Steven Universe Review: “Message Received” (Season 2, Episode 24)

Steven Universe Message Received

I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever get a chance
Just to sing with my children in a holiday jam.
Our lives seem petty in your cold, grey hands.
Would you give a second thought? Would you even give a damn?
“Stand Down, Margaret”, The (English) Beat.

Airdate: January 7th, 2016.

Written ByRaven Molisee and Paul Villeco.

Plot: Peridot and the Crystal Gems are on the outs at the moment, given how Peridot seemed to be rather enthusiastic about the Diamond Authority’s plans to turn Earth into a barren wasteland. Turns out, old allegiances are hard to shake, particularly if they have been lionized as gods of their society. Also, Steven finds out that Peridot has a communications device picked up back on the moon base to contact Yellow Diamond. The gang winds up in a chase to try and stop Peridot from using it. However, Peridot might just have a trick up her sleeve to appeal to the Diamond Authority and save all of their bacon.

Review:

Well, ladies and gentlemen… welcome to the big one. The climax of Season 2 of Steven Universe. And if I had to put one overarching theme around this season, it would be “recovery, refocus, and reconstruction”.

Yeah, consider everything that’s happened thus far during Season 2. “Full Disclosure” had Steven recover from the Great Flying Hand Battle, as well as refocus his relationship with Connie back on a mutual partnership of one another. “Sworn to the Sword” and the Week of Sardonyx showcased Pearl’s descent into insanity and self-loathing, forcing her to claw back up to a state of respectability and driving her to refocus her self-loathing back into a personal renaissance, as we saw in “Back to the Barn”. Hell, even “Sadie’s Song” (despite my own personal dislike of the episode) had Barbara Miller reconstruct her relationship with her daughter to be less constraining, as well as Steven refocus his own personal desires back onto himself and not onto others.

This theme manifests itself with the overreaching Peridot Arc across the season. From “Joy Ride”, she was the sword that lingered over Steven Universe. Peridot has had her per viewpoints challenged thanks to landing on a world that didn’t rigidly enforce the authoritarianism of Homeworld. And it all seemed to be going so well… at least superficially. Unfortunately, “It Could’ve Been Great” cast a major source of doubt in this development, as it demonstrated just how the prejudices of one’s upbringing can carry through even in new surroundings.

So here we are. Peridot is at a crossroads, to use the old cliche. When two tribes go to war, one point’s all that you can score. Does she go towards the icons of her past or those that have celebrated an icon antithetical to her former society? Does she buy a ticket to go to a game at Gillette Stadium or at Metlife Stadium?

Will Peridot choose Homeworld or Earth? Continue reading

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Scullyfied Simpsons: “Grift of the Magi” (Season 11, Episode 9)

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Give it time – something’s gonna happen involving a charter school, and somebody’s going to proclaim The Simpsons as having become Nostradamus yet again.

Lisa in trouble – the ironing is delicious!”  – Bart Simpson. You see, this particular charter school doesn’t do much book learning.

Airdate: December 19th, 1999

Written By: Tom Martin

Plot: Springfield Elementary School is coerced into a construction project to bring the school up to code with the Americans with Disabilities Act. However, the Mafia in charge construct an opulent system… that breaks with a single touch… all while taking the money and running. Out of cash, and with nobody willing or able to fund the school, Springfield Elementary is turned into a charter – brought out by Kid First Industries. However, the new operator is not only poor at their educational philosophy themselves, but are using the school to do market research into a hot new toy.

Review:

Well, it’s the holiday season! Here’s hoping you’re all enjoying nice cocoa, hoping for a white Christmas, not getting tired of the 24/7 Christmas Music on the radio quite yet, and…

…wait, what the hell? It’s July? Everybody’s having burgers, celebrating the World Cup, and going to baseball games? They’re hanging out at the beach, eating ice cream, and going across their nation or down to Spain?

OK, did my fellow Americans at least have the common knowledge to learn from the defensive end from the greatest sports team to ever walk the Earth, and make sure the fireworks they set off on the fourth didn’t blow up in their hand?

Ah, what the hell, let’s watch some more Simpsons – “Grift of the Magi”.

“Grift of the Magi” is the fourth Simpsons Christmas special ever. The first, “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire”, was the show’s opening salvo, demonstrating the working class dysfunction with a heart of gold that powered the show in its glory years. The second, “Marge Be Not Proud”, has been generally well-received, but a small contingent of fans led by one Dead Homer Society considers the episode the worst episode of the first seven years of The Simpsons, as well as the opening salvo of the show’s decline into more traditional sitcom-ish plots and cloying emotion. The third, “Miracle on Evergreen Terrace”, is more divisive – and I personally dislike it for a failure to achieve a decent tonal balance.

