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 1, Episode 2: “The Legend of the Gobblewonker”

Airdate: June 29th, 2012

Synopsis: It’s the opening of fishing season in Gravity Falls. In order to spend some time bonding with the twins in a more… legal way (“The county jail was so cold!”), Stan takes them out to Gravity Falls lake. On cue, a crazy old man, last name McGucket, screams about a monster in the lake. That, plus Soos having a boat that doesn’t have holes or creepy fishing lures, causes the twins to high-tail it to the “SS Cool Dude” in search for the mysterious Gobblewonker.

Review (SPOILERS): Smashing sophomore episode. Smashing.

Ah, you want more in this post. That’s why I’m posting these “remastered” reviews, right? Alright, ya got it! Spoilers ahead, though – I’d recommend watching the episode before going on. Continue reading

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.

Not Another Top (X) List: Ranking Gravity Falls Season 1

Told ya I had a New Years trick up my sleeve, didn’t I?

Greetings, everyone! We’re celebrating the new year by doing a bit of a countdown of every episode of one of the greatest TV shows of all time, Gravity Falls! I’m counting down all 20 episodes of Season One. Essentially, this is similar to what I did back in April, with the worst and best episodes of the season. However, this encompasses all of the episodes from Season 1. They go from my least favorite to my, well, favorite. As well, I’ll be giving a one-or-two sentence review on these episodes.

I must stress that there are no “bad” Gravity Falls episodes- just weak Gravity Falls episodes.

Alright, Fallers! Let’s not waste any time! Continue reading

Show Wars: Bodyswapping: "Bodyswap" vs. "Carpet Diem"

Welcome to SHOW WARS!

Special thanks to the Logo Design Tool for, y’know, existing.

In this new segment, I will be comparing two episodes from two different shows (or maybe two different seasons of the same show) with a similar theme or plot device, and seeing who executes it better. What better way to introduce the segment by comparing two episodes from (what I consider) the two greatest TV shows of all time?

It has to be a huge, strange coincidence that I discovered Red Dwarf and Gravity Falls around the same time. I first began watching YouTube clips of Red Dwarf around June of 2012, although I didn’t declare it a potential “favorite show” until Christmas (“Better Than Life” and it’s cruelly hysterical ending sealed the deal for me). Gravity Falls caught my eye in July of that year; “The Inconveniencing” was running for the first time. I was instantly hooked.

As such, these two shows get the first installment of “Show Wars”, with a rather conventional sci-fi plot being our first example.

The concept of Body-swapping is nothing new. Star Trek: The Original Series did it in its series finale, “The Turnabout Intruder”. (Said episode is considered one of the worst of the original series). It’s just that Red Dwarf and Gravity Falls add their own twists and humor to it to make it funny, relatable, or both.

Therefore, after the jump, in the ring today… it’s “Bodyswap” and “Carpet Diem”!


First up…

The Setup.

The main difference between Red Dwarf and Gravity Falls is that, while both are character driven sci-fi/fantasy comedies, Red Dwarf is closer to straightforward comedy with parodies of sci-fi cliches, while Gravity Falls approaches something closer to comedy-drama. As such, the setups involve character-based humor, the strength of the shows, as well as another strength each show has.

Red Dwarf introduces the Bodyswap with its strength; science-fiction parody and character-based humor. This time, we are introduced via an auto-destruct sequence, brought on upon Lister ordering a shake… while the wires are messed up by a rouge skutter. All the senior officers are dead, and Holly offers no help (she forgot to update the database, for one). Kryten recommends trying to place the mind of a senior officer into Lister to crack the code via a mind-swap. Ultimately, it’s useless (not only can the auto-destruct not be turned off by the senior officer utilized… but there was no bomb to detonate). Still, the episodes goes into a criticism that Rimmer has for Lister (for once); Lister, as nice a guy as he is, is a total slob. Thus, BODYSWAP!

We see how the character-based humor impacts this show, with every action given an equal and opposite reaction. The body swap is driven by Holly not having any ideas at all (actually, she has three; sit there and get blown up, stand there and get blown up, and jump up and down whilst yelling at her for not having an idea before getting blown up). The sudden placement of the senior officer is also perfect to give an idea on how somebody would react to being placed in another person’s body… as she freaks out about the fact that she is a man. Also, the sci-fi used is so over the top, it’s hysterical.

Gravity Falls introduces us with the more realistic sibling conflict propping up between Dipper and Mabel, as well as their characterisations. Brought on by Mabel’s nightly sleepovers and Dipper late night reading, the two decide to move out of the attic. They have to compete for a second bedroom… which contains an electron swapping carpet. One zap fight later, BOOM! Bodyswap! Of course, Gravity Falls is somewhat more grounded in its use of science-fiction, while Red Dwarf uses it for farce. Yet, the more important section to focus on is the characters. Dipper and Mabel’s conflict is very, very realistic; thus, it is very funny, yet also truly recognizable.

