The creator of Powerpuff Girls teams up with a murderer’s row of talent to bring Netflix this show.
Kid (Jack Fisher) is a nerdy kid who dreams of becoming a superhero. One day, he witnesses an alien spacecraft crash and finds five stones which he turns into “rings of power,” despite having NO reason to believe they have powers. However, his instincts turn out to be true and the stones do, in fact, give powers to anyone that wears them, granting him the power of flight. He soon forms a superhero team out of the few people who live nearby: His 4-year-old neighbor Rosa (Lily Rose Silver) gains the ability to grow huge as “Nina Gigantica;” his friend Jo (Amanda C. Miller) becomes “Portal Girl,” mistress of portals; his grandfather Papa G (Keith Ferguson) can make clones of himself as “Old Man Many Men;” and his cat, Tuna Sandwich (Fred Tatasciore), gains the ability to see the future as Precognitive Cat. Together, they must save the Earth from alien threats, including their mostly-captive and sarcastic nemesis Stuck Chuck (Tom Kenny). Unfortunately, it turns out that while they do have superpowers, they’re not very good at using them.
When I saw the ad for this show, I assumed it was a crappy kids show that would quickly be forgotten. Unfortunately, given the lack of attention it’s getting, most people must have assumed the same. The only reason I tried it was because I saw that it was created by Craig McCracken, the creator of The Powerpuff Girls, Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, and Wander Over Yonder. While the only one I ever watched was Powerpuff Girls, I do know that these were supposed to be quality series, so I gave this show a shot and it was amazing. It turns out that it’s not just McCracken, though. Almost every episode has contributions from other great directors and writers, including DuckTales creator Francisco Angones, Amy Higgins from Star vs. the Forces of Evil, Gravity Falls creator Alex Hirsch, and My Life as a Teenage Robot creator Rob Renzetti, to name just a few. Lot of talent on the show, is what I’m saying.
The premise of “superteam that just isn’t competent” is definitely not new, but there are few shows that play it as well as this. Part of it is that the team members aren’t exactly suited for their particular abilities, given that the strongest member is an uncontrollable child, the precognitive member can’t speak, and the person who can make clones of himself is a fairly weak old man. However, the show not only demonstrates them getting better at using their abilities in creative ways over time, the show also keeps changing up some of the core dynamics so that the central conceit of “incompetent heroes” never gets stale. I’ve never seen a show so willing to change its premise so many times in just 10 short episodes, but it works. Instead of focusing on episodic adventures, the show focuses on the emotional journeys of the characters as they deal with these changes and that makes it much deeper than you’d expect from this kind of series.
The art style takes a little getting used to. It’s designed to replicate older Newspaper Strips like Dennis the Menace and it definitely stands out a lot among modern series, but it may also throw you off. However, like Into the Spiderverse, once you get used to it, it really feeds into the themes and characterization of the show. It also helps make a number of art conceits easier to accept, like flying saucers or 1950s style aliens. By the end, I was sold on it.
Overall, just a great show that needs more people to watch it. There are hopefully two more seasons on the way, so maybe it’ll get a little more attention by then.
How you start is important to getting popular, but how you finish is the key to being a legend. After all, who wants to sit through 75 hours of a show for a giant letdown? Here are ten series that managed to really stick the landing.
Runner-Up: My Finale (Scrubs)
The Show: John “J.D.” Dorian (Zach Braff) is a doctor at Sacred Heart Hospital with his best friend Chris Turk (Donald Faison), Turk’s wife Carla (Judy Reyes), his girlfriend and fellow doctor Elliot Reid (Sarah Chalke), his mentor Dr. Cox (John C. McGinley), the head of the hospital Bob Kelso (Ken Jenkins), and his nemesis the Janitor (Neil Flynn).
The Finale: Okay, this is only a runner-up because I am not willing to deal with people sending me messages that say “technically, the show had another season,” followed by me slapping my face in frustration and saying “Then why did they call it Scrubs: Med School? How come it changes location, most of the cast, and central character?” But, the DVD release still says Season 9, so… fine. It’s not the “finale.” That’s particularly sad because I think it would be a strong contender for the number one spot here if it was. Unlike many great finales, this one didn’t rely on any kind of subversion or loss. Instead, this episode gives its main character, J.D., the exact send-off that we probably hoped he’d get.
It probably stands out because of the last 5 minutes of the episode, when J.D. starts to walk out of the building, and the show, and is suddenly surrounded by every guest from the show’s run that they could manage to fit and afford. As he walks down a literal memory lane, he finally stands at the exit, and we see a projection of the future he’s headed for, filled with love, happiness, and friendship. It’s a happy ending that never feels too cheesy or overdone.
10) The Last Show (The Mary Tyler Moore Show)
The Show: Mary Richards (Mary Tyler Moore) is a single woman who is an Associate Producer for WJM’s 6 o’clock news, starring Ted Baxter (Ted Knight). She works alongside Executive Producer Lou Grant (Ed Asner), and head writer Murray Slaughter (Gavin MacLeod). Mary’s best friend is Rhoda Morgenstern (Valerie Harper), Rhoda’s nemesis who is also Mary’s friend is Phyllis Lindstrom (Cloris Leachman), and Mary’s friend who works at WJM is Sue Ann Nivens (Betty White). The other main character, introduced later, is Georgette Baxter (Georgia Engel), Ted Baxter’s girlfriend.
