When I was reviewing Avatar: The Last Airbender, I mentioned that I wished every show was like it. I have now discovered another series that is just as good, and I want to share what it is that makes a good speculative fiction series:
1) Great Characters
Personally, if you can think of any great story, it really is about how deep and great the characters are. The main characters are a pair of twelve-year-old twins named Dipper (Jason Ritter) and Mabel (Kristen Schaal), who have to live with their Grunkle Stan (Alex Hirsch, the show’s creator) for the summer. Stan has a Mystery Shack, which is a museum that is a cross between the National Enquirer and the Pacific Northwest, and I will explain that later.
Both of the twins really symbolize the wonder of being a child. Dipper is the very curious one who has figured out that the world is much bigger than it seems. Mabel has a sweetness about her that won’t quit, but she is still pretty headstrong. As for Stan, he is a con man, and yes, this is a Disney show.
The show is about the familial relationships between the three, and later four, but I don’t want to spoil that. There is one episode where Stan is up to something that seems on the surface nefarious, and the twins could shut him down. Stan asks the twins to trust him, and the dialogue between them is absolutely heartbreaking and most dramas don’t achieve this level of actual pain.
In addition to the main characters, there are a lot of great side characters. One of them is Soos, who is the handyman from the Mystery Shack, and is an overall nice guy who might be low on brains but big on heart. He has a backstory that involves a lost father, and yes, this is a Disney show.
Then there is Wendy, one of the cashiers at the Mystery Shack. She is an older teen character that Dipper likes, and…the show actually deals with this issue in a very realistic way. Thank you, Disney.
2) A Deep Storyline
Gravity Falls is a show that is about an Oregonian town of the same name that has just odd stuff happening in it. Now, this show could have been about some new mystery of the week, but some of things on it are all connected. I would call it X-Files for kids, but the storyline is mature enough to be appreciated by adults, and when things get revealed, it doesn’t get too overly complicated.
From the first episode, Dipper finds a journal with a six-fingered hand and the number 3 on the palm. In the journal is a reference for all the weird things in Gravity Falls. This leads to a series of adventures that Scooby-Doo would have chalked up to old men in costumes, which was parodied on the second episode. In this case, the supernatural is real, and it is all connected.
Well, some of it. The first episode shows Stan entering a secret room, and what Stan is working on affects the entire show. The storyline was planned with a beginning and end, which is what all speculative shows really should have.
What is really interesting is that the show has clues that indicate what the show is about. There are even codes within the credits and sometimes in the background.
There is more imagination in one episode of Gravity Falls than in most series, and that includes speculative ones. Each show has something in it that could stand as its own series.
For example, there is one episode where Mabel and Dipper go mini golf course, and the balls are alive. Not only that, they have communities at each hole, and these communities are at war with each other. That is hysterical, and it just goes from there. Most episodes have some hysterical setting like that, and even the “stand alone” episodes that aren’t tied to the main plot work like that.
I mentioned earlier that the Mystery Shack is a mix of the National Enquirer and the Pacific Northwest, and if you live in the Pacific Northwest, that makes sense. It takes place in the woods, where magical woodland creatures dwell, but they often have an incredulous look to them. Okay, I can’t really explain that well, can I? Just watch it!
Unlike the previously mentioned Avatar, Gravity Falls is a comedy series. The jokes work on many levels, and the humor is very much self-aware. There is an episode where they talk about a show called Duck-tective, and the comments they make are equal to fan criticism and praise. Just watch that one if you don’t believe me.
In short, Gravity Falls is one of those shows that just works, on so many levels. In case you didn’t hear me the first two times, just watch it already.