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GRAVITY FALLS Season 2, Episode 9 ‘The Love God’ Review

Alex Hirsch has made no secret whatsoever of the influence The Simpsons had on him. And he’s not alone. Part of the reason TV animation is as groundbreaking and awesome as it is right now–and I include both adult animation and children’s animation in this–is that The Simpsons helped redefine what the medium could be capable of, in terms of comedy as well as story, and Hirsch was one of many future CalArts grads who had that influence over them.

It’s almost fate, then, that “The Love God” was co-written by none other than Josh Weinstein, who co-ran The Simpsons’ seventh and eighth seasons with Bill Oakley after the two wrote many classic Golden Age episodes like “Marge Gets A Job,” “Bart Vs. Australia” and “Who Shot Mr. Burns?” Weinstein, with his vast facility for delivering nonstop jokes along with earnest, swift emotional truths honed on Simpsons, Futurama and his own Mission Hill, is a natural fit for the show, even if his unique voice seems a bit tempered here. Regardless, “The Love God” is a good episode that focuses on the consequences of the supernatural meddling the Pines kids get up to.

The Plot

The twins are chilling with Wendy and her gang of teenaged friends–Lee (Michael Rianda), Nate (Alex Hirsch), Tambry (Jessica DiCicco) and the eternally put-upon Thompson (Rianda)–at the Gravity Falls Cemetery staring at clouds. Dipper, for his part, is ecstatic that he’s finally in with the cool kids. Mabel spots a hot air balloon and Wendy explains it’s for the upcoming annual “Woodstick” Music Festival with a bunch of indie bands liek Scarves Indoors and Wood Grain On Everything. Suddenly, they hear a loud moaning coming from an open grave.

The kids pressure Thompson to investigate and “gaze upon death!” He screams in horror and Tambry remarks that it’s “even creepier than I expected” as the moaner is revealed to be…Robbie (T.J. Miller), still in deep mourning over Wendy’s dumping him from last season. The group leaves, but Mabel wants to comfort Robbie. Dipper, however, tells her that with him gone and them in, the social balance of the group is fine and not worth messing with.

Back at the Mystery Shack, Mabel forms a plan. Based on her success pairing Soos with his girlfriend Melody (Jillian Bell) and Waddles with Gompers the goat (the latter two apparently got married and are stuck together with duct tape), she reasons that she can find Robbie a new girlfriend. Wendy, however, believes Robbie is a lost cause.

Mabel heads over to Robbie’s house which, it turns out, is in the cemetery as his parents run the local funeral home. After meeting with his surprisingly upbeat and happy parents, Mabel heads to Robbie’s room and promises to find him a new girlfriend to help him get over Wendy. Although skeptical, Robbie agrees to humor Mabel.

Deciding to set him up with Tambry, Mabel uses covert texting to get the two teens to meet together at Greasy’s Diner (run by Lazy Susan). Watching as her plan goes down in flames, as the two snark at each other, Mabel finds herself sitting next to the “Love God” (John DiMaggio), one of the Woodstick performers who, it turns out, is the actual Cupid.

“Internet pretty much does my job for me,” he explains to the question of why he’s making music, and he proves his bonafides by showing and demonstrating the wide variety of love potions on his belt. While he’s distracted, Mabel steals one of the love potions, sprinkles it on some chili fries Robbie and Tambry are eating, and the two hit it off instantly.

While Mabel seems to have triumphed, Dipper & the others are planning to sneak food into the concert by taping snacks onto Thompson. Stan & Soos, meanwhile, are constructing a giant hot air balloon to fly during Woodstick in order to attract customers. But will it work? How’ll Wendy and the others take it when they find out Tambry & Robbie are together?

The Execution

As I said above, Weinstein’s unique comedic voice isn’t really that present here. But there are some great moments: the Tim Burton-esque chipperness of Robbie’s parents, a very dark exchange involving a mom, her kid and Grunkle Stan’s balloon and the goofiness of all the fake band names (There’s lots more that are shown briefly; my favorites are Bearantula and Dracula Weekday.).

Yet, it all feels a little too tidy and neat. Normally, that’d be a good thing, as the sharp structure allows for the jokes to blow up, but I didn’t really find it as flat-out funny as, say, “All The Presidents’ Heads.

