let’s get this out of the way; the ending. I can’t say I enjoyed the basics of it that much, given that everybody and their mother expected it. In a show that twists and turns every other day of the week, this just seems like a weak end. Still, can’t fault the excellent music and the creative visuals.

Hell, you can’t fault the episode that much. It really is pretty damn good. Continue reading

Gravity Falls Review: Season 1, Episode 19: "Dreamscaperers"

Airdate: July 12, 2013

Ah, Bill! Keep on laughing, you morally ambiguous wacko.

Synopsis: Back for revenge against the Mystery Shack… again… Gideon is driven over the edge. Taking out book #2, he summons Bill Cypher, a mind demon with the power to enter and control the subconscious, so that Gideon can gain control of the safe and steal the deed. Bill goes into Stan’s mind. Dipper has to summon himself into the mind of Grunkle Stan… just as relations between the two seem to have hit an all time low. As the gang crosses the mindscape to try and hunt Bill Cypher, the way Stan’s mind works is slowly unveiled, as Dipper realizes how Stan treats the kid, and why he does the things he does.

Review (SPOILERS MAY BE AND ARE AHEAD): In February of 2014, I reviewed “Boyz Crazy” and declared it to be my favorite episode of the series thus far, due to its use of Shakespearian tragicomedy and questionable motives amongst every single character. It really was the closest thing Gravity Falls ever came to nihilism.

However, remember: just because it’s my favorite does not mean it was the most well-produced episode. That honor goes to “Dreamscaperers”. I swear to you, the survey on the Gravity Falls Wiki shows “Dreamscaperers” in a commanding lead for “Best Episode”, and it seems to be there for at least the next few months. (The new season premieres over Summer).

Strangely enough, some of the features of “Dreamscaperers” oppose those of “Boyz Crazy”. “Boyz Crazy” focused on the darker underbelly of our main characters, and the connections between them being threatened; “Dreamscaperers” focuses on the development of the supernatural features and a more positive side to the characters, especially Stan.

We get a peek in Stan’s memories, which literally gives him the most complete backstory of the main characters so far. I used to compare Dipper to Red Dwarf’s Arnold Rimmer, due to Dipper’s own neurosis, organizational tendencies, and pride. However, as I rewatched the episodes, I slowly realized that the comparison, while justified, was not the best matchup. The reason? Dipper, past his moments of selfishness, neurosis, and pride, is actually one to practice self-improvement, selflessness, and will always come to the defense of other characters.

I now have to give the comparison to Stan, due to the tragic backstory the two had, as well as their cynical, self-serving actions. Yet, whereas Rimmer’s childhood was played for comedy and was not used as an excuse for his behaviour, Stan’s childhood was played in a much more tragic light, and used to show just why he became the man he is today; he’s a jaded man, cynical because of the cards life dealt him. He doesn’t want Dipper to turn into him; a weak man who is beaten into cynicism and selfishness.

We also see Mabel really take on a leadership role in the episode. Whereas Dipper has normally taken on the role of team leader, he’s too derailed by his own self-interests and cynicism for much of the episode. It’s Mabel who sends the crew into action against Bill Cypher. Yet she still keeps her eccentric behavior and quirks.

And may we also give Bill Cypher a hand here? Sure, the first time you watch, he’s a perfectly affable guy, who is merely a slave to the journal holder. Yet, we get to see a darker side to the “Isosceles Monster”, as he has the power to manipulate the human mind, connect with people who are outright cruel (Gideon), and tortures the crew by bringing their worst nightmares to life. To go off on a tangent, that last part reminds me of the Red Dwarf episode “Back to Reality”, an episode which is not only one I will review in the coming weeks, but an episode considered the zenith of its franchise. Bringing the worst nightmares of people to life is, again, nothing new, but it also plays into the characters: Soos, despite bouts of maturity, still has the mind of a child, and Mabel also has the level of self-awareness that makes her quirkiness just awesome enough to work.