It’s a very, very tight score here, but ultimately, Red Dwarf pulls out a better setup… and it wins partially because of Holly’s “three available options” line.

Winner: Red Dwarf. (“We haven’t got a bomb! I got rid of it ages ago!”)

Lies and Deceit: Actions Committed Under the Bodyswap.

This is going to be somewhat shorter. Both of these are very, very similar at the base. Various abuses are committed under the bodyswap, revealing darker underbellies of the characters. The difference is whether it’s one sided or two sided, and the scale of the abuse.

That’s Rimsie!

Red Dwarf uses this episode to show just how much of a selfish, callous smeghead Rimmer is. I put this episode second on my “Top 5 Lowest Arnold Rimmer Moments” list. When I reviewed “Bodyswap”, I declared that this should’ve taken the number 1 spot in hindsight. He promises Lister that he will use the Bodyswap to get Lister in shape… only to gorge, smoke, drink, et al, all the way to putting on two stone. Impressive. After a brief switch back, Rimmer kidnaps Lister’s body and runs off in Starbug to an unknown planet! What a guy! This episode merely serves to reinforce the fact that Rimmer’s miserable life is hardly an excuse for his callous behavior.

It’s a long, LONG story.

Gravity Falls does a two-sided, yet milder, example of this sibling rivalry… which backfires on them horribly. Dipper/Mabel is wrangled into a sleepover, which ends horribly for him. (Not the romantic comedies!) Mabel/Dipper, meanwhile, is taught all about male puberty via Stan. (“Goodbye, childhood!”) Both totally make sense for each’s character: after all, one of the main themes of Gravity Falls is that it is a coming-of-age story for Dipper (and, to a lesser extent, Mabel).

Again, you have two fantastic stories of deceit and lies. It’s hard to pick one…

…I’m going with Gravity Falls. As explained next, it helps build up the character dynamics beyond the sibling rivalry.

Winner: Gravity Falls (“SLEEPOVER!”)

Comedy Connections: The Character Dynamics and Character Conflict

Red Dwarf and Gravity Falls are both character-centred shows. As such, almost every incident in any episode will be created or impacted by the interactions between the characters. Likewise, there are no official antagonists in either episode: all the conflicts here are protagonist-driven.

Red Dwarf only has 5 characters… yet that’s more than enough for awesome character comedy. From “The End”, Rimmer and Lister have had this conflict based on the former’s odious behavior and the latter’s slobbish behavior. Switching bodies made it worse… yet it also made it more one-sided. Rimmer’s odiousness was cranked up, while also gaining Lister’s slobbish tendencies. If anything, this reinforces Rimmer as a hypocrite. It’s good, but still a bit too one-sided and biased. I’ll go back to this below.

It’s the conflict with the other characters and the development they receive that brings the episode up. When Rimmer commits Grand Theft Lister, Lister tries to convince Cat to do a bodyswap and chase after Rimmer in White Midget. The Cat not only offers to pilot the shuttle himself, but does so in a fantastic fashion. Sure, that shows that the Cat is more than just a fashion-obsessed guy. However, it also reveals that, at the very least, Lister and the Cat have a friendship bonded on their distaste for Rimmer’s behaviour. The Cat, normally too self-centred to care about anything, is willing to go beyond his appearance to try and help Lister. Kryten, meanwhile, gets development in this episode via the revelation that he is submissive to any and all human orders, thus confirming a personality reset that was revealed in “Backwards”.

That, my friends, is the face that reads “what the hell did I just see?”

Gravity Falls… oh, the development and interaction between the characters is fantastic! For one, we see the relationship between Stan and Dipper take a much more familial tone compared to the more aloof/callous nature in the first several episodes. We see this with him reading “Dipper” the infamous Puberty Book… only to shock Mabel in the process. This will set up several aspects of the next four episodes of the show, namely the B-plot of “Boyz Crazy” and the A-plots of the other three episodes. Another thing to look at would have to be Candy and Grenda’s relationship with Mabel. They seem willing to partake in Mabel’s crazy schemes, no matter why she’s proposing them. This sets up “Boyz Crazy” and Candy and Grenda drawing the line. We also see Candy and Grenda develop beyond just Mabel’s friends; Candy is more realistic and inquisitive (as seen with the Calling All Boys board game and her reaction to the electron carpet), while Grenda seems to take some offence to Candy’s scepticism (such as with the Calling All Boys game.)

Again, it’s a close one here. In the end, I still have to give this to Gravity Falls. Red Dwarf went the extra mile. Gravity Falls went an extra TWO miles!

Winner: Gravity Falls (“Kevin has the voice of a robot.” “DON’T RUIN THIS FOR ME!”)

No Habla Bodyswap: Understanding from the Outsiders

There are two types of bodyswaps; one where the voice migrates with the rest of the mind and one where the voice does not migrate. Both use the “voice migrates”. However, the implementation is different.