The Finale: For a show that contains what I consider to be the single best episode of all time, it’s pretty impressive that it managed to end with what was, for a while, considered the “gold standard” of finales. It was a regular exhibit in screenwriting courses. The creators of Friends said it was a major influence in how they wrapped their show. The key is that it really is an ending for the characters as well as the show. When a new station manager (Vincent Gardenia) takes over WJM, he decides he wants to fix the 6 O’clock News ratings. Unfortunately, he determines that the only person worth keeping is Ted, the person who repeatedly causes the show to tank. Everyone else is fired, devastating Mary. To cheer Mary up, Lou Grant arranges for Rhoda and Phyllis to visit her (both now had spin-offs), with both offering vastly different methods of support for Mary (and hatred for each other). Ultimately, Ted tries to do a sincere send-off, but instead quotes the song “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary.” Everyone says goodbye, resulting in a group hug that no one wants to break, giving rise to the hilarious image of the entire team moving together in order to get tissues. Mary ends up smiling at the good times and turning off the lights on the set.
The key to this ending is that everything goes wrong for all the right people. Everyone who has spent years cleaning up Ted’s mistakes gets fired because of Ted, but because they kept making him look good, Ted keeps his job. He tries to protest the firings, but ultimately backs down when threatened, leading to Murray saying “When a donkey flies, you don’t blame him for not staying up that long.” When Lou tries to cheer Mary up, she calls in two of her friends… who hate each other and fight viciously. When Ted tries to be sincere, he just quotes a completely unrelated song. That’s what made the show great, watching people deal with all of life’s crap and unfairness with a laugh and a joke. It was the best way to end the show.
9) Come Along With Me (Adventure Time)
The Show: Adventure Time follows the journeys of Finn, the last human (Jeremy Shada), and his adopted brother Jake the dog (John DiMaggio), through the land of Ooo. They usually are accompanied by Princess Bubblegum (Hynden Walch) and Marcelline, the Vampire Queen (Olivia Olson), and sometimes the Ice King (Tom Kenny).
The Finale: The last episode of this show takes place far in the future from the normal timeline and the show now apparently stars two new characters named Shermy (Sean Giambrone) and Beth (Willow Smith), who appear to have a similar relationship to Finn and Jake. They go to meet with the King of Ooo, who is revealed to be BMO (Niki Yang), Finn and Jake’s AI game system. BMO tells them the story of the “Great Gum War,” what the show had been building to for a season, then tells them of the coming of GOLB, the anti-God of that universe. Ultimately, the war is averted and the world is saved, and Shermy and Beth take up the mantle of Finn and Jake.
The reason this is on this list is mostly because it contains three great elements. First, the Great Gum War is literally averted, rather than fought. Finn ends up convincing both sides of the war to stand down, and does so by forcing each side to view the situation from the other’s point of view. This represents the culmination of Finn’s growth from a boy to a man, finally realizing that violent solutions propagate violence, but that forgiveness can bring true peace. Afterwards, Shermy, now representing young Finn, complains that he thought the War would be more important, like the end of the world, only for BMO to casually say “no, that’s what happened next.” Second, after the apocalypse is averted, Shermy and Beth, acting as audience surrogates, ask BMO what happened next, only for BMO to respond with “Eh, y’know. They kept living their lives.” I think this may be one of the most perfect summaries to end a show. It’s not a bland “happily ever after,” but it is a way to tell everyone that, even though life goes on, this story has hit the end. However, the true ending is Shermy and Beth taking the pose that Finn and Jake take in the title screen, meaning that the adventure will always continue. Lastly, we see Marceline and Princess Bubblegum finally become a couple. Given how much crap the show had gotten in the past for even hinting at this, I love that they decided “we’re at the end, let’s go for it.” This finale summed up everything that was good about this show.
8) One Last Ride (Parks and Recreation)
The Show: The series follows the lives of all of the people who work for or are associated with the Parks Department of Pawnee, Indiana: Idealist Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler), her husband Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott), her Libertarian boss Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman), her coworkers Tom (Aziz Ansari), April (Aubrey Plaza), Garry (Jim O’Heir), Craig (Billy Eichner), and Donna (Retta), as well as April’s husband Andy (Chris Pratt), and Leslie’s best friend Ann (Rashida Jones) and her husband Chris (Rob Lowe).
The Finale: By the end of the series, everyone is leaving and no one works for the Parks Department anymore. However, Leslie asks everyone to help her when a man asks them to fix a swing near his house. As they work together to navigate the bureaucracy to repair the swing, the show flashes forward and shows how almost every characters’ life progresses. We see Garry get a happy ending after being the sad sack for most of the series, Donna turn her success into helping children with her husband (Keegan-Michael Key), and Tom become a celebrity through writing a bestseller. Ron is shown to retire from his business to run a major park with Leslie’s help. April and Andy start a family and Leslie and Ben both become successful politicians, with one of them implied to eventually be president.
This episode should be terrible. It’s saccharin beyond anything else the series had done up to this point and it’s little more than an extremely elaborate “and they all lived happily ever after.” However, the way in which their flash-forwards are told give us a real picture of how all of these people, despite drifting apart, are always bonded by the events of the show. Even though they live in different parts of the world, they’re still a family and they always will be. Moreover, the world we see in the future is a hopeful and just one, with Leslie, who has always been thwarted by the stupidity of Pawnee, becoming governor of Indiana. We see a world where, despite still having problems, we find a group of people who are fighting for the right thing, even if they all disagree on what that is. To drive it home, Leslie even quotes Teddy Roosevelt’s line “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is to work hard at work worth doing.” We see a future where that kind of dedication is celebrated, and that’s what really makes this episode work.