Sorry for the tangent; back to Bill. He really is ambiguous; is he looking out for his own power and out to cause mischief, or is he only forced to do what people command him to do? Is he a wise being, or is he just using scare tactics? Is he the product of a Gravity Falls figurehead? What could be behind this character?

Last but not least on the Character chart, Gideon. We already know from “The Hand That Rocks the Mabel” that he owns #2, and that he wants the Shack (thank you, “Little Dipper”), but here, we see him finally execute 15 episodes worth of development. I won’t spoil the ending, except for the fact that dynamite and personal connections get involved. Really, that last scene shows that he is craftier than we thought he was even in recent episodes: he knows his science.

We also must mention that, while the art in Gravity Falls has always been fantastic, it is the art in this episode (especially the credits sequence and the scenes with Bill) that convince me to say this: in terms of animation, Gravity Falls is the best-animated TV show in recent years… possibly ever.

I don’t even have to say anything else, really. The conflict is awesome, the humor is fantastic, the plot twists are pretty damn good… this is simply an episode that anybody and everybody should watch. Is it my favourite? It’s close. A 10 score is given to my favorite episode of the entire show, and I think “Boyz Crazy” is still my favorite because it gave development to otherwise underrated characters… but still. This is damn near perfect. This is to Gravity Falls what “Back to Reality” was to Red Dwarf: it sent the show from fantastic to a show that will hopefully stand the test of time. Alex Hirsch, Tim McKeon, Matt Chapman, Joe Pitt, and John Aoshima, you should all be proud of yourselves. (And that’s not even getting into the actors!)

Favorite Scene: If I HAVE to narrow it down… anything and everything with Bill Cypher. The character is just well crafted enough to work.

Least Favorite Scene: One of my most frequent complaints this season has to be the underuse of Wendy. She gets one line (“One time, I caught Gideon stealing my moisturizer”), and it just does not connect as well as others in the episode, or others that the character has delivered. It just seems like they keep her in simply to give Dipper a love interest and personal flaws, or to try to avert “The Smurfette Principle”. Come on guys, give her some sense of development. (Still an otherwise fantastic scene.)

Score: 9.5.

Red Dwarf Review: Series V, Episode 4: "Quarantine"

Think your bunkmate is bad? Try living with this guy.

Airdate: 12 March, 1992

Synopsis: The crew land on an ice planet to rescue Dr. Lanstrom, a holo-researcher. This would require Rimmer to be turned off. The trio realize that Dr. Langstrom has a holo-virus that drives her insane… yet also researched “good” viruses that provide good luck and happiness. Meanwhile, finally driven over the edge, Rimmer acquires the Space Corps Directives book thanks to Kryten, and begins using it against the crew, forcing them in a 1-bunk quarantine with no entertainment… in the hope that they destroy themselves. However, Rimmer manages to still catch a holo-virus… thanks to the holo-virus being transmitted over the radio.

Review: Certainly, this episode is one of those “reminder” episodes that Red Dwarf likes to utilise; that Lister is technically the only real crew member on board ship, that Kryten still is generally of little value when compared to his contemporaries, and, most importantly, that for all life threw at him, Rimmer is a smeghead.

On that last point, we are thrust straight into his neurosis at the beginning. It’s a constant cycle; nobody likes him, so he’s a smeghead, causing nobody to like him, causing him to act like a smeghead. Again, nobody liking him is not a justification for Rimmer’s behavior. He more or less uses his revenge by turning his crew member’s flaws against him. Kryten’s desire to quote Space Corps Directives gets Rimmer a nifty Book ‘O Directives, causing him to trap the crew in quarantine, use every technicality and loophole in the book, borderline torturing the crew, and getting the crew to turn on each other. The Holo-virus he gets simply exaggerates his behavior to comically sick levels.

The trio getting trapped in Quarantine also shows that their hatred of Rimmer is the closest they have in common. Lister is a total slob who really didn’t mature past his early teenage years, the Cat is more egocentric than Rimmer and will not confess to anything that could put him in a negative light, and Kryten is neurotic and will do anything to the letter. The three are basically the three faces of Rimmer: the immaturity, the ego, and the neurosis. Yet, they all hate him. Is it because Rimmer is a smeghead? Or is it because they strive to not sink to Rimmer’s smegish levels and use attacks on him as a means of defense?

