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The Week in TV: Gravity Falls, American Crime & More

I. You Are Now Leaving Gravity Falls

 

Gravity Falls was designed as a show to get lost inside of. The series itself was stuffed with mythology, recurring characters and compounding action. Online, fans have built spaces to talk about the mysteries of the show, which were plenty, and the obsession was egged on by hints and teasers dropped in the opening and closing credits. Of course, like many of the best shows about overriding mystical concerns, the point was never the clues. It was always about the people discovering them; the characters and the audience alike.

That ability to serve the world of the show while still managing to please crowd favoritism was apparent in the series finale, “Weirdmageddon 3: Take Back the Falls”, which aired last Monday on Disney XD. Serving as a capper to the titular mini-arc as well as the show as a whole, the episode said proper farewell to nearly every member of the sprawling cast. Some grew, some stayed the same, but each one got something as simple as a grace note to remind viewers why they fell in love and remained attached through an erratic programming schedule and unknown renewals.

It’s no mistake that Soos dropped the word “anime” early in the episode: the crux of the story here matches the engrossing, cataclysmic highs associated with that genre. Prophecies were utilized and stalled, machines were built from familiar components and regular folks were transformed into warriors. Anime has always been in the DNA of Gravity Falls, but it came to the forefront here with both these soaring action sequences and the quiet melancholy of the farewell. Combating Bill Cypher paid off years of build-up, but even more cathartic was the way the finale was able to build entire dramatic arcs in a short period of time that matched the emotional groundwork laid before. There was so much done in so little time (even for a double-length episode). It’s both a blessing and a curse that the series is over: it’s extremely satisfying to see a show go out on its own terms so carefully, but it means that bus out of town was carrying us alongside Dipper & Mabel.

If I may get personal for a brief spell, this show meant quite a bit to me. It tapped into the precise alchemy of who I am and who I have been since I was a child. While nowhere near as brave or insightful, Dipper captured my childish mixture of awe and self-questioning. I have fond memories of watching much of the first season of the series with my sisters, or discussing the mysteries and dramatic arcs with close friends.

Like the very best television series, Gravity Falls was less of a simple entertainment and more of a place to visit. The show was often hyped with comparisons to The Simpsons and The X-Files; a pre-teen mixture of the two. Unlike those, we’ll never see Gravity Falls in its old age, but perhaps that’s for the better. Children and adults alike will be able to look back on this nearly perfect little thing that managed to exist because of creator Alex Hirsch and those who worked tirelessly alongside him.

This was a show for the kids who stayed up too late each night, devouring library books about aliens and ghosts, crop circles and sea creatures. This was a show for the kids who scribbled stories and drawings into endless piles of notebooks, conjuring our own tall tales and foretold prophecies. This was a show for the kids who heard a noise in the closet and feared that it might be the boogeyman, but felt more than a tinge of disappointment when they opened the door and saw nothing there.

II. Music Break: Kendrick Lamar at the Grammys

The Grammy Awards are a wildly over-stuffed affair, and many of the performances don’t amount to much. Even some of the better ones, like The Alabama Shakes’ this year, are little more than you’d see on a late-night talk show. Breaking that mold were two incredible sequences: the opening number of Hamilton performed by the cast via live-stream, and this electric number from Kendrick Lamar. Bracingly political and rapturously engrossing, this performance captured something essential about what both music and culture as a whole means in 2016. That’s what the Grammys should be going for, and for a few brief minutes they actually achieved it.

III. American Crime Intensifies the Charges

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American Crime is a show blanketed by a heavy portent, a gloom and seriousness pervading even the quietest of moments. That’s certainly appropriate to the material – this year beginning with reports of a rape at a high school party – but could still be tiresome if everything weren’t so delicately paced and examined. The direction, a palate set by John Ridley in the first two episodes, is intimate to an uncomfortable degree. A common move for the series is only capturing one side of a conversation on camera, breaking that shot reverse shot trend of network (and even cable) television. Sometimes the sound is even muffled: we are entirely in the heads of the wounded here and it only makes sense for the atmosphere of the world to feel like the tortured psyches of those involved with the criminal acts.

The political fuckery of a male-on-male rape case that implicated the money-making basketball team and looked down on the lower-class students was certainly enough to drive an entire season of TV, and has for the first six episodes. Then “Season Two: Episode Seven” arrived, at first marching in line with what came before. Leslie Graham (Felicity Huffman, in a towering yet sensitive performance) is looking to keep everything in balance: the storm appears to be over but now she must navigate the even trickier calm. Others continue to cast blame, or point fingers to economic concerns that are nothing sturdier than a straw man. Then Taylor (Connor Jessup), the victim of the rape (which is quietly admitted to by the perpetrator here), picks up a gun. Suddenly every muscle of the viewer clenches. There are only so many directions this can go, and none of them besides the rewind button offer anything positive.

At first it seems to be a suicide, in the forest. That turns out to be target practice. With a list of names to be checked off and a calm insanity burbling through his head, Taylor isn’t a complete outlier in the world of TV. Other shows have tackled the issue of school shootings before, but because of the aforementioned intimacy this one feels raw and authentic and thus wrenching and terrifying. Jessup has been astounding this season, bringing out the overlapping scars that would lead to a situation such as this. Though it doesn’t end as explosively as originally intended, there is a shot fired. Taylor and his mother huddled in an emptying diner is among the most stirring sights on television this, or any other year. American Crime has let us into the head of someone who would do something like this, and the mind of the person who raised him. If the series handles the aftermath with the artistry and directness of the act itself, this will surely be one of the most vital seasons of dramatic work in recent memory.

IV. Quotable 

“Sarah, you and I are gonna have another Twizzler talk.”

-Dale Baskets (Zach Galifianakis), Baskets

V. Performance of the Week: Claudia O’Doherty on Love

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Love as a whole collapses a bit in the middle, once the genuinely cute set-up has been established and before the dramatic pathos can pay rightful dividends. Luckily, even when it sags the show is still very funny. That’s thanks to clever and insightful writing to be sure, but it wouldn’t matter much without the incredible cast the series assembled. Chief among the supporting performances is that of Claudia O’Doherty, an Australian actress likely best known to audiences as one of the suburban moms in Trainwreck. She has a brilliant combination of dedication and deadpan, and her character here (Mickey’s roommate Bertie) sits at a perfect position for her comedic efforts.

Bertie is involved with the others, but there’s a distance there too and O’Doherty knows precisely how to find and empower that awkward middle ground between acquaintance and friend. She can drop incredible one-liners, but also knows how to sweep herself into more chaotic plotting. Both of these are exemplified in the season’s funniest episode, which sees Bertie and Gus go out on a date. Things go awry, naturally as Gus needs to find his way to Bertie, but O’Doherty makes that failure an absolute joy to watch rather than the expected cringe comedy. The “best friend” in a romantic comedy is a tried and true role, and a storied way to find great character actors. Hollywood, since you keep seeming to fail others in this position (*cough*Judy Greer*cough*), let’s make this clear: ignore O’Doherty at your own peril.

VI. Sketch of the Week: “The Day Beyonce Turned Black”, SNL

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Josh Oakley is a writer for Cut Print Film and runs the pop culture blog Wine and Pop.

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