Steven Universe Review: "Giant Woman" (Season 1A, Episode 12)

Airdate: February 24th, 2014

Who needs charts to explain character dynamic when you have screenshots!

Synopsis: A fight between Pearl and Amethyst leads to Steven finding out about Opal. Who is Opal? Well, Amethyst describes it as “the two of us – mashed together!” Basically, Opal is a fusion between Amethyst and Pearl, combining their personalities and attributes to form a cohesive whole. Trouble is, the two are like a Prius and a Hummer.

Good timing – Garnet chucks the three up to the Sky Spire to get the Heaven Beetle, and requests that Steven act as a mediator. He does this by requesting Opal – even singing about it. Eventually, they come across said beetle… guarded by a bird. One who eats Steven and his pet goat.

Review: One of the great things about science fiction shows is the more liberal story engine that they tend to share. Most importantly, this affects character interactions. Sure, talking can be done anywhere, but some of the vehicles found in science fiction allow for characters to truly understand their own or each other’s position – whether it be mindswaps, alternate realities, or, in this case, fusions.

For Steven Universe, it’s fusion. This being the first episode to explore the concept, we “merely” get a look at the powers within.

Well, that would be the case for most other TV shows.

Rather, this episode presents a sizeable chunk of character analysis and interactions in 11 minutes, and the end result is one of the early greats in the Steven Universe canon.

“Giant Woman” showcases the character interaction between Lister and Rimmer – I mean, Amethyster and Pearlmer – I mean, Amethyst and Pearl. Yes, I could take some of the arguments between Lister and Rimmer and overdub them over Amethyst and Pearl. Here, this episode gives their character interactions a backstory, all through one simple line…

You’re no fun anymore! This is why we never form Opal!

Three things – first, Pearl was once more fun. Second, she and Amethyst can form something. Third, and the crux of this plot, they haven’t created that something – not for a while, anyway.

The argument seems to stem from their polar opposite personalities – which, again, resemble those found in the first two series of Red Dwarf. Amethyst is a rather impulsive loudmouth who sleeps near piles of trash. Even Lister, who once bred mold (“His name was Albert!”), would find plenty of her habits disgusting. Pearl, by contrast, is a seemingly (emphasis on the word seemingly) restrained strategist who follows organizational skills second only to Arnold Rimmer, and is an utter grammar nut. (Steven’s response: “Is her talking about me?”)

Even so, Pearl is known for having somewhat petty tendencies, what with cheating at checkers, smirking when debris fell on Amethyst while climbing a cliff, etc. Amethyst, meanwhile, does possess some element of levelheadedness, at least when Pearl herself is starting to flip out over anything that could even be the tiniest bit out of order.

So the question is, are the two of them really that different? In fact, could their differences stem from an earlier action that seemed to make Pearl more stoic, and Amethyst more… eccentric?

Either way, they mix like oil and water. How would anybody remotely expect them to fuse? They would have to be a chi-oh, wait.

Ah, Steven. Who is Stev – OK, I guess we know who Steven is. If you don’t, one of the 11 prior reviews I posted will fill you in on the kid. Still, Steven’s innocence is on full display. He doesn’t see any deep-seated differences that lay in between the two of them – hell, he just sees two people arguing, thus preventing him from seeing Opal. It’s not cruel of him – he has the focus of a 12-year old. Even his moments of altruism come from a simple mind.

Besides, his view of Opal is to, well, bring his two mothers/guardians/roommates together. He even poses the question after Amethyst and Pearl save the kid from a disaster the former caused… “That was so great how you worked together! Why don’t you do that all the time?”

They have no logical answer – their dissent from one another is powered by their own stubbornness.

Of course, Steven enters distress again when he turns into bird food – lucky for him, he finds the Heaven Beetle. And this time, the two of the finally fuse. This is obviously to save the kid, but might also be out of remorse – the argument between the two of them led to Steven becoming bird food, and may have screwed up the mission.

Oh, I forgot to mention that the scene that features Opal is probably the first truly sublime scene in Steven Universe history. Aimee Mann does a sublime job, even for a character that gets three lines… and all three of them have some level of levity to the story. The animation when she fires the arrow at the cluster of birds is beautiful. The staging is fantastic (I guess), the score is magical… and Steven’s reaction fits in perfectly. He can simply stare in shock, and only ask one question. “Do you… know who I am?”

