An Animated Adventure Into Adolescence: Disney’s Gravity Falls
July 21st, 2012
This summer, The A.V. Club’s “Summertime Roundtable” group has shifted their focus from a single show, seminal sitcom Cheers, to episodes of various shows centered around the theme of adolescence. The pieces have been a real highlight of the summer months at the site, foregrounding theme but also emphasizing the way in which genre plays a role in how that theme is understood within serials and sitcoms alike (along with other variations on genre, of course).
And yet as I think about adolescence—and growing up in general—it strikes me that kids’ perception of these terms is less and less likely to come from broadcast programming like Boy Meets World—a show that I grew up with—or The Wonder Years. While the stray network series is “family friendly,” that programming niche has largely moved onto cable networks like Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel. While these are not “new” channels exactly, and I had equivalents—in YTV and the Family Channel—growing up in Canada when I was younger, they have grown into massive franchises and highly successful programming blocks in recent years. While this is logical given the increasingly savvy nature of young viewers who surfing online or asking their parents to download iPhone apps, it also means that innovations are happening in “Kids TV” during the same period at which I feel the most disconnected from “Kids TV”: as a twenty-something, trapped between childhood and potential parenthood, my channel surfing rarely gravitates toward those channels.
However, occasionally something tips your hat that sends you in that direction. Academically, teaching about children’s TV meant diving into the world of The Hub’s My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic—and yes, bronies—and Nickelodeon’s iCarly, while personally it often becomes a matter of seeing someone else diving in. And it is this that led me to Gravity Falls, a Disney Channel animated series from Alex Hirsch. My pal Eugene Ahn, also known as nerdcore rapper Adam Warrock, started littering my Twitter feed with enthusiastic remarks about the series, and it soon became one of his wonderful pop culture raps:
Not one to ignore such enthusiasm, and always looking for something to serve as a short distraction from a summer of studying, I started recording the aired episodes—which is easy given how often the Disney Channel strip schedules their shows, although new episodes air on Friday nights—and digging into the series. While I had seen a few commercials for the show, and knew its basic premise, I had been in Canada when it premiered, and so I hadn’t followed any of the early responses (which included a review from The A.V. Club’s Alasdair Wilkins), and so I got to be pleasantly surprised at how charming, fun, and generally hilarious the series has been thus far.
And while I have some more traditional “TV Critic” reasons why the show has been so successful, I think the theme of adolescence is a key part of its success, and the kind of show I wish I had when I was Dipper and Mabel’s age.