So here we are. Season 11. The Scully Era is in its third year, and the critical reception towards the show has soured, at least from the more devoted fans. How would they pull off this Christmas episode? Would it have been an improvement, proving they learned their lesson? Or would it have been disastrous as the writing crew stops giving a damn? Let’s take a look. Continue reading

Steven Universe Review: “It Could’ve Been Great” (Season 2, Episode 23)

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“Hey, look over here. I think it’s a door. (Opens said door, all the air begins getting sucked out of the base) Yup. We’re on the moon!” – Amethyst, almost sucking the Crystal Gems out into space.

Airdate: January 6th, 2016

Written By: Joe Johnston and Jeff Liu

Plot: Well, smoke me a kipper, they did it! The Crystal Gems and Peridot managed to construct a drill. But before they drill, they have to locate coordinates to get the Cluster. Therefore, they decide to take a trip up to the Moon. They arrive on a former Homeworld base that contains the schematics of all of Homeworld’s plans for Earth. Unfortunately, this piece of nostalgia and Peridot’s attachment to it begins to drive the wedge between her and the Crystal Gems back in.

Review:

One of the great themes of Steven Universe that is often overlooked in favor of it’s more “academic” sociological themes is the concept of leadership. In short, the question that the show often poses is “what drives people to follow leaders, and what makes a good leader”?

I first dissected this in my review of “Political Power”. In that review, I compared Mayor Dewey’s approach to leadership and public presentation to those taken by more populist figures, such as Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn or President Donald Trump. As part of that analysis, I noted that people tend to follow those leaders that can present a certain charisma, as well as appeal to their Id – for good and/or for ill. Figures often lure us in with their ability to communicate our deepest desires, making us dismissive (if not blind) to their faults.

This cuts every which way – as demonstrated here, in “It Could’ve Been Great”, we get to see how both propaganda and ideology drive protagonist and antagonist alike to defend their leaders and their philosophies. Continue reading

Steven Universe Review: “Steven’s Birthday” (Season 2, Episode 22)

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“My powers mean nothing to an infant!” –  Garnet. No wonder why this show wound up knocked off the schedule in favor of Teen Titans Go! Damn their bright colors and lack of intense drama intended for twentysomethings who still watch cartoons.

Airdate: January 5th, 2016

Written By: Lamar Abrams and Katie Mitroff.

Plot: On Steven’s 14th Birthday, Connie comes over to the Barn. The initial satisfaction of her visit is nuanced when Connie discovered the 1.25 year age difference between the two and the fact that Steven might not physically age at the same rate as humans. Disturbed by this, Steven decides to force himself to grow a few extra inches. But this could prove to be to his detriment.

Review:

Just in case I haven’t mentioned this before, Steven Universe is quite possibly the among the most romantic shows on television. And before anybody asks, yes, that is intended as a double entendre.

On one hand, Steven Universe is quite philosophically dedicated to the art of romanticism. It doesn’t quite adhere strictly to this – the show is inarguably socially liberal (often tied more to the enlightenment in some circles), and the approach to morality is tinged with a touch of grey for both protagonists and antagonists alike. But the mere concept of Steven Universe revolves around a society that broke from the perceived technological admiration and social stratification in favor of a more natural, humanistic (for lack of a better word), meritocratic world.

However, Steven Universe is also fundamentally a show about romance. It depicts the joys of a budding romance, the liberation that love can bring, but also the tragedy that the failure of love thereof can inflict on humanity. Ruby and Sapphire’s relationship (chiefly “The Answer”) analyzes the art of a romance that defied social mores despite not harming anybody. Pearl’s arc has depicted the trauma of a love lost, and how one has to put stock in oneself when they have measured themselves against an idol for so long.

Which leaves us with the Ballad of Steven and Connie. Continue reading

Sketching The Next Several Months of The Review Nebula

Hey, look – I posted for the first time in a week and change!

Yeah, sorry about that. I have no real excuse this time. I got a bit caught up in World Cup action (really, Germany), took advantage somewhat of the nice weather here on Long Island… but really, those aren’t even great excuses.

Simply put, I think I hit something of a writer’s block with my recent review, for reasons that will become apparent when it posts tomorrow morning. Don’t worry, the next few things I’m reviewing should pique everybody’s interest. Continue reading

Scullyfied Simpsons: “Take My Wife, Sleaze” (Season 11, Episode 8)

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No, I did not find this on DeviantArt. (ORIGINAL CHARACTER DO NOT STEAL!)

“When you get a job interview, try not to call your employer a punk, or a skank.”  – Marge Simpson. Give this episode credit – we could take her advice here.

Airdate: November 28th, 1999

Written By: John Swartzwelder

Plot: A trip to a 50s kitsch diner lands Homer a motorcycle in a dance competition. Having learned to ride it, he decides to start up his motorcycle gang. They mainly serve to commit petty annoyances around town. But trouble starts when a biker gang with the same name as Homer’s gang comes into town, livid.