“He he he he… all you wanna do… is see me turn into…” “(Gasps) A Giant Woman!”

Love, love, love that scene. Callison and Mann nail the voice acting – no melodrama, no screeching. Just a simple, soft exchange, with so much power.

Even further, Opal herself is a great combination between Pearl and Amethyst. In combat, stoic and logical, yet also rather merciless and willing to do quick stunts (like side down several stairs). Out of combat, laconic, yet also quite relaxed… and possibly forgetful.

I also forgot to mention that status quo is not god in this show, and this episode reinforces this method of storytelling and TV writing. Yes, Opal comes undone over an internal argument over where the heaven beetle is placed, but Garnet complements Steven in a very peculiar way.

“Nice work. You’ll be great at fusing one day.”

Spot the anomaly? I’m not pointing it out to you. All I’ll say is, quite a few more plots have been open.

“Giant Woman” is a fantastic episode – one that provides for beautiful character development, brilliant art, and a gorgeous score. There were great episodes before, but this is, hands down, the very first sublime Steven Universe episode.

Tidbits:

  • Let’s get this out of the way first – the “Giant Woman” song is a very cute, well-put together song. It shows Steven’s naiveté (“If you give it a chance, you can do a huge dance because you are a giant woman”), yet also a brief sense of understanding (“You might even like being together, and if you don’t, it won’t be forever”). 
  • One thing I found interesting is that Opal uses a magical bow and arrow to take down the birds. Apparently, when an opal mineral is fractured, it can be used to form a spear. Damn, Johnston and Liu are brilliant.
  • My question is – how the hell was Garnet able to survive diving into lava? I know that she’s a space rock, but still – her hair isn’t even remotely singed.
Favorite Scene: Opal punching through the bird to rescue Steven and Steven Jr., sliding down a banister, and firing an exploding arrow through a bow. The entire scene is incredible. 
Best Character: Steven. Thought it would be Opal, eh? Well, Steven gets this because, while Opal is a fantastic character, this episode is about Steven as a mediator between Pearl and Amethyst.

Memorable Quote: Can’t I just say the entire “Giant Woman” song? Second place? “You’re no son of mine!” – Steven disowning his goat/son after said goat wants to eat the Heaven Beetle.

ScoreGold. Hands down, the first sublime Steven Universe episode.

Scullyfied Simpsons: "Homer Simpson in: "Kidney Trouble"" (Season 10, Episode 8)

Airdate: December 6th, 1998

Truly a heartwarming moment… that will be spoiled in two seconds.

Synopsis: The whole family (plus Abe, for reasons needed to generate the plot) take a trip up to Bloodbath Gulch, a ghost town turned tourist trap. There, Abe drinks way too many sasparillas, and Homer refuses to stop for a rest stop on the way home. End result? Abe’s kidneys blow out, and Homer is the only available donor. While initially willing to go through with the procedure, fears brought on by his friends cause Homer to bolt from the operating table.

Review (SPOILER): To paraphrase Futurama, Mike Scully, you raised my hopes and dashed them quite expertly, sir! Bravo! Yup, two steps forward with “D’oh-in” and “Lisa Gets an “A””, and one moonwalk back with “Kidney Trouble”, among the most despised episodes in The Simpsons history. So, my expectations heading into this episode were lowered quite a bit.

And I still left, not only disappointed, but disgusted.

When Homer’s transition from “loveable, if somewhat insensitive and self-serving goofball” into “obnoxious madman cartoon” is discussed, this episode often comes off as an event horizon of sorts. Something about, I dunno, letting your father die because you don’t want to take the risk of a kidney operation comes off as more than a bit callous.

However, before I utterly tear apart the writers for massacring one of the greatest characters in sitcom history, I do want to play “devils advocate”, or at least, try and play “devils advocate”.

The big hangup people have with complaints about this episode is the fact that none of the risks were exposed by Doctor Hibbert beforehand. On one hand, no, Homer was not made aware of the risks until his friends informed him, and the nurses wanted him to sign a liability waiver so that the hospital wo

However, not only did the fat jackass shoot down Hibbert’s attempts to give advice (we can assume that the doctor was going there with his “long wait-list” thing), but his reasons for being petrififed were as follows – he wouldn’t be able to handle getting drunk, and his organs would be harvested after he died. (And besides, even if Hibbert didn’t care, that’s a rather bit off for his character.)

