“Gravity Falls” Season 2 – A Brilliant Animated Show That Captures Mystery, Tension, Character and Adventure

dGravity Falls

    Alex Hirsch truly created a brilliant show with “Gravity Falls.” He described it as “The X-Files” meets “Twin Peaks” meets “The Simpsons.” From here he melded comedy, drama and mystery together perfectly as it is the characters who drive the story and who change after events happen in their lives. This season was extremely rich, even though the payoff wasn’t quite perfect…it still managed to be great.

      This is a show I will be returning back to review episodically at some point as well, it is just that great.

    The main plot of Season 2 is the mystery surrounding Grunkle Stan and the device he is building beneath the shack as the answers to this help us uncover the other mysteries surrounding Gravity Falls and the characters who live there.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Animation – The animation style is unique and flows and fits the mystery of Gravity Falls as well as the colorful nature of the characters who make up the town.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is beautiful, especially the theme song which Bill Cipher (the demon who brings about Weirdmageddon) changes. Brad Breek did a fantastic job!

The Mystery – The mystery of the Journals is a driving part of the plot as we see that Grunkle Stan has one of the journals and uses them to build a device to bring back his twin brother Ford who was trapped in another dimension. It’s a powerful mid-season finale and great payoff to the secrecy surrounding the town as all the mysteries come mostly back to the Brothers Pines.

Grunkle Stan Versus Zombies – At one point in the first episode of Season 2, Dipper summons a bunch of zombies and we see how amazing Stan is as he manages to take out most of them before performing karaoke with Dipper and Mabel which is what’s needed to cause the zombie heads to explode. It’s a great way to kick off the season. There are also two FBI agents investigating Gravity Falls too.

The Characters – The characters are the best part of “Gravity Falls” and it is how they are explored, which drives the plot. This season went in depth with all the main cast as well as a few side characters too who received some great development.

.GIFfany – .GIFfany is awesome! She is a sentient program from a Japanese dating sim who destroyed her creator and fixates on Soos. When Soos eventually ends the relationship she tries to kill him and his girlfriend but in the end is stopped. I really liked her obsessive character.

Gideon – Gideon goes through an arc over the course of the series as he is a villain serving Bill for much of it but finally comes around when he realizes that Mabel would be ashamed of what he’s doing and that her being trapped is not them being in a relationship. This leads to him with the prison escapees trying to take on Bill. Later on we see the prisoners have become his protectors.

Tyler Cutebiker – Cutebiker wins the election for Mayor of Gravity Falls and is the calmest head around. We see this in Tyler’s confrontation of Bill in Weirdmageddon to the acceptance speech. This character is a lot of fun.

Blubs and Durland – These are the police of Gravity Falls who love another and have a cute relationship as Durland isn’t bright at all but Blubs is always there for him and they make a good team in their ineptness. Them admitting their love for one another at the end is a sweet scene.

Blendin Blandin – The time traveler from last season is back and challenges Mabel and Dipper to a game of death. He loses and changes from it when he sees that they didn’t know they had ruined his life. He also comes to their aid with the Time Baby to take on Bill Cipher, though they don’t end up being successful.

Candy and Grenda – These two are wonderful! Grenda ends up with a prince because she of her blunt nature, Candy dates Dipper briefly and throughout it all they help Mabel get over her obsession with a boy band and a bunch of other things. These were great supporting characters.

Pacifica – Pacifica is a bully to Mabel and we soon learn why she is the way she is when we see her parents are high strung and emotionally abusive. She is the one to redeem her family when a past man the family wronged is turning everyone into wood and she must let the townspeople into the mansion. It’s awesome and though she puts on heirs later she shows that she has changed and isn’t the elitist she used to be. I really liked her character and hope they had done more with what came of her arc.

Mid-Season Finale – The portal opens and Mabel, Soos and Dipper have to trust Stan as we learn that his brother wrote the journals and was trapped in an alternate dimension this entire time…and that is why Stan has been so secretive as everything he’s done has been to get him back.

Old Man McGucket – McGucket was a tech guy who was brought in by Ford (Stan’s brother) who ends up going insane when he looks into the alternate dimension so he forms an organization to help the townspeople forget the weirdness of the Falls…this eventually leads to him going insane and becoming mad with power as it his his tech that’s been fought on multiple occasions. Luckily in the final he gets his shot at redemption.