Still, there’s an awful lot going for this episode and I still like it at the end of the day. John DiMaggio plays the Love God like Jake the Dog gone to seed as a Cali beach bum. It’s a pretty interesting choice to have this all-powerful being just sort of loafing around and I kinda wanted to see more of it; I can easily see the character returning for a Dazed And Confused parody, for instance.

We spend a lot more time with the other teens this episode and that’s only a good thing. What I noticed after this that I’m surprised I didn’t before is that Thompson is essentially this show’s Xander Harris, albeit maybe not as self-aware. He’s the Meg Griffin, a sad doormat constantly beaten down who just goes with it; however, unlike Meg, there’s still heart and affection for the character and Rianda–a former writer and creative director for the show, although now just a consultant–gives a performance full of enough browbeaten hopefulness to make you think this is the sort of teen Charlie Brown could have become.

Robbie’s revealed origin, as I implied above, somewhat brings to mind Tim Burton in the “chipper parents with depressed kid” angle, particularly all the gallows humor the Valentinos (Robbie’s last name; his middle name is Stacey) indulge in. It’s all unintentional, I assume, but it’s still there and still quite funny.

Speaking of Robbie, he gets a new direction here. No longer a romantic rival for Dipper or just an angry kid, he’s left with a new status quo by the end. That, coupled with a game, honest performance from Miller (currently tearing it up as Fred in Disney’s Big Hero 6), gives Robbie a new direction and I want to see where that goes.

The other teens are somewhat fleshed out here, although honestly, more could’ve been done. In particular with Tambry; DiCicco, who terrified and personified the Internet as Giffany a while back, tries her best, but there’s still a sense of non-entity around Tambry. Then again, the work done here lays open a whole lot more for the show’s future. Hopefully, they build on that.

Another thing I hope the show builds on is Mabel’s revelation, and Dipper’s agreement, that the two of them, the show’s heroes, have spent an awful lot of time messing with and manipulating people. Sure, most of them were bad guys, but Robbie & Tambry are just kids, and the episode questions whether or not what Mabel did was the right thing. It’s a very important lesson imparted here and it might end up being a touchstone for the season.

I struggled to incorporate the Stan & Soos subplot above, and that’s because it’s just a time marker, meant to give the two something to do, as well as lead into the episode’s climax. That’s all well and good, and it’s still funny, but the show’s second and third biggest comedy characters (it goes Mabel, Soos, Stan incidentally) deserve a better subplot than this. Same with the Woodstick stuff; as an unabashed hipster and indie music snob (I’m listening to Andrew Bird as I write this), I thought they could’ve dug into the indie scene and festival culture much, much more.

Visually, this episode is pretty great. Director Sunil Hall keeps things moving nicely between the various plots, and storyboarders Emmy Cicierega, Sabrina Cotugno and Vaughn Tada are clearly having a ball detailing and parodying outdoor music festivals. I just wish they’d been given a slightly better script to apply themselves to.

Final Thoughts

While this is still an enjoyable episode, nothing really stands out. It’s not as funny as you normally get from Weinstein, despite a neat turn by DiMaggio (whose voice acting documentary I Know That Voice is on Netflix and worth your time) and a sharp performance from Miller. Still, it does flesh out some of the lesser characters on this show and I have no doubt Weinstein will get this show’s world in time, so it is definitely worth a watch. There’s also a FANTASTIC parody of Natalie Cole’s “This Will Be (An Everlasting Love)” by Lemon Demon (AKA Neil Cicierega, creator of Potter Puppet Pals and Emmy’s older brother) that plays over a montage of Waddles and Gompers’ wedding, so tune in for that, if nothing else.

4 out of 5 stars

by 4 out of 5 stars

 

 

 

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Categories: TV

Author:Tom Speelman

A lifetime of reading comics and watching television has left Tom with an inexhaustible supply of pop culture knowledge from the obvious to the obscure. Rather than keep it all in his brain for use at parties, Tom turned to writing a few years ago to help him share that knowledge with as many people as are remotely interested. Tom writes for several websites including The Mary Sue, Strange Horizons, Loser City and others. For even further rambling, follow him on Twitter @tomtificate.

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