7) Basil the Rat (Fawlty Towers)
The Show: Basil Fawlty (John Cleese) and his wife Sybil (Prunella Scales) run a hotel in England. Basil is an angry jerk obsessed with class mobility, always trying to become one of the elite, but his own incompetence usually dooms him. His staff includes the sensible Polly (Connie Booth) and the hapless Spanish waiter Manuel (Andrew Sachs).
The Finale: A health inspector (John Quarmby) informs Basil that the state of Fawlty Towers’ kitchen is below standard. If they don’t fix the problems in 24 hours, the hotel will be closed. At the same time, Basil discovers Manuel is keeping a pet rat, named Basil, in the kitchen, having been sold it as a “Siberian Hamster.” Basil tries to get rid of it, but Manuel protests and he and Polly hide it in the shed. After Manuel foolishly lets the rat back into the hotel, Basil the human poisons a veal shank in an attempt to kill the rat, but the shank gets cooked by accident. After every customer, including the returning health inspector, orders the veal, hilarity ensues. Eventually, the health inspector is handed the rat, but the cast attempts to cover for it as the episode ends.
The key to Fawlty Towers was the incredible combination of tight writing and amazing physical performances. Each episode typically took Cleese and Booth six weeks to write, which is probably why there are only twelve of them in two seasons over five years. This episode is the pinnacle of that, because all of the beats in the episode have to be precisely timed in order to keep the tension building. In the meantime, all of the characters have to keep scrambling and covering for their actions as they keep trying to find Basil the Rat. It also helps that this episode is the opposite of what Basil Fawlty had been hoping for. Rather than becoming an elite establishment, his hotel is almost closed down for being a dump, and at the end of the episode, it seems extremely likely that it will be shut down. Rather than a happy ending, we get a shot of Basil, having passed out from stress, being dragged unceremoniously from the room.
6) Weirdmageddon (Gravity Falls)
The Show: Gravity Falls is a town filled with strange happenings and mysteries. When two kids, Dipper and Mabel Pines (Jason Ritter and Kristen Schaal), come to stay with their Great Uncle “Grunkle” Stan Pines (Alex Hirsch) for the Summer at his Mystery Shack, they get caught up in the town’s weirdness, along with Stan’s two employees Wendy (Linda Cardellini) and Soos (Hirsch). Their greatest enemy is a dream demon named Bill Cipher (Hirsch).
The Finale: The final episode begins with Bill winning. He has finally figured out a way to enter the real world in his true form and he immediately reveals himself to be one of the most horrifying villains ever to be featured in a show for kids. He and his gang start to wreak havoc upon the town, until Dipper, Mabel, and the surviving cast fight back. Ultimately, they’re able to trick Bill into entering Stan’s mind, which they then wipe, destroying him as Stan’s dream self punches the demon out of reality. Then, finally, the Summer ends and the kids have to go home in a tearful goodbye.
The greatest strength of Gravity Falls was that it always focused on how the characters felt and what they were going through internally more than externally and this finale is no exception. The strength of the episode isn’t just in finally showing us the power of Bill Cipher and having the team overcome him, it’s that the last 20 minutes is just having a slow, sad, emotional goodbye from all of the characters to the two kids that changed the town so much. We see some nice flash-forwards explaining that most of the characters will be okay, and still be the eccentric oddities that we came to love, but also that everyone will be separated in their own lives. Maybe they’ll be together again one day, but it seems likely that this is the end of this story. It ends with a cryptogram that deciphers to: FADED PICTURES BLEACHED BY SUN. THE TALE’S TOLD, THE SUMMER’S DONE. IN MEMORIES THE PINES STILL PLAY. ON A SUNNY SUMMER’S DAY. I’ll admit that I still tear up reading that, because it’s just that adorably sincere.
5) All Good Things… (Star Trek: The Next Generation)
The Show: It’s the 24th Century and mankind has spread itself among the stars, meeting new life forms and threats along the way, and forming the United Federation of Planets. The top ship among the Federation fleet is the Enterprise-D, captained by Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart). Along with crew members William Riker (Jonathan Frakes), Data (Brent Spiner), Worf (Michael Dorn), Geordi La Forge (LeVar Burton), Dr. Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden), and Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis), Picard explores the unknown along the Final Frontier.
The Finale: Picard finds himself unfixed by time, his mind jumping between the present, twenty-five years into the future, and seven years in the past, just before the show’s pilot. These jumps are random, making people think he’s going mad. In the present, he goes to investigate a space anomaly. He then uses a jump to convince his future ex-wife Beverly to travel to the same anomaly, which is happening in the future as well. In the past, he declines to go to the anomaly so that he can have the encounter at Farpoint with Q (John de Lancie), an omnipotent being who threatens humanity. However, it turns out that Q is actually causing Picard to jump through time, telling him that solving the mystery of the anomaly is the only chance to save humanity. Picard discovers that investigating the anomaly is actually what causes it, and sacrifices all three different versions of the Enterprise to stop it. This is revealed to be Q’s test and that Picard passed, saving humanity.
It’s one thing to manage to tie in the themes of a show with the finale, it’s another to literally tie the entire series together into one single cohesive expression of what the show is about. Star Trek has always been about humanity at its best; challenging the unknown, exploring the unexplored, bettering themselves for the sake of being better. This episode reveals that the entire series, from the Pilot to the end, was a test of whether humanity can evolve, with Picard as its focus. Picard proves not only that he can solve a four-dimensional problem, but that he and his crew are willing to sacrifice themselves in three different time periods in order to save the universe. It proves again that humanity has limitless potential both scientifically and socially, if only we can evolve beyond our selfishness.
