Placing Gravity Falls in the animation canon doesn’t require drawing comparisons to series outside of Disney, which, from Kim Possible to Phineas and Ferb to Star vs. The Forces of Evil, has acquitted itself well in the 21st century so far. But it’s tempting to do so anyway: With its emphasis on familial relationships both healthy and broken, its heady admixture of sci-fi, horror, humorous pop culture references and profound emotion, even its central, ever-looming truth (“Summer ends”), Alex Hirsch’s short-lived beauty summons up thoughts of BoJack Horseman, Bob’s Burgers, Adventure Time, and Rick and Morty, not to mention live-action inspirations such as Twin Peaks, The X-Files, and Lost.
Still, at the heart of Gravity Falls’ many mysteries is the perfectly rendered relationship between Dipper and Mabel Pines (voiced by Jason Ritter and Kristen Schaal), 12-year-old twins shipped off for the summer to their great uncle, or “Grunkle,” Stan (Hirsch) in Gravity Falls, Ore. As Dipper and Mabel soon learn, despite the blasé attitudes of good-natured employees Soos Ramirez (Hirsch) and Wendy Corduroy (Linda Cardellini), Stan’s tourist trap, the Mystery Shack, is the epicenter of paranormal occurrences that’d make Fox Mulder weep. The siblings’ loving rapport, which also features its fair share of frustration and hurt feelings, gives ballast to the series’ strangest interludes, as Dipper tries to find the truth behind an occult journal he discovers, Mabel tries to find true love, and Stan tries to find a way to keep his secrets hidden from the young ones.
To celebrate the series’ legacy—and its triumphant return, in the form of Shout! Factory’s expansive Blu-ray/DVD boxed set, Gravity Falls: The Complete Series Collector’s Edition—Paste is proud to present our ranking of Gravity Falls 20 best episodes. And be sure to enter our giveaway for the chance to win one of three Collector’s Edition boxed sets, including 18” x 24” lithographs.
This early in Season Two we didn’t know the degree to which deeply entrenched, deeply stupid rivalry would end up being one of the series’ Big Themes, but when Patton Oswalt’s Lilliputtian putt-putt ball avatar, Franz, rolled into Dipper and Mabel’s lives and gave tiny, unsettlingly toothy mini-golf shape to the well-established rivalry between our dear, doofy Mabel and rich kid mean girl, Pacifica Northwest (Jackie Buscarino), that didn’t matter. All that mattered was the tiny, tiny, adorably deadly turf war amongst Gravity Falls’ bloodthirstiest sports equipment, Mabel and Pacifica’s burgeoning respect for each other’s strengths, and Dipper’s pithy reminder of how failing to correlate personal achievement with generational wealth is a real mistake: “Pacifica’s rich, Mabel. She’s cheating at LIFE.” —Alexis Gunderson
Robbie V. is terrible, and not just because he’s voiced by T.J. Miller. Wendy’s (Linda Cardellini) emo boyfriend is one of the easiest characters to hate in Gravity Falls: He doesn’t really respect her, he basically bullies Dipper whenever he has a chance, and he represents a particularly noxious (and familiar) kind of teen angst. Certain viewers might see a little too much of their own adolescent self in the Hot Topic try hard with a terrible band, leading to a cringe level that’s simply off the charts. “Fight Fighters” focuses on Dipper’s beef with Robbie, with the threat of a fight looming over Dipper’s head driving him to summon a pixelated brawler from a Street Fighter-style video game. The Dipper-Wendy-Robbie love triangle is a crucial character dynamic in the show’s first season, and this episode establishes it as a slightly more nuanced take on the typical teen romance. —Garrett Martin
The reopening of the Gravity Falls Wax Museum—followed by the “murder” of Mabel’s glittering sculpture of Stan—tees up the raft of humorous pop culture references that landed “Headhunters” on this list, with appearances by Wax Groucho Marx, Wax Genghis Khan, and “Some kind of, I dunno, goblin man” (Wax Larry King). The central mystery is pretty low-stakes compared to later installments, but the episode sees Gravity Falls begin to stretch its comic legs. There’s a brilliant sight gag involving Dipper and Mabel’s crayon-and-glitter fake IDs (they pose as “Sir Dippingsauce” and “Lady Mabelton” to get into a dive bar), not to mention one of my favorite one-liners in the entire series. Upon entering the museum, Stan finds the blinds left open, and Wax Abraham Lincoln in a puddle on the floor. “Wax John Wilkes Booth,” he says, “I’m looking in your direction.” —Matt Brennan
