Gravity Falls Review: Season 2 Wrap Up

(Note – the ranking of every episode will be out next post, but given that I did a wrap-up for Season 1, I may as well do one for Season 2. This is going to be brief, since I’m going to touch on more posts in a full requiem of Gravity Falls.)

Screenshot of this image, found on the Gravity Falls wiki.

Thirty long years, and it’s led up to this! My greatest achievement… probably should have worn pants. – Grunkle Stan, in his boxers, “Scary-oke”.

The first line of “Scary-oke” set the tone for Season 2 of Disney’s Gravity Falls – it was going to be more ambitious, more plot-driven, than the act of brilliance that was Season 1. The question is, did it meet my expectations?

Well, how can I put this?

YEAH!
Continue reading

Gravity Falls Review: "Dungeons, Dungeons, and More Dungeons" (Season 2, Episode 13)

“You may have aced Dungeons, Dungeons, and More Dungeons, but can you handle Jeopardy????

Airdate: August 3rd, 2015

Synopsis: Dipper gets a board game in the mail – “Diggity Dungeons and All That” “Dungeons, Dungeons, and More Dungeons”. With Mabel and Stan refusing to play due to it’s complicated rules (and because the two are focused on the Duck-Tective season finale), Dipper winds up striking up a playing partner in Ford. Despite Ford’s somewhat wary attitude in letting him close to the secrets, the two become close confidantes in the Tabletop madness. They play such a good game, that when a dispute between Stan and Ford (surprise, surprise) unleashed Probilitor the Annoying, the wizard decides to eat Ford and Dipper’s brains to gain their smarts.

Review (SPOILERS AHEAD): Anything with Weird Al Yankovich is among the American National Treasures, alongside cheeseburgers, Taco Bell, and “Two Cathedrals”. This episode, while a small step below the likes of “A Tale of Two Stans”, is still a really great episode.

Hell, I think it works because, compared to “Not What He Seems” and “A Tale of Two Stans”, the comedy is the focus of the episode, rather than the drama. That’s not to say there’s no drama or character development – it’s just that they chose to use a lot of comedy to both mock and celebrate this episode’s target – RPGs.

If “Blendin’s Game” sent up gladiatorial sports and Olympiads, and “Northwest Mansion Disco” spit on the power of the elite, this episode does both with tabletop RPGs.

Full disclosure – I don’t play RPGs. The reasons are cited in this episode – they’ve always seem complicated, which seems a bit intimidating to me. There’s the various rules, the strangeness, the etc. I personally like playing games with a form of structure – stuff like “Dungeons and Dragons’ is not really up my alley. Therefore, I might get a few things off in my analysis – I apologize in advance. (If I do get something wrong, bring it up in the comments section.) Still, this episode has me interested, mainly because it’s use of RPG tropes (I assume) is beautiful.

Every aspect of it is parodied, analyzed, or both. The marketing, the complex rules, the long game times, the mathematical aspects, the eccentric game pieces, the seemingly unlimited power given to the player, and the plots that take you to another world are all put under a lens, or through the looking glass.

Probabilitor the Annoying, in particular, is (again, probably) a pretty good sendup of the antagonists of these games, as well as a stab at the fans of the. He is a stereotype of the typical antagonist in the RPG and the player – a nerd who wants to rule the world, uses ridiculous math to prove or disprove his power, and wants to eat Dipper and Stan’s brains. The use of these stereotypes is mixed up enough to make him a fun character, rather than be derivative or offensive. That, and he’s voiced by one of the geek gods, “Weird Al”.

Surprisingly enough, what also makes this episode even better is it’s use of character parallels – Mabel and Stan, and Dipper and Ford.

I mentioned these parallels in my review of “A Tale of Two Stans”, how there seemed to be some parallels between the Pines Twins and the Uncle Pines Twins. This episode takes it further – Ford entrusts Dipper with one of the greater secrets that he picked up in his dimension-hopping days – the multi-sided dice. While the tabletop game play does humanize Ford, it also shows just how foolish he can be – he has kept aspects of the supernatural in somewhat flimsy cupboards.

