Yes. I know. It's a cartoon that aired on The Disney Channel. But trust me, Alex Hirsch's Gravity FALLS is amaze-BALLS. There is one quick test to see if you'll like this short, 2-season, 40 episode series: ask yourself if you like Rick and Morty (by the creator of Gravity Falls' good friend, Justin Roiland). Do ya? If that was a "yes," then you'll like/love Gravity Falls as well. Trust me. I do not throw around that comparison lightly.
Do not be afraid of Gravity Falls because of its background (i.e. a cartoon on a kiddy channel that looks like it's aimed at 10 year-olds). GF is one truly twisted series. Characters get caught up in horror movie tropes, time travel, major conspiracy theories, and an apocalyptic finale wherein quite a few people die horribly on screen. I had a sense of impending dread set firmly in the back of my head while watching the whole of the second season... And I loved it for it! Kids need shows like this. Stories that ready them for big boy narratives where everything isn't always peaches and cream and kitten rainbows. And I didn't know until I watched it that I needed Neil deGrasse Tyson guest voicing a pig named Waddles.
Granted, Gravity Falls starts off rather generic and slow, like it's breaking in its audience in a deliberately slow manner, in order to not frighten them off with any BIG MOTIONS. So give it 3 or 4 episodes before it starts to show you its really weird side. Episode 7, "Double Dipper," is probably the first chapter that truly gives you an idea of how strange and creepy this thing can get though.
Gravity Falls is the kind of show that I genuinely wish that I could have shared with my older brother's kids before they moved away. And unfortunately I can't share it with my younger brother's kids since they all think that My Little Pony and Paw Paw Patrol are scary and Satan's own entertainment. They are between the ages of 7 and 12... Yeah. His family is preeeeeeeeetty conservative and sheltering when it comes to raising their children for some reason. As an aside, I find this very strange since my younger brother and I used to watch (and love the SHIT out of) movies together like the unedited Nightmare on Elm Street, The Terminator, and John Carpenter's The Thing when we were his kids' current ages, or younger, and neither of us suffered any nightmares or issues due to those amazing flicks. He used to be cool. I just don't get it.
My point is this: If you have kids, and those kids aren't total pussies, they'll LOVE Gravity Falls too. It's fun for the whole (non-pussy) family!
What It Be
Gravity Falls goes a little something like this: Dipper and Mabel Pines (12 year-old twins) are sent to live with their Great Uncle Stan (aka Grunkle Stan) for the summer in the weird and backwater Oregon town known as (what else?) Gravity Falls.
The twins are at first reluctant to waste their vacation staying with their money-grubbing and grouchy Grunkle (who owns and runs "The Mystery Shack" — a piecemeal tourist trap built onto his own house that harbors fake museum pieces and hawks T-shirts and bumper stickers to the stupid public), but soon Dipper discovers a cryptic journal hidden in the woods, with a strange 6-finger insignia on the cover, that goes into detail about all the mysterious goings on in Gravity Falls, and how to deal with them. He then makes it his mission to find out if all the strange occurrences and monsters that he reads about are true, and why they're all localized around the small burg. Mabel becomes okay with their summer situation when she adopts a large pig she names "Waddles." Waddles is fucking amazing. Not because he's a talking pig (he's not), or because he's super intelligent (far from it), but just because he's a normal fucking animal in a kids cartoon. That is a rare creature indeed.
The basic premise of the show deals with Dipper and Mabel stumbling onto, or deliberately searching for mysteries and monsters found in the journal. They'll usually have Soos (the Mystery Shack's borderline retarded, but kindly, big-brotherly handyman) and/or Wendy (the Shack's part-time teen assistant) watching their backs, since Grunkle Stan is pretty much useless, and constantly chides the kids for believing in the supernatural. Yeah, that sounds a little too "by the books" and like your "typical kid show," I know. But it's the dark and twisted humor that permeates the series that makes it rise up above the usual Scooby Doo clones that we've seen over and over since the 60s. And the mysteries and monsters of each episode are interesting stories that you become invested in, but your enthusiasm is also hooked due to the great characters and their journeys through the town's insanity.
Some of the mysteries and monsters that Dipper and Mabel encounter are an evil and vengeful Japanese dating sim game, living garden gnomes that can combine together (Voltron-style) to take the shape of full-sized humans, time travelers voiced by Justin Roiland, multi-bears, douchebag unicorns, a faith-healing cult-leading boy named "Li'l" Gideon, and of course the creepiest and most frightening bad guy in or out of a children's show: Bill Cypher.
That Doesn't Sound So Bad...
Bill Cypher is a flying triangle with only one eye, no mouth, and a top hat, and he is absolutely terrifying. He seems small and insignificant at first, and his voice and attitude makes you think he's kind of a pushover, but he's actually a demon who killed his family (and destroyed his home dimension), has no qualms about switching around a person's mouth, eyes, ears, and nose on a whim, and he loves to dive into other beings' minds and fuck them up from the inside.
And he's the big bad of a children's show.
