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TV That Matters: 'Steven Universe'

By John Thomas


My readers, I’ve been messing around with the column’s format for the last couple of weeks to allow myself the opportunity for some long-form criticism. This week I’ll be reviewing the first four episodes of the new Cartoon Network series “Steven Universe” and next week I’ll be taking a look back at “Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell.” Thanks for reading, and please remember that you can send any comments or suggestions to

"Steven Universe"

I think I’m just starting to realize that there’s absolutely no possibility that I, or anyone for that matter, will ever have even a single super power. When I was in the seventh grade, an upperclassman friend of mine at a swim team banquet told me that he was certain he’d see me zipping around in spandex at some point in the future. Looking back, I’m sure he was just poking fun at my lack of masculinity, and I’m sure I got the joke then too, but there was a reticence on my part to let it just be a joke. I really believed that there was a chance that one day through some sort of unexplored science or hidden magic, I would become some sort of caped crusader. That’s why I love “Steven Universe,” illustrated by former “Adventure Time” storyboard artist and music composer Rebecca Sugar.

Steven, the eponymous protagonist, lives in an amazing super hero fortress with his super hero pals/de facto parents, The Gems. An all woman super group, well, accept for Amethyst who comes off as more of a tween, is something to cheer about. They get their powers from gems implanted into their bodies, and while at first it appears that their only supernatural ability is to summon weapons, the Gems have demonstrated a variety of other powers in this first quartet of episodes.

Steven has a gem as well, implanted in his belly button, but he hasn’t quite figured out how to use it yet. The aesthetics of these powers are stunning and inventive. My favorite part of the show so far hasn’t necessarily been the hints at deeper mythology as much as the crazy, graceful but goofy edifices and effects that that mythology has produced, like the Crystal Temple in my favorite episode of the bunch, “Together Breakfast.”

There’s an earnestness to Steven that’s unmatched today in children’s television, somewhat like the case of Finn’s curiosity on “Adventure Time.” He’s eager to find out how to use his powers and what the whole deal behind them is, but not just for the sake of finding out. No, he wants more than anything to be a Gem not for the prestige or the perks but because he truly wants to help out his family and the world. I wouldn’t call it altruism exactly. Steven is a little too young to frame things outside of his interaction with them, but he does have a great empathy for the plight of the Gems and an understanding of what needs to be done.

Steven Universe is on it’s way to becoming my favorite cartoon show. It had me laughing a good bit more than both “Regular Show” and “Adventure Time.” While I may not be quite as endeared to its characters yet as I am to the other shows’ mentioned, I think it’s pretty obvious that I’m well on my way there. I cannot recommend this program highly enough. You might not want to start with the first episode though or check out the episode that aired earlier this week. If you’re not hooked, well, I mean that’s okay because it’s just a television show, but I’m sure you’ll love it.

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