Ironically, Dipper himself has made some decisions or opinions that almost destroyed the town or his relationships this season. Trying to contact the feds? Temporary zombie invasion. Failing to confess to Wendy? Almost got her and the crew killed. Trying to convince Mabel to stop the portal? Almost left Ford trapped in limbo. At this rate, the end of the season could probably see him make a mistake that forever alters the course of the series.

Mabel and Stan, meanwhile, are both paired together through the course of the episode. It makes a bit of sense – Mabel did trust Stan the most at the end of “Not What He Seems”. However, this episode shows these two opposites (the somewhat cold Stan and the warm and affable Mabel) bond over Duck-Tective. The two ride on the simpler pleasures in life – TV, junk food, and lowbrow comedy revolving around puns. There’s also a lot of impulse in between them, often setting up short-term and long-term disasters.

One thing that is awesome is the two teaming up in their attempts to defeat Probabilitor. It not only shows just how close the two have gotten over the season, but it also showcases that, as silly and/or callous as they might be, they both have the capacity to save the day, even if Stan’s methods and Mabel’s concepts are… unorthodox. However, the two are also prone to mistakes – their impulses have also created “monsters of the week”, or set up longer arcs. While this episode chose to focus on their virtues rather than their vices, that doesn’t mean that the two will be getting off easy for the rest of the season.

The divide that is forming between the twins, and the consequences thereof, is also prominent in this episode. It was Stan’s bickering with Ford that sent Probabilitor out in the first place. Through no fault of their own, it was Mabel’s love of (seemingly) cheesy TV and Dipper’s love of mathematical tabletop RPGs that set the stage for the episode, and the Grunkles that the twin’s befriended. This was even noted in a scene that is eerily reminiscent of the last scene in “A Tale of Two Stans”.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it in probably every other Gravity Falls review until the end of the season – the season finale is going to be dark for the Mystery Twins.

Honestly, the big – if not the only – problem with this episode is that it wasn’t as memorable as it’s two predecessors. Which is fine – those two shook the foundation of the show. If anything, this episode might be remembered for it’s odd bits of comedy – and Weird Al – rather than the plot.

I can’t complain too much, though. Honestly, if your episode has Weird Al, it’s hard to fail it. If it has send-ups to tabletop RPGs, decent character development, and several great jokes, it’s easy to see why this is a good episode of a great show… if not the best of a great season.

Tidbits:

  • The “Diggity Dungeons and All That” commercial is something of a throwback to the first few episodes of Gravity Falls – it marks one of the first times since then that GF used a Family Guy style cutaway gag, especially one that had little impact on character development. It does, however, provide a great satire on marketing strategies.
  • There’s a lot I like about the Duck-Tective gags – mainly because they send up the tropes seen in Gravity Falls, with the execution in Duck-Tective seeming more hackneyed than the execution in Gravity Falls – probably because of it’s status as a parody. It reminds me of Crying Breakfast Friends in Steven Universe, especially in the episode “Cry for Help”.
    • Seriously, I would like to see a full-length episode of Duck-tective – just as an April Fools episode, or a breather during a really dramatic series of episodes.
Favorite Scene: A few to choose from, but just for the marketing comedy alone, “Diggity Dungeons and All That” was brilliant. Those 90s really were dark times.
Least Favorite Scene: I can’t really choose – not one scene stood out as weaker than the others. Overall, I think this episode, while pretty good, is not one of the more memorable of the show.
Score: 8.25

(Edit 3:45: emphasized some of my points.)

Gravity Falls Review: "Blendin’s Game" (Season 2, Episode 8)

Airdate: November 10th, 2014

Back and louder than ever! (Image shamelessly taken from Gravity Falls Wiki)

Synopsis: In the year 207012, escaped convict Blendin Blandin manages to temporarily evade remanding into custody by declaring GLOBNAR!!!! on the people he argues ruined his life- Dipper and Mabel Pines, in the year 2012. There, Dipper and Mabel try to get to the centre of Soos’s birthday blues. Winding up back with the Time Tape Machine (which is like Red Dwarf‘s Time Drive), the two morons wind up in the year 2002, where they examine a typical birthday for Soos… while being chased by Blendin and fellow guards to partake in GLOBNAR!!!!!!!