Soos – Soos is the loveable nerd who is Stan’s trainee as he seeks to learn all he can to eventually run the Mystery Shack. His arc this season is finding confidence as we see him date and eventually get together with Melody (a fellow nerd) after he moves beyond the dating sim and when Weirdmaggedon hits hes the most prepared and becomes a hero to the populace, wandering and doing random acts of heroism before moving on. He is a great character.

Wendy – Wendy is a great character and in this we see her break up with Robbie (when he was mind controlling her with his music) and set down boundaries with Dipper as their friendship grows. She continues to be the trouble maker on the side and when Weirdmaggedon comes around she is the survivor as her family always sent her off to survival camp for Christmas, she is the epic hero of the new Gravity Falls besides Soos and she helps Dipper save Mabel and the town.

Ford – Ford is Stan’s twin brother who was always the genius and had the chance to get into an amazing university until Stan sabotaged it since he wanted to travel the world with him. This eventually leads to Ford exploring the paranormal leading him to Gravity Falls and a deal with Bill Cipher which costs him greatly, leading him to research on how to stop Bill. He’s never been a people person so his arc is resolving things with his brother and building a relationship with his niece and nephew. J.K. Simmons is great as his voice.

Mabel – Mabel’s arc this season is one of letting go, whether it was the boy band she was raising in her home as pets, or the paradise of never having to leave Gravity Falls (which she makes a deal with Bill Cipher over). She does eventually learn how to let go though and her grappling hook comes in handy in the final assault against Bill Cipher and his minions.

Dipper – Dipper’s arc is dealing with boundaries and masculinity. We see this when he dates for datings sake without any emotional investment and tries to be a player like Stan (both of them end up hurt) and in his sabotage of Wendy and Robbie’s relationship. In the end he keeps the friendships he built though and finds those are what matters most. He also realizes the danger of the diaries too when he summons zombies to show that Gravity Falls is supernatural to the FBI. He teams up with Wendy when Weirdmaggedon hits.

Grunkle Stan – Grunkle Stan is a liar, con man and theif whose entire life is a bunch of mess ups that is he is trying to atone for. From ruining Ford’s project, to the fight with Ford that lead to Ford falling into an alternate dimension and everything else. Stan’s arc is for redemption as we see his love for his Mabel and Dipper motivates him to be better and not a coward. He’s my favorite character in the show and I really like how they handle his story in the Finale.

Weirdmageddon

Weirdmageddon – Bill Cipher creates a hellscape of Weirdmaggedon (and gets a physical body) after he make a deal with Mabel to get what he needs to bring his dimension into ours. It’s a twisted hellscape where he turns the townspeople into stone to use as a chair and is populated by being who only want to cause destruction and mayhem. It really shows how powerful Bill is and what the town of Gravity Falls is up against to free themselves from the end. Weirdmaggedon is confined only to the falls though, thanks to smart thinking on Ford’s part and placing a barrier around the town. I really respect Hirsch for creating this nightmare in a kid’s show and changing the theme song to boot to go with it.

Bill Cipher – Bill is the big bad and eventually wins for a while thanks to Mabel making the deal. The demon loves chaos for chaos sake and we see just how powerful he is as he takes on the Resistance’s mech on his own and takes out Ford easily in the first few minutes of Weirdmaggedon. For this reason his defeat is rewarding as he won so thoroughly after Mabel made the deal.

The Resistance – The Resistance is great! There is a Unicorn, Gnomes, a Manitaur and quite a few others. When Mabel and Dipper join them they turn the Mystery Shack into a mech via Old Man McGucket (who finally uses his power for good) and take on Bill at his castle so they can free the town. They are amazing and I’d have watched an episode of just them and their interactions. The picture below is of the members of the Resistance.

Grunkle Stan’s Sacrifice – In the end Grunkle Stan saves the day and risks his mind for his kids as Ford knows how to drop the barrier around Gravity Falls so he and Stan switch places, tricking Bill so that the mind-eraser can be used on him. Thanks to Stan the day is saved and Weirdmaggedon ends.

