It’s another strange day in Gravity Falls, and Neil deGrasse Tyson is a ham. Just about literally.
In a recent episode of Gravity Falls, the astrophysicist voiced a pig who becomes intelligent after eating some brain-enhancing “goop” and building a machine that gives him the ability to talk. Younger audiences may not recognize the voice, but anyone can appreciate both the absurdity and simplistic honesty when he says, “Forgive me, my pig arms are cute and useless.”
In the past, giving the house pet the ability to talk often ended in disaster or war (sometimes both). Gravity Falls’ take on it was much more innocent, and despite his newfound abilities, at the end of the day, he’d rather be a dumb pig with his owner/best friend than aid the world with his new scientific discoveries.
At first glance to someone who hasn’t watched the channel in a few years aside from the odd Disney Renaissance film, it may sound like a typical episode of TV on Disney, the channel Gravity Falls calls home along with sister channel Disney XD. Take a deeper look, though, and it’s anything but. After all, these are the channels that gave us Kim Possible, Phineas and Ferb, and now Star Wars Rebels.
Gravity Falls follows 12-year-old fraternal twins Dipper and Mabel Pines (Jason Ritter and Bob’s Burgers’ Kristen Schaal) as they’re sent off to the fictional town of Gravity Falls, Ore., to live with their Grunkle (a mashup of great-uncle) Stan (creator Alex Hirsch), the owner of a small-town tourist trap called the Mystery Shack. Naturally, shenanigans ensue, but with the show finding kindred spirits and influences in Twin Peaks, The X-Files, and The Simpsons, it delivers rich storytelling full of mystery and intrigue—and plenty of silliness, no matter how much you’re invested in solving each case. It’s not just the the characters solving the mysteries; the audience is right there with them.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Here’s what you need to know about Gravity Falls.
1) The show is weird, and that’s a good thing
It doesn’t take Dipper and Mabel long to discover just how weird Gravity Falls can be. In the first episode, they stumble upon one of the cryptic journals that catalogs the variety of paranormal and supernatural creatures that live in the town. The possibilities of what could happen next are endless, although Hirsch usually tries to limit himself to the mysteries that “feel like they’re primarily seen by the kids.”
The show shies away from nothing and simultaneously tells stories about growing up, first crushes, and even that realization that people are starting to find your silly tendencies annoying. Also in the balance are ghosts, gnomes vomiting rainbows, “an enormous, evil, time-devouring baby from another dimension,” clones, time travel, and even a conspiracy theory about a forgotten U.S. president. Unlike In The Flesh, which often used genre to discuss harder topics, the ties to science fiction and the paranormal enhance the story, and sometimes it’s just plain fun. And unlike most Western animated shows, Gravity Falls doesn’t reset after the end of every episode. If something happens in one episode, it can still apply in the next.
Could you show Gravity Falls without all of the weirdness? Sure, but it’d feel like almost any other show about getting shipped off to a relative’s for the summer, even if it has well-rounded characters. While twins Mabel and Dipper serve as the heart of the show, they’re well supported by Grunkle Stan and Mystery Shack employees Soos, a lovable manchild, and Wendy Corduroy, a 15-year-old part-timer who is the subject of Dipper’s crush.
And even in just a couple dozen episodes, the show has expanded the supporting cast beyond the five characters in the Mystery Shack, and Gravity Falls is already starting to have the feel of Springfield. In an early season 1 episode, one of the characters outlines a rough geography of the town, at least when it comes to where which creatures reside in it.
The less-developed characters have more to them than meets the eye, and everyone’s important. What looks like background fodder in one episode can be explained by a later one, like Blendin Blandin appearing in the backdrop of several earlier episodes to fix the mistakes Dipper and Mabel made using time travel.
2) Dipper and Mabel feel like they’re actually 12. And they like each other.
Hirsch has said in many interviews that some aspects of the show are autobiographical. For one, the relationship between Dipper and Mabel is based on his with his own twin sister, and some of the show is inspired by their summers away from home.
Like most sets of siblings, they have their share of quirks. Mabel is more outgoing and silly (a quality she fully embraces) while Dipper is more quiet and academically smarter of the two. They’ve both got insecurities, but Dipper’s are almost always more prevalent. But there’s something very unique about this sibling dynamic, and for fans it’s most welcome.
Compared with other TV sibling duos, the thought that the characters like each other is almost revolutionary. While the Pines twins tend to butt heads about as often as other siblings (on TV and in real life), their bickering and arguments never feel malicious, even when there’s blatant teasing. It feels like they’re coming from a place of love.
And the characters actually feel like they’re 12, not like they’re someone’s vague idea of what 12 looks like. Thanks to the writing staff—led by Hirsch, who always looks over dialogue between Dipper and Mabel to make sure they feel like his characters—and the voice acting, particularly from Schaal, who already memorably voices another youngster who defies the major character archetypes, we’re watching how someone that age may react to a situation. Nothing is dumbed down or made to be too intelligent. They’re just them.