GLOBNAR!!!!, for those wondering, is basically The Hunger Games meets Laser Tag meets koon-ut-kal-if-fee. Winner gets to determine loser’s fate, and gets a wish.

Review (SPOILERS AHEAD!): Last time we met Blendin Blandin, we saw him in “The Time Travelers Pig”. At that point, I considered “Time Travellers Pig” my least favorite episode of Gravity Falls, due to the many slips in logic prevalent. To recap:
  • Why does Dipper give up a chance of a stronger bond between him and Wendy just so Mabel can have a damn pig? I know, Dipper’s a kind kid, but that’s still a bit too latent.
  • Why did we view Blendin as the antagonist when the only bad thing he did was set down his time drive?
  • Why does Mabel get off free from learning about sacrifice, when her desires were stupider than Dippers?
  • Why set up the Mabel/Dipper/Wendy triangle?
  • Why Robbie?

Admittedly, the episode grew on me a little bit. I no longer have the deep loathing that I had from it before – I appreciate it addressing the negative effects of causality (stupid as the example given may be), and in hindsight, maybe it wasn’t the best idea to have Dipper get the stuffed animal for Wendy, given that he, up to that point, just wanted to sleep with her because he had the hots for her.

I mentioned that because this episode is a sequel to “Time Travellers Pig”. Here, while there are a few slips in logic, these are far easier to forgive, mainly because they don’t distract from this episode’s raison d’être.

This episode concentrates on extending some Pathos for Soos. For a long time, Soos sort of fit as the “comic relief character”. While there were many hints that he was wise, he just seemed to be the go-to-guy for a quick joke or two. This episode is the first one to really peel away at his background – that, as happy-go-lucky as he appears to be, his “unorthodox” family situation has altered him. It has, however, encouraged him to become what his father wasn’t – he tries to be a good, if childish, parental figure to anybody and everybody, often being a paragon of wisdom. Again, this is balanced out by his lack of maturity.

“Blendin’s Game” is also a total inverse of “Time Travellers” in the motives of Dipper and Mabel. In that episode, both characters were wondering how they could improve their own self-interests. Their goals, however, were so irrational (Mabel’s even more so) that, not only was logic skipped, but it made almost nobody likable. Sure, Dipper wanted irrational romance (i.e. to make out with Wendy). Mabel wanted a pig. Granted, hindsight proved that romance was never going to work out. That, and it did expose flaws within the characters, which is not really a bad thing. But a pig? A freaking pig?

OK, back on track. This episode has Dipper and Mabel acting purely in the interests of other people – they wanted Soos to have a reunion with his dad, showing a level of innocent selflessness on both ends. They give their wish, which could’ve been used any which way, to Soos. That, my friends, is friendship!

And what is the wish used for?

Well, let’s just say it shows a great sense of maturity from the immature. Soos, as childish as he might seem, is really the most grounded, well-adjusted character in the show.

Oh, by the way, Blendin’s back! This is probably the largest issue I took with this particular episode. In “The Time Travelers Pig”, Blendin was way too sympathetic to have received the punishment he got. This episode, he’s made as annoying as possible, almost wanting to see Dipper and Mabel die. Whatever little logic he had is chucked out the window in favor of a near-murderous rage. Dipper and Mabel don’t reciprocate the feelings – they let him go scot-free, and with a new head of hair to boot! Again, this shows a level of idealism on Mabel’s part- it’s hard for her to hold a grudge. Still, you would think they went a bit far with rewarding Blendin for wanting the twins dead.

Will I say it’s perfect? Probably not. Is it an improvement over “Time Travellers Pig”? Hell yes.