Gravity Falls Resistance

The Ending – The ending deals with the aftermath as the mayor says that they won’t speak of the day again since no one understands what happened anyway and Ford, Mabel and Dipper deal with a Stan with no memory so share a scrapbook of the summer to help him remember everything again! After they have to say good-bye though and Dipper and Wendy swap hats to remember each other and she gives him a letter, Mabel keeps her pig Waddles and Ford and Stan go on an adventure together to fight monsters on the ocean as Stan gives Soos the Mystery Shack. It’s a sweet ending that captures the relationships of the show really well.

What I would have Changed – The fact that this happened over a summer limits the possiblities, and this is Disney and after how horrible Weirdmageddon was to the populace I get writing a happy ending. I wanted Grunkle Stan to have his memory lost though, Bill is a powerful demon and if it’d been permanent it would give the audience the chance to deal with it within their own lives in regards to family with Alzheimers. The fact that it was only a summer limited the chance to explore that though so it was still really good but I would have had it be permanent or have a character death (yeah, I’m horrible).

This is a show that is well worth your time. The animation is beautiful, there is a great antagonist, the characters change over time and the drama and mystery that drives the plot has great answers at the end. The tension never leaves the show because of the drama and mystery and in the end, the ending is touching and really shows that Dipper and Mabel have changed from their experiences at Gravity Falls, and that in the end, they always have next summer.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10 (Not going to give a perfect rating to since the Dipper dating episode didn’t really work and the “Dungeons and Dragons” episode was kind of weak). The FBI agents didn’t work within the show either and felt tacked on. Besides these things, this is a show I’ll be coming back to. It is easily one of the best animated shows ever made.

Gravity Falls Characters

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“Gravity Falls” Season 1 – Mystery, Relationships and one of the Best Animated Show Introductions

Gravity Falls Season 1

Disney X.D. has really done a great job in putting out quality shows. Whether it is “Star Wars Rebels” or “Gravity Falls” Disney like Marvel is telling stories that are powerful, fun and manage to capture what it means to be human so well. “Gravity Falls” is one of the best executions of this.

The series was created by Alex Hirsch and inspired by summer vacations spent with his twin sister.

The story involves the Mabel and Dipper Pines being sent to Gravity Falls to spend the summer with their Grunkle Stan. All is not as it appears to be though as Dipper discovers a mysterious journal as together they experience and seek out the mysteries of Gravity Falls.

The Pros: Gravity Falls – Gravity Falls is a fun town with colorful characters. Everyone there is a bit strange in different ways and it makes the town a lot of fun. Hell, this would be a fun town even if there were no supernatural elements in it. It is this location that gives us all our stories and it’s importance cannot be stated enough.

The Animation – The animation is stunning and has a charm to it. It works for the world and there is depth to the world that the animation portrays. The animation team also gets really creative too with bringing a videogame character to life at one point and all of Mabel’s 80’s colorful visions.

The Soundtrack – Brad Breeck created an amazing soundtrack with this! It’s like X-Files meets an Indie Band which captures the feel of Oregon and Gravity Falls really well. The theme song is probably my favorite for any animated show.

The Comedy – The comedy is some of the best. A lot of it comes from who are characters naturally are, like Dipper being OCD, Mabel being crazy about glitter and shiny things, Soos and his good nature but also not being very bright and Grunkle Stan and his hustling and money making schemes. The comedy flows naturally from the world and how the many members of Gravity Falls interact with one another or what they discover in regards to the Supernatural.

The Creatures – We meet the hyper-masculine Manataurs, Gnomes, living Wax figures, a vidoegame character brought to life, Mermando, the Summerween Trickster and more and each is more than what they appear to be. The creatures aren’t all that simple are given moments of depth in what drives them. It’s really cool and part of what gives the show it’s charm.

The Characters – The characters are the strongest part and they have arcs they go through over the course of the Season. I’m covering the main characters here as a lot of the other members of Gravity Falls don’t get full exploration until Season 2.

Wendy – Wendy is the apathetic teen who works at the Mystery Shack and is always down for breaking the rules. Over the course of Season 1 we see her break up with Robbie when she learns he was hypnotizing her and from there her going of her own way. She’s a fantastic character and easily the toughest character on the show.

