Gravity Falls Delivers A Lovable, Huggable Mini-Mulder And Scully
The adult-friendly Disney series teaches kids to 'trust no one' from an early age.
My kid is that rare child specimen who doesn't crave TV. She'd rather read a book, draw, or do whatever it is she does in her room that results in a perma-layer of glitter and doll hair on the floor. On a whim, I introduced her to Gravity Falls, which I accidentally discovered while perusing Kristen Schaal's acting credits (she plays the über-lovable Mabel), and actually had to nag my daughter about watching it; she was highly skeptical that it was worth putting down whichever Harry Potter volume I'd interrupted. But after just one episode, she was hooked. She then wasted no time marathoning Season 1 and is eagerly awaiting the start of Season 2, which airs tonight at 9 PM on the Disney Channel. But the truth is, I was gonna watch this show with or without her.
The series follows twins Dipper and Mabel Pines, two city kids who get shipped off for a summer-long stay with their estranged great-uncle, Stan. "Grunkle" Stan's Oregon home doubles as a curio shop-turned-tourist attraction called The Mystery Shack. When cynical worrywart Dipper starts to notice weird occurrences cropping up around the town of Gravity Falls, he enlists the mystery-solving aid of his deeply silly sister and the shack's stoner handyman, Soos.
There's time travel, dinosaur resurrections, a lawn gnome invasion, and a case of boy band cloning (featuring a hilarious Lance Bass cameo). Underlying all this mayhem is the central oddity -- a set of three magical tomes that seem tied to each one of the mysteries. What results is a clever, kid-friendly homage to The X-Files, Twin Peaks, and Eerie, Indiana (if anyone else remembers that awesome, yet short-lived '90s series).
What makes this a "no kids required" show is its pitch-perfect dialogue, pacing, and storylines, all of which seem like top priorities for show creator/writer/co-star, Alex Hirsch. So many cartoons just blast across the screen like a half-hour's worth of neon exclamation points -- all fast-paced action with no plot and no point. Gravity Falls sticks to a thread and builds as it goes, unraveling the mystery a little at a time. Some episodes may veer off the rails here and there -- like Mabel adopting a pet pig named Waddles, or her summer romance with Mexican half-tween/half-fish, Mermando -- but they always come back to the main story arc. Plus, adults get all sorts of winks and nudges from a steady stream of subtle puns and sight gags. (Spot the kinda-hidden Twin Peaks "Man from Another Place" homage!)
The show even gets legit scary sometimes...well, scary to a sensitive child like mine, anyway. When she saw the Summerween Trickster -- clearly a nod to No-Face from the anime film Spirited Away -- attack the town and devour an innocent kid, my kid was literally quaking on the sofa. When the little kid bystander on the screen blurted "I've been twamatized!," my kid heartily co-signed. That said, there's always a solid laugh or two to balance out any of the frightening elements. No one's getting nightmares on Hirsch's watch. I mean, probably not.
The series MVP is, without question, Mabel. This should come as zero surprise to anyone who's been tracking voice actress Kristen Schaal (Bob's Burgers, Flight Of The Conchords). Her character is the eternal sunshine to Dipper's rain cloud. Her imagination is boundless, her collection of novelty turtleneck sweaters is epic, and her one-liners are destined to become your one-liners ("Songs are like hugs mouths give to ears!"). Just when things are at their most grim, she lightens the mood by deploying a well-placed rainbow sticker, or undertaking a fun little distraction: "I've successfully bedazzled my face!" As for her pet pig, I'd go so far as to say the series is worth watching for Waddles's "Business Pig" meme alone.
Enigmatic, grumpy Grunkle Stan comes in a close second for scenes stolen. In his fez, striped boxers, and house slippers, he's the show's resident grownup...who's usually more childish than the kids. He's the crotchety old coot that I, sadly, realize I'm turning into in my old age. His "public pools are like buses but wet" complaint sounds like something I know I've said verbatim.
The Season 2 premiere airs after my daughter's bedtime. Will I wait until tomorrow to watch it with her? Pffft. Not gonna happen. Will I laugh along with her tomorrow as though it's my first time viewing it? Absolutely. But I'm pretty sure I won't even need to fake that laughter.