When I wrote about the Gravity Falls premiere for my first ever A.V. Club review—goodness, I was so young and innocent way back then—I thought the first two episodes showed plenty of promise, but I didn’t think this show would vault into the absolute top tier of animated comedies in just a half-dozen episodes. And yet, as the show returns from a brief hiatus, that’s exactly where we find ourselves. The show has built up its world masterfully, adding new layers to the main cast (helped along by some top-notch voice acting from Jason Ritter, Kristen Schaal, Linda Cardellini, and show creator Alex Hirsch) while introducing a deep bench of supporting characters that help make Gravity Falls, Oregon feel like the rural Pacific Northwest equivalent of Springfield or Arlen. Even better, Gravity Falls has gotten tremendous mileage out of the Twin Peaks side of its DNA, introducing us to evil waxworks versions of Coolio and Larry King (voiced by themselves, awesomely), ghosts of elderly shopkeepers who were struck dead by the world’s most hilariously mild rap song (although, in all seriousness, tucking in your shirt is for fools), and the always welcome Alfred Molina as a terrifying Multibear who loves his Scandinavian pop music. My only real question heading into tonight’s episode was whether it could keep up the comic momentum from the first six episodes.
As such, I’m happy to say that “Double Dipper” delivers. Grunkle Stan—still very much an over-the-top caricature of a character, but he’s frequently hilarious, so who really cares?—has decided to throw a party at the Mystery Shack to con young people into giving him money for the right to dance and drink cheap refreshments, complete with a $15 exit fee. While Mabel is on a quest to win new friends, Dipper finds himself working the ticket counter with his crush Wendy, which gives him a chance to enact his meticulous 20-step checklist to win her heart. Of course, reality keeps getting in the way of perfect execution of his plan, so Dipper uses a recently discovered magic photocopier to make clones of himself. The subtext of this is faintly terrifying in terms of what it says about Dipper’s character—basically, he wants to control everything, and the clones allow him to do that—but his brigade of duplicates put in action a brilliantly labyrinthine plan to get Dipper and Wendy some alone time. The whole thing is a terrific showcase of Jason Ritter as the voice of Dipper, first clone Tyrone, and all the other duplicates. His acting really gets across the lovably narcissistic undercurrent to Dipper and Tyrone’s relationship, and I loved his easily persuaded, mildly unhinged delivery whenever the clones all suddenly agree on some not entirely reasonable point. The animation and his eating noises also team up for Dipper’s best adorable little kid moment of the episode, in which he angrily helps himself to a snack after his clones trap him in the closet.
The episode doesn’t give Mabel quite as much to do, although any episode that gives Kristin Schaal a chance to wail out an inversion of “Don’t Stop Believing”, imaginatively entitled “Don’t Start Un-believing”, isn’t exactly a waste of her talents. Even better, the episode introduces what sure look like Mabel’s new best friends, the wrestler-soundalike Grenda and the fork-fingered, human-improving Candy Chui (voiced by Niki “B-MO” Yang). If I have any complaint, it’s the simple fact that Mabel’s attempt to out-party popular girl Pacifica Northwest doesn’t have any paranormal elements at all, making this the second episode in a row (after “Dipper vs. Manliness”) where only Dipper really directly interacts with the magical side of Gravity Falls. I’m hoping that isn’t a trend, as the episodes tend to be at their best when Mabel—not to mention Wendy and Soos—are integrated into the paranormal stuff as much as possible. Mabel’s partying, Soos’ DJing, and Stan’s pennypinching are all funny in their own right, but the show tends to work better when there’s a more fantastical edge to their activities.
Indeed, what makes Gravity Falls feel so distinctive is how it juggles its disparate tones. Dipper’s courtship of Wendy boldly throws together three entirely different senses of humor and somehow makes them all hanging together. There’s the relatively low-key, character-based humor, like when Dipper and Wendy discover that they’re both freaks and we finally learn that Dipper’s unusual comes from his constellation birthmark (Wendy quite understandably figured that his parents just hated him or something). Then there’s the more wittily absurd stuff that takes Dipper’s very relatable romantic anxiety and heightens it, like with his ludicrously detailed 20-step lists (Step 9: “Talk to her like a normal person”) or his fantasies in which Wendy first tells him everything he wants to hear and then everything he dreads, with the latter fantasy being perfectly capped with Wendy crouching down and sucker-punching Dipper in the chest. It’s this aspect of the show that keeps reminding me of the better parts of the Fox Animation bloc—Dipper’s jealous fantasy specifically put me in mind of Laura Powers ripping out Bart’s heart in “New Kid on the Block”—and this strain of humor is probably what’s most accessible to older viewers wary of embracing something on the Disney Channel.
