Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Gravity Falls: “The Inconveniencing”

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Dipper Pines is a big damn hero. While his newfound teenage friends understandably freak out about being trapped in an evil, possessed convenience store, Dipper keeps a cool head, figures out the pattern at the heart of the ghosts’ wrath, and with only the tiniest hesitation completely humiliates himself just to save the skin of a bunch of people he’s only just met. He clearly doesn’t want to do the Lamby Lamby Dance—who in their right mind would, regardless of whether they are technically a teenager?—but when the big moment arrives, he gives the ghostly shopkeepers the finest girly dancing they’ve ever seen. He’s not doing this to impress Wendy, and he’s aware that he’s making it impossible for her to ever take him seriously as a romantic prospect. However, Wendy ultimately keeps his secret, and indeed is smiling with delight as she watches Dipper humiliate himself. Dipper does the Lamby Lamby Dance because it’s the right thing to do, and he doesn’t need to be cajoled into saving the day. As Mabel so eloquently puts it, Dipper might be a big dork—there’s no question about that—but he’s a big heroic dork. And the episode’s resounding affirmation of that basic fact is a major part of why “The Inconveniencing” is so great—but it’s hardly the only one.

After relegating her to glorified cameos in the first four episodes, Gravity Falls finally turns its focus to Wendy, and she’s every bit as cool as Dipper thinks she is—insofar as being able to hit Thompson’s bellybutton with a jellybean from 30 paces is the height of coolness. Dipper’s infatuation comes on suddenly—but for anyone who has ever had a hopeless crush, the character’s nighttime realization of the true extent of his feelings for Wendy is all too relatable. His ruse that the Pines twins are actually 13 years old earns Dipper a chance to hang out with Wendy and her friends, and his unexpected derring-do in getting the gang into the abandoned convenience store earns him the most excellent nickname Dr. Fun Times. But an epic night of revelry in the store takes a horrifying turn toward the paranormal when Dipper succumbs to peer pressure and lies in the police outline of the owners’ bodies, and the teenagers are disassembled one by one and placed in their own little corners of convenience store hell. Gravity Falls is probably never going to be straight-up scary, but between the teens’ macabre fates, composer Brad Breeck’s score, and (what I am fairly sure is) Kevin Michael Richardson’s voice work as the possessed Mabel, this sequence of “The Inconveniencing” finds the show at its most unsettling.

Teenagers are often conspicuous by their absence from many of the best animated shows: Adventure Time is rooted in a childlike sense of uncomplicated-if-twisted wonder, Bob’s Burgers and King Of The Hill feature characters on the cusp of puberty but are firmly focused on middle school, South Park only features teenagers when Cartman is forcing them to eat their parents, and The Simpsons proudly condenses all the world’s adolescents into that one squeaky-voiced teen. As such, it’s particularly refreshing just how much Wendy, Nate, Lee, Tambry, Thompson (Thompson!), and that sniveling creep Robbie act like real teenagers. The big paranormal climax, in which the teens are punished for the crime of being teens, wouldn’t work if the characters weren’t so authentic in their good-natured goofiness. They swap “your mom” jokes, challenge each other to stupid feats of strength and skill, and get up to a lot of dumb, thoughtless—but harmless—fun.

It’s an easy trap for shows built around preteens to only show the teenagers from the kids’ perspective, which generally means a cautionary tale about the perils of conformity and sacrificing one’s sense of what’s right in the name of coolness. Gravity Falls does slip in a quick pointer to its younger viewers about the dangers of peer pressure when Dipper lies down in the outline, but it goes uncommented upon—the immediate release of two malevolent ghosts broadcasts the message loud and clear. Wendy’s friends are a bunch of normal teens, all of whom rise above the typical adolescent stereotypes (Tambry possibly excepted) and actually behave like teenagers do in real life. It’s another victory for the surprising realism underpinning Gravity Falls, and it makes the central conflict of “The Inconveniencing” far more compelling than if they acted like a bunch of clichéd, intimidating punks. After all, the episode’s big lesson isn’t that being a teenager is bad. Dipper rejects his 13-year-old identity not because he is revolted by adolescence but because it’s the only way to save everyone from a pair of insane ghosts.

All this still ignores the most basic fact of “The Inconveniencing”: It’s hilarious. Mabel goes into full-on Homer Simpson mode, running on the ground while going “Woop,” the show’s most direct Simpsons reference yet (and to “Last Exit To Springfield”, no less). Much like Homer or Bender, Mabel is the kind of character who, if she isn’t given her own subplot, gets a laugh with every line. “The Inconveniencing” wrings humor from her being an authentic preteen goofball—her licking Dipper’s hand when he covers her mouth is  more relatable than those of us with siblings would care to admit—and then just keeps piling on the weirdness (“Yep… it’s dust!”) until the Smile Dip sequence. The animation here steps up its game, as it would have to when the script calls for Mabel to be riding a flying, four-headed dolphin with arms coming out if its mouths, out of whose fists come another round of dolphins heads. (Also, those second-tier dolphin heads shoot rainbow rays out of their mouths.) Onward Aoshima, indeed.

Gravity Falls has demonstrated a knack for shamelessly silly pop-culture riffs, and “The Inconveniencing” offers two terrific examples of this. Stan’s subplot finds him watching The Duchess Approves, which stars (deep breath) Sturly Stembleburgiss as The Duchess and (even deeper breath) Grampton St. Rumpterfrabble as “irascible coxswain Saunterblugget Hampterfuppinshire”—the latter of which is an instant inductee into the Ludicrously Fake British Names Hall of Fame. It’s an old joke for Stan to become unexpectedly invested in the boring movie, but the episode is just meta enough about the gag (“This is just like my life… in a way!”) to avoid feeling clichéd. And then there’s the rap that led Ma and Pa to have their heart attack. The specificity of Pa’s objections to teenagers—“Always sassafrassin’ customers with their boomy boxes and disrespectful short pants!”—and the outrage in Ken Jenkins’ voice performance set up the joke, and then the rap song’s wonderfully unthreatening lyrics bring it home: “Homework’s whack, and so are rules! Tucking in your shirt’s for fools!” Again, the animation adds another layer to the moment, as the teenaged hoodlums’ basic-but-determined dance moves help send Ma and Pa to their heart attacks. It’s another instance of “The Inconveniencing” firing on all cylinders, as the episode consistently nails the jokes, the characters, the horror, the visuals, the music, and the larger themes about when it’s time to grow up and when it’s time to do the Lamby Lamby Dance. Gravity Falls may still have even higher highs ahead, but this one is going to be hard to top.


Stray observations:

  • If you’re inclined toward theorizing that Robbie isn’t all that he seems, it’s worth pointing out that the episode never actually reveals what happens to him after Nate is taken and before Dipper appeases the ghosts. He’s probably either cowering in fear—seriously, that dude is way too eager to abandon his friends—or was taken off-screen, but it’s still a minor mystery.
  • “Onward, Aoshima” is, of course, a shout-out to series director John Aoshima.
  • “Since when are we 13? Is this a leap year?”
  • “Good job throwing the kid off the fence, genius.” “Your mom’s a genius!”
  • “You had your chance at the cotillion, you!” “That’s what I’m saying!”
  • Next week, Gravity Falls returns with a new episode, and the week after we’ll conclude our catch-up coverage with a look back at “Dipper Vs. Manliness.”