Tidbits:

  • Remember a couple of weeks ago, when I declared Justin Rolland a genius for his work on Rick and Morty? He voices Blendin Bladin. They actually do a bit of a send-up to the voice acting found in Rick and Morty, what with Blendin stuttering to get words out.
  • Take notice of the various backgrounds found in 2002. Once you notice them, it really is a depressing look at the screwed up nature of the town. What, was everybody having their mind wiped?
  • I wasn’t a fan of the development between Mabel and Candy in this episode. It really does seem like they’re using Candy and Grenda for joke fodder now. Mabel seemed out of character in that particular scene.
  • Nothing like cake-flavoured pizza and pizza-flavoured cake!
Favorite Scene: The scenes that involve GLOBNAR!!!!!!!!
Least Favorite Scene: Back in 2002, Robbie shows up, squirts Dipper and Mabel with a water gun, and then says “Young Robbie!” I’m sorry – this is not how kids speak. Hopefully, future episodes expand on Robbie’s character.
Score: 8.5.

Gravity Falls Review: "Society of the Blind Eye" (Season 2, Episode 7)

You see? Nobody suspect the quirk.

Airdate: October 27, 2014

Synopsis: After realigning any and all evidence found, Dipper deduces that Old Man McGucket might have wrote the journals about the mysteries in Gravity Falls. After meeting up with the man, McGucket claims amnesia before 1982. Deducing that his mind was wiped, the gang wind up in the innards of the Gravity Falls Museum of History, where they find a secret society dedicated to wiping the memories of the townsfolk.

Review (MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD! PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK): I could gush endlessly about this episode, to the point where the review would be just me squeeing for about a novella’s worth of words. Instead, I will just plow through the plot basics quickly, and review the more in-depth afterwards.

The plot? Fantastic. Fantastic buildup, fantastic twist, fantastic climax… fantastic all around.
OK, you want more? I’ll give you more.
The town of Gravity Falls, before this episode, relied on the guess that very few were exposed to the madness of the town, except on the rare occasion (Gideon’s fall from grace, the zombie apocalypse, etc). Even on those rare occasions, the town never really seemed to be fazed in the long-term- they went back to normal within days.
This episode brings a darker look into the madness of the town- the society interrogates the townspeople, and wipes their minds. Thus, they continue on their normal lives, until they encounter the next incident… and so on… and so forth. This town almost makes Twin Peaks, WA look like Pawnee, IN!

The mind eraser is pretty much power that could be uncontrollable. As I mention below, the use by the society may be well-intentioned, or it might be a coverup. It’s ambiguous enough to send chills. However, what if a less ambiguous character got ahold of that device? The hell that would occur in case the memories were erased.

Yet, behind that plot, lies character after character that is suddenly injected with at least an ounce of pathos.

Obviously, when discussing this episode and the tragedy of Gravity Falls, we must bring up Old Man McGucket. Once viewed by fandom as a nutter who just happened to have good technological skills, this episode unearths the man behind the madness. In lieu of him being a local kook, he was once a man of great intellect, a man in his prime. It was the madness brought on by the disasters in Gravity Falls that caused him to effectively become insane. He became addicted to the device he used to wipe his memory with, driving him into his current state of madness.

The leader of the Society of the Blind Eye, Blind Ivan, is as tragic a villain as this show has ever had. Believing that he’s doing a service to the townspeople by wiping their memories of the supernatural, he is instead leading a major coverup of the madness of the town. Are his motives genuine? Is he simply using that as a masquerade in order to justify his mass mind-erase, and really has more sinister motives? Being played by Peter Serafinowicz really helps.

Pathos is also extended to our main protagonists- namely, Dipper, Mabel, and Wendy.