The Finale: Fry (Billy West) decides to propose to his longtime flame Leela (Katey Sagal), and uses a device that rewinds time by 10 seconds (and has a 10 second recharge time) to set up the perfect proposal. Unfortunately, he ends up breaking the device, trapping him and Leela in a frozen world. Together, they live a long and happy life, until they’re discovered by the Professor, who fixes the device. He warns Leela and Fry that when he undoes the time freeze, it’ll take them back to before the episode started, with no memory of the events. Fry and Leela agree that, while they enjoyed growing old together, they both want to do it all over again.
This show gets bonus points because Futurama actually had four separate finales: “The Devil’s Hands are Idle Playthings,” “Into the Wild Green Yonder,” “Overclockwise,” and then this one. Despite having tried to wrap the show up multiple times, I am always impressed that this one is, in my opinion, the best of the four. It’s not just telling us that Fry and Leela will ultimately find happiness, we get to see them being happy together, with each of them clearly influenced by the other for the better. It helps that so much of the episode is really funny before that. We see Fry messing around with time in a number of fun gags, a throwback to the pilot, and Fry dying multiple times to the point that Leela starts to get bored with it. It’s a solid set of comedic scenes that turn into a sincere and emotional third act, which is basically what Futurama did at its best.
3) Goodbyeee (Blackadder Goes Forth)
The Show: Each season of Blackadder featured Rowan Atkinson as a different descendant of the Blackadder family. This one was a Captain in the British Army during WWI. He was commanded by the incompetent General Melchett (Stephen Fry) and his nemesis Captain Darling (Tim McInnerny). Each episode features his attempts to get out of actually having to fight, usually involving Blackadder’s incompetent aides George (Hugh Laurie) and Baldrick (Tony Robinson).
The Finale: Blackadder finds out that there’s going to be a full-scale attack the next day, meaning that he, along with all of his soldiers, will be running all-out into No Man’s Land. Since all of them will likely die, Blackadder pretends to be crazy in order to get sent home, but it fails. He tries to contact the British High Command to get sent home, but it fails as well. Darling is sent to the front line, despite his attempts to protest, while Melchett sits miles back. George and Baldrick discuss their losses during the war in a humorous way, until finally George admits that he’s afraid of dying. Blackadder and the rest of the group go over the top and are killed, with the shot fading to a silent poppy field.
It was a tradition for each season of Blackadder to end with death, usually that of the entire cast, but it was always done in a comic fashion. This entire season had frequently played off the massive casualties of World War One as a dark joke, which set everything up to do a similarly humorous or absurd conclusion to this season, but instead, they played it perfectly straight. It’s a sad, somber, painful ending to the show. It’s a subversion of the nature of the series, but it fits the theme of the season, that war is hell. The show sacrificed its own cast to make sure that people remember that the price of war is blood and tears.
2) Felina (Breaking Bad)
The Show: Walter White (Bryan Cranston) is a chemist who finds out he has terminal cancer. He decides to partner with his ex-student Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) to make meth in order to provide for his wife Skyler (Anna Gunn) and his son Walt, Jr. (RJ Mitte). He does surprisingly well, eventually becoming a kingpin.
The Finale: Having managed to lose most of his money and betraying Jesse in the last season, Walt threatens former partners to leave a fortune to his son and decides to “make things right.” He rigs a machine gun to a mechanical arm and tries to make amends to his wife for all of his misdeeds, having a conversation in which she points out that his actions were always about him, never the family. Walt goes to meet the Aryan Brotherhood members holding Jesse hostage and uses the machine gun to kill almost all of them, with him and Jesse killing off the survivors. Walt is mortally wounded, but dies smiling surrounded by meth cooking equipment as Jesse escapes.
This episode works on so many levels. First, the title is an anagram for finale and a reference to the song “El Paso,” which mirrors the events of the third act. Like the subject of “El Paso,” Walt dies in the arms of his beloved: Meth. Second, it mirrors the pilot, both beginning and ending with sirens headed for Walt. In the pilot, Walt declines to shoot himself, but here, he dies by a shot from his own gun. Walt even dies in the same outfit he wore in the pilot. Third, it provides a satisfying conclusion to a series that was constantly escalating tension by doing exactly the opposite, being a quiet denouement for Walt after one last blaze of glory. The show was always building towards his death, and Cranston’s final moments on-screen send the character off in exactly the right way.
1) The Last Newhart (Newhart)
The Show: Dick Loudon (Bob Newhart) is a writer who moves to Vermont to run an inn with his wife Joanna (Mary Frann). While Dick is a relatively normal and sane person, the town is populated by eccentric people whose inability to operate within the bounds of reality constantly drives Dick crazy.
The Finale: After years of putting up with the locals, the entire town is purchased by a Japanese tycoon who wants to turn it into a golf resort. While Dick and Joanna make a show of wanting to keep the town the same and refuse to leave, literally everyone else takes a huge payout and vacates. Years later, Dick and Joanna now run their inn in the middle of a golf course. All of their former neighbors pay them a surprise visit, but quickly drive Dick crazy until he gets hit in the head with a golf ball. He then wakes up in bed… as Dr. Bob Hartley, the main character of The Bob Newhart Show, next to his wife Emily (Suzanne Pleshette). He reveals that the entire series of Newhart was just a dream he had, something that annoys his wife when he reveals that he was married to a beautiful blond.
