bestof2014-8

Every day between now and Christmas morning, we’ll share the twenty-five stories that engaged, enchanted, amused and amazed us the most in 2014. If you missed them, now’s your chance to catch up; if you’re looking for a gift for the wonk in your life, then these are our most enthusiastic recommendations!

Today, Gravity Falls.

Let’s be completely clear: I watched Gravity Falls for Kristen Schall. When I heard that she was voicing a character in a cute-looking Disney show, I figured I could endure constant ad breaks and show-and-tell sentimentality if it meant more Schall. That was in the the middle of 2012, and I had no idea what I was letting myself in for.

It was immediately obvious that Gravity Falls wasn’t an ordinary kids’ show. Right from the beginning, there was a depth of worldbuilding, a willful creativity, and a sense of humor that ran from the wry to the outlandish — but what made the show work, at a fundamental level, was the thought and attention given to the characters and their relationships. At the heart of Gravity Falls is the loving, fractious sibling rivalry between Dipper and Mabel, and it’s a relationship as well-observed as any you’ll find on television. As the months have rolled by, we’ve expanded out from that core to explore Dipper’s search for validation from Stan, or his romantic interest in the ever-unobtainable Wendy; meanwhile, Mabel’s easy friendship with Candy and Grenda, or her increasingly-self-aware quest for idealized summer love, 1980s style, offer a lighter counterpoint that is every bit as emotionally potent. The show also delights in pushing characters almost to breaking point, and then following through with complete sincerity: witness Wendy’s breakup with Robbie and rejection of Dipper at the end of “Boyz Crazy”, or the truth revealed in the season two episode “The Society of the Blind Eye”, which I will not spoil, but which is genuinely shocking.

We’re in a golden age of all-ages animation right now, and Gravity Falls is the best of the bunch. It’s much more emotionally developed and ambitious than Friendship is Magic, but lacks both the riotous incomprehensibility and tonal inconsistency of Adventure Time, and the nihilistic cool of Regular Show; in fact, one of the most appealing qualities of Gravity Falls is its authenticity and heart. Like Dipper and Mabel, it has a complicated relationship with the notion of being cool, but seems to be more comfortable being itself, in all its dorky, genuine, adolescent glory. Take that heart, bolt it to restless ingenuity and narrative ambition, ignite it with every size and type of joke you can think of, and plant right in the middle of an Oregon which will be oddly familiar to viewers of Twin Peaks, and you have Gravity Falls — but only after you’ve also given it one of the best opening themes in television history!

In short, then, Gravity Falls is sharper and funnier than any other show on television, and that isn’t even the best thing about it. It’s unmissable stuff.

Get it now: Gravity Falls.