Gravity Falls: Sld wrw R Nrhh Gsrh Hsld Fmgro Mld?!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016
We don't have a cable subscription. All of our TV comes from Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime and there really isn't much we feel we have to complain about. For the most part we get to see what we like; if a show isn't available on Netflix, it often is on Hulu and so on. Occasionally though we totally miss out on something. For example, it wasn't until last year that we discovered Stephen Universe, a show that we have all grown quite attached to despite not having seen any more than the first season. Today though, I'm here to talk about Gravity Falls, a show that is so good, I am completely stunned that it escaped us for its entire run on Disney XD.

We stumbled across the show while browsing Hulu. Both seasons are currently available for streaming through the service. The first episode takes a little bit to distinguish itself, starting out simply and predictably but from there it takes a number of interesting turns that ended up completely engrossing the whole house.

Gravity Falls is an animated show created by the astounding Alex Hirsch, and is about twins Dipper and Mabel, who are sent to spend their summer with their great uncle Stan in a sleepy town called Gravity Falls, Oregon. Their stay starts off as boring as you might imagine, but things quickly escalate as Dipper discovers that there is a great deal more to the boring little town that he and his sister have come to. Mysteries abound throughout the series and it is a delight to watch them unfold.

I was immediately struck by the wit of the show's writing, striking that perfect balance between kid-appropriate and adult oriented. For example, one of the second season's episodes is titled "Soos and the Real Girl," a clear reference to the Ryan Gosling movie Lars and the Real Girl. In the Gravity Falls episode however, the dim-witted character Soos attempts to get a date by purchasing a Japanese dating simulator, but the game's character turns out to 1) sentient and 2) a psychopathic, jealous monster who finally confronts Soos in a finale with serious shades of Five Nights at Freddies.

The writing and design shows great sophistication in their attention to continuity, referencing previous episodes not just in dialogue, but also in background images and set pieces that retain scars sustained in previous episodes. The art style itself is really stunning. As a resident of the Pacific Northwest, the backgrounds in particular and the color palette capture the atmosphere of the are perfectly. The characters are drawn in what I can best describe as simply, but the attention to expression and setting really show through in every frame.

The cryptogram at the end of the first episode. Yes, that is a gnome puking a rainbow. It is unrelated.

By far and away though, I am most enamored by the show's puzzles. Each episode ends with a cryptogram. At first we tried to work them out through brute force, trying anagrams and other methods to try and solve the messages. In the end we discovered that the secret lay in the intro song itself. By recording a certain portion of the song and playing it backwards, we were able to hear a clue that helped us decode the messages.

The four of us spent the better part of an afternoon decrypting the messages in the first season, working through different types of ciphers to discover them all. It was really great to watch my daughters work through the puzzles letter by letter, working dutifully on graph paper to ensure their accuracy. We are into season 2 now and the puzzles have only gotten harder but we are determined to decrypt them all on our own, without the use of any other hints online.

If you have Hulu and haven't watched Gravity Falls by now, I suggest you check it out. The show came to an end last February after two seasons, so there won't be any new episodes to look forward to (sad). It is rare to come across an animated show these days that really get its audience involved in the story and rarer still to find one so smartly executed. A part of me is sad that it took me this long to discover Gravity Falls, but by discovering it now, I don't have to wait in agony through season/episode breaks; the whole thing is there for us to enjoy. Now go watch it!