Grunkle Stan – Grunkle Stan is a hustler who cares about his kids. Most of what he does is illegal but he’s a good manager as we see he knows what it takes to make the Mystery Shack successful. His arc is being more open with his feelings even though he is hiding a portal he is building in the basement so he isn’t honest with Mabel and Dipper yet. He’s probably my favorite character on the show in Season 1. Also he looks a lot like Wario.

Soos – Soos is a great guy who really doesn’t have an arc but is a good character. He lives with his Grandmother and is the fix it guy around the Mystery Shack. He is the glue of the show as he is always down for an adventure and is great friends with both Mabel and Dipper and helps them in their adventures from Day 1.

Mabel – Mabel is a fantastic character! She is into glitter and has so much energy. She has some of the best jokes and humor. Much of her adventures involve her many crushes, whether it is a boy band who she learns are grown in a lab, Mermando the Merman and countless others. It is these romantic misadventures and adventures that set up a lot of the humor. She takes it in stride though and learns to let and not take it personally. She is all about helping others too and helps Stan and Dipper on multiple occasions.

Dipper – Dipper is the anxious 12 year old boy who spends his time at Gravity Falls pining after Wendy and seeking to solve the mysteries of the town when he discovers a mysterious journal. He’s the closest thing the show has to a protagonist and his arc involves him being more aware of Mabel and in doing so becoming a better brother and realizing the ways he’s been a jerk and selfish and realizing that Stan really does care about him and discovering he is more than the journal and is strong on his own. He really is a good protagonist.

The Ending – The ending involves facing Lil’Gideon who was a fake psychic in a prior episode (was using a device to read people’s minds and later video) and the final fight is awesome as Dipper takes Gideon out in his robot and after we see Grunkle Stan has all the journals and activates a mysterious portal. It’s really cool and sets up Season 2 really well.

Bill Cipher – Bill Cipher is the one really threatening villain who doesn’t need motivation as he’s a chaos demon. I can’t wait to see what is done with him as he is fought in the Dreamscape at one point when our characters are protecting the numbers to the safe that hold Stan’s will to the Mystery Shack. He has a great design and does feel like an inter-dimensional being.

Okay: The Villains – In Season 1 the villains are largely played for comedy so a lot of them never get the chance to be humanized. This is a shame as the show is so good at humanizing the other characters. Having watched ahead I know this gets fixed but at least for Season 1, this was a con. I wanted to know why Gideon and Pacifica. This is the only downside though as the humor and situations make this secondary to the overarching plot of the Pines Family and their friends.

This is the best american animated tv show I have watched since “Batman: The Animated Series,” and the best thing to come out of Disney’s animated television team since “Gargoyles” it is well worth checking out has so much depth in the characters and relationships and gives some hilarious situations too. All our characters learn about themselves and we are still left with mysteries to explore in Season 2. This is a show that treats the audience and it’s characters and world with respect.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10

Gravity Falls Characters

The Shining (1980): Kubrick’s Masterpiece About a Haunting and Escape From Abuse

The Shining

   Stanley Kubrick is one of my favorite directors so seeing “The Shining” again was well worth it and I was reminded once more of all the reasons why he is a favorite director. I haven’t read the book that the film is based on but Stephen King hated this version of the film even though it is so far the best adaptation of his work…most of the other adaptations of his books are simply terrible. But who knows, Kubrick was never a likable guy so maybe that’s part of it. This is a film that captures so many elements of horror and makes me really want to read the book. I’ll go into the aspects of terror it captures later on in the review.

    The film was directed by Stanley Kubrick who also produced the film and wrote the screenplay with Diane Johnson. It is of course based on the book of the same name by Stephen King.

      The story is about a struggling writer named Jack (Jack Nicholson) who takes his family up to the Overlook Hotel so that he can be caretaker of it. He soon learns about the haunting history behind and as things begin to unravel it is up to his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and son Danny (Danny Lloyd) to cope with the consequences of Jack and the Hotel.

The Pros: The Soundtrack – The Soundtrack is wonderfully tense and keeps you on your feet the entire it. It turns mundane things into things that are off, whether it is writing a story or entering a maze. Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind did a fantastic job.

The Cinematography – Kubrick knows how to shoot a scene and the use of the hotel’s size is used to create feelings of isolation. Kubrick also uses shadows and light in the maze for that same bit of terror and using stark contrasts throughout the film to accent loss of control or entering moments of the supernatural.