Let’s see… the “Abe being a rather ineffective father” defense? Well, that would’ve at least been interesting (if rather macabre) if it was explored beyond a flashback, and if Abe was a nuisance in this episode. And even then, Homer’s treatment of Abe crosses a line itself, so that piece of “devil’s advocate” is shot. (At least, in my view.)

Oh, there’s the “friends focus on bad and are idiots” argument… shot down by the fact that, really, Homer ignored the Doctor’s warnings about negative side effects in the first place.

Other than that… yeah, nothing here in the sympathy department.

He trashes his father’s kidneys, leaves him to die on the operating table, is concentrated on his own shame when he tries to go to sea, comes back apparently remorseful, leaves Abe again, and then wants to poach his ten year old son’s kidney at the end. Certainly no Ace Rimmer we’re dealing with.

Not helping is that, yes, everybody fawns over the idiot over the 22 minutes for being “brave” and “courageous”. Yes, the kidney transplant has risks, but Homer blew out his dad’s kidneys in the first place. Even his cowardice is treated more with a sense of mild-to-moderate disappointment from his family rather than the utter disgust that it should’ve been treated with. And everybody is so forgiving at the end of the episode…

It would’ve been more tolerable if this episode tried to have a consistent tone. The story tries to be this sobering one about an old man whose kidneys blow out, and what is a plot point? Homer disgusting a ship of lost souls. That’s about as insane and loopy as any prior episode, it bears little bearing on the plot… it’s just like the writers wrote themselves into a corner, and needed to kill two minutes. It clashes with the episode, and doesn’t alleviate from the utter misery that is a beloved character on his deathbead, thanks to the main character.

What else can I say? I came in with rather low expectations, and was blown away with how inept this episode was. We still have almost 3 seasons to go, people.

Tidbits:

  • Look, I know that Abe has been something of the butt of many jokes regarding how the family treated him – stuffing him in a retirement home and all that. Thing is, here, it just seems to cross a line of discomfort, where the entire family hates him despite not being as annoying. (And even if I did factor earlier episodes in, no, that is not a justification for letting him die of kidney failure.)
  • I did find Homer’s declaration that “the sea forgives all, unlike those unforgiving mountains” rather interesting. Not only a decent use of continuity, but the mountains were where Homer found out that Abe took a rather cowardly way down the Murderhorn. Ironically, there, Homer realized that he couldn’t beat the shame of that. In this episode, I think he did. (And no, Abe wanting to eat McAllister is not a justification for leaving him to die.)
  • The closest thing to medical satire that I could find is Marge saying that by donating his kidney, Homer cut his life expectancy significantly, so Abe could get a slight extension. Three problems, though. First off, coming out of Marge, it sounds rather callous of her. Second, Homer had his kidney stolen from Dr. Hibbert (which is rather off for him.) Third off, he didn’t sacrifice his kidney, and threatened to steal it back. How can you defend this man?
  • OK, there was the liability waiver joke.
  • I’m not even angry that the writers flunked biology, since kidneys don’t explode that way, but that’s only because the rest of the episode is so bad.
Zaniness Factor: 3. It would’ve been a 2, but the episode tries to combine a serious story with something as out there as “The Ship Of Lost Souls”.
Jerkass Homer Meter: 4. Oh, is Homer a selfish coward in this entire episode. Easily the most odious he’s ever been… so far.
Favorite Scene: Again, I did like the liability waiver joke. That, and “Bloodbath Gulch” was cute, at least for the first couple minutes.
Least Favorite Scene: There are so many scenes in the third act I could choose, so I’ll just go with the end – Homer reaching for his son’s kidney. Loveable character, writers. Who wrote this junk…
John Swartzwelder?
One point deduction, because I expect better from him. (Not that I would be too much more lenient towards a rookie, but still.)
Score: 1.5. The half a point is for a couple minutes at Bloodbath Gulch – and even then, you could just watch “Selma’s Choice” for similar jokes and not want to punch your TV screen. An utterly deplorable episode.

Scullyfied Simpsons: "Lisa Gets an A" (Season 10, Episode 7)

This grade is wrong, but not for the reason you might think…

Airdate: November 22nd, 1998

Synopsis: Lisa falls ill after being stuffed in a freezer to try and get some ice cream (no prizes for guessing who did it). Rather than study, she gets sucked into a video game, “Dash Dingo”. She gets so hooked into the game, she forgets to read The Wind in the Willows… and comes back to a quiz on the book. (“Game over, mate!”) Bart gets Nelson to hook her up with test answers, and she passes the test at such a level that the state no longer considers the school absolutely pathetic, and is willing to give them money.