Aside from letting Alex Hirsch sneak a Halloween episode into a series stuck forever in June and July, “Summerween” serves, to my mind, one purpose: To remind everyone (hi) who watches cleverly assembled genre stories (…) and spends hours trying to articulate the deep meaning behind it all (I mean), that sometimes a dumb monster is just a dumb monster. The Summerween Trickster (Jeff Bennett) is not terrorizing children every summer because its plight—being made up of “loser candy” that no one actively likes—means anything. It means nothing. It means so little that, to quote Wendy from another episode on this list, it is literally too dumb for anyone to care about. But that is right and good! Monsters in genre stories can be allegories for bigger things, but if we always force them to signify more than what they are, we risk missing the stories that are being told without being dressed up in fangs and claws. Like, for example, the big story told here of Mabel and Dipper facing the adult world in completely different ways, or the petty one of Stan taking joy in pulling a trolling fast one on anyone and everyone, including literal children. The Summerween Trickster, despite being the epitome of the paranormal weirdness the show is premised on, has exactly no bearing on either of those mundanely human things. Without episodes like this, Gravity Falls would be too dense and too clever an allegorical puzzlebox for its own good. With them, we can breathe and enjoy the cleverness that matters. —Alexis Gunderson
Gravity Falls has a knack for making stock situations and scenarios feel original again by blowing them up to outsized proportions. “Carpet Diem” does for the hoary cartoon (and 1980s movie) shibboleth of body swapping what “The Time Traveler’s Pig” does for time travel, using this tired conceit to explore and expand its characters while also amplifying it into an absurd blast of chaos. Perhaps more importantly, though, we get a thorough look at what Mabel, Candy (Niki Yang) and Grenda (Carl Faruolo) get into during their epic sleepovers, and even though I’ve never been a 12-year-old girl (of either the animated or flesh-and-blood variety), I can still recognize an amazing time when I see one. —Garrett Martin
As the first half of a two-part season finale, “Dreamscaperers” (say that three times fast) does much more than keep us hanging on that “To Be Continued…” For one, it features a tagline for Mabel’s favorite TV show, Dream Boy High, that makes a strong case for a series order (“Where love goes on your permanent record”). For two, it brings back Southern-fried dandy/child psychic/televangelist Li’l Gideon (the note-perfect Thurop Van Orman), who recruits an Eye of Providence-esque “mind demon” named Bill Cipher to scour Stan’s memories for the code to his safe, and thereby the deed to the Mystery Shack. It’s truly wild and tremendously funny—the “incantation” to enter Stan’s mind contains the phrases “magnum opus” and “habeas corpus”—but it also features a vein of sincerity that keeps it all afloat: In Stan’s memories, Dipper discovers that his grunkle is hard on him because he knows the world will be harder, and that he’s proud of how his nephew’s grown. Gravity Falls: Where love goes on your permanent record. —Matt Brennan
Sure, this episode is the one where Mabel’s silliness solves a centuries-old conspiracy and returns the eighth-and-a-half President from his peanut brittle hibernation, and where Stan’s terrible behavior towards everyone, like, all the time lands him in the old-timey stocks, and where the town’s old-timey performative patriotism brings out the mulleted dude who just loves the USA so much he is weeping, but it is also the one where Gravity Falls, a children’s show, has a C-story following what happens after a character so unimportant he isn’t even tertiary marries a woodpecker. I mean, I love watching Mabel pretend to be serious while licking caramels off a table and intoning “serioussssss” and squinting at a possibly upside-down book as much as the next girl-dude—the more reminders we can get that being in the stupidest timeline is maybe only the end of the world if we don’t meet it with the best faith version of ourselves in return, the better—but a man! Married a woodpecker! ON DISNEY! This show. How did we ever deserve it? —Alexis Gunderson
