If Twin Peaks had been dreamed up by a ten-year-old on a massive sugar high, the result might be something like “Gravity Falls.”
And though this series lasted only a couple of seasons – both taking place in a single summer – it’s arguably one of the cleverest and most brilliant cartoon series ever to snare the imaginations of kids and adults alike. The weird occurrences are colorful and bizarre (“Onward, Aoshima!”), the characters are completely endearing, and the writing is tight as it winds together one-off strangenesses with some ongoing stories of mystery, magic and world-eating weird.
Twelve-year-old Dipper and Mabel Pines are spending the summer with their Grunkle Stan, an elderly con-man who runs the Mystery Shack, a ramshackle museum of bizarre, mostly fake items. However, Dipper is kind of worried about staying in Gravity Falls (his mosquito bites spell out BEWARB), until he finds finds a journal that reveals the many secrets of the town, but warns “in Gravity Falls, there is no one you can trust.”
Also, Mabel meets a strange, extremely-pale boy. She hopes he’s a Twilight-style vampire, but Dipper is afraid he’s a zombie. The truth… is a lot stranger than either theory.
This is only the beginning of the twins’ strange adventures – they face the legendary Gobblewonker, vengeful ghosts, a psychotic fake-psychic named Li’l Gideon, the secret fraud of the town’s founder, a time machine that Dipper tries to use to impress his crush, magical size-changing crystals, the Summerween Trickster, a boy band, a pterodactyl, a mini-golf course occupied by strange little creatures, Soos’ love life woes, a secret society that suppresses news of the supernatural, the Time Baby, alien tech, and many other crazy things.
And through these strange adventures, Dipper tries to uncover the mystery of who created the mysterious journal, and what happened to him – and discovers that it may be tied to Grunkle Stan in some way. He and Mabel also run afoul of a mischievous, devious creature (think a living Illuminati symbol) named Bill Cipher, who has plans for Gravity Falls that the twins must stop.
“Gravity Falls” is proof that just because a TV show is aimed at children, it doesn’t have to be stupid — codes and ciphers speckle the story, some of the stories can be horrifying or bittersweet, and it was obvious that series creator Alex Hirsch had mapped out complicated subplots and to-be-solved-mysteries from the very first episode onward. Pay close attention to everything as it unfolds, including the end credits of each episode.
Part of it is that the writing is really, really tight, with dialogue that is gloriously quotable (“I made this sculpture with my own two hands! It’s covered in my blood, sweat, tears, and other fluids!”) and a dry sense of humor that riddles almost every scene. Hirsch also has a talent for the bizarre, creating everything from hypermasculine minotaurs to a hallucination of a muscular-armed dolphin that spews rainbows from its many mouths. Nothing seems to be off-limits.
The characters are also delightful, endearing even when they aren’t admirable (“This seems like the kind of thing a responsible parent wouldn’t want you doing. Good thing I’m an uncle!”). Dipper is nervy and awkward, but also determined and dogged, while Mabel is a ball of sparkly whimsy and delight (“Are we in JAPAN?”). Also, she has a grappling hook and is perpetually on the hunt for a summer romance.
There’s also crusty old con-man Grunkle Stan, who is more than he seems to be; the endearingly hamster-like handyman Soos, who is more than a little strange himself (“Alas, twas naught but a dream”); and a colorful array of characters like Mabel’s friends, the crazed hillbilly Old Man McGucket, the Time Baby, a pair of government agents, and the nasty Li’l Gideon.
“Gravity Falls: The Complete Series” is a must-have for those who enjoy puzzles, clever writing, or just cartoon shows that might be even more delightful for adults than for their target audience. Onward, Aoshima!