  • Mabel was a character that was already pure id- but she seems to be happy-go-lucky and resilient. The impact of her failures has taken a toll on her: the engagement of Mermando, probably her most successful romance, has her questioning her summer-end goal- the epic summer romance. That’s just one disaster that has occurred in the past month for her- apparently, getting kidnapped, flung across time, and having her relationship with her brother threatened several times hasn’t proven too well for her. The confession of “loving some of her stuffed animals more than others” is merely a hint at the status of her mind- she can’t merely be the id to everything.
  • Wendy’s character at the start of the show was something of an anti-Dipper- while Dipper was high strung, a bit under-masculine, and overtly inquisitive, Wendy is much more laid back, and is shown to be a lazy slob. (Insert Red Dwarf jokes here.) We’ve seen that laid-back character slowly evolve into one who is more confrontational- first with her brutal rant to Dipper and Robbie in “Boyz Crazy”, then one who’s quick to investigate in “Into the Bunker”, and in this episode, with that stupid rap song. It’s here that we learn that her family, who practically define machismo, has stressed her out so much, she has forced herself to adopt this “mellow” masquerade. 
  • When we first met Dipper, he was something of a “precocious” kid- wise beyond their years. As time went on, we unearthed more and more of his negative qualities- his arrogance, his ego, his cynicism. At his worst, he could give Arnold Rimmer a run for his money… except once he realized the impact of the worst of his actions, he actually tried to right the wrong. His admission that he “uses large words incorrectly” is yet another example of his ego- he tries to downplay the fact that his arrogance has cost him dearly, yet recognizes deep down that he has made maneuvers that have almost killed him and his sister.
Hell, I think I’ve barely scratched the surface. The characters within the society are characters that have their own failings, their own holdbacks. Yet they go on as normal. Is this just one large circle of mind-erasure? Possibly.

On a small note, Robbie actually wound up on the receiving end of a mind-wipe. Here’s the dialogue from that scene:

Robbie: “I was attacked by this magic kung-fu guy that was throwing, like, balls of fire at me. I kicked his butt, though!”

Society of the Blindeye: “Robbie, speak honestly!”

Robbie: “I was saved by a 12-year old.”

You see, Robbie has been a cynical, arrogant jerkass who’s activities ranged from “insensitive” to “borderline illegal”. The fight in “Fight Fighters” was spurred by his and Dipper’s relationships with Wendy. Seeing Dipper save him managed to wreck his ego, his sense of machismo. Thus, in order to try and prove his self worth to Wendy, he tries to lie about his feats, when in reality, he lacks the honour that Dipper has. Robbie is truly the most pathetic character in the show- a character that will do anything to appease his own ego.

The art is fantastic. The horror is fantastic. The comedy is fantastic. The tragedy is fantastic. The ending is fantastic, what with deconstructing the status quo…

This episode is Gravity Falls at it’s finest. Sorry, “Boyz Crazy”… but I think I have a new favourite episode. Don’t get me wrong- “Boyz Crazy” is still among the cream of the crop. This? This is pure platinum, wrapped in a 22-minute episode.

Tidbits:

  • The end of this episode features the transportation of a cup and a notepad through a portal. For those who don’t know, there’s a TV show out there called Rick and Morty, which I consider another one of my favourites. (Warning: show not recommended for kids.) In the episode “Close Rick-counters of the Rick Kind”, a mug and a notepad pop out of the portal. Dan Harmon, Justin Roiland, and Alex Hirsch are all geniuses.
  • “Straight Blanchin” might be the most brilliant send up to he “summer song” ever. A song about debauchery and attempts seduction? “Blurred Lines”. Utter glam? “Fancy”. Oh, and to take this further, Soos follows “Straight Blanchin” and eats his own trousers.
  • The scene where the crew wind up in the hall of memories is very similar to the Futurama episode “How Hermes Requisitioned His Groove Back”. Again, watch that show. You won’t regret it.
Favorite Scene: If forced to pick… I would have to say any and all of the “pathos” scenes, with the possible exception of…
Least Favorite Scene: Again, if forced to pick, it would be the reveal that Soos called Mabel “Maple” for a good chunk of the summer. Last I checked, that never happened. Still, I’m letting it slide. This episode is pure brilliance.
Score: 10. “Boyz Crazy”, you had a fantastic run. But all great rules must come to an end. This is just too brilliant of an episode.

Gravity Falls Review: "Soos and the Real Girl" (Season 2, Episode 5)

Airdate: September 22nd, 2014

Synopsis: When Soos gets an invitation to his cousin’s engagement party, he realizes (with help from his grandmother) that he needs to find a date. After initial attempts prove fruitless, he winds up buying a Japanese dating simulator (against the game store’s warnings). Said simulator involves the player interacting with Giffany, a “schoolgirl” at “School University”. However, Giffany is more than just a character in the game- through the magic of electricity, she becomes possessive of Soos, especially once Soos meets a real woman, the quirky Melody. Once Soos decides to send the disc back to the game store, Giffany snaps, realizing that she must destroy Melody and trap Soos.