Meanwhile, the aforementioned fridge-stuffer gets a pet lobster at the same supermarket. By “gets a pet”, I mean Homer prevents Marge from cooking Pinchy, a lobster that the family brought for dinner.

Review (SPOILERS): Lisa Simpson is one of the more divisive characters in the Simpsons canon. This stems from the trend during the “double digit” seasons to have Lisa as the mouthpiece for the generally leftish writers, with little reasonable dissent or critique of said positions. While I see where they come from, my opinion of Lisa stems from the early seasons of the show – as it should. And while she did have moments where she seemed overtly opinionated, they were just part of her role as a wiser, more mature eight-year old, who still fell victim to the same weaknesses that eight-year olds have.

“Lisa Gets An A”, surprisingly, has her fall victim to a trap that students tend to face – that of cheating. Not a bad idea, although does this episode execute it well?

Almost.

The idea itself isn’t exactly original, per se (“Bart the Genius”, anybody), but the proper tools can make something that seems cliche at first glance come off as rather well-done. This isn’t just an average kid deciding to cheat because of his or her laziness – this is Lisa Simpson (read, girl who only got one B… so far) getting so sucked into Dash Dingo, that she outright forgot that she had a homework assignment.  While one would question this lapse in judgement, I think it works to show that even Lisa isn’t infallible from everyday life. She’s eight years old – she’s going to have those moments where her judgement lapses.

It also fits into her perfectionist tendencies. When she got the aforementioned “B” in “Kamp Krusty”, she almost had a meltdown. (Yes, I am aware that The Simpsons has a wonky continuity.) Fearing that failing a test would have her banned from Harvard and sent to Brown fits in very, very well – Lisa isn’t the most pragmatic person out there. When push comes to shove, she’s willing to throw her ethics out the window… albeit not willingly.

Of course, episodes that focused on characters having to wraggle with themselves on their own failings have been done quite a few times – “Bart the Genius”, again. This episode decides to shift the focus somewhat from “Lisa cheats” to “Springfield Elementary is a cesspool”. Admittedly, this is a bit of a swerve in focus, but it does force Lisa to swallow her ethics even further.

The third act is kind of interesting, speaking from the keyboard of an aspiring teacher. The focus on Springfield Elementary’s finances is brought in again – episodes such as “The PTA Disbands” touched on it before. This time, there is an analysis of how financial grants and funds are spent. Springfield Elementary was doing so poorly in terms of grades that they were denied assistance from the state – seemingly keeping the school in a cycle of pathetic academia, technical lag, recreation decay, and funding drought.

Yet, when the school gets the grant – $250000 – Skinner proceeds to blow it on scoreboards, outdated tech (even by 1999 standards), and, most damningly, liquor for the teachers. The grant is thus kind of self-defeating, and at best, only serves as a short-term ailment to grave problems Springfield Elementary faces.

This actually raises quite a few questions – should education funding be punitive, or should there just be grants for better schools? Should there be more oversight on how the schools spend their funds? Are private resources in schools dubious? “Lisa Gets an A” does a good job at putting these ideas down on the table.

Here’s where the episode gets a little wonky. First off, the fact that Lisa’s A+++ managed to get the school a basic grant is a bit out there. It could work to show just how bad the rot is at Springfield Elementary, but the out there-ness stands. Secondly, there’s the entire concept of how the school was able to pull off a second awards ceremony to throw the State Education Comptroller.

Also, the first act of the episode seemed a bit light on the laughs. Not bad, but when you’re focusing more on comedy like Scully seems to be doing, you kinda need the laughs.

Before I go… the B-plot. It’s stupid, has Homer as a bit of an idiot… and I love it. It’s actually a very fun, cute plot, what with Homer coddling his pet lobster and treating it like a dog. That, and the end of that plot is one of the best examples of dark, tragic comedy in the show’s history.