Red Dwarf is unusual in its application of the trope. First, some production notes. You see, the original plan was to have Craig Charles and Chris Barrie try and imitate each other’s voice. Barrie succeeded, for the most part. Charles, however, had such a strong Scouse accent that it became impossible for him to pull off Rimmer. Thus, the episode was done with them in their normal voices, the voices were re-recorded and swapped in editing, and the mostly-finished episode was shown to an audience- the first time an entire episode was filmed without an audience (this became the norm for Series VII).

Now, in-universe. Due to the mumbo-jumbo of the bodyswap machine, the voices were swapped, and everybody knew the voices were swapped. Comedy ensues.

Gravity Falls, meanwhile, made it so that nobody else knew about the bodyswap unless it was explained to them or they experienced it themselves. This also leads to hilarity, but also leads to more development for the leads, as they are forced to take a look at how the opposite’s personality has affected their lifestyle.

It’s a simple pick: comedy or plot? I choose plot.

Winner: Gravity Falls. (“Who wants to give my brother a makeover?”)

Two Faces: The Themes.

Both Red Dwarf and Gravity Falls are primarily comedy-focused shows. However, their paths beyond the comedy are vastly different. Red Dwarf is a show that is cynical, dark, and very much based on farce. Gravity Falls is also relatively dark and sarcastic, but it’s also more openly heartfelt.

Red Dwarf chose to focus on repression and/or hypocrisy. Those who feel kind to Rimmer could argue that thanks to both external and internal circumstances, Rimmer represses quite a few “Lister-esque” traits. Once he gets Lister’s body, he realizes that he can finally relax, and thus, pigs out. Those who don’t feel as kind could argue that he is a hypocrite. Rimmer claims to be this upper-class snob, yet when he takes Lister’s body, he turns into almost as horrid a slob as Lister. Either way, after two episodes showing a depressing backstory and a more sympathetic character, Rimmer reverts somewhat to a smeghead. It fits well with his character; while his backstory shaped his faults, he still could change course… he just chooses not to.

Gravity Falls focuses on relationships and, to a lesser extent, aging. Dipper and Mabel are traveling down separate paths, so to speak. This episode thrusts both of them into a situation that is typical of their age; the two tire of each other and want to separate from each other. The two are frustrated beyond ration; they resort to sabotage. Yet, by the end, they realise the close connection the two have with each other as well as what their separate lives are like (for good and for bad), and they put aside the differences. Sure, you could chalk it up to the status quo, but it works with the story; Dipper and Mabel, for all intents and purposes, will stick together. We also see that despite making a game out of who can suck up to him the most, Stan understands that the two need to escape from each other, and tries to “warn” Dipper about what he will go through in his teenage years… even if it hit Mabel instead. Of course, we have Candy and Grenda’s dynamic start to take shape for any appearances in Season 2, Dipper’s dynamic with the girls, and Soos’s dynamic with Stan and the Pines twins.

It’s a hard choice, but I’m going to have to give this one to Gravity Falls. The heart of both shows are the complex character of Rimmer and the dynamic of Pines Twins, respectively. Both work. However, Gravity Falls also took some time to develop the relationship between all the characters involved (in the A-plot, at least). “Bodyswap” is a funny episode. “Carpet Diem” is both funny and heartfelt. That being how it is, “Carpet Diem” gets the first ever “Show Wars” win.

Winner: Gravity Falls (“FORE!”)

Final Score: Red Dwarf (“What the smeggin’ smeg’s he’s smegging done?”) 1: Gravity Falls (“Ten suck-up points for this lemonade!”) 4.

So the show with the twins gets the win. Before you go on calling this a landslide, I would just like to put in perspective that both episodes were very close to each other in my eyes. Gravity Falls just had a more well-rounded script.

So, that’s it for the very first episode of “Show Wars”. The next few posts won’t be as fun: I have to decide whether to review another Season 9 Simpsons episode or plunge into the widely disliked Red Dwarf VII.

This is going to hurt.

Gravity Falls Review: Season 1 Wrap Up

Remember: in Gravity Falls, there is no one you can trust.

So, you have a show airing on the teeny bopper vehicle Disney Channel. Alright, some skepticism is always expected.

It’s a cartoon. OK, Disney is known for its good cartoons.

First season, most Disney Cartoons (hell, most shows in general) are trying to find their footing, gain some depth, etc.

Well, Gravity Falls has just finished it’s first season… and it has already established itself (at least in my insane mind) as not only a fantastic show, but quite possibly, the best show on American TV. Continue reading

Not Another Top (X) List: Top 6 Best Episodes of Gravity Falls Season 1

Well, yesterday, we looked at the top 5 worst episodes of season 1 of Gravity Falls. It was hard to pick the 5 worst, simply because the season was so good.

Now, onto another hard task; the top 6 episodes of Gravity Falls season 1. This was hard merely because the season was so fantastic, it produced god-knows-how-many candidates for the title of “best episode”. Narrowing it down to 6 was a hard task.

So, without further ado, here are…

THE TOP 6 BEST GRAVITY FALLS EPISODES OF SEASON 1!

Continue reading