Film Structure – The structure of the film is great as we are shown Jack’s descent into madness as winter comes on the Overlook Hotel with the time period or time passed flashed after character moments.

The Writing – The writing is mostly show and not tell and that lends it power. We also see character moments revealed in this way too, Jack’s making excuses about hurting Danny only being one time reveal that no doubt had happened more…and the silence of characters reveal intent and action. Kubrick’s script is phenomenal.

The Characters – The main characters are all compelling in different ways and their relationships inform one another as many of them change over the course of the film.

Dick – Dick is the cook and also can communicate and sense things like Danny. He is Danny’s mentor and Danny reaches out for help. He is killed by Jack in the end but is able to deliver Danny and Wendy an escape vehicle to get away.

Danny – Danny is a kid who has a spirit named Tony inside who takes control sometimes and is the one who goes from a passive figure to one fighting for survival as he tricks his father in the maze and reaches out to Dick to save himself and his mom.

Wendy – Wendy’s arc is standing up to her abusive husband and escaping the relationship. In this we see that even though she seems passive that she will fight back and does so when she knocks Jack out and locks him up and later we see her stand up against the spirits even though she’s terrified as she makes the escape with her son. She’s an awesome character.

Jack – Jack is abusive and we soon realize how abusive as the story progresses. He is an antagonist who is complex in that he obviously is not a fully terrible human being, but at the end of the day he is the monster who lets his ego and selfishness control him and whatever ways he was horrible before become compounded as he becomes a force that the ghosts use to kill his family.

Escape From Abuse – Wendy and Danny are in an abusive relationship with Jack. It’s never stated outright but the moment of anger at Danny was shown to be a pattern based off his behavior in the hotel…as well as Wendy’s making excuses for him…it takes seeing Danny hurt again for her to finally stand up and after that she fights. She is no longer a victim but over the course of the film becomes a survivor of Jack’s abuse. She survived while the other family was not able to escape their abusive spouse/father.

The Mystery – The mystery is wonderful as we are left wondering if Jack crossed back in time when he was interacting with the ghosts and if he’d been at Overlook before that day. The nature of the Hotel and Jack are left open which gives power to future hauntings of the place.

What Makes a Good Ghost Story – Part of what makes a good ghost story is how it puts those living on edge and connects them to their mortality (Wendy and Danny’s escape) or their ego and selfishness (Jack). It is less about the ghosts in the end and more about what they make people do. This is a prime example of this as the point of evil spirits in horror stories is to reveal the darker side of the living.

   This is a film that has very little wrong with it. My only issue I could see with it is sometimes it lags, though I valued that time because it helped build suspense, but I’m also aware that not everyone is into the slow build. Besides that, this is one of Kubrick’s masterpieces for a reason and is well worth viewing for anyone who loves suspense, horror and cinema.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10

Life is Sweet (1990): The Reasons to Live and to Dream

Life is Sweet

       “Life is Sweet” is a fascinating drama and exploration of a poor family in Northern London. It gives us great character dynamics, comments on social issues in a subtle way and shows that the members of a family aren’t one dimensional. It’s a powerful movie and definitely a favorite. I’ll get more into the details in the assessment.

    “Life is Sweet” was directed by Mike Leigh, who also wrote the screenplay and produced by Simon Channing Williams.

      The story takes place over summer as situations arise and change for the characters. From Andy the husband (Jim Broadbent) buying a beat down trailer to sell food from on weekends, to the wife Wendy (Alison Steadman) helping her creepy friend Aubrey (Timothy Spall) who is opening up a bad French restaurant. Around this time their daughter Nicola (Jane Horrocks) is a shut in while her other daughter Natalie (Claire Skinner) is a plumber and is the only one of them happy. From here the story unfolds.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The World – The lives of the characters feel lived in and real. From Andy going to work at the large restaurant where he’s the head chef, to Aubrey’s house and restaurant and right outside the home of the family. It doesn’t feel artificial or fake in any way which lends power to the situations.