Review:

Season 11 of The Simpsons is a season that, quite frankly, doesn’t know what the hell it’s really doing so far.

On one hand, you have episodes such as “Eight Misbehavin”, “Days of Wine and Do’hses”, and “Alone Again, Natura-Diddily”. These episodes attempted to dramatically shift the status quo of one of the most iconic television franchises in all of history. However, most of these changes didn’t concern the immediate Simpson family. Which is fine, except that these episodes would ultimately mix in the Simpson family, by which I mean, Jerkass Homer would be welcomed into their lives despite oftentimes screwing things up royally. Besides that, these episodes couldn’t resist a lot of trappings of it’s contemporaries – attempts at seriousness and occasional social commentary were damaged by the inane plot twists, increasingly unsympathetic characterization of our protagonist, and the show losing grip of reality.

Then, of course, there are episodes that don’t really pretend to be about anything and tend to revolve more around stuff happening. They’re both equally bad – the “serious” episodes often befuddle (if not outright offend) me because of how poorly they measure up to their predecessors in Seasons 1-8, while the latter… well, they have no freaking structure at all.

Hence, “Take My Wife, Sleaze”, or as I like to call it, “We made Homer an artist and a director already, let’s make him a biker.” Continue reading

Steven Universe Review: “The Answer” (Season 2, Episode 21)

Steven Universe The Answer

“The Earth. 5,750 years ago. It was a promising site of a new Gem colony, but progress was being thwarted by a small, persistent group of rebels. A team of diplomatic Gems were sent from Homeworld to investigate. Among those Gems was Sapphire, a rare aristocratic Homeworld Gem, with the power to see into the future. Assigned to her were three Rubies, common soldiers, with a mission to protect her.” – Garnet. Hey, as long as we don’t have to alternate between intergalactic Senate hearings and pod races, I’m cool.

Airdate: January 4th, 2016

Written By: Lamar Abrams and Katie Mitroff

Plot: The clock has struck midnight on Steven’s birthday. As a result, Garnet decides to partially fulfill a promise she made to herself… by telling Steven the ballad of Ruby and Sapphire.

5750 Years prior, the diplomatic Sapphire was assigned alongside the rest of Blue Diamond’s troupe to analyze the Earthican gem colony. While there, Sapphire predicts a rebel attack on the base… which happens. She also predicts that seven gems will be poofed – four civilians, two out of three Rubies, and herself. Well, four civilians are cut down. Two out of Three Rubies are also cut down after having fused into one Mega Ruby. However, the Third Ruby refuses to let that stand. One save attempt later, Garnet is formed… leading to disgust from everybody not to fly the banner of the Crystal Gems. The duo all but leg it down to Earth, where they come to terms with what the hell just happened.

Review:

So.

“The Answer”.

In a show with quite a few beloved episodes… this is one of them.

In fact, while Steven Universe has had plenty of iconic episodes before and since, and plenty more “important” episodes to the canon or the show’s overall popularity, I could make a case that “The Answer” has become the most iconic episode of Steven Universe to not involve a punch-up with Jasper. I mean… it was adapted into a children’s book. A fecking children’s book!

Only the deliberately contrarian would try and call the episode trash… which I won’t do in this review. Because I don’t hate the episode – far from it. I think it’s one of the most well-produced, heartwarming episodes of the entire show, up there with “Alone Together”. If anything, the only question I have is simple… is this episode somewhat overrated?

Not to a level of “this episode is actually a load of rubbish”, but is it merely “great” rather than the masterpiece that fandom holds it up to be?

Continue reading

Steven Universe Review: “Too Far” (Season 2, Episode 20)

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Suddenly, Amethyst proclaiming her hole as “me-sized” doesn’t have quite the goofy ring to it…

The Pearl here has exhibited an aptitude for engineering that I begrudgingly respect. But that doesn’t explain the spontaneous singing… crying… singing while crying.” – Peridot. Hey, she has a point. I mean, I love this show and how it stitches up the characters like kippers, but damn if these writers don’t love to take us on mood swings.

Airdate: October 15th, 2015

Written By: Hillary Florido and Lauren Zuke

Plot: Tensions between Peridot and the Crystal Gems are still rather high. Her views of Pearl are still rather reluctant, her views of Garnet get her tied to a fence, and the existence of Steven perplexes her. That, and Earthican English still perplexes her. Amethyst takes advantage of this for giggles. However, when the trio wind up at the Kindergarten, Peridot tries to emulate… with pathetic results.

Review:

I’m willing to admit that I went a bit “Cal State sociology professor” in my review of “Back to the Barn”. I mean, the response so far has been quite positive, but that’s not normally my style. So, let’s head back to something more of a character analysis with the review of this episode, “Too Far”… which is actually a sequel to “Back to the Barn”.