This finale should be terrible, because the idea that the whole series was a dream would normally be stupid or seem like a cop-out. However, The Bob Newhart Show was a series about Bob Hartley questioning his own reality and Newhart was a series where everyone somehow played by rules that defied any established rules of logic, except for Bob Newhart’s character. It not only made sense that Newhart was a dream of someone who constantly questioned reality, it made MORE sense than any other explanation. Bob Hartley always defined himself as the “only sane man” in his life, so he still does that in his dreams. Bob Newhart essentially spent 20 years setting up this punchline across two different series and it served as a perfect finale for both of them. I think it’s telling that after Breaking Bad ended, Bryan Cranston did a “fake ending” where he wakes up as Hal on Malcolm in the Middle that was inspired by this. When the second best ending has to pay tribute to something, you know that thing has to be the best.
Let me know if there are any others that you think I should have added by posting in the comments or on my Facebook or Twitter.
12-year-old twins Dipper and Mabel Pines (Jason Ritter and Kristen Schaal) are sent to spend the summer with their great-uncle “Grunkle” Stan Pines (Alex Hirsch) in the town of Gravity Falls, Oregon. Stan manages the local tourist trap the Mystery Shack, staffed by Soos Ramirez (Also Alex Hirsch) and Wendy Corduroy (Linda Cardellini). It turns out that Gravity Falls is no sleepy little town, but is filled with monsters, mermen, mayhem, and madness… which makes for the best Summer ever.
So, to try and do something different this month, I’m going to spend each Sunday talking about a show that I think everyone should watch. Since I want them to be as broad as possible, every entry is going to be a show that I think works for both kids and adults, and is a show that I think works to try and make the audience better people, rather than just targets for entertainment. Despite what many people will insist, people, especially kids, are massively impacted by the kind of media they consume, and I wanted to shout out shows that I think help the world in different ways. Since this show is both the shortest of the four and the only one which I will insist has no “bad” episodes that should be skipped, I’m putting it up front.
Gravity Falls is not the most well-known show, but it deserves to be, and thanks to Disney now having a streaming service, it can get the attention it merits. It’s a show that has a pilot containing what I think is one of the most brilliant subversions in TV history and just keeps getting better from there, culminating in an unbelievably powerful series finale which features one of the most terrifying villains that you could put into a show that can be shown to children. I’d previously said as much when I added an episode of this show to my list of the 100 Greatest Television Episodes of All Time that started this blog. That episode actually pretty much crystallizes what this show does better than almost any kids show, or most shows in general: connections.
The show starts off with Mabel and Dipper, who, being twins, are naturally close despite their opposing personalities. Dipper is an introvert who often gets too caught up in his head, while Mabel is an extrovert who often has trouble bonding with people due to her eccentricities. Stan, the person that they’re forced to interact with, is an abrasive jerk who lives off of scamming people. Then we get Wendy, the cool and aloof girl who never seems to really connect with anyone beyond casual acquaintance, and Soos, the awkward people pleaser who is a little bit childish for a 22 year old. No matter who you are, you will see some, or a lot, of yourself in one of the main characters, because they’re all so well-developed that they seem completely human despite their exaggerated natures. That’s why it’s so much more powerful to see how these characters interact with each other and with the rest of the people in Gravity Falls. As the show progresses, all of these connections grow stronger, culminating in a finale where one of the only things that ends up saving the day is how the people of the town are able to come together, even characters that had formerly been rivals or even enemies.
Gravity Falls also distinguishes itself in that the heroes’ powers are not being the strongest or the fastest, but instead being the smartest and the most caring. Dipper is dedicated to finding out the truth behind things, even if the truth is hard to accept. Mabel, on the other hand, doesn’t need to look into things, she just tries to make everyone her friend. In the most powerful moment in the show, she looks into the eyes of a person who has seemingly lying to her the entire time she knew them, and risks her own to trust them. There is an entire episode dedicated to building up to Mabel choosing to believe in someone, to put her faith in the goodness of another, despite the fact that she can’t even articulate why. Almost everything else in the world nowadays seems to speak to the opposite, that nobody is really worth trusting, that everyone is out for themselves, but I will always applaud this show for trying to remind us that humans got where we are by trusting others, and we will get further if we continue to do so. It takes strength and bravery to put your trust in someone, but everyone has it within them to do so. Be stronger, trust more.
Beyond the message, the show decided to try and give its audience something to do in their off-hours, containing a number of puzzles throughout the series, including having an encrypted message at the end of every episode and an entire cipher language, similar to Futurama. Moreover, the ciphers get more complicated as the show goes on, going from a simple substitution all the way to a vigenère keyword cipher with hidden keywords throughout the show. Few shows ever try to make part of the enjoyment of the show having to think about it more and comb through scenes looking for keywords or backwards messages, but Gravity Falls made it so fun that they eventually did an international scavenger hunt at the end of the series. It’s a show that helps you get better at puzzle solving and logic, something that benefits everyone.
Aside from the great stuff the series does for you, Gravity Falls is just so easy to watch. It’s funny, it’s exciting, it’s animated well, and it has Kristen Schaal shouting “GRAPPLING HOOK!” What more could you want?
Look, part of why I started this blog was to convince people that there are episodes of television out there that can help them grow. This show is filled with them. Please, no matter who you are, give it a try.