The return of Blendin Blandin (Justin Roiland) balances absurd sci-fi thrillpower with some of the show’s most poignant pathos. Dipper and Mabel have to square off in a deadly time battle in the year Twenty Sneventy Five, and somehow along the way discover the childhood trauma that makes Soos come to hate birthdays. (Spoiler: It involves a lying absentee dad.) Soos’ backstory is a heartbreaker, but the resolution feels about as empowering as cartoons get (and also involves an infinite slice of pizza, which is nice.) Between the far future time travel goofiness, and the positive end to Soos’s story, this feels like a weirdly upbeat Rick and Morty without all that deadening depression. —Garrett Martin
When Lazy Susan (Jennifer Coolidge) is kidnapped after a gnome sighting by a group of men in red cloaks, it sets in motion one of the series’ most slyly ambitious episodes—first morphing into a self-referential study of Old Man McGucket (series creator Alex Hirsch), and thence into an unsettling parable about the uses of memory. (The B plot, in which Mabel frets over her failed summer romances, is pure levity: “I just don’t get it, Wendy. I hug a lot, I can burp the alphabet, I have scratch-and-sniff clothing. Why does everybody leave me?”) As it turns out, The Society of the Blind Eye has been erasing the townspeople’s memories of supernatural occurrences, using a machine that McGucket, once a scientist, developed (and used on) himself. Watching the man’s mind and life come undone as his reel of memories unspools on screen is one of the more unsettling sequences in the annals of Gravity Falls, though it speaks to the importance of even our worst memories in creating our sense of self. “Now that I’ve seen what happened,” the old coot reassures Mabel, “I can begin to put myself together again.” —Matt Brennan
All Gravity Falls episodes that feature Wendy and her crew of dirtbag teen friends—who seem so old and cool to 12-year-old Dipper but who are, in fact, dumb, awkward kids—are my favorite Gravity Falls episodes, but “The Love God,” which opens with Robbie moaning in an empty grave about his breakup with Wendy, two feet away from Wendy and her crew, is basically the Platonic Ideal of Gravity Falls’ dirtbag teen episodes. It has love, it has sneering disdain, it has a hipster summer music festival that for sure represents that strain of Oregonian youth culture in the most embarrassingly accurate light, it has Mabel learning the dangers of manipulating other people’s fates just to suit her own love-loving agendas—it has it all! And, as an added bonus in the B-plot, it has Stan stepping outside his comfort zone (you know, of turning everyone who’s not a mark into a nemesis) by trying to woo the hippie youths in town for the festival by handcrafting a hot air balloon of his face with the words “I EAT KIDS” (originally “I Heart Kids”) sewn inexpertly in ransom-note lettering across the crown, only to have the balloon catch fire as it rises, looming up over the festival hill and across the night sky in a ball of nightmare-inducing flame. I never don’t laugh until I choke at the whole sequence. —Alexis Gunderson
Here begins Dipper’s sweet, sad, painful and impossible crush on Wendy, an unrequited love whose purity can’t overcome the fact that this is about the only time during their lives where three years would be too big of a gap for a relationship. He’s 12, she’s 15, it’ll never work out, at least not until college. Part urban legend, part classic teen movie in miniature form, “The Inconveniencing” brings the twins, Wendy and her friends face to face with the once-kindly old ghost couple who ran a long-abandoned convenience store. Valuable lessons are learned about being honest and forthright and all that jive, and Mabel also loses her damn mind while hallucinating on some expired candy. It’s funny, smart, touching, and doesn’t quite go in the direction you expect it to, making it a microcosm of what Gravity Falls does well. —Garrett Martin