Oh, crap. I over-analyzed a sitcom where Rimmer contacts a holo-virus, causing him to pull out and converse with a stuffed penguin puppet!

That seems to be what many people seem to remember this episode for; holo-virus infected Rimmer. That, my geeky friends, is just one of the many funny scenes this episode possesses. While the first half is a bit dry, once we go into Quarantine, damn near every joke connects. Rundown?

  • This dialog:
    • Rimmer: “I think that requires two hours of W.O.O.”
    • Lister: “Well, what’s W.O.O?” “
    • The Cat: (in a very dry manner) “You had to ask.”
    • Rimmer: “With… out… oxygen! No oxygen for two hours! That’ll teach you to be breadbaskets!”
  • The lineup of meals served in quarantine (sprouts are a bit involved), as well as the entertainment (which is impressively bad).
  • The revival of “smee hee”.
  • The use of the luck virus.
  • “You know what happens when you call me tetchy!” So Lister writes it.
Just… fantastic! The drier first half keeps it from achieving “best episode”, but it still deserves the praise it gets.
Favorite Scene: Can’t I just say anything shown past “Rimmer orders the crew in quarantine?”
Least Favorite Scene: I don’t think that Dr. Lanstrom chasing the crew was particularly funny.

Score: 9

Update: The title should read Episode 4, not Episode 2. Sorry.

Red Dwarf Review: Series V, Episode 2: "The Inquisitor"

Airdate: 27 February, 1992

Synopsis: According to legend, the Inquisitor is a self-repairing simulant that lived until the end of time itself. After millions of years alone, h e came to the conclusion that there is no deity nor afterlife, and that the only purpose of existence is to live a life that is full of worth and justifiable. Therefore, he erases those which are deemed unfit for the gift of life, and replaces him/her with somebody that never had a chance – the unfertilized egg, the late sperm, for example.

It just so happens that the Inquisitor is real, and has the Boys from the Dwarf as his next target. When they are captured, they are given the parameters of the test to determine their worthiness of existence. What is that test? The Inquisitor is the judge, and the boys have to defend themselves. Which are saved? The Cat and Rimmer. Shocking, right? Well, they were judged…

… by themselves. The Inquisitor took the form of the person he was judging, personality and all. Rimmer managed to get out of the charges (that of being a selfish, cruel liar) by noting that his childhood was a mess, and he did the best he could given the circumstances. The Cat cites his own beauty, effectively agreeing to the charges laid against him. (“I’ve given pleasure to the world ’cause I have such a beautiful ass!”) Kryten tries to dismantle the charges against him by arguing that the only way he could do good deeds on his own is to break his programming and that The Inquisitor has no right to judge anybody. He is merely able to give the argument that he could’ve broken his programming and done good deeds, but didn’t do so. Lister simply refuses to hear the accusations that he slacked off in life. (“Spin on it!”)

Thus, Lister and Kryten are doomed. As memories of them by others are deleted, Lister and Kryten manage to break the Inquisitor, and try and reverse course… with a little help from a Liverpudlian slob and a snarky robot along the way, neither of whom recognize them.

Review: Well, glad to be reviewing Red Dwarf again.

For the first time in a decent while, Lister is given the center role in an episode. Does it work? Yes. In fact, this is almost the best episode of the series, beaten out by “Back to Reality”.

This episode is somewhat more dramatic than other episodes. While comedy is prevalent in this episode, it’s also an episode that’s not afraid to ask a question. That question? “What is a worthwhile life like?” Are we worthwhile? Does one judge his or her self-worth by the standards of society, or the standards of oneself?

The big one is simple; Can we improve ourselves? For example, you see The Inquisitor take on the persona of Lister before barbing him with the fact that he never tried. Since this is the persona of Lister, it unveils some deep-seated neurosis in him. Yet, he also reveals himself to be a brilliant man in the second half, setting up a scenario quite obviously influenced by The Iliad to take down the inquisitor. This is no accident; he was seen dissecting The Iliad in the beginning of the episode. Thus, he is one of the craftier people on the ship, and thus, has a purpose in life.

