Cool Things: Gravity Falls

When I was younger I never had the experience of being picked up and shipped of to some distant relative to spend the summer out of my parent’s hair, working, building character and tangling with the paranormal. Fortunately, thanks to the Disney Channel and Gravity Falls, I can live the experience vicariously through the lives of twelve year old twins Dipper and Mabel Pines.
I feel for Dipper. Really, I do.
His parents have shipped him off with his twin sister all the way to Gravity Falls, Oregon, to work with their great uncle (or grunkle) Stan in his tourist trap, the Mystery Shack. The thing about Gravity Falls is it’s not exactly… normal. There are gnomes, dinosaurs, ghosts and arcade cabinets that can create real video game characters for a short time. It’s weird, spooky and he has this really annoying sister to deal with. And somehow it all works to make great stories.
Central to the show is the question of what is going on in Gravity Falls. Dipper stumbles across the weirdness early in the first episode and the show just keeps spinning things up from there. A strange journal found hidden in the forest clues Dipper in to the fact that others have investigated the town before and he begins researching the matter on his own. That is, when Mabel isn’t bothering him with the pet pig she won at the town fair or Grukle Stan isn’t making him chop firewood or Soos isn’t distracting him by goofing off or he isn’t crushing on Wendy, a local girl who works in the Mystery Shack.
Okay, not much researching gets done.
Which is not the same thing as saying no research gets done. Gravity Falls moves at it’s own pace, content to explore the three main characters, the twins and their grunkle, and the weirdness around them with plenty of self-aware laughs and the occasional fitting aesop.
Watching Gravity Falls is kind of like watching a mashup of Duck Tales and The X-Files. There’s lots of mystery but also an abrasive father figure and a couple of precocious kids with their own agendas. Stan is probably the most interesting character in the show, his superficial greed and general lack of social graces masking an ambitious but thoughtful and caring personality. Stan doesn’t dislike his niece and nephew, he just comes from a generation where men didn’t show affection much and, on top of that, he’s not used to kids. At first he comes off as an aloof and pretty calloused person. But, as the twins and the audience get to know him better, little touches start to come through.
The first time he tells Dipper he’s proud of him it feels like a really meaningful moment. At the end of the first season we learn how much it means. Late in the first season an old, disused room of the shack is uncovered and we see him pick up a pair of glasses almost identical to those he’s wearing from a side table before anyone notices them and slips them into a pocket. As the twins argue about who will get to use the new room we see him in his chair staring at the glasses thoughtfully. These and other moments, many of which would be spoilers to talk about, serve to let us know Stan has a past and it’s just as much a mystery as Gravity Falls is. Learning about him is just as much fun as learning about the town.
Mabel is all energy and enthusiasm. She sees something she wants – a pig, a sweater, some friends or a cute boy – and she goes after it %110. She drives the boys nuts and wears her heart on her sleeve and honestly, we don’t care. When she’s having fun, we’re thrilled. When she’s sad, we’re sad. And when Dipper decides, time and again, that he’ll walk through fire for her, we understand why. If she were to get hurt it feels like something precious would be lost.
Dipper is us. He wants to know what’s going on. He wants things to work out well. He’s not very confident but he means well. He makes heroic, self-sacrificing decisions with a wistful sigh and the hint of a smile. He over works, over plays and generally handles his life in a pretty average way. His relationship with Mabel defines the show, rarely will you see siblings share such an authentic feeling relationship, and even when things don’t work out their way the closer bond they share makes us feel like they still got something worthwhile.
Watch this show. Sure, it’s animated. But it has heart, passion, humor and mystery all in equal measures. It won’t fail to surprise you but you’ll never be upset with where it winds up, either.