I goofed. I could’ve watched Gravity Falls when it was on the air, but like a fool I dismissed it as another one of those impenetrable, hyperactive cartoons for tweens on a kid’s network whose name I could never quite remember. (Disney XD? What does that stand for, Extra Disney? In my day we had exactly one Disney Channel, and you had to pay extra for it, and it showed all the awesome old shorts, and also came with a monthly magazine. I’m sounding like Grunkle Stan over here.)
Gravity Falls, as you might know, is something different—something special. It’s a smartly written, beautifully designed, fiendish puzzle box of a cartoon that poignantly evokes the power of childhood summers while also crafting a devious series-length mystery cut from the same cloth as Twin Peaks and Lost. It draws from many different genres and encompasses many different life experiences, and it does it so elegantly that it’s hard to imagine anybody not falling in love with it. The whole series was released in a Blu-ray / DVD box set today; when I received an early copy last month, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to finish it in time for the release. It took me maybe a week to blast through all 40 episodes, and then another day or two to watch all the bonus material. I did not expect this show to be this great, for it to capture my imagination and speak to me as thoroughly as it has.
Last week we ranked the 20 best episodes of the show. I’m not done writing about Gravity Falls, though—you can’t explain what makes it so great simply by discussing plots and storylines. It is driven by character at least as much as it is by the storyline that runs throughout the series, so it only makes sense to break down what makes the best of these characters so great.
If you haven’t seen Gravity Falls yet and want to check it out, or if you’ve seen every episode and just want to relive them all again, you can enter to win a Collector’s Edition of the brand new box set on Blu-ray and DVD through our giveaway. Those special sets come with a 18” x 24” lithograph, a “special letter for Dipper,” every single episode (with commentary), and more.
Okay, here they are: the 10 best characters in Gravity Falls.
Look, I love Waddles. Who doesn’t? It’s impossible to watch Gravity Falls and not fall in love with Mabel’s delightful pet pig. If any of one of these characters could become flesh and blood in our lesser real world, and forge a lasting friendship with me, I would easily pick Waddles, no question. But I feel weird putting a character that never changes expressions and has only one or two lines (in a dream sequence, at that) on a list like this. Waddles isn’t a character—he’s an idea, a legend, an icon for the ages. He eclipses all conventional notions of what a TV character should be, and it simply wouldn’t be fair to the other characters to try and rank them against his glorious perfection. So, sadly, you won’t find Waddles on this list, but not because I don’t love him—but because no list can contain the totality of what Waddles means to Gravity Falls and the world at large.
Okay, they’re basically a package deal. Apparently a divisive duo among Falls fans, Mabel’s best friends illustrate the warmth that radiates from this show. A lesser show would use Candy’s thick accent and Grenda’s unconventional appearance as the butt of jokes; Gravity Falls definitely has fun with both of those things, but it never disrespects either character, and develops both of them more than it has any reason to. We know more about these two kids, and have a greater feel for their humanity, than most of the children on The Simpsons, which has roughly ten million more episodes than Gravity Falls. That’s not a knock on The Simpsons, but simply illustrates how Gravity Falls takes an active interest in every one of its recurring characters, no matter how minor they might seem. Grenda and Candy seem minor at first, but eventually become vital parts of the show, and they remain fun—and funny—throughout.
Sure, the “mean girl who eventually becomes a friend by the end” is a stone-cold trope (and don’t worry, that’s the last time I’ll be using that obnoxiously prevalent word), but Gravity Falls wrings the most juice out of that scenario with Pacifica Northwest. She’s not just a static mean girl, but somebody whose terrible personality—and eventual redemption—is explored and developed during her major appearances. By the end of season two her entire identity has collapsed around her, and she thoroughly realizes how terrible her parents are, and you can’t help but feel for her the same way Mabel and Dipper do. She grows more than anybody else on the show, despite being a relatively minor character, all told.
Grunkle Stan’s long-lost twin brother isn’t the deepest character—he’s a brilliant scientist turned stalwart adventurer, an old pulp hero brought to life in Gravity Falls, whose intelligence and bravery mostly exist to contrast with Stan’s far more problematic nature. His major defect comes in minimizing the most important power in the world of Gravity Falls: family. You can see it both in how he treats his brother, and also in how he tries to lure Dipper into staying with him as his apprentice instead of returning home with Mabel at the end of the summer. That doesn’t make him a bad guy, and by the end of the series he’s learned his lesson, but despite his flawless exterior it reveals that Stanford might not be as strong or smart inside as his brother.
