Ingrid and I are watching the entire Steven Universe series for the third time, and since we’ve been spending so much talking about it the first two times, I thought I’d blog some of my observations about it. Please note: I’m not writing these Steven Universe posts as a series summary or recap. I’m just writing down some of my observations and reactions (not necessarily coherently), both to the show as a whole and to the individual episodes. These posts will probably make more sense to people who are already watching/ have already watched the show, but I hope they inspire the rest of you to check out the show, as it really is one of the richest and most emotionally intense things I’ve seen on TV. Note: This post may contain spoilers about Steven Universe: the show as a whole, and/or about Episode 1: Gem Glow.
I once read an essay about Buffy the Vampire Slayer (I promise this isn’t a tangent, it really is relevant) that talked about how, in stories about interactions between ordinary people and space aliens or supernatural beings, there are more or less two arcs the stories typically take. The story is either about (a) humans exploring the alien/ supernatural world, or about (b) aliens/ supernatural beings exploring (or invading) the human world. The essay argued that the (b) storyline is almost always the same — shock, disbelief, being forced to accept the reality, often with the aliens/ supernatural beings trying to conceal their non-humanness at first — and as a result, it’s almost always boring. It argued that one of Buffy’s strong points is the main civilian characters go through this (b) arc very, very quickly: for Xander, for instance, it happens in one word, after he overhears a conversation between Buffy and Giles and says to himself, “Vampires?” So while in the most literal sense the show is a (b) arc, it’s about adventure and exploration as much as it’s about shock and defense.
Here’s why I bring this up. One of my favorite things about Steven Universe is the fact that, for the townspeople of Beach City, the (b) storyline is already in the past. The ordinary people have already accepted the existence of the Gems. It’s not clear how long ago this happened, whether it was just a few years ago (maybe shortly after Steven was born?) or whether, in this universe, people have always known about the Gems. But Lars at the donut shop makes a passing reference to Steven’s “magic belly button” in the first minute and a half of the first episode. It’s clear right away that this show is not about the Gems trying to keep their alien-ness from the townspeople. Everyone already knows, and while it’s a bit weird and sometimes scary, it’s not surprising, and really not that big a deal anymore. This makes much more room for more complicated, nuanced, interesting interactions between the townspeople and the gems, and a more complicated, nuanced, interesting exploration of ordinary people’s experiences of the unusual, and unusual people’s experiences of the
Some other notes:
Steven’s obsession with Cookie Cats really captures how children’s priorities are so different from adults’. The Gems are battling dangerous, gross centipeetle things, and he cares about that — but he’s so easily distracted by the freezer full of Cookie Cat ice cream treats.
I like how the advice from all three Gems about Steven using his power is all contradictory — and yet, it’s all useful and accurate.
I like how Steven is learning that inspiration and skill can’t necessarily be channeled by re-creating the circumstances of the last time he got inspired. Heck, I’m still learning that.
I love how the Cookie Cat back-story parallels the Gems’ backstory.
I love how Lion Lickers become a thing later (Lion!), even though Steven is angry about them now.
It’s fascinating watching the early episodes again, and seeing how young Steven is. It makes me realize that, among the many ways this show is honest and accurate about childhood (and especially about children’s shifting understanding of adults), it’s accurate about Steven become more mature as the show progresses.
Ingrid commentary: Ingrid is not okay with the fact that Steven doesn’t go to school. Yes, of course he needs to learn about how to be a Gem — but doesn’t he also need to learn human stuff?
She’s also noticing that in this first episode, Pearl has the strongest personality. Garnet and Amethyst take time for their characters to develop.