Adults these days have it so easy. When I was a kid, parents had to feign an interest in dreck like "Glo Friends," "Rubik, the Amazing Cube" and "Captain Planet and the Planeteers" in order to placate (or just get a moment of peace from) their children. Then in the '90s, through whatever alchemy -- most likely the twin successes of Disney's animation renaissance and "The Simpsons" -- producers discovered there was an audience for more sophisticated storytelling in animation. Now, while they may not be a parent's first choice, at least today's kid shows can also be engaging for adults.
But sometimes, there's a kid show that should be an adult's first choice. My favorite new show of 2012 is...
"Gravity Falls" centers on twins Mabel and Dipper Pines as they spend a summer with their Great Uncle (or "Grunkle") Stan in a sleepy Pacific Northwest town where paranormal activity abounds. In a typical day, the twins may encounter ghosts, gnomes, minotaurs, prehistoric lake monsters, or mind-controlling amulets. It's an animated "Eerie, Indiana" for a new generation.
In a very wise move, the show uses its paranormal elements as more than just playthings; they exist as a way to challenge the characters, force them to confront their flaws, and ultimately learn and grow. Those minotaurs, for example, lead Dipper down a dangerous path as he comes to terms with his underdeveloped masculinity.
If that sounds like a burdensome, moralizing slog, let me assure you that "Gravity Falls" is, above all, hilarious. Even adults will find it laugh-out-loud funny. The smartly-executed stories provide ample opportunity for character quirks, eccentricities and wit to take center stage. I particularly love Grunkle Stan's non sequitur outbursts.
The show utilizes an unusual color palette for a TV cartoon, all darker shades and earthy tones. This, along with the environmental atmosphere (note the haziness in the background of the top picture) make the show stand out visually.
"Gravity Falls" is a fun, funny, fanciful show grounded in warm, lively characters. Kids should be easily lured in by the imagination and adventure of it all. Adults will be reminded of that childhood certainty that there's magic in the world, and kids are the only ones savvy enough to notice it.