Friday, August 23, 2013

Why Gravity Falls Is One of the Best Cartoons I've Seen in a Long Time

I was a kid once (*sheds single tear*) and, as many kids do, I watched cartoons. Some cartoons were fleeting in my life (Rocket Power is an example; I named my dog after one of the characters) and some hold up to this day (Spongebob is a big one; Fairly OddParents is another). However, after about the age of 9 or 10, I stopped really watching cartoons. By that point, there were no really good cartoons on at the time. Spongebob and FairlyOddParents were still going on and like The Simpsons and others, it just became bad and stale. The writers started running out of story lines and people watched the shows out of habit instead of entertainment. This was really prevalent with Spongebob for me as I started noticing it becoming more "dumb" humor with weird plots and weird jokes (fans or previous fans of the series will know what I mean). Overall, it and Fairly OddParents just became watered down version of their former selves and I think that currently only small children would find them entertaining. And it seems they are as it and Fairly OddParents are still churning out episodes.

During and a little former to my realization that Spongebob was becoming less and less of a quality show, I was already expanding my television boundaries to more educational shows like Modern Marvels (God, I probably watched so many reruns of episodes from that series) and the like. Eventually, cartoons fell off of the list essentially for me and I started watching shows more with my family. I currently watch Modern Family and The Amazing Race with them; I used to watch Survivor with them as well (by the way, we're talking about cable-box, network television here. I've watched other shows online with my family like Arrested Development, which has been on and off cable, being a big one).

My eventual immersion into the Minecraft community also influenced my watching habits. Now, I rarely watch cable TV anymore except for the shows I mentioned above and Gravity Falls. Many YouTube videos and streamed videos (i.e. Netflix) take up my viewing time currently. Sometimes, cable shows go off of the air or take hiatuses because, you know, the actors need a break, so a lot of the time I'm left with video streamed from the Internet to watch.

However, as the title suggests, a new show has been added to my endless list of things I need to watch and that is, of course, Gravity Falls. I'm not writing this piece because "I discovered a new show" but because I wanted to take Gravity Falls and extract and compare the mechanics of it to some of the other cartoons I used to watch. I also want to add I'm late to this game: Gravity Falls aired its first episode last summer but I recently just came across it and so I believe others might be in the same boat as I am.

I came across it while eating dinner with friends. My friend put it on and I expected humor similar to that of series that I had seen one-off episodes of fairly recently such as Flapjack and Adventure Time!. To be honest, I found those series sort of like the late Spongebobs I had viewed earlier. I know some will argue harshly against that, especially with Adventure Time! which seems to be very prevalent on the Internet. And to be fair, I only watched maybe one or two episodes of those series so I can't judge them too critically. But what was different with Gravity Falls is that from the very first time I watched it I laughed.

And laughed.

It was hilarious. It could of course been a one-off funny episode but over some time I watched some more episodes and all of them were hilarious or at least very funny. All of the episodes I've seen thus far are of very high quality and it reminded me of the old Spongebob days. And I am here to dissect shows! For science!

Instead of me giving you a plot overview, I'll just quote it from Wikipedia!
"During summer vacation, 12 year old Dipper and his sister Mabel are dropped off to live with their Great Uncle (or "Grunkle") Stan. Things are not what they seem in Gravity Falls, Oregon, the town they live in, and with the help of a mysterious book Dipper finds in the forest, they find their everyday lifestyle changed. With appearances from Wendy, Dipper's crush and Manly Dan's daughter; Soos, friend of Dipper and Mabel and handyman to Grunkle Stan; plus an assortment of other characters, Dipper and Mabel always have a day to look forward to."
And here are the main characters:

Left to Right: Soos (pronounced "Zeus"), Dipper, Uncle ("Grunkle") Stan, Mabel, Wendy
Probably the biggest reason I find this show so funny and, I guess from that unique, is that I believe when the writers are writing this show they ask "What's funny?" instead of "What does our audience find funny?". This may seem an obvious question to answer at first. However, this show is broadcast on the Disney Channel (their show quality as gone down even though I didn't consider it to be terribly high to begin with) and they've got a kid audience to entertain and nothing more. You will be surprised what kids will watch (I have a 13 year old sister so I know) and it's usually something pretty predictable with some hackneyed jokes and decent acting. It's usually just less than or equal to just okay. But Gravity Falls has characteristics that are a breath of fresh air in the sea of kids network television shows.

