Creator Alex Hirsch talks about the long-awaited second season of Disney’s Gravity Falls — and how the cult series is evolving to meet expectations.
A cult hit, Gravity Falls’ return has been long awaited by fans of the series about twins who experience strange doings on summer vacation in the town of Gravity Falls, Ore. The series returns with its second season Aug. 1 on Disney Channel and Aug. 4 on Disney XD.
Creator Alex Hirsch, who drew upon his own experiences as a kid in creating the spooky series, is both relieved and excited that the second season is finally coming to pass — giving the show’s fans something new to talk about.
What are the broad strokes of what we will see in season two and how have things changed since season one?
I’d tell you, but then I’d have to kill you! A lot of big secrets and surprises this season, and twists and turns in the story, which make it difficult to describe and promote because we don’t want to spoil anything. But in the broadest strokes I can tell you that season one left us on a cliffhanger: The kids’ uncle was revealed to have some secret machinery under his shack and some connection to the mysterious book that Dipper had been keeping with him the entire season. This season, we dig deeper into the mythology of the town. We learn more about the complex past of some of the characters and how they’re connected to big future events that are looming on the horizon of the series. The kids find themselves in situations with higher stakes, weirder and scarier villains, and a general ratcheting up of the tension and spooky chaos of season one.
You mentioned mythology, is this going to be serialized?
There’s always been a light serial element to Gravity Falls. We try to balance the more serial episodes with more good, old-fashioned, fun one-off weekly adventures. Definitely, this upcoming season has more on the serial thread than it did last season, although we’re hoping that each episode delivers what we’ve come to expect from Gravity Falls and for the most part they can be watched on their own, but there are definitely some that are for the hardcore audience and are about the bigger story of the series.
Was this different from a writing perspective to go into a more long-term view for the show?
Yeah. I wouldn’t call it a change, but I’d call it a challenge. During season one, you do 20 episodes of anything and you find yourself falling into patterns and formulas. As an audience member, and as a writer, I’m bored by pattern, I’m bored by formula — even when the formula works. I would rather experiment in exciting ways than do the same formula over and over. So a season one Gravity Falls episode had the requirements to blend a certain stew of humor and heart and action, and have your character’s story arc thematically connected to the magic. That was already a hearty enough checklist, but we did it a lot. And so, this season, it was like, can we try to deliver something similar to that but additionally can we service this broader story and the changes that happen with the characters while still hitting all of those things that we tried to do in season one? And it absolutely is a different kind of challenge. You have to think long term. You have to sometimes make sacrifices in the micro sense, in an individual episode, so you can build in the macro sense of what you’re servicing down the road. So where it’s one challenge to make a very engaging, satisfying half-hour; to make five half-hours that connect to each other, sometimes you have to make one of those half-hours hold back some of its goodies, which is hard as an entertainer to say, ‘OK, we’re going to hold back on this episode so we can deliver double in this episode.’ But, hopefully, this experimentation pays off in a way that will excite the fans.
How long-term is your vision for the show?
I try to only think one season at a time, because if I think any bigger my head will explode. It’s hard to balance in your creative brainscape all at once. I would say right now we are trying to make the best season that we can and trying not to burn any brain fuel prognosticating about that.
What are some of the creative challenges you found in season two?
From a production point of view, our team has never been stronger. We had an amazing team in season one, but when you’re trying to put together a team for the first time on a TV series, you’re trying to convince a bunch of strangers to go to an uncharted island that none of them have ever seen or heard of before. When you’re doing a second season, everyone’s already seen the show, so you have the luxury of hiring people who are already fans and already understand the tone. So just in terms of acquiring collaborators, we had a leg up this season in that people have seen the show, they love the show and they know what makes it good, so you can hit the ground running. We definitely amped up the ambition of some of our episodes this season. They’re more like movies, just in terms of detail and action and invention, and our team is up to the challenge. I can’t speak more highly of the storyboard artists, character designers, background painters — everybody on the series is at their strongest right now.