I don't think it's a spoiler to say that Bill wins at one point, and turns Gravity Falls into a Hell on Earth (populated with literal demons) in the final few episodes. Oh, and several times he unmistakably vaporizes people right on screen. They never "miraculously" come back either. They dead.
Oh.... Damn... You Said This Doesn't Give Kids Nightmares?
I never said that. In fact, those final three episodes (titled "Weirdmageddon" parts I, II, and III) even gave me some strange dreams... I mean, they even remade the opening credits and animation of those eps with freaky images, backward-playing music, and Bill Cypher replacing all the names and cast animations with his own horrifyingly demonic amigos.
That Sounds Interesting... But Are You Sure You're Not Just Building This Up Like You Did for Kim Possible? You Totally Made That Show Sound Waaaaay More Interesting Than It Was.
First of all, Kim Possible is a work of goddamn art! Back the fuck off! Second of all, Gravity Falls is like a more child-friendly X-Files meets Rick and Morty. It's all conspiracy theories, monsters, unexplained phenomenon, and golf-ball creatures voiced by Patton Oswald. It's got one long plot that runs throughout its 40 episodes (with a lot of stand alone stories that add a lot of personality to the town and its giant list of recurring characters). It is as far removed from Kim Possible as Avatar - The Last Airbender is from South Park. Both are good, but they're different kinds of good.
Anyway, other than the fantastic plot, first-rate characters, and perfect setting, I loved the outstanding voice acting. Both the regular cast and the guest cast. Voice actors include: Nick Offerman, T.J. Miller, Mark Hamill, "Weird Al," Kristen Schaal, John DiMaggio, Frank Welker (as a goat), J.K. Simmons, Louis C.K., Nathan Fillion, Jon Stewart, Linda Cardellini, Alfred Molina, John Oliver, Coolio, Larry King (as "Wax Figure Larry King"), Kyle MacLachlan, and the aforementioned Justin Roiland, Patton Oswald, and Neil deGrasse Tyson. I mean, if that list doesn't wet your panties, then I don't know what will get you all tingley inside.
Anything Else, Disney-Boy?
Yes. Lots. How about plots revolving around the ghosts of an elderly couple who tries to kill teenagers (because teenagers suck), or a body-switching carpet, or Mabel putting on a sock puppet show in order to impress a puppet aficionado all while Dipper has been possessed by a demon who fucks his life over in a single afternoon. Oh, and there was the time Mabel beat the living shit out of a unicorn (who was acting like a dick), Dipper made copies of himself that melted like a bad dream after a while, and Grunkle Stan almost got eaten by a giant spider-woman.
The ending to the entire series (Weirdmageddon - Parts I, II, and III), although epic and huge and complex, did feel slightly flat after I gave it a few days to think it over. It was still fantastic, but it felt a bit stretched out.
And don't miss out on all the shorts too. There are like 16 mini-sodes about Dipper looking into certain conspiracies and monsters, Soos teaching you how to fix things (using his mad film-editing skills), and Mabel giving you guides on fashion, colors, and stickers. They may sound stupid, but they're supposed to be... And they're absolutely hilarious.
Okay, here's a quick example of this show's humor: So at one point, Dipper and Mabel end up traveling through time (chased by a vengeful time-cop), and in the process they find out why their friend Soos doesn't like celebrating his birthday. So they decide to confront the time-cop and battle him in a contest of wits and physical skill in the future. After barely winning this time tournament that they were challenged to (after almost dying a few dozen times), the twins are awarded with a "time wish." A wish that they can use to grant them the power to do almost anything. The twins decide to give it to Soos so that he can see his father again (his father who was never around for him when he was growing up, and who never even came to his birthday parties when he was a child). Soos thanks the kids, but instead uses the time wish to heal all their wounds that they received while brawling against the time-cop to win the wish in the first place.
The time cop (Justin Roiland, sounding a lot like Morty) goes on a verbal tirade at Soos saying, "Are you kidding me?! Do you have any idea what you’ve just wasted?! Do, do, do you know how many people have DIED to get a time wish; the wars that were started?!"
Soos just calmly says, "Oh that’s not all, dude. I also wished for this slice of infinite pizza." He holds up the pizza slice in question. "Watch." He then takes a bite out of it and the pizza slice reforms into an intact triangle almost immediately. "And it can do that for like... infinity."
The time-cop, Dipper, and Mabel then all agree, "Okay, yeah. Phew. That, that’s a pretty good time wish!"
Why are you all looking at me like that? Do you think that just because a show features an old codger who has a secret, underground, bunker-like lab set up in the woods, where a bunch of strange creatures and trans-dimensional events regularly occur that I'd automatically enjoy it?
As a matter of fact, I plan to sue the living muck out of the producers of this show! They obviously have me under surveilance! This will not stand!
This brought back some crazy memories for me, G. I remember when I was but a lad, and I had to stay with my uncle at his cabin in the woods one summer, and there were all these werewolves, mermen, zombies, and aliens popping up out of the woodwork trying to abduct me or eat me, fool!
Well, it turns out that my uncle was an LSD manufacturer, and apparently he was using me for some crazy quality control experiments that summer break. I don't think they ever quite wore off, yo. At least that's what my second head in my butt crack tells me.