After a rather rough start to the season, we seem to be getting back on track. Two good episodes in a row? Maybe Season 10 won’t be so bad after all…

Tidbits:

  • For the uninitiated, Dash Dingo is a send-up of Crash Bandicoot, a PlayStation game which is actually set in Australia. And yes, there are quite a few Australia jokes in Dash Dingo. Thing is, I can’t help but feel that this was the start of the show’s transition from parodying concepts for the sake of mocking and deconstructing them to simply referencing them with a few word changes. (Mapple? Really, Jean?)
  • Oh, wait, there is “Ken and Harry’s”. So, yeah, anytime you catch newer Simpsons episodes using “Mapple” and “Funtendo Zii”, this episode has some blame.
  • Gil reappears. This seems to be all his sthick is – just a down-on-his-luck salesman who needs to go take business classes. I mean, I don’t hate him, but that may be from nostalgia – The Simpsons: Hit and Run and the ability to buy stupid cars off of him. Still, I don’t think he’ll ever be as brilliant as Lionel Hutz. (I think he gets a lot of scorn because his first appearances came when the show was in the midst of a decline – that, and he starred in the widely disliked “Kill Gil” episode.)
Zaniness Factor: 1.5 – the third act is a bit stupid, but otherwise, not too bad.

Jerkass Homer Meter: 2 – the point is mainly for sticking his daughter in the freezer to get some ice cream, plus the borderline neglect of his kids once Pinchy comes into the picture.
Favorite Scene: I loved seeing how utterly decrepit Springfield Elementary is, but the gold moment has to be Mrs. Krabappel using a periodic table provided by Oscar Meyer.
Least Favorite Scene: Did we really need to see the entire second grant presentation?
Score: 7.5. Would’ve gotten an 8, but the relatively joke-free first act brought it down a bit.

Steven Universe Review: "Arcade Mania" (Season 1A, Episode 11)

Before anybody asks, the fact that Onion is watching this shows two things – either Onion finds this unusual, or he’s looking for another way to win a prize that, as far as I’m concerned, is above his age level… I think.

Airdate: February 17th, 2014

Synopsis: After failing to capture the spinoffs spawned by a Drill Creature in a cave… Garnet declares them to not be a threat, and calls the mission over. The Gems proceed to go to the local arcade, where Garnet trashes two games before getting hooked onto Meat Beat Mania, a rhythm-based games where the player shakes various meat-based products. And by hooked, I mean she ignores the return of the mini-Drill Creatures.

Review (SPOILERS): Steven Universe is a show that thrives on continuity. It’s not noticeable in the first half of the season, but the show’s world-building provides a lot of foreshadowing to events that will impact the rest of the series. The first half of Steven Universe’s first season is genuinely aided by the power of hindsight – either that, or a really sharp eye. Speaking of which, “Arcade Mania”, at first glance, one of the show’s more “pedestrian episodes”, is very much aided by hindsight. However, this doesn’t mean that it can’t hold up on it’s own merits.

Our first few interactions with Garnet seemed to indicate that she was very much a stolid character – no-nonsense, stoic, focused. And, for the most part, they were right. However, the past few episodes have shown a lighter side to the once (and still) enigmatic leader of the Crystal Gems. She’s taken Pearl and Amethyst out of sight for “messing with Steven’s funky flow”, joked around with the kid, and even was able to comprehend why Amethyst was going to wrestling matches late at night.

Now, we get to see a vice – she becomes hooked to Meat Beat Mania.

Remember Dance Dance Revolution, a game which made everybody think they were both getting exercise and learning how to dance like Tony Manero? Yeah, imagine that with meats. And meat puns. It’s pretty stupid, and very, very addictive. Garnet – of all people – gets sucked in.

But why?

Well, something’s obviously getting her third eye hooked to the screen. (Yes, she has three eyes. Bit of a shock, right?) What is it? Well, let’s leave a full explanation for a later review. All I’ll say is that it takes the potential drawbacks of her id, and fuses it with the potential drawbacks of her superego, all to the detriment of her mission. Hey, not every Kirk-esque “medium decision” will work.

However, in the immediate term, it does appear that her third eye possesses some powers of it’s own. What they are, we don’t know, but it allows her to master the game. On a larger level, this episode reinforces the idea of Garnet being the Crystal Gem most likely to maintain a sense of focus on her mission. Or at least, we get an exception to the rule. She slips up when it comes to the Drill Parasites. Now, was she just focused on the immediate effect of defeating the Drill Creature, or eliminating any later threats. Once she gets her focus, she gets it at the worst possible time.