Dana Terrace, formerly of Gravity Falls and the DuckTales reboot, brings us this story of an imaginative young girl.
Luz Noceda (Sarah-Nicole Robles) is a teenage girl with an affinity for fantasy stories and a lack of restraint. She gets in trouble after her imagination gets the best of her and is sent to “reality check camp” by her mother. However, along the way she sees a small owl stealing her property. She gives chase through a magical doorway and finds herself on the Boiling Isles, a magical land that is responsible for most of human mythology. The owl is revealed to belong to Eda, the Owl Lady (Wendie Malick), the most powerful witch in the land… who makes her living selling stuff she stole from the human world. Luz proves to be an expert on human “artifacts,” so she’s taken back to Eda’s home, the Owl House, and introduced to the two other occupants: Hooty the house’s sentient door knocker and King, an adorable demon (Both voiced by Alex Hirsch from Gravity Falls). After helping save Eda from local authorities, Eda agrees to make Luz her apprentice… despite the handicap that humans can’t do magic.
I’ve mentioned several times that I love Gravity Falls, even putting one of its episodes on my list of the 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time. Dana Terrace was the storyboard artist on that episode. I’ve repeatedly stated that I loved the first season of DuckTales (2017) and Dana Terrace directed six episodes of that season, including “Woo-oo,” the pilot that told me something was going to be amazing about this reboot. So, when they announced that she would be creating a show involving a number of veterans of Gravity Falls, DuckTales, and Star vs. The Forces of Evil, all great recent Disney shows, then I knew I would have to check it out. Unfortunately, A) I don’t have cable and B) the show isn’t on Disney+ yet. So, I checked out the pilot on YouTube and enjoyed it enough to merit buying the first season on Amazon. I’d say it helped that one of the first lines in the show was “My only weakness: DYING!!!!!!”
The key to this show, much like the shows that I’ve already mentioned in this review, is that even though it’s targeted mostly towards younger people (in this case, teens), the show tends to focus on generally relatable themes, mostly individualism vs. conformity. Luz is a person who doesn’t want to conform because of her love of nerd culture and Eda is a criminal because of her refusal to conform to her society’s rules on magic (and that she commits a LOT of petit theft). If you’re a nerd, or really anyone who has some kind of hobby that they’re passionate about, it’ll strike home a lot.
The dialogue is generally both charming and clever. Luz has a kind of naivety about her that makes her willing to tolerate a lot of the absurd or dark things about the Boiling Isles (such as the random skin-eating pixies) with a cheerful and sunny disposition. It allows the show to be darker than you would expect without ever really feeling that way. Eda, meanwhile, is basically Wendie Malick if she went to Hogwarts. She’s snappy, she’s fun, she can blow a hole through a large building with little effort, and she constantly has a scheme to make herself money, despite the fact that she’s a wanted criminal. King is just adorable, even though he is constantly advocating things that are morally questionable (like forcefully taking over a toddlers playground) and is a huge fan of classifying monstrous demons.
Honestly, great show, recommend it for any parents of kids between 6 and 14 as a thing you can watch with them without going insane. Also, Luz seems to be at least bi-curious, possibly making this the first Disney animated series with an LGTBQ lead… only a decade or two behind most of the other networks.
We have two cosmetic plots which our minds mistake for thematic in this episode. Also, vampires are real.
At breakfast, Morty (Justin Roiland) mentions that a lunch lady at his school was exsanguinated by two holes in her neck. Rick (Roiland) points out that it was probably a vampire, something that Summer (Spencer Grammer) is surprised to find out are real. She suggests that Rick transfer his mind into a teenage body so that he can help them find and kill the vampire, something that Rick angrily condemns. Beth (Sarah Chalke) tells Jerry (Chris Parnell) to support his daughter, only for Jerry to be revealed not to be paying attention, leading to a fight. Rick, still crotchety, tells them to fix their marriage or get a divorce. They respond that they’ve tried to do therapy, which Rick derides as “Earth therapy” and then tells them he’ll take them to a therapy center on an alien planet. Rick takes them both, still bickering, to the planet while Summer makes stakes for Buffy-ing.
On the therapy planet, it’s revealed that a key part of the therapy is generating physical representations of how each partner views the other one. Jerry’s vision of Beth is as a Xenomorph-esque monster, while Beth’s vision of Jerry is a weak, worm like version who wants to offer his servitude and sexual favors in exchange for safety. Both of them are pissed at the other for these images, but Glexo Slim Slom (Jim Rash), the head couples’ counselor, tells them both that this is normal and part of the process. He takes Beth and Jerry, along with a number of other couples, through observations of the battles between the monsters generated by the couples, using it as a metaphor for how we envision our partner differently than they actually are. Unseen, Beth’s “Mytholog” communicates with Jerry’s and starts to cover her body with a layer of Jerry’s Mytholog’s blood.
Back on Earth, Rick appears at school in a teenage body, calling himself “Tiny Rick.” He quickly assists the kids in killing “Coach Feratu,” the vampire at the school. Rick’s about to put his mind back into his old body, but it turns out that Tiny Rick is fairly popular at the school and Summer’s crush Toby Matthews (Alex “I CREATED GRAVITY F*CKING FALLS AND AM MAGICAL” Hirsch) asks if he’ll be at a party later. Rick agrees to stay small for party purposes.