The idea of self-questioning is nothing really new, but its execution is brilliant. The Jack Docherty-played character is very innovative. He judges others, yet does it by taking the persona of the person on the hot seat, who are forced to question themselves if they made the most of their life. It’s brilliant, manipulative, and so cruel. It’s also seemingly nihilistic at first; those with inflated egos and tons of pride are to live, while those with neuroses are damned to be erased. Yet, it takes another turn that makes you think; Rimmer’s defense shows that even those who seem to be egoists can be very, very self-loathing, yet resort to trying to defend their actions (or lack thereof) so they can’t admit that their life was wasted.

The humor is not as fast-and-furious as a typical episode in, say, Series III. However, the timing of each joke and action is perfect enough to carry the jokes from one moment to another. It’s funny enough that the average viewer won’t think about the episode’s message at first; they’ll just be laughing constantly. The best joke, by a country mile, is the Cat’s defense.

It’s pure drama, comedy, science fiction… it’s just a fantastic episode. Too bad it aired in Series V, and is thus overlooked by the tragic “Holoship”, the mysterious “Quarantine”, and the purely topsy-turvy “Back to Reality”.

Favorite Moment: Again, it has to be the core four defending themselves. It’s dramatic (Rimmer’s defense), prophetic (Lister’s defense), thought provoking (Kryten’s defense) and hysterical (Cat’s defense, dear god, Cat’s defense!)

Least Favorite Moment: The one thing keeping it from a 10 score is Lister’s move to get past a door that won’t recognize them. It’s a bit out of character, given the near-perfect character that Lister is as of this episode.

Rating: 9.5.

Gravity Falls Review: "Boyz Crazy" (Season 1, Episode 17)

“Sieze upon Oregon; give to the edge of the sword
Candy, Grenda, and all unfortunate souls
that dare to kidnap you.”

Airdate: April 19th, 2013.

Synopsis (SPOILERS AHEAD: PROCEED AT YOUR OWN CAUTION): Mabel, Candy, and Grenda try to land tickets to a concert by their favorite “decade-behind” boy band, Several Timez. However, tickets quickly sell out. They decide to break into the back of the concert, where they realize that the boy band is all genetically engineered. Several Timez (who’s leader is played by N-Sync star Lance Bass) are broken out and hidden inside the Mystery Shack. Initially thrilled by having their own boy band, Candy and Grenda quickly realize that Mabel will keep them as slaves, no matter what the cost. Her insanity almost overtakes her, before she comes to her senses about the fact that she’s, you know, breaking the 13th amendment, and decides to let them go.
Meanwhile, Dipper’s frustration with Robbie going out with Wendy reaches it’s zenith when he realizes that Robbie is a negligent Jerkass who manages to maintain a relationship with Wendy because he writes music. Dipper believes that the music is possessed, and teams up with Grunkle Stan (who had to deal with a long lost love himself) to try and decipher the record. They realize that the record contains a backmasked message, and tries to stop Robbie from playing the record again… whilst in a van with Wendy. Robbie confesses… that he had no knowledge of the backmasking because he plagiarized the song. As Wendy burns the last bridge of the Wenbie relationship, Dipper’s own hubris manages to wreck his relationship with her.
Review (AGAIN, SPOILERS AHEAD): There exists a trope (on, where else, TVTropes) called “True Art is Angsty”. Translated, the trope says that the best type of art is one that is outright depressing. The reason for this perception is that tragic art is one that pulls at our emotions, that makes us feel empathy for the subject. Thus, whereas “Carpet Diem” was some fantastic comedy, “Boyz Crazy” takes a turn into Shakespearean tragedy/tragicomedy. The end result?

As of this writing, this is my all time favourite Gravity Falls episode. Ever. I’m serious. I don’t care if I’m reinforcing a trope. This is one hell of an episode! Continue reading