And we all know that sequels are hit and miss. For every Star Trek IIThe Wrath of Khan, there’s a Highlander II: The Quickening (a movie so loathed that practically every home release has tried to edit the movie into some form of sanity). For every Toy Story 2, there’s a Hunchback of Notre Dame II. And for every Fraiser (tossed salads and scrambled eggs… mercy), there’s a Cleveland Show. (Yeah, Cleveland from Family Guy once had his own show. It lasted four seasons, weirdly enough, although I think Bob’s Burgers drove a knife in the show’s back.)

Unfortunately, that trend does not abate here. It’s not to as dramatic an extent as I listed here, but it’s not quite as compelling an episode as it’s immediate predecessor. Continue reading

Scullyfied Simpsons: “Eight Misbehavin” (Season 11, Episode 7)

Eight Misbehavin

“They’re a ravenous swarm of locusts just eating and screaming and grabbing and poking and pulling and drooling, and two have cradle rash. How do you get cradle rash when you sleep in a suitcase?” – Apu, describing the confusing realities of having children.

Airdate: November 21st, 1999

Written By: Matt Selman

Plot: A meeting with the Simpson clan at the Shøp department store gives Apu and Manjula baby fever. In spite of their efforts, they wind up having trouble conceiving. Thankfully, an attempt involving a poorly-written script winds up successful, and with the help of everybody giving Manjula fertility drugs (including Manjula herself), an attempt at one baby leads to eight children. The initial shock is later replaced with stress, as the media coverage eventually collapses, leaving the duo on their own.

Review:

Full disclosure – no, I’m not using this review to analyze The Problem With Apu and the Simpsons recent reaction thereof in a manner of “is Apu a caricature”. I’m not South Asian, I’ll let them come to a democratic consensus on whether or not Apu (or at least modern Apu) is beyond the pale. All I’ll say is that the writers’ response in a recent episode was so poorly executed in terms of characterization and dialogue, as well as so childishly ham-fisted, that it would’ve destroyed any point they made. Even if they admitted fair play to Problem With Apu, they likely would’ve done so in a way that sunk the show.

Moments like that make me embarrassed to have become a Simpsons fan in the first place, and that recent response honestly made me contemplate reassigning the spot of “favorite show” to either Gravity Falls or Red Dwarf again, because at least those shows didn’t call their critics jackasses while producing some of the most incompetently written television of all time.*

Speaking of which, Season 11. Continue reading

Steven Universe Review: “Back to the Barn” (Season 2, Episode 19)

 

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Fair play to Pearl – she got a traffic cone on her robot. And you know things went wild if you obtain a traffic cone.

Mrs. Bennet“A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word; and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half-deserved.”
Colonel Fitzwilliam Darcy: “All this she must possess, and to all this she must yet add something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading.”
– Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 8. Wait, wait, wait – wanting to court a woman that doesn’t just act like giddy arm candy? This snob must be quite a radical man to reject truths universally acknowledged about the sexes!

Airdate: October 8th, 2015

Written By: Joe Johnston and Jeff Liu

Plot: That cluster thing is getting ready to cause Earth to go kerplooey. Therefore, Peridot decides to team up with the Crystal Gems to try and save the planet. Trouble is, Peridot doesn’t want to cede the drill project to Pearl. Apparently, Pearls are intended to be decorations back on Homeworld. As a result, the two begin to raise voices. As a result, Steven decides to settle this with a robot building competition.

Review:

Before we begin, I must warn you that this review deals with something of a controversial topic, one that might lead to raised voices. As I’ve mentioned before, I prefer to look at the character interactions in Steven Universe, and leave the sociological aspects into the background outside of brief mentions of the show’s liberalism. That said, there are always exceptions that prove the rule. This review might count as one of them. Sort of.

You know what I find particularly interesting about Steven Universe? For a show with a majority-female character sheet, penned by a self-described feminist, a writing crew that has relative gender parity (maybe a slight tilt towards women), and has a generally liberal philosophy, SU is relatively subtle about its support for feminism.

I don’t think this is a bad thing – get too strident and you risk alienating a decent chunk of your potential audience. Still, SU practices what it preaches by having a wide variety of female (or at least seemingly female) characters, with their gender being secondary to their character traits, dispatching stereotypes in favor of actual characterization. Sure, there’s Kevin and the chauvinistic tones found in his own characterization, but that was more an indictment of sexual harassment (which affects people regardless of gender) than anything. For the most part, gender is just something that exists in Steven Universe, not a rallying cry, and with that, I prefer to focus on the character interactions rather than the sociological aspects of Steven Universe.

Emphasis on for the most part. Sort of. Maybe.

Because here, we have a rare exception.

Ladies and gentlemen? Welcome to Steven Universe‘s “Misogyny Episode”. Continue reading