Honestly, if the show just stuck to consistently nailing the grounded character humor and unleashing a steady stream of clever and weird one-liners, then it would already be a very good show. But what gives Gravity Falls a shot at greatness is that it takes all that and brazenly throws the paranormal into the mix. Dipper cloning himself ten times isn’t just an absurd cutaway or a chance for the writers to do the extended Multiplicity homage I know we’ve all been waiting for. This impossible development is fully integrated into the Wendy romance plot, with Dipper and Tyrone directly reacting to Wendy’s renewed interest in the guitar-playing loser Robbie. The show essentially takes the sort of things that a pair of twelve-year-olds with overactive imaginations like Dipper and Mabel would make believe and then just lets it all actually happen, without ever worrying too much about the boundary line between the normal and the paranormal. “Double Dipper” goes a little further than some of the other episodes in keeping the Dipper clones away from the other characters, but it doesn’t waste time justifying how the other characters aren’t noticing the dozen Dippers running around (such justifications of characters’ continued ignorance are a big part of Phineas and Ferb’s formula, for instance, and I’d say to somewhat variable comedic effect). All the fantastical stuff is just another tool for Gravity Falls to tell stories about Dipper and Mabel growing up, rather than a wacky distraction.
Indeed, sometimes it’s precisely those paranormal elements that make other parts of the show work as well as they do. Consider the would-be romance between Dipper and Wendy. I think it’s fair to say that Dipper doesn’t actually stand a chance of winning Wendy’s affections, something he himself admits to Tyrone towards the episode’s close. It’s generally tricky for a show to play a will-they/won’t-they between a 12-year-old and a 15-year-old, especially when there’s a roughly ten-foot height difference between Dipper and Wendy. Since this can only really end in crushing disappointment for Dipper, it’s probably preferable for the show to never get any closer to resolving things. That, of course, isn’t ideal either, since that essentially means the show spinning its wheels anytime they do a Dipper and Wendy story. This is where the show’s paranormal aspect becomes such a fantastic trump card. It’s one thing for Dipper to obsess over possibly maybe someday making a move with Wendy and then chickening out—it’s a hell of a lot more interesting when Dipper’s romantic misadventures involve him using a magic photocopier to clone himself or having to do the lamby dance to free his new friends from the clutches of teenager-hating ghosts. Gravity Falls feels like it can go anywhere and do anything at this point, but a huge part of what makes it so special—and what makes it feel different from other superlative animated shows like Adventure Time—is how it keeps one foot planted firmly in the real world.
- We’re seriously considering adding Gravity Falls to the weekly rotation. If you want to see that happen, now’s the time to make your voice heard, fellow fans.
- “Step 1: ‘Getting to know each other with playful banter.’ Banter is like talking but smarter.” “That sounds like a dumb idea for poopheads.” “Yeah, you see, this isn’t banter.”
- “This is a four-Dipper plan!”
- “Soos, look! A glowing dot!” “Oh man, I’m so glad I turned my head. That dot does not disappoint.”
- Of the four episodes I haven’t reviewed, “The Inconveniencing” is my clear favorite. Not only is it full of hilarious moments, it also has some nicely poignant thoughts on how hard it can be to be a preteen trying to hang with a bunch of (seemingly) impossibly more mature teenagers, especially when you’re madly in love with one of them. Or, at least, so I would assume.
- That said, the show’s single funniest moments have to be the two appearances of Duck-tective. Patronize that crime-solving duck at your own risk.
- My esteemed colleague Myles McNutt already posted this in What’s On Tonight, but in case you missed it, I invite you to kick off your weekend right with Adam WarRock’s awesome remix of the already pretty terrific Gravity Falls theme.