I often dislike recommendations for kids stuff. It is not that I don’t find value in some of the better-developed kids’ shows/movies, but that I am not their target audience, so I don’t tend to enjoy them. Because of this, it was with great hesitance that I finally watched Gravity Falls.
Let’s be clear… Gravity Falls is a kids’ show. It is not a show for adults masquerading as a kids’ show. It is for kids first and foremost. It just happens to be very approachable for an older audience. I think the reason it does this is that it has a lot of faith in kids. Faith that they are smart enough for witty jokes and to stick with it to reach the end of a mystery and the fallout of that answer. Instead of depending on being a kids’ show with a lot of in-jokes (although there are a few) it’s just a well-developed show that appeals to most age groups.
So rewinding a little, Gravity Falls originally aired on Disney in 2012 with a lengthy delay before we saw the end of the second season in 2016. It follows Dipper as he is sent to Gravity Falls, Oregon with his twin sister Mabel. There Dipper uncovers a journal that hints at the greater mystery of the area. Dipper uses the journal to help as various strange occurrences happen while searching for the author. In addition to being about the mystery of Gravity Falls, it’s also primarily a story about growing up. Dipper and Mabel are 12 and will be turning 13 at the end of the summer. Dipper is ready to grow up and move on while Mabel is more content to enjoy their last months as not teens and wanting to hold on to their childhood.
Part of what appealed to me a lot was this dichotomy of how the two approach aging. I was a lot like Mabel; I also wanted to hold on to a lot of the things I loved a child. The notable difference is I was not confident like Mabel but filled with self-doubts like Dipper. The twins are great characters to project on because it is likely that as a viewer, you are going to identify with different parts of both of them. You will see your own journey between kid and teen. They are both so well developed, and because there are two of them, they cross over and can believably hit different notes of adolescence.
It was this that pulled me in the most. As an adult watching the show, there is a lot of nostalgia that is brought up. I feel for the twins as they experience the highs and lows of what is an awkward age. It left me both glad that I won’t have to go through that again, but sad that those great moments of childhood have passed for me. It is well balanced and done in a way that is hopeful for the younger audience, there will be terrible parts of growing up, but you will get through it, but still acknowledges the sadness of growing up for adults. It is a hard line to walk because the show could have easily gone one direction or the other and lost the appeal to one grouping, especially given again that it would have been easy to leave the adults behind as again it is a show for kids.
As for the mystery part of the story, it would compare it (somewhat) to X-Files but for kids. You have this overarching mystery in the background, and every few episodes refer back to it, but then you also have a lot of “monster of the week” experiences. The twins deal with a little bit of everything throughout the series, which means there are a lot of different plotlines for the viewer to pick for favorites. I loved this, and it makes it a great show to go back and re-watch. Sometimes I will re-watch the entire show; sometimes, I will just watch my favorites. I am a huge lover of Otome games, so I loved Soos and the Real Girl, and it was packed with a lot of humor that appealed to me as a for instance. On the reverse, there are a couple I will skip occasionally. No episode is weak, however, because the show itself is so strong.
It gives enough mystery to keep you wanting to find out, without making the viewer feel bogged down in trying to solve it. It has great humor, but is never so focused on laughs that it loses heart. It has again, the themes about growing up, but never makes you feel like you are watching an after school special. Everything is balanced so well in the show that it is a treat to watch no matter how many times you see it.
Aside from the excellent writing, it also has some of the best characters in any show I have ever seen. Even ancillary characters are given a lot of room to grow and develop, and few seem like they could be tossed out without missing something. You also never know which characters truly are just supporting cast until you get through the whole thing. Some you expect to show up only once or twice take on significant roles later. It also certainly doesn’t hurt that in addition to being well-written characters the voice acting on this show is insanely well done.
In the end, though my love for this show once again comes down to what I said in the introduction. It is a kids’ show, but because it believes that its audience can understand clever jokes and stick with the story as it unfolds it has broad appeal. I never felt like I was sitting through a show where I was desperately waiting for the next “in” joke for adults. I did not feel like I was watching something clearly meant for me only pretending to be something else. I also did not need it to be something from my childhood that I have fond memories of. No, it is great as it is, and I just happen to be able to go along for the ride even though I am not the target audience.
So bottom line? Well, it’s not going to appeal to everyone. It is an animated kids’ show, so there are a lot of adults that it simply will not appeal to, and that’s fine. If you like something more lighthearted in its humor and love some good mystery and sci-fi to go along with it, I think you might enjoy this. It’s a relatively short show (sadly) that is worth a watch. I went in more for the sci-fi elements of the show and came away with a deep love for the characters and overwhelming feeling of bittersweet happiness about the reflection of growing up. I would highly recommend this show to most people.