GRAVITY FALLS Episode Recap: “Scary-oke” and “Into The Bunker”
There’s something of a bumper crop of great, all ages, animated shows on now, Adventure Time, Regular Show, Stephen Universe, among others. But for my money there’s none finer than Gravity Falls. Call it Twin Peaks for twelve year olds, call it a collaboration between Bill Waterson and John Carpenter, or simply, sufficiently call it itself. Whatever it is it’s the closest thing I have anymore to “appointment television” and as far as I’m concerned it’s one of the smartest, most surreal, heartfelt and genuinely unpredictable shows on the air. Not to mention the most fun.
Gravity Falls follows two twins, Mabel and Dipper, who spend the summer in the Pacific Northwest under the questionable care of their Great Uncle Stan, the most successful charlatan in the region. The two spend the summer working at his Mystery Shack, (anyone familiar with Santa Cruz, California will have themselves a chuckle) investigating the various genuine supernatural phenomenon in the surrounding woods and slowly being drawn into a larger conspiracy involving said supernatural phenomenon. In the meantime they gather what might be the greatest supporting cast on TV. Like Bob’s Burgers, (with which it shares the invaluable Kristen Schaal) Gravity Falls follows the revolutionary concept of grounding its dynamic in a cast of characters who actually like one another and genuinely mean each other well. It helps that they’re backed up by one of the best ensembles on TV, including the aforementioned Schaal, the underrated Jason Ritter who makes Dipper more than a straight man, Linda Cardellini and series creator Alex Hirsch who seemingly plays half of the supporting cast himself.
“Scary-oke” The first episode of Gravity Falls’ new season is clearly meant as a friendly hop on point for new viewers, summing up much of the show’s mythology, characters and general tone of weirdness. As a result it sometimes struggles to find its rhythm, but still serves as a showcase for the show’s charms. Including a performance by Nick Offerman that’s a work of deadpan perfection and the kind of epically absurd, but carefully set up, climax that Falls does so well. The animation is strong, moody and atmospheric, yet always cartoonishly expressive and fun. It also serves as a demonstration at just how much Disney lets Hirsch get away with. No one is going to mistake the zombie apocalypse featured in this episode for Lucio Fulci, but it does feature the core cast bashing open the skulls of the zombified with baseball bats and letting green gunk fall from within.
The second episode on the other hand just assumes you’re on board and hops feet first into the show’s dense mythology and character relationships, which are only a shade less complicated than True Detective’s. “Into The Bunker” is a great example of just how many tones Gravity Falls can juggle at once, resolving a long standing conflict between two characters on the warmest possible terms (and in the process hopefully freeing up the writers to give Linda Cardellini more to do), offering a few tantalizing clues to the show’s central mystery and pulling a riff on The Thing that is just as impressive as last season’s take on Spirited Away’s No Face (if nothing else Gravity Falls is worth watching to see TV animation genuinely push itself). All this plus Mark Hamill and Help My Mummy Is A Werewolf 2: This Again.
“Into the Bunker” works because it demonstrates just how unpredictable Gravity Falls can be. Like Paranorman, it’s a story that obviously loves genre, loves playing with it and cares about passing on the good stuff to the next generation of fans (As gateway drugs go it’s ideal). But it’s more than a collection of reference, the show loves genre too much to approach it with anything less than the full force of its creativity. Gravity Falls can be funny and melancholy and creepy and silly and genuinely sweet natured and subversive (the character Bill Cipher a floating sentient Masonic pyramid was introduced ripping the teeth out a living deer’s head before reflecting the image of President Kennedy seconds before his assassination) and the fact that it has reached these varying tones so confidently and with such success over a mere twenty two episodes is cause for admiration verging on alarm.
But there’s something else at play in Gravity Falls too. While it’s often compared to Adventure Time in a way the two shows are mirror images of each other. It’s notable that both shows start with their protagonists at twelve, but they take their perspectives from the opposite sides of twelve, with Adventure Time marching forward into the weirdness of adolescence while Gravity Falls has its head cocked wistfully over its shoulder. It’s one of those rare shows that remembers what childhood actually feels like, rather than what we like to remember it as feeling like. It remembers the confusion and frustration, but also the boundless sense of potential and timelessness. It’s a show that takes place over the course of a summer that even in its daffiest moments remembers that summers end.
This is a show that asks not only for your investment, but your affection as well. And the consistency with which it earns it suggests that Gravity Falls serves not only as a great show in its own right but the start of what could be one of the most entertaining careers in American animation.