One thing I definitely liked in this episode is that Steven is still awkward with his relationship with the Crystal Gems – he sends Pearl and Amethyst to arcade games more suited for the opposite. This implies that the Crystal Gems still have a relatively distant relationship with Steven – whether it be that they’ve been fighting monsters for the past week, or if Steven only recently began living with them.

Going further, Pearl’s comment of arcades being “a fascinating way for humans to waste their time” is a golden Spock-esque reaction, one that showcases just how alien she is. Unlike Garnet and Amethyst, who at least seem to comprehend the concept of the arcade, Pearl is still confused on how and why we would waste time.

On a somewhat personal level, I have fond memories of arcades… hotel arcades, mind you. When I was younger, me and my family took a couple of trips to Orlando, and pretty much every hotel we stayed at had a little arcade – perfect to waste time. (Obviously, it was minor compared to, well, everything else in Orlando, but still.) That, combined with odd trips to my local Dave and Busters, means that episodes like this one bring back fond memories.

Other than that… not a too much to talk about regarding this episode. Really, with the exception of some foreshadowing, the exposure of the third eye, and some subtle character development, this episode is one that can be skipped without fear of missing much. It’s not a bad episode by any stretch of the imagination – it’s funny, quirky, and cute. However, it’s not a must watch.

Tidbits:

  • Onion returns… again… and just becomes even more of an enigma. He wins a scooter (implying he has too much time on his hands), and in his next scene, he just sits there, watching Steven challenge Garnet at Meat Beat Mania. Also, I have to wonder what a kid who looks no older than 10 (and that’s at max) is doing at an arcade… presumably alone. Maybe the culture is different in DelMarVa than it is on Long Island.
  • What is this – the fourth episode out of the past five that had Mr Smiley? I’m starting to think Sinbad met a friend for lunch at the CN Offices, Sucrose and Company noticed, and asked him to record a few lines because they couldn’t find another voice actor. (Either that, or he took the job to try and stave off future trips to bankruptcy court.)
  • Steven threw a silver dollar to the side. Most brilliant piece of subtle social commentary this show has had… up to this episode. (Side note – I am all for changing from the bill to the Dollar Coin, but that’s a rant for another time.)
Favorite Scene and Memorable Quote: Amethyst playing Skee Ball… and ignoring the rules. “Imma win an airplane!
Best Character: Garnet, for pretty obvious reasons. Most character development, plus exposure of vice, plus the fact that she’s playing a video game makes this episode brilliant.
ScoreBronze. Solid, but not too memorable.

Scullyfied Simpsons: "D’oh-in’ in the Wind" (Season 10, Episode 6)

Airdate: November 15th, 1998

Synopsis: While tracking down his middle name, Homer comes across a farm run by two former hippies, Seth and Munchie. Upon learning his middle name, and learning more about his rebellious mother and her interactions with said hippies (she painted a mural with Homer’s full name), Homer takes an interest in the carefree lifestyle of hippies, and becomes one… not understanding that Seth (Martin Mull) and Munchie (George Carlin) have moderated their practices, even embracing the capitalist aspects of the 90s.

Review (SOME SPOILERS, POSSIBLY FOR OTHER EPISODES): In hindsight, maybe the 60s counterculture was too good to be true. Intended as an anti-establishment movement meant to get humanity more in touch with Earth and the fellow man, as well as generate social reforms, ironically, not only has it become the defining image of the 60s (to the point of cliche), but arguably became absorbed and moderated by the mainstream itself. Not that this was a bad thing, though. However, there is an irony here.

In many regards, The Simpsons was a counterculture in and of itself, or at least represented a counterculture. After the seemingly conservative, politically and socially stolid 80s, where American morals and archetypes were reinforced, came this show that managed to lampoon (if not subvert) every single aspect of Americana. Unfortunately, episodes like “When You Dish Upon A Star” seemed to represent the show becoming mainstream. Here’s where the absorption of the counterculture in the mainstream proved to be detrimental – modern Simpsons episodes seem to run on cliche plots and hackneyed dialogue, attempting to be trendy and cool, and just coming off as a pathetic show that needs to be axed. Soon.

Now that that’s out of the way, “D’oh-in in the Wind” is, in all honesty, quite an improvement over the aforementioned last episode. (That’s not a hard feat, but still.)

Homer here is certainly a bit bombastic in how he decides to take up the hippie lifestyle, but there’s actually a method to his madness here (contrast with his fawning-turned