This is the first of four pieces I’m doing on Gravity Falls, the extremely popular in my circle show from creator Alex Hirsch who is well known lately for his war with Disney over basically everything. I have a very hard time not loving a guy who is fighting the Mouse.
I’m going to take these reviews in a different format. I’m taking the show 10 episodes at a time. I won’t do a full overview of the show until the end but I’m giving each episode a decent paragraph and thoughts on it so far after each set.
The basic premise is twins Dipper (Jason Ritter) and Mabel Pines (Kristen Schaal) live for the summer with their scheming great uncle Stan (Hirsch) and investigate the paranormal in the town. Twin Peaks/X-Files for kids. I’m not doing any more plot synopsis. Let’s dive in.
Tourist Trapped: Very classic pilot. The premise is laid out. There’s a sample of what the show will be. Teaser for the future. But can I admit that while I respected the pilot, it kind of felt a bit abrasive. This is a very distinct kids show and it’s not for everyone. Grunkle Stan is fascinating for how steadfastly he refuses to be likable. He’s gross even. I liked the swerve that the threat wasn’t zombies like it looked to be. You’ll only guess it because the show tells you. OK, maybe not exactly me, but a good start.
The Legend of the Gobblewonker: This is a very on the nose episode. The message is in neon. But it’s well done. It helps that there are some killer jokes. It helps that this episode establishes that Hirsch is the show’s go to comic voice god as he plays Stan and his employee Soos and kills at both. Again, so predictable but good.
Headhunters: The recurring constant great guests begins here with John Oliver as an evil wax Sherlock Holmes. And we’re definitely rolling. This is extremely predictable, of course the wax statues are evil, but again the execution is cracking. Animation is solid too.
The Hand That Rocks the Mabel: I kinda had to love this episode as a giant fan of James Randi’s classic The Faith Healers. This was a riff of that trope but secular and for kids. You could see the research done. Stephen Root pops up. That said it is a bit cloying that it becomes a stalker with a crush story. I’m a little over those. This was much more fun riffing on Marjoe Gortner and Peter Popoff.
The Inconveniencing: I like the idea of this episode more than the execution. As a fan of Freaks and Geeks, it was fun seeing Linda Cardellini basically back in that mode in full force. But T.J. Miller is a cancer on this show it can’t escape. Putting aside that he’s accused of monstrous things with tons of evidence he, y’know, did them, he’s just miscast. He’s not funny at all. And the plot is good but a bit tired.
Dipper vs Manliness: God I hope the Dipper/Wendy plot isn’t in the next 3/4 of the show this much because it’s kind of lethal to the show. And we aren’t done with it. It hurts the show because look, Dipper is a kid. He’s not going to end up with Wendy. That “better as friends” ending inevitably coming is so obvious. And I hate it because this is really brilliant stuff otherwise mocking toxic masculinity. Can’t hate Alfred Molina as a bear hydra.
Double Dipper: Again, we have a fun idea parodying clone plots. But THAT story dominates. Not an unwatchable episode and serious credit due to Ritter who inherited his dad’s affable timing. He keeps it singing.
Irrational Treasure: I feel like this is more what the show wants to be. It still has a heavy message but I’m laughing more. The riff on conspiracy plots is gloriously executed. This is the first time Schaal gets room to run really. It hints at so much more to come. By now we also have a firm nemesis for Mabel. That’s fun.
The Time Traveler’s Pig. Back to the hopeless love story. This is an episode about learning to live with mistakes. Not a bad plot again but so cliched. Execution is off here hard. The only real high point is the debut of Waddles the pig. Pigs are cute.
Fight Fighters. Yeah I’m a lot harsher than I want to be so far. After an underwhelming episode we land on an outright bad one. The plot is entirely on Dipper’s crush and here is where it shines that Miller is not funny at all. He’s just harsh to listen to here. The episode isn’t entertaining in any way. It’s mean and unpleasant.
So that’s the first 10 episodes and so far? I’m not a fan but I’m not convinced I’ll stay not a fan. I like a lot of the ideas being played with. The tone is almost always solid. The animation crackles. Miller aside, the voice work is fantastic with some genius work by Hirsch in particular. There’s a lot of good.
The problem the show has so far is two fold. First every episode has a message. And I know that’s a trope of kids tv. But you can be clever as Muppet Babies was. It tends to feel shoehorned in when it’s so obvious Hirsch wants to go weird instead. It’s just not effective here.
The second is obvious. Half of the plots of the first 10 episodes are directly about Dipper’s crush on Wendy and I didn’t care! I feel like the show is trying to differentiate between Miller (don’t remember his name and a criminal needs calling out) and Dipper but it’s “nice guy” garbage. You know who stinks? Men who think they have a right to women. It’s just a gross plot for a kids show. Sorry.
So I’m not yet sold on the show. But I’m patient. You don’t judge a show on the first 1/4. Few shows have their voices now. Next week, we’ll see how part 2 of season 1 does.