First of all, one of the biggest ones is the whole puzzle element of the show. I myself haven't gotten into that just yet, but apparently the writers hide hidden clues and puzzles throughout the episodes that might spell out future plots for episodes and the like. It adds a whole new layer to the show instead of just liking the content or posting fanart and gifs online. The puzzles promote much discussion online and, through that, are free advertising.

Second is the underlying themes and motives in the show. It seems as though many cartoons (and kids shows for that matter) gloss over themes or make them overstated, that is cheesy and obvious. I, at least, don't get that vibe from this show. Sure, I can see some themes clearly but I don't think it’s the point of the show which is to be funny and have some sort of depth to it; the themes hit a perfect balance between nonexistent and cheesy. The creator of Gravity Falls, Alex Hirsch, recently did an AMA on Reddit (which I missed, dang it) and here's what he said when asked:

"One of the best things about Gravity Falls is the sibling relationship between Dipper and Mabel, and how it's more than just "sibling rivalry" for the sake of plot. You mentioned in an AVClub interview, "when I started working with writers, when I started having to pitch the show, and everyone guessed the tone wrong and assumed they’d be hating on each other, I had to come up with a “10 commandments” of how Dipper and Mabel act around each other." Do you have that "10 commandments" list written up, and can we see it? Thanks!"
Haha yeah! I usually do a pass on Dipper/Mabels dialogue to try to make sure they feel like the characters I know for the most part. I never actually wrote out 10 actual commandments, but here's a few rules I find myself going back to with the writers:
1) The kids LIKE each other. No matter how much they get on each other's nerves, this never changes.
2) Mabel's not stupid. She's a ham! There's a big difference. Mabel's love of goofing off is a natural force of her personality, but she can still understand when people she cares about need help or are in danger. Don't just make her a catchphrase machine. She really cares about the people around her. (Secret: Mabel's secretly jealous that her brothers better academically than she is)
3) Dipper's smart but he's not a "WALKING CALCULATOR" There's a lot of kids shows featuring a character who is "the brains." You know the guy. Thick glasses, nasal voice, often starts every sentence with "According to my calculations!! SNORT!" Pretty much every kids show stereotype can be traced back to the BK Kids club. This one would be IQ:
The point is, Dipper is better academically than Mabel, but he's also able to laugh at himself. He's a real kid. He has insecurities. He has things that he loves. I try not to pigeonhole these characters into "ONE TYPE" They lose their humanity if you do that. (Secret: Dipper's secretly jealous that Mabel's better socially than he is)
4) They've known each other forever. They should occasionally finish each other sentences, they should recognize when one of them is about to do something they always do, they should reference past inside jokes, they should get instantly angry at each other and then instantly make up, the way people who've known each other forever do.
5) They get more close in unfamiliar situations (because they need each other) and less close in familiar situations (because they dont as much) The entire summer is an unfamiliar situation, and its helping them bond.
6) Dipper wants to grow up too fast. Mabel doesn't.
Compared to other kids shows, the characters and the interactions between them have depth and purpose and that is definitely seen while watching the show. I feel an attachment to the characters while watching them instead of looking at them through a viewing glass.

The third reason is its references to pop culture. So far in the episodes I've watched, I've seen references to Indiana Jones, Spirited Away, and the Legend of Zelda (in fact, while writing this I found a page where they list all of the allusions in all of the episodes so far). Also many times in the series, the characters watch TV shows (T V c e p t i o n) and they make references to real TV shows such as Sherlock (although I'm not sure if it's the TV series or the books) and Wheel of Fortune. These pop culture references air to more a Simpson's style of comedy, commenting about real world events and items instead of just making up jokes for just inside the series. I believe this makes the series more intellectual than what some cartoons are now.

And those are the big reasons. However, note it's not all of them. But it ultimately comes down to is it funny? Is it entertaining? And that is a wholehearted yes. But it is more than just funny or entertaining as I have discussed here. It is a much more satisfying show than its counterparts. Some shows have one or two of the things I listed above, but it is the perfect combination of the characteristics I listed above and the finer details in every episode that make Gravity Falls shine. I believe that as long stick to their current mindset of quality over quantity, Gravity Falls will remain a standard for other cartoons to follow and will be great until Dipper and Mabel's summer comes to a sad but necessary end.

 - Aidan

P.S. If you want to learn more about the show, there's a Wiki dedicated to it.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Comic: Let's Player Problems

Maybe he should move his desk.
(click to enlarge)

Additionally, the Let's Player doesn't enjoy the paper thin walls for... other reasons.

 - Aidan