TV Review: Gravity Falls

written by David Steffen

The feel of the show is at times something like Twin Peaks with a strange isolated town filled with strange people, and sometimes like the X-Files with Dipper as the Mulder character (though I wouldn’t say Mabel is really a Scully character).  The show is funny, surprising, and really brings the sense of wonder that it’s harder to find as an adult. There is a wide variety of speculative elements, pretty much any known myth or SF element is fair game, and the show builds its own weird mythology around the character that becomes the main villain, which I thought was the best part of the series.  There are plenty of in-jokes and humor at a level to keep adults entertained, but plenty to keep kids interested too, one of those rare cartoons that everyone can enjoy. I found the show very funny, a rare show that was literally laugh-out-loud funny for me when I more often just smile at jokes, and when the show decides to take a turn for the freaky (again, especially with the main villain), which it does now and then, it does freaky very well.

I was surprised when I heard that the show was concluding, because I enjoyed it so much that I hoped it would keep going.  But it sounds like that had been what Alex Hirsch had intended from the beginning.  He had an overall arc in mind and the show was done when the arc was finished.  Which is cool in its own way, most episodes advance the main story in at least a small fashion, and it doesn’t shy from big revelations.

The show has a lot of well known voices in both starring roles and minor roles, including Kristen Schaal, Nick Offerman, J.K. Simmons, Linda Cardellini, Cecil Baldwin, and many others.

I cannot recommend this show enough for people of all ages.  I am hoping that they’ll put all 40 episodes into a DVD box set to buy–I will happily buy that at the first opportunity.


Welcome to Night Vale: Ghost Stories (Live Show)

written by David Steffen

Welcome to Night Vale is most well known for their podcast (written by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor), formatted as a small town radio show set in a sleepy little horror town ala Stephen King or H.P. Lovecraft.  The podcast is nearing its 4th anniversary and 2015 saw the release of a related novel of the same title from Harper Collins.

On top of this, they also do live touring shows that tours both around the US and has gone to Europe, to Australia and New Zealand.  The shows are in a similar radio-show format as the podcast, (with some differences that I’ll explain).  The live shows are unique–they’re not just rehashes or previews of podcast episodes.  After each live touring show is done they generally release recordings of that show.

I recently went to their “Ghost Stories” live show.  It was my second Welcome to Night Vale live show that I attended.  This show centers around a city-wide ghost story competition, wherein the “winner” is converted into a ghost by very practical means.  Most of the main throughline of the show consists of the host Cecil telling his own entry to the competition in several parts, interspersed with the usual radio show features like Traffic and Weather (which is musical intermission) and Community Calendar, as well as guest stars telling their own ghost story entries.  Cecil’s story was very interesting and revealed some character history that I don’t think the podcast has revealed at this point.

Last time I went to a live show was a little bit lukewarm on it simply because it had a very different feel from the podcast and I wasn’t expecting that difference.  This time I found that having an idea what to expect made it easier to align my expectations and just enjoy myself.  So, if you like the podcast and are considering going to the live show at some point, knowing the way the live shows are different might be helpful to you.

As with any live show, especially live comedy, the experience is enhanced by the crowd itself–a funny joke tends to feel funnier when you’re in a laughing crowd.  So the live show is special in its own way for that reason.

Differences between the podcast and the live show:

  1.  Because the show may tour for quite a few months, its timing does not have a clear alignment with the podcast which is released twice every month.  This generally means that the episode as a whole is going to be of the tangential variety, rather than tying into a main plotline on the podcast.  Many of the podcast episodes are like this too, mind you, but the live show can’t be otherwise.
  2. Because not all guest stars may be able to tour to all locations, the show can’t depend on any specific guest.  For instance, Wil Wheaton, Dylan Marron, Retta, who all have guest roles at times may be at some but not all shows.  This means that guest parts are going to tend to be very modular–they relate to the overall plot of the show, but the plot of the show can never depend on them.  In the case of the Ghost Stories show this means they come on, tell a ghost story, banter a bit with Cecil, and then leave.  Cecil Baldwin,  (who plays Cecil Palmer the radio host and main narrator), is of course at all of the shows as the main speaker, and Meg Bashwiner (the voice of Proverb Lady and Deb the patch of sentient haze) also seems to be a steady actor in the live show, but I think all other guest spots are designed to be interchangeable.
  3. The show starts with the musical guest opening with a series of songs, and the same guest returns for the Weather segment.