I’ll confess that this one is slow off the blocks. Despite decking them out in Mystery Shack swag, the arrival of two government agents (think Men in Black) investigating the strange happenings in Gravity Falls does more to establish the season’s arc than catalyze the episode’s action, and the same can be said of Dipper’s (correct) conviction that “There’s something huge going on right under out noses.” By the end of “Scary-oke,” though, it’s a moot point, because its second half—set at the Mystery Shack’s grand re-opening party, organized by (who else?) Mabel—is overstuffed with joys large and small. There’s Wendy saying, of a black light shone on her teeth, “It’s like a crime scene in my mouth!” There’s a very nattily dressed Stan fighting off a zombie horde, yelling, “The only wrinkly monster who harasses my family is me!” And, last but certainly not least, there’s Mabel getting her reluctant brother and uncle to sing the “perfect three-part harmony” that is the zombies’ sole weakness. The juxtaposition of the infectious tween girl pop hit and a bunch of exploding zombie skulls is pure bliss. —Matt Brennan
If it is true that everyone is a mix of two characters from The Good Place (and why shouldn’t it be!), the Mystery Shack’s ever dependable weirdo, Soos, is Gravity Falls’ Jason Mendoza/Janet—all heart and readiness to help fix the world around him, with few of the brains or experience with romantic human relationships to back those first things up. “Soos and the Real Girl” lets Soos explore all of those parts of himself as he overreacts to the news of his lesser cousin’s engagement by thrusting himself onto the Gravity Falls dating scene, getting intimidated by the Gravity Falls dating scene, and locking himself in his basement with a copy of a dating sim called “Relationship Academy 7” he pulled out of the trash and whose protagonist, Giffany (Jessica DiCicco), is only one coding twist scarier than the one haunting the players of “Doki Doki Book Club” in the real world. Because Soos is who he is (that is: great) and Mabel and Dipper are who they are (also great, but also a bit nosy and attracted to paranormal danger), they make it out fine, and with a funny, three-dimensional, not-a-prize real girl (Jillian Bell) excited to get to know Soos to boot. Gravity Falls, a show for children, didn’t have to dedicate one of its limited number of episodes to a character who is not only secondary, but also an adult, yet its bigger story is the richer for it having done so. —Alexis Gunderson
Everything is different now in “The Time Traveler’s Pig,” as both twins say for completely opposite reasons. Mabel’s best day ever finds her winning her pet pig, Waddles, at a carnival, while Dipper gets his heart broken when his crush, Wendy, agrees to date Robbie. This sets off a series of jaunts back through time, as Dipper tries to prevent the accident that brought Robbie and Wendy together. It avoids the time travel plot holes that nerds always complain about on the Internet by focusing on one distinct moment, but more importantly it’s a hilarious Mobius strip of an episode that succinctly sums up Mabel and Dipper’s characters. It also introduces Justin Roiland’s enigmatic time traveler, Blendin Blandin, who plays a notable role in the second season. —Garrett Martin
“Is this the part where one of us faints?” As Mabel’s closing question suggests, “Not What He Seems” sends Gravity Falls’ longest-running mystery into overdrive, revealing both who wrote the journals and what Stan’s “doomsday device” is for. Before the episode’s big finale, though, it’s a heartfelt familial trust fall wrapped in a prison break adventure sprinkled with pop culture allusions and series in-jokes. Among the highlights are a terrific dunk on Ashton Kutcher and Punk’d and Soos’ (Hirsch) dimwitted laugh line, “It’s the final countdown. Just like they always sung about!” But first among equals is Mabel securing her and Dipper’s release from government custody (after Stan is arrested) by writing “Sevral Times is overrated” in the dirt on the Hummer’s window—so enraging a beefy trucker (and Sevral Times fan) that he drives them off the road. Man, I love Mabel. —Matt Brennan
You know this one is good because they had to cut part of the title sequence out to make room for all the jokes. And all the social criticism. And all the Nathan Fillion. And all the MURDER. Yes, folks, this show has it all! It even has Dipper and Pacifica bonding, and while that is not something anyone watching in its original run was asking for—or even thinking about—the two of them do share the experience of not being taken seriously by their respective families, a fact which would have made this episode compelling enough to be on our Best Of list even without all the family curses and ghost murder.