Beth and Jerry continue the therapy tour, only for it to appear that their Mythologs have escaped. It’s revealed that the Betholog camouflaged itself and escapes along with the Jerry Mytholog, both of them killing numerous people and rampaging throughout the facility. Glexo realizes what has happened and tells Beth and Jerry that their demons are actually co-dependant, making theirs the single worst marriage that he’s ever seen. He then abandons the two of them to die. Jerry finds a hiding spot, but Beth chooses to try to find a way out before she is abducted by Betholog. Jerry then manages to subdue his Mytholog, due to its blatant cowardice, and tells it to take him to Beth. Betholog tells her that she’s going to be used to produce an army of Jerry Mythologs to help her enslave the universe. Beth sarcastically points out that she should be trying to create more Bethologs, but the Betholog says that there can only be one of her, because she’s so much smarter and stronger than Beth because Jerry thinks Beth is so much stronger and smarter than she actually is.
Back on Earth at the party, Tiny Rick sings a song that appears to be a cry for help from the older version of Rick trapped in a vat in the garage. At school, Tiny Rick continues to refuse to transfer his mind back into his original body. Summer complains, but Morty tells her to get her shit together. At the school dance, Rick sings a song that is clearly about being trapped in the garage. Summer gets him expelled by planting evidence that he killed Coach Feratu, which leads Rick to call her a psycho. Everyone then turns on Summer, having loved Tiny Rick. Tiny Rick goes to destroy his grown body, but Summer and Morty stop him by playing Elliot Smith, leading him to want to be back in his original body. He gets put back in and then destroys all of his clones, dubbing the experiment a failure. He then goes to pick up Beth and Jerry.
Jerry arrives with a gun to kill all of the Mythologs. Beth then thinks that Jerry is heroic, resulting in the machine cranking out first normal Jerrys, then muscular and heroic Jerrys. Jerry tries to save Beth, but is about to die, until he puts the Mytholog Maker on a heroic Jerry, leading to that version creating a literal Goddess Beth, who easily kills the Betholog. In the wreckage of the planet, Beth and Jerry reconcile as a nude, blood-covered Rick picks them up.
This episode, much like “Meeseeks and Destroy,” benefits heavily from the cuts between the A and B plots. While in that episode it allowed us to perfectly split between two advancing plotlines by cutting all of the boring scenes out, in this one it (slightly imperfectly) allows us to do that while also masking the fact that the timeline for this episode seems rather uncertain and uneven. We know that the events of the Tiny Rick plot take at least 3 days, but Beth and Jerry’s therapy appears to go off the rails immediately. Did they just wander around hiding from monsters for 2 days, did the initial tour just take that long, or did the events of their trip play out and then they were waiting for Rick for a few days? Whatever, I didn’t really notice at the time, and I’m sure Dan Harmon has some justification for it. Either way, the fact that I didn’t notice is a credit to the editing.
The vampire is pretty much my favorite plot instigator in the series. It’s so random that vampires are real and that not only is Rick aware of it, but considers people stupid for NOT being aware of it. It’d be the same as the reveal that dragons are real being met with a disinterested “and?” To cap that off, it’s quickly revealed, offscreen, to be Coach Feratu, the least subtle vampire name in history, and he’s dispatched apparently within a few hours. Somehow, apparently, Morty and Summer hadn’t immediately concluded it was the Coach from the beginning, however. That’s why it’s even better when they have the stinger at the end where the head vampire points out that Coach Feratu is a terrible name to hide under and tells them to pick generic names from now on.
At the end of the episode, Jerry tries to connect the themes of the stories, but Rick just responds that the story connections are just cosmetic, not really thematic, which I guess is true. Rick’s story is more related to the fact that people are terrible at having perspective in High School and that accepting aging and the inevitability of death is part of life, while Beth’s and Jerry’s stories are more about how perception shapes relationships. There’s some stuff about how appearances reflect behavior in both stories, but not much more than that in common.
JOKER’S THEORY CORNER
Everything in this episode happens because Rick’s pissed off at breakfast. Well, not the vampire attacks, those clearly are independent of the rest of the episode, but everything besides that. If you watch the opening to the episode, it’s apparent that Rick is even more crotchety than usual. He acts disdainful towards the family during the vampire discussion, yells at Summer for proposing the kind of hi-jinks that Rick himself usually would jump to, then flat-out tells Beth and Jerry to get a divorce or fix their marriage in a very angry tone. Now, Rick would probably do any of these things normally, but the way he does them in this episode still seems pretty extreme. But, after running Beth and Jerry to the therapy planet, Rick ends up turning himself young like Summer suggested. He says this is because he felt bad about how he treated Summer, but I don’t think that’s entirely it. I think there’s another reason why Rick is pissed and why he chooses the path that he does.
Anyone who has dealt with older people learns a horrifying fact about the eventual state of their body: You can’t keep eating all the crap you loved as a kid. Spicy food, greasy food, and especially ultra-sugary cereals will tear your insides up. And what is Morty eating for breakfast along with the hot food that his mother made for the family? Why, a delicious bowl of magical Strawberry Smiggles! Now, why do I think that Rick is upset by this? Well, admittedly, not much to go on, but it’s the one thing that Rick asks for that’s unrelated to any of the other conversation parts: The pepper. Every other time we see Rick eating breakfast in the series, he is fairly complimentary of the way that Beth prepares it, but this time we see him dissatisfied about the flavor. I think that’s Rick expressing his anger about not being able to do something because he’s too old. That’s why he does eventually decide to do the plan of making himself young again, even though it’s an overly-complicated solution to the vampire problem: Because that morning he really felt crappy about being old and wanted to get away from that for a few minutes. So, yeah, if Morty doesn’t pick the cereal, Rick probably isn’t as angry, and most of the stuff in the episode probably plays out differently.
