Monday, July 31, 2017

TV Review: Gravity Falls [Updated]


(No plot spoilers)

Extremely entertaining and tremendously moving, “Gravity Falls” deftly combines masterful writing and ingenious design to form a creative work of the highest rank — one that I can’t recommend enough.

“Gravity Falls” is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It’s an extraordinary feat of artistic accomplishment to craft something of this caliber: something so emotionally honest, supremely intelligent, and ingeniously constructed that I’m not just impressed, but absolutely floored — both during the show, and long after it ends. “Gravity Falls” exhilarates the imagination, elicits uproarious laughter, and tugs at one’s innermost heartstrings, but most of all, it represents the epitome of creative excellence in its exemplary ability to do all of that in the most exceptional fashion.


This comedy-mystery series follows the adventures of 12-year-old twin siblings Dipper and Mabel Pines as they spend the summer with their great-uncle Stan in the mysterious town of Gravity Falls, Oregon. Here, they get caught up with supernatural encounters and strange mysteries, all while having general outdoor fun and helping Stan run his tourist trap. Based in part on creator Alex Hirsch’s own childhood experiences with his twin sister, the series is a nostalgic but playful exploration of childhood with a fantasy/sci-fi/mystery twist.

Central to what makes it all work is the charming brother-sister dynamic between twin siblings Dipper and Mabel, voiced by Emmy nominees Jason Ritter and Kristen Schaal, respectively. Ritter’s voice is just a tad deep, but it's a well-executed stylistic choice that enhances his superb chemistry with Schaal, who is absolutely brilliant. Dipper is a nerdy but adventurous boy, while Mabel is a free-spirited and happy-go-lucky girl: two different but very relatable personalities that mesh like magic, especially when the adorably animated twins are affectionate with each other. They may occasionally drive each other crazy, but they genuinely get along and look after each other.


This is useful given how, at its heart, the series is an uplifting, heartwarming, and nostalgic show about the joys of childhood, the nature of family, and the tribulations of growing up. This may sound clichéd, but “Gravity Falls” is such a fresh take, and delivers with such boisterous fun and ingenious wit, that such criticisms are undue. In fact, the wholesome heart is merely one of numerous merits that make “Gravity Falls” a tour de force in modern entertainment.

The series’ most noticeable strength is how incredibly fun and engrossing it is. It’s exciting, suspenseful, and terrifically entertaining to follow the twins on their adventures, whether it be the discovery of major conspiracies or spirited preteen romantic escapades. Intriguingly, however, much of this is done through the adroit mixing of comedy and mystery, a cleverly executed tactic that keeps episodes engaging and unpredictable while making the innovative plot twists all the more remarkable.


As for said comedy, it is absolutely brilliant — there’s plenty of lighthearted antics and absolutely golden one-liners to keep the mood lively and fun, but it’s the shrewd satire and social commentary that makes the series shine. There’s also a refreshingly edgy and breezy quality too, as the series is unafraid to include some tasteful silliness, yet is also daring enough to feature darker material like Jean-Paul Sartre and musings on existentialism. Altogether, the humor is extremely witty and sophisticated, and the sheer level of subtlety and finesse in the writing and direction is nothing short of extraordinary.

Incredibly, the already superb storytelling craft is taken to a whole new level with the tightly integrated emotional currents that underpin the riveting plots. Anchored by the affectionately wholesome sibling relationship — a minor miracle by itself — the emotional core of the series is sweet without being saccharine, playful without being childish, and poignant without being maudlin. It’s primarily character-driven, which gives the drama an organically human quality and long-lasting resonance (like the married life sequence in “Up,” but deeper and more drawn out). “Gravity Falls” is a good-natured frolic infused with an idyllic remembrance of the blissful days when we were also young enough to have an adventure in the woods. This makes the series captivating for kids, but it masquerades as children’s entertainment when it’s really something much more: It’s a richly sentimental vehicle for older viewers to fondly revisit their own childhoods, go through the turbulent emotions of growing up all over again, and finally, longingly yearn for more. Immaculately crafted and passionately nostalgic, the emotional core of the series is one that’s intensely felt, deeply resonant, and powerfully enduring.


Finally, to wrap this all up together, “Gravity Falls” employs extremely sophisticated world building to pack a hefty punch of wonder. The series takes place in a picturesque nook of the Pacific Northwest, where the refreshing pastoral woodlands evoke both a visceral sense of wonder, and a youthful beckon to adventure. Gorgeous backgrounds, many of which call to mind the painterly frames that adorn the most haute works of Studio Ghibli, are generously peppered with Americana to create an immersive experience. Gravity Falls may be a fictitious place, given the supernatural phenomena and fantasy creatures, but it still manages to feel incredibly real and believable.

All of this — the commanding vocal performances, phenomenal storytelling craft, exceptional humor, profound emotional core, and outstanding animation — is so expertly combined that “Gravity Falls” boasts exquisite artistic prowess unlike anything I’ve seen before. This bold, enthralling series breathes and flows with poise and confidence under Hirsch’s impassioned guidance, eclipsing the Disney machine from which it originates and firmly cementing its spot at the apex of modern entertainment. It may be only two seasons long (an intentional decision that elevates the series creatively), but I simply cannot recommend it enough. “Gravity Falls” is a creative work of the highest rank — an unequivocally stunning, utterly sensational, and flat-out masterpiece in every sense of the word.

Rating: 10/10
Created by: Alex Hirsch
Produced by: Disney Television Animation
Released: 2012-2016

A clip from Season 1, Episode 1, "Tourist Trapped":


Editor's Note: This article, originally published March 2016, was completely rewritten July 2017 for clarity and cogency.


Read more:
Thematic Analysis: Gravity Falls
My spoiler-laden take on the themes and messages behind "Gravity Falls," from its ruminations on childhood to its advice on confronting the unknown.

Read more:
Episode Reviews: Gravity Falls
A spoiler-y review of every single episode of "Gravity Falls" (spoilers are from later episodes referencing events in earlier ones).

Images via Gravity Falls Wiki.

3 comments:

  1. It's been exactly a month since the series finale to "Gravity Falls" aired, and although it's over, I'm still blown away by how amazing this series has been. If you haven't seen "Gravity Falls" yet, I HIGHLY recommend it (as you can tell by my glowing review), and for those of you who've finished it, remember to look forward to the official companion book "Gravity Falls: Journal 3" coming out this July!

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  2. Is this aired in Cartoon Network by any chance?

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    1. Reruns of "Gravity Falls" episodes will be on Disney XD.

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