Meanwhile, in yet another quest for money, Stan realizes that he needs to steal an animatronic from Hoo-Haw’s Jamboree Pizza Time to replace his old animatronic. It’s so stupid, not even Wendy will dignify his insanity.

Review (SPOILERS): After a string of generally awesome episodes, Gravity Falls took something of a retreat back into merely “great” territory. Strangely, the past four episodes were more focused on the fantasy and mystery elements in the town, while this episode seemed to embrace the sci-fi wing of speculative fiction. Continue reading

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: Season 2 Preview and Hopes

Yes, folks! I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again! Gravity Falls is indeed coming back. Mark your calendars! Those in the US, “Scaryoke” premieres August 1st in the US on the Disney Channel. Those in the UK, Ireland, Canada, Australia… I’ve got nothing right now. BUT IT IS COMING!

I’ve made it clear that Gravity Falls is one of my favorite TV shows currently in production, and one of my all time favorite shows, period. Season 1, at it’s best, didn’t really break the mold as much as it created an entirely new mold. Even at it’s worst, it wasn’t really bad; it just didn’t excite me as much as the best episodes did. It’s characters, plots, symbolism, and art… all of it ranged from “pretty damn good” to “sublime”. Even characters that seemed like they didn’t get development actually have so much potential to develop, that I’m willing to excuse their lack of focus.

So far, here’s what we know:

  • “Scaryoke”, as mentioned above will launch the season on the Disney Channel. It will ape some plot elements from “Double Dipper”, with a “Mystery Shack is Back” party… this time, it’s overrun by “unwelcome guests”.
  • “Into the Bunker” will be the first new episode premiered on Disney X-D, on August 4th. It will focus on the Mystery Shack employees diving deep into an underground bunker to see the true writer of the books.
  • There will be episodes dedicated to fleshing out characters that previously had bit or supporting parts. These include Wendy and Pacifica, two characters that, in my personal opinion, could’ve had so much more development (see below).
  • One of the writers for this season will be Josh Weinstein… the same Josh Weinstein that (along with Bill Oakley) ran Seasons 7 and 8 for The Simpsons. Seasons 7 and 8 were more well known for their focus on character while also being more down to earth compared to Season 5. Weinstein’s scripts during seasons 5 and (to a lesser extent) 6 were also more “domestic” and less surreal than the rest of the episodes during those two seasons. Oh, he also created Mission Hill, a tragically underrated TV show.

Barring any changes in my schedule, I will be able to catch episode 1 when it airs.

Now, what do I want in this series? Let’s run it down, lads!

  • As mentioned above, two of the show’s most underused characters are Wendy and Pacifica. I saw the untapped potential these two had. They were tragically reduced to relatively one-dimensional roles: Dipper fell in love with the Dave Lister wannabe who was going out with Robbie, and Pacifica acted like a snob. Maybe we could get some depth into their characters. What did they know about the incidents in Gravity Falls? What power does Pacifica hold? Maybe the Dipper/Wendy relationship will be fleshed out to be more professional and more staunchly platonic.
  • Of course, questions have to be answered. Specifically:
    • What power does Stan really have? While I wasn’t too surprised at the reveal at the end of the season, it did open a new wave of questions.
    • “Boyz Crazy”, the platinum episode of the season (and thus far, the series), revealed Robbie to have hypnotized Wendy via music. Where did he get the music? What connections does he have? What was his intent? Is he a perverted jackass, or is there another motive?
  • Hopefully, the plots should take a more dramatic turn. I would implement something of a season-long arc, maybe a self-contained episode or two sprinkled in.
  • While a part of me wants new, creative antagonists, I believe that the show’s best source of conflict will be between it’s established characters.
It’s a bit of a short list, but I think that’s more of a testament to the quality of Gravity Falls than anything else. Really, the big concern I have is that the show should keep up to the standards of the first season. It’ll be tough, but I think the writers will do well.