Were there any changes to the look of the show?
For the most part, it wasn’t broke in season one, and I’m not gonna fix what ain’t broke, particularly when you do have a series with a degree of continuity and it would be jarring to change. Even if we suddenly came up with a new way to draw Dipper that was super cool, these stories are supposed to be setting each other up and paying each other off. That being said, artists are always challenging themselves. Our background team, which is headed up by Ian Worrel, who is a genius, they did amazing work in season one and they are continuing to push themselves. The backgrounds are even more lush and observed. We simplified the main cast’s designs a very small amount. I think only the nerdiest of animation nerds would notice the tweaks we made to make them a bit more animatable. We do have crazier and scarier monsters this season, which require crazier and scarier and more inventive designs, so that’s probably the biggest growth from season one. But other than that, I think people will find it still looks and feels like the Gravity Falls they know and love.
You also do some voices on the show, anything new on the voice acting front? Is it easier now that you’ve got a season under your belt?
I wouldn’t necessarily say that it’s easier. I’d say I keep thinking it’s going to be easier and then biting off more than I can chew. But I would say it’s about the same challenge it’s always been. The biggest challenge is finding time for it between all my duties as a showrunner. Scheduling time to go in the booth is probably the trickiest thing. On the voice front, we’ve got some awesome guest stars this season, I’m not sure I can mention all of them; Mark Hamill, Patton Oswalt, and a number of just awesome actors and comedians. I think fans will be amused and surprised by the voices they hear this season.
Do the actors record with each other very much on this show?
Mainly due to schedule we very rarely get multiple characters in the booth at the same time, usually everything is done alone and then meticulously edited to make it sound like they’re in the same room together. I would love to get more of an ensemble rapport but just for production purposes and matching everyone’s calendar it’s rarely a luxury we get to indulge in.
This show has a bit of a cult following. Was that a surprise for you? What were some of the responses you’ve gotten from the fans?
When we were first starting, I had no idea if people would even watch the show, let alone tattoo characters from it onto parts of their bodies. I could not have possibly prepared myself for the degree of sweaty, crazed enthusiasm that would follow the show. I’m very humbled and grateful for the fan response, particularly as we had a big hiatus between season one and season two. We needed a little break after season one, and the question was: Will the fans follow us? Will they wait? We recently did an event at the L.A. Film Festival, and I remember thinking: ‘Gosh, it’s been a year since season one. Will anybody even show up?’ And, of course, it was sold out immediately, with rabid fans that came to get things signed and give me their fan art and tell me stories. You know, there was a couple who recently were engaged, and they came together watching Gravity Falls. There were a number of people with inspiring tales of how this weird cartoon show had in some way enriched their lives, which is just very humbling and exciting. In terms of fan mail, I get it on an almost daily basis from all over the world. Just the other day, I got some origami Dipper and Mabels sent to me from Japan. Its appeal apparently transcends the tiny group of weird artists who are making it, which is always an exciting surprise. Probably my favorite thing I’ve ever gotten in the mail from a fan is — some kid made this in wood shop — it’s a carved piece of wood with the words ‘Medal of Awesomeness’ jaggedly carved into it with rough images of Gravity Falls characters. We didn’t get an Emmy nomination today, but I’m very proud of this medal of awesomeness that some child took it upon themselves to send me.
I got an e-mail from a concerned fan desperate to know the premier date.
Yeah. I was so relieved when Disney finally let me announce the premier date because it was an entire year of people asking me that on Twitter and elsewhere and I had my hands tied! So it’s nice to let people know yes it’s not dead, it’s coming back and here it is!
How many episodes are there going to be in season two?
Twenty-one or 22; I’m not sure. Disney has the answers to that better than I do. I’m so deep in production I can only focus on the next meeting, but there are as many as season one, maybe one or two more. I can’t recall the exact number. We’re excited to be coming back, we hope that our fans will enjoy all the strange twists and turns that the story takes and we’re excited like everyone to be back.