Andy – Jim Broadbent is a great actor and this may be the best role I’ve seen him in so far. He was the Psychiatrist in “Filth” and Professor Slughorn in “Harry Potter,” but in this he is a completely likable character. He’s an idealist who is easily used by a “friend” who continues to sell him things that are poor quality such as the food truck. He hates his job though and more than anything wants to cook doing something he loves. What changes things in the end for his character though is when he slips on a spoon at work. This finishes his character arc as the family takes care of him and he finally looks inward at himself.

Wendy – Alison Steadman plays a character who would be my favorite if not for Natalie and her laugh. Wendy laughs a lot and it gets a bit grating. You can see why she does it too as she finds herself in a lot of awkward social situations and it her way of getting through them. From Aubrey hitting on her at his restaurant to when they visit his home and he’s being awkward all over the place. She is a character who knows how powerless she feels so she does what she can to change it by fighting. When Aubrey hits on her when drunk, she leaves…when her daughter tries to blame her for how miserable she is, she stands up to her too and says that she truly wants her family to be happy, which is why she accepted Andy buying the Food Truck and Natalie being a plumber. In both cases she didn’t like it at first, but their happiness was more important. Her love as a mother really comes through and you get that she takes the brunt of the hardship in most social situations.

Nicola – Nicola is the character facing most of the drama in the film. From her relationship issues with her unnamed boyfriend, to her dropping out of college and trying to find a purpose in life and joy. She is the activist only in name as she calls herself a feminist but only wears the shirts (Down with the Poll Tax) and when her mother calls her out on her lack of action in relation to her beliefs she is left rethinking it at the end. The same occurs with her boyfriend who wants to be in relationship with her truly where there relationship when we first meet them is all physical. She’s isolated, alone and in denial for most of the film but comes around when Natalie reaches out to her and they decide they’ll face finding the answers together and that everyone is weird so that shouldn’t be an issue in finding happiness.

Natalie – Natalie has the clearest head out of all of them and is most comfortable in herself. She is androgynous in appearance and enjoys hanging with the guys and working as a plumber. This is in contrast to everyone else who at least superficially is putting up appearances. From her father Andy who is doing it so he won’t feel alone, to their mother who puts up with crap from a horrible friend out of responsibility she feels. She is wholly comfortable in herself and the most stable member of the family. I really liked her character and how she spoke what was always on her mind clearly. This was a contrast to Nicola who tried to obfuscate whatever was on her mind throughout the film. Claire Skinner did an amazing job.

Critique of Capitalism – The director is a socialist and was at one point an anarchist and it comes out in the film. From Andy just being a cog in the machine and his wanting to be an individual owning his own place as only a pipe dream…to Nicola trying to consume to feel better but it only making her sick and Aubrey with his restaurant where inside it looks good but how he had none of the financial backing or contacts. He’s a man completely alone so who would show up even if the food is good? It was subtle and I enjoyed how the director did it, since any philosophy deserves to be critiqued.

Feminism – There were some feminist views I saw in the film as well that came out in a very good way. From showing why Aubrey is a bad guy due to his assuming that married Wendy and his waitresses past and present should sleep with him because he’s “Such a great guy,” to the conversation between Nicola and her boyfriend which quickly turns to him insulting her rather than him clearly calling up issues. This was done really well as neither of them were sympathetic characters though still very human.

The Writing – The writing is top notch. The dialogue is quick character have chemistry and every scene has action that develops characters and character conflict further. Mike Leigh really did a fantastic job on the screenplay.

Okay: Aubrey – Timothy Spall plays a creeper and he does a good job at it. The problem was he isn’t written as complex as he should be. Why does he live alone? What made him believe he’s a good cook? This isn’t even going into the creep factor, these are just basic character questions. He still did a good job but these issues still stand.

The Soundtrack – Not very memorable at all. Didn’t remember it after watching the film.

The Cons: Nicola’s Boyfriend – We know he’s upper middle class and acts privileged but that’s about it. I would have liked to know him and his character motivations better as well. He has less to go off than Aubrey as well.

    This was a film that was true to it’s description as a tragi-comedy or dark comedy but it also was a very good drama and had quick witty writing. It makes bigger points but does them in such a way that an audience can take what it wants to out of the film, though the critiques and views are there. This was a film that I would definitely recommend and a favorite and I was glad a friend recommended it to me.

Final Score: 9.3 / 10.  Only brought down because some of the side characters weren’t as explored as they could have been and the music was nothing special.