The BEST Summer Tradition

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I don’t think anyone would say that this was the best summer that went exactly as they planned it to be at the start of the year. A pandemic that limits our ability to go outside, be around people, and explore new places has put the kabosh on many a person’s plan, mine included. It’s a good thing one of my newest traditions is one that can be done from the comfort of your own home. That is: watching Gravity Falls

Gravity Falls, a series about twins who visit their great uncle in a sleepy town that holds interesting characters, dark secrets, and mysteries the world has never seen. When male sibling Dipper finds a journal about the weirdness he teams up with sister Mabel, handyman Soos, and coolest girl ever: Wendy, and eventually their great uncle Stan in order to find out the truth. It’s an incredibly simplistic series that has many great draws. A near perfect mix of Scooby-Doo, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Veronica Mars (we’ll get to that), X-Files, and Twin Peaks makes the show something special.

There are so many special elements about this show. The characters are all well defined, grow, and fell fleshed out for cartoons. The animation and art direction is stellar, the overarching story is engaging, and the music is fine. But what really sets it apart is how the show is a layered experience with each rewatch.

This is the third time I have watched the series, making it a new tradition, but a tradition all the same. Each watch of the series has felt so different, yet consistent. The first watch of the series was just to take it all in. It was purely experiential. It was watching to enjoy the characters, the fun-but not always unique- episodic adventures the Pines family would get themselves in, and of course being so wrapped as to what all the mysteries are and how they’ll pay off (and boy, for a show that aired on Disney, they really do push that envelope). Watching the show the first time was just a fun experience.

The second watch was more of a detective investigation. It was still easy to enjoy the first (and best) season of the show, but instead of passively watching I would be tracing all the mysteries, and setups and payoffs attached to the show. It gave a pretty clear line of where everything started and how it would pay off once the team decided how they wanted the story to go.

This last rewatch, though I did enjoy it and saw more strands of setup and payoff, was far more of a thematic and character experience. Most of the thematic elements feel very relevant with much of the protest of statues and such. In other words, this watch of the show illuminated just how economically underdeveloped Gravity Falls the town is. This watch highlighted how being so cut off from many people caused all but one family of proven liars to keep power and lord it over others, and how that cycle is perpetuated and eventually broken by the introduction of Mabel and Dipper into their world.

As impressive and interesting it would to go through the systemic problems plaguing a fictional town (oddly cops not being one of the issues) that’s not what really stood out to me. Instead it was just how strongly character driven most of/the best episodes often were. The majority of the first season and the first half of the second season are all focused around the basic wants and needs of the characters. Dipper wants to impresss Wendy but finds out how hard that might be, gets in his own way by overthinking, or realizes that his sister’s happiness is more important than his own are all traits he learns through work. Mabel, similarly, learns the problems that come with trying to run a business, the price of helping friends, and how rivals should build each other up over tearing them down.

The above dissection could be done for just about every character in the series, but the reason it works so well is how the series balances the wonderful wish fulfillment of the setting (fighting monsters, solving mysteries, and going on adventures) with the grounded lessons and real world analogs. Mabel saving a genetically engineered boy band from their monstrous manager and coming to realize they need to go out into the world and experience life is a strong analog to finding a hurt creature and needing to let it go free. This exercise, too, can be done for every episode. I’ll just end by saying that this is taken to the extreme in the final episode, and makes the pseudo-sacrifice work (it is a Disney show, but that could have been played better). It’s the ultimate culmination of Stan’s character arc done through its own analogous life event.

Another element that helps the series is, despite it set primarily in the woods, feels very much like summer. That’s not to say woodland adventures aren’t summer-like, annually I go up to the mountains and lake during the summer (not this year, but now you may see why I like that show). But it allows the characters to experience the classic summer experiences through the heightened supernatural lens. Going on a fishing trip that turns into searching for a sea monster, a strange local festival that is all about finding the secrets of the town, or playing mini golf but finding out there are mini-golf ball people that exist. These are a few examples that help sell the summer vibe.

Despite everything I have said, having not even broached the nearly perfect comedic tone and senses the series has, none of those (or maybe all of those combined) bring me back. Instead it is the last shot of the series (discounting a panning to scenery or credits with skits in them). In the last shot, as the summer ends and the Pines twins board the bus home we are left with Dipper opening a letter with the simple phrase “See You Next Summer.” That single, inviting phrase feels incredibly powerful. It diagetically tells the twins that they are welcome back, but outside the narrative it tells us, the viewers to come back when you’re free for summer. It’s powerful, just like the show.

I’m cleaning house and selling some media. If you would like to buy comics, manga, or cards I owned and used follow this link: say you’re a reader and I’ll be happy to discount any item for you!

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