NOW LEAVING THE CORNER
Overall, I give this episode an
on the Rick and Morty scale.
Wubba-Lubba-Dub-Dub, I need a drink. See you in two weeks.
The second of my add-ons, and this one might be the most controversial of them.
Gravity Falls is not the most well-known show, but it deserves to be. It’s only 40 episodes, but, and I say this with total sincerity, it’s one of the only shows where I don’t think there’s a bad episode. With most of the shows on this list, I can think of at least one episode which I either didn’t like, thought didn’t fit within the show, or even absolutely hated. Even the Twilight Zone sometimes had a miss. I’ve even fought over whether or not there is a bad episode of Breaking Bad, and I go with “probably.” But, I don’t actually think the quality of Gravity Falls varied much from a very strong start. If you like the first episode, you’ll like the rest of the series, and it just keeps getting better until it reaches one of the greatest series finales ever, featuring one of the best villains in fiction.
However, this is not that episode. You should watch that too, as well as the rest of this show, but this isn’t it. This is the only episode of the show I thought was more memorable and more touching than the finale.
The show follows two siblings, Dipper and Mabel (Jason Ritter and Kristen Schaal), as they spend the summer with their great-uncle “Grunkle” Stan (Alex Hirsch) in the town of Gravity Falls, a place notable for the huge number of dangerous supernatural occurrences which are still mostly kid-friendly. The strength of the series is that, unlike many other shows with similar set-ups, the focus is on the development of the characters, and the over-arching mythos of the series is built at a consistent pace. There’s also a lot of “show, don’t tell,” something that a cartoon can theoretically do better than live-action, but rarely does. This episode is when all that character development pays off.
Dipper is a nerdy kid who is obsessed with the weird. Mabel is the ridiculously upbeat girl who always sees the good in everyone (and has a grappling hook, because she’s awesome). Stan is the epitome of the con-man, whom the audience knows has a huge secret, and the entire season has been building to its reveal. A reveal that we get in this episode, but which has nothing to do with the two things that make this episode amazing.
First of all, this is the only episode of Gravity Falls where gravity actually does fall. Gravity periodically reverses itself throughout the episode. It’s a neat thing to finally see, since it was a part of the show’s opening theme up to this point, and the gimmick is used well throughout the episode. But it’s the second thing that sets it apart. In an episode that is, up to this point, the ultimate culmination of the show’s plotlines, most shows would choose to ramp up the speed and intensity to make the plot climax as intense as possible. But not Gravity Falls.
Instead, the show slows down and focuses on how the stress of the plotlines has affected the relationship between Dipper, Mabel, and Stan. Dipper and Mabel find out that Stanhas been lying to them about what he’s been doing. More than that, they find evidence that he may not even be who he says he is.
Now, the audience sees Stan wanting to tell the kids something important, but he gets arrested before he can. However, we also see that he does care for them deeply. Then we see the kids find Stan’s collection of fake IDs and forged documents, and realize that they might have been lied to. More than that, we get to see how two very different people respond to the situation. Dipper, who is all about finding out the truth, is angry because he was deceived by someone close to him. Mabel, who loves everyone and believes in the best in people, is heartbroken that someone she trusted may not be who she thought she was. Anger and questioning, two very human responses portrayed by 12-year-old kids.
When the kids finally find the machine in the basement that Stan has been keeping secret, Dipper comes to the conclusion, based on the show thus far, that the machine is dangerous and going to potentially destroy the world. As he tries to hit the shutdown button, Stan returns and stops him. Stan keeps trying to explain what happened, but Dipper refuses to listen. However, ultimately, Dipper and Stan, along with Stan’s employee Soos (Hirsch), are pinned against a wall and Mabel is the only one who can hit the button. Dipper tells her to hit the button, and Stan begs her not to. Mabel, who always wants to give people a chance, tells him that she doesn’t even know who he is. Dipper points out that if he’s lying, the world might end. Stan responds by saying that, while he’s done some bad things, everything he’s doing now is for his family. Mabel looks him in the eye, and with just a few seconds left, chooses to let herself float away from the button, saying “I trust you.”
It’s impossible not to feel everything they’re feeling in that moment. The music, the pacing, the animation, and Kristen Schaal’s epic voice acting as Mabel all come together to the point that you honestly might forget you’re watching a cartoon, because you will be so drawn in. And despite the significance of the ending, the climax of the episode isn’t the part where they reveal what the machine does, and answer two huge questions from the show, the climax is just Mabel choosing to believe in someone, to put her faith in the goodness of another, despite the fact that she can’t even articulate why. I know that a lot of the world is going to beat you down, and make it hard to think the best of others, but it’s nice to know that at least one show is trying to remind us that sometimes putting your faith in people will reward you. It takes strength to trust another, and Mabel is perhaps the strongest of us all. Be stronger, trust more: It’s a message that needs to be spread.
Also, it has one of my favorite jokes: “It’s the final countdown! Like they were always singing about!!!” Gets me every time.
Update: So, after writing this, I started watching the Nostalgia Critic and found out he did the “11 best episodes of Gravity Falls” and he not only picked this as the best episode of the series, but also picked it for basically the same reasons. I’m not saying he hacked my computer from the past and published it 2 years before I wrote it, but… I’m not NOT saying that. Either way, check out his channel if you grew up in the 80s. Some of his stuff is really funny.