That said: The cuts between the lighter silliness/class commentary of the soiree shindig Mabel and her friends are enjoying and the haunting of the Northwest mansion Dipper is trying to ghostbust—in which the demonic lumberjack ghost manifests from the bloody hatcheted skeleton up—is an unsettling marvel. The fact that it culminates in the entire party being transformed into wood and then almost set on fire while Pacifica’s billionaire father is halfway out the door, escaping to his own freedom instead of stopping the madness by just inviting the riffraff through his about-to-be-destroyed gates, still boggles the mind. Again, this is a kids’ show! On DISNEY. The next generation of voters is going to be lit (with righteous anger) (at the rich), and Dipper and Pacifica will be at the front of the line. —Alexis Gunderson
The best Mabel episodes are ones where her natural silliness and optimism crash headfirst into hard reality. In “Boss Mabel,” she learns the fallacy of the “cool” boss, finding out firsthand why managers shouldn’t really treat their employees as friends. She bets Stan that she can be a better boss than he is, and the results are an absolute disaster, with her employees exploiting her and a gremoblin (half gremlin, half goblin) smashing up the Mystery Shack. She grows as a person, even if the lesson—that sometimes people have to fear you to respect you—runs counter to her nature. Beyond Mabel’s arc, “Boss Mabel” is packed full of great jokes and moments, from Stan’s ultimate failure on the game show Cash Wheel (he can’t think of the word “please,” which is foreshadowed earlier in the episode), to the gremoblin being tricked into facing its greatest fear: realizing that it’s turned into its father. —Garrett Martin
The last episode before the multi-part “Weirdmageddon” / series finale extravaganza opens one week before Dipper and Mabel’s 13th birthday, with the end of summer, “post-preteen magazines,” PG-13 movies, and the start of high school suddenly on the horizon. As the siblings soon discover, though, the future isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, full of hormone meltdowns and dangerous rifts in the fabric of the universe. (“Why aren’t they singing about following their dreams?” Mabel asks, hilariously, after dropping in on registration at Gravity Falls High.) In perhaps the most clever juxtaposition of subplots in the entire series, Grunkle Ford (J.K. Simmons) offers to train Dipper as an apprentice—which will require separation from Mabel—just as Mabel’s plan to throw herself and her brother an end-of-summer/going away/13th birthday party goes up in flames. The resulting dilemma so precisely reproduces the poignant sense of loss that comes with growing up, and growing apart, that it might transport you back to your own stolen summers. I think I need to radio for emotional backup. —Matt Brennan
By the end if the series’ second season, the truly stellar episodes really start to pile up. Some are better than “A Tale of Two Stans” (a.k.a., The One With All the Answers), but few are more wrenching. Just the pathos of the episode, seeing the long line of bad choices and worse luck that Stan and Ford both make from high school on that pushes them further and further apart from one another and deeper and deeper into the most self-defeatingly toxic parts of themselves—it’s just absolutely gutting. That Stan is revealing the secrets of his past and the depth of Ford’s paranormal experimentation to the twins (and a very excited Soos) while under siege from the government agency that has been trying to trap Stan in the act of dimensional tampering the whole season gives the Pines brothers’ harrowing history both a chance to breathe and some much-needed moments of cathartic comic relief, but that relief isn’t a cure: The brothers do not come out the other end forgiving each other.
This is the point at which Gravity Falls went from being a great show to being a singularly exceptional one, the moment it proved itself willing to present kids with the hard truth that with family it’s possible for the trenches of psychic grudges to run so deep that you can’t get past the oldest arguments, even after forty odd years—an idea that in turn sets up the worst of “what’s the worst that could happen” for Dipper and Mabel in the series’ final episodes, for the audience and for the twins themselves.
So, yes—obviously this episode is a big one for all the puzzlebox answers it pours out, but it is the fearless leap into the history of two old, broken men trying to pick up the pieces of the family they each took from the other that will secure Gravity Falls a place in cartoon history. —Alexis Gunderson
When I started watching Gravity Falls last month (yeah, I’m a late bloomer), I never expected that it would wind up having what is probably the most satisfying finale of any show I’d ever loved before. (Yes, it’s even better than the last Delocated). This three-parter is a psychedelic horror show that ties together pretty much every major and minor storyline from throughout the show’s run. Every recurring character gets a moment to shine, however briefly, during the final extended confrontation with Bill Cipher, even Li’l Gideon, who improbably redeems himself when most needed. It ends with multiple emotional wallops stacked on top of each other, as the twins leave Gravity Falls, and the familiar sadness of both the end of one of those magical childhood summers and the end of a favorite TV show wash over the viewer. Alex Hirsch and the show’s writers clearly benefited from knowing exactly when Gravity Falls would end, as “Weirdmageddon” shows how to perfectly wrap up not just a mystery box series but any TV show that treats its characters and relationships with respect. —Garrett Martin