The enigmatic chaos demon at the heart of the show’s mythology is legitimately both frightening and funny. That’s a hard combination to pull off. He’s BOB from the first season of Twin Peaks if, instead of pure inchoate menace, he was a motormouth insult comic ripped straight from the dollar bill and every Illuminati conspiracy theory. Despite his cartoonish depiction Bill is always a threatening presence, ratcheting up the tension dramatically whenever he appears, and his particular brand of anxiety-inducing mania courses throughout the show’s best episodes, the three-part “Weirdmageddon” series finale.
It takes a little while for the show to really develop the Mystery Shack’s handyman, but once it does Soos becomes a character that everybody cares and roots for. Mostly used for comic relief throughout, when the show does dip into his life, it’s marked by both profound sadness but also the life-affirming warmth that Soos himself brings to most situations. There’s something quietly and inherently sad about Soos living alone with his sweet, doting grandmother, and that sadness deepens when we see how greatly he struggles with dating and making friends. The subplot where we learn why he hates birthdays—because his runaway father would routinely send him postcards saying he’d show up for his birthday, only to leave Soos high and dry—is one of the saddest, most poignant moments of the whole series. Despite all this Soos remains in incredibly good spirits, always ready to help the Pines family (even if he messes most things up).
The show’s most tragic character is also a one-man encapsulation of how this initially goofy, carefree show gradually turns into something deep and poignant. At first just a cartoon stock type—the old hillbilly / prospector who’s lost his mind, not far off from the redneck stereotype of Cletus from The Simpsons—McGucket becomes something far more significant over time. He’s both a crucial player in the show’s central mythology but also a living warning of what Dipper and Mabel have to worry about the deeper they dig into the town’s mysteries. He’s pure comic relief that gives way to a deep well of pathos.
Sure, he packs a ton of negative character traits into one aging body—he’s greedy, cheap, mean, crass, petty, vindictive, selfish, irritable and so much more—but he’s also thoroughly committed to family. He never stops trying to find his long-list twin brother, even when the trail eventually goes cold. He might act gruff and uncaring around Mabel and Dipper, but he clearly loves both of them, and that bond between the three is the emotional heart of the show. He’s also maybe the most consistently hilarious character, which counts for a lot.
It’s real tough putting anybody ahead of any of the main members of the Pines family, but by the end of the “Weirdmageddon” finale it’s impossible to not be completely in love with Wendy as a character. She doesn’t just survive in Bill Cipher’s post-apocalyptic hellscape, but essentially thrives, turning into the Mad Max of Weirdmageddon. She’s already firmly established as the character you’d most want to be friends with well before then—cool and laidback on the surface, but willing to let her friends see how anxious she really is inside, she’s both the kind of person we’d like to be and also the kind of person most of us are.
Dipper is the fulcrum around which the whole show pivots, the would-be explorer whose dogged pursuit of the mysteries of Gravity Falls drives the overarching plot of the show. Nice and earnest (maybe to a fault), Dipper’s intelligence, scout mentality and quiet courage combine with his responsibility and dependability to make him perhaps the best person on the show. At least he would be, if he wasn’t also a 12-year-old boy, suffering from all the confusion and growing pains that comes with that. He might make a lot of questionable decisions due to his massive crush on Wendy and desire to seem cool, but overall Dipper is the most capable person in Gravity Falls, and also the most admirable. Still, he wouldn’t be any of those things without the help of…
Dipper’s twin sister is an adorable little hurricane of positivity and excitement, and her chaos is an absolutely vital counterpoint to Dipper’s order. She might not be as fascinated by the unknown as her brother, but with her supreme confidence and nontraditional thinking she’s better suited to handle it once they encounter it in the flesh. She’s a far more dynamic character than Dipper, making her a perfect lead for any storyline, but she never feels misplaced or out of her element during the mythology-heavy episodes. She’s as important and likable as Dipper, but way funnier and more entertaining, which makes her the best overall character on the show.
Garrett Martin edits Paste’s comedy and games sections and also writes about theme parks. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.