The same goes for Wendy and her fellow teenager friends. They’re mysterious to the twins because they’re older, but they’re not played off for laughs, even when they’re shown doing stereotypical tasks like being attached to their cell phones.
3) When the writers write for themselves, everyone wins.
When people see a show that manages to entice people of all ages, people tend to jump to the conclusion that the writers added another layer of humor for the adults stuck watching the show with their children. And while Gravity Falls does have some older pop culture references, it doesn’t always work like that.
“That is not really how animation writers, at least the ones that I’ve encountered, think about what they make,” Hirsch told Vox back in August. “There’s never this moment of, ‘Wait, it’s too young. Throw in a winking joke about something for the parents.’ Literally, the whole thing is just us trying to make the funniest thing we can for ourselves.”
So instead of trying to cater to one specific audience, Hirsch—who describes himself as a sort of “weird manchild”—he tries to make himself laugh. So in one scene you’ll get a character literally spilling the beans while another references another show based in the Pacific Northwest.
4) The fans are creative as hell, and Alex Hirsch is great on social media.
Gravity Falls is currently in its second season, but before its August premiere, fans were stuck in a seemingly neverending hiatus. Fanart appeared online, and cosplay started to pop up at conventions, some merging multiple fandoms into one. Like other fandoms, Gravity Falls has been mashed with Doctor Who and Supernatural, but the most common mashup has been with Paranorman (which came out about two months after the show premiered) in a fusion better known as Parapines.
But many fans closely followed Hirsch’s social media accounts, where he would often put up Easter eggs on a new Tumblr or behind-the-scenes looks into the creation of the show.
He often interacts with the fans or retweets their fanart, and sometimes he’ll insert some hidden messages to solve.
Another argument with my boss pic.twitter.com/htMQdc037S
— Alex Hirsch (@_AlexHirsch) July 23, 2014
“@MixMasterMudkip: Gravity Falls definitely has subliminal messaging.” HAha. hILarious. you’re BeIng siLLy!
— Alex Hirsch (@_AlexHirsch) August 18, 2014
5) Theories abound, and the Illuminati may be involved
Gravity Falls is a show that should require multiple viewings—not only so that you’d get to see classic clips like a gnome vomiting a rainbow or Dipper’s “Lamby Lamby Dance” more than once, but because there’s a good chance you’re missing out on something the first time through.
Take the opening sequence, for instance. It’s 40 seconds of music accompanied by flashes of creatures and the main characters. Sure, you saw that clip of Dipper pointing to a footprint inside an even bigger footprint, but did you also catch the one frame of something that looks remarkably like Bigfoot later on?
LewToons, who reviews various cartoons on his channel, caught on, and in his first video on the mysteries of Gravity Falls, takes even more time to examine a page that looks like it popped out of Dipper’s journal. You catch the tiniest frame of it, but once you get a view of the whole thing, it leaves you with a lot more questions; for example, by using the Caesar Cipher, the jumbled letters on the right side translate into “STAN IS NOT WHAT HE SEEMS.”
Screengrab via LewToons/YouTube
Each of the symbols in the circle could represent a character, and while some are easier to pinpoint than others—Mabel as the shooting star, Dipper the tree, and Stan the glasses—others aren’t quite as simple to nail down. It’s also the very first glimpse of the show’s biggest villain to date, Bill Cipher, a dream demon in the shape of the Eye of Providence, and while he doesn’t show up until the end of season 1, he’s been seen in almost every episode.
With Bill Cipher being the most obvious, you may start to notice the surprising number of symbols around town: a goat with one and a half horns that some suspect to be a sort of satanic imagery; Grunkle Stan’s fez, a hat worn by the Shriners (a smaller, more selective part of the Masons); all-seeing eyes; and almost too many triangles and Eyes of Providence to keep track of, leaving some to believe that the show’s connected to the Illuminati. And if it’s not, it’s a load of coincidence.
But what may end up being one of the most detailed mysteries of the show involves the most mysterious character: Grunkle Stan. Not much is known about him, and as the older, distant relative to Dipper and Mabel, he already has an air of mystery. But fans have pieced together a well-documented theory that suggests that Stan had an identical twin brother (who may no longer be alive).
But how could Stan have a twin when the show has never mentioned it? According to the people who have, the show has. Multiple times.
Dipper and Mabel end up traveling through Stan’s memories at the end of season 1, where they watched a younger version of Stan at a boxing competition. Keen eyes may have noticed a brown-haired boy with a similar haircut and his face hiding behind a book, and it only grows from there as you look at various Stan flashback scenes. It even draws parallels to the current set of twins under his roof and explains why that brother’s possible death shows why Stan gets along with Mabel more than Dipper.
But this is only just the surface, and people are discovering even more twists and turns and theories. The new season just got started, so hop on the train to this strange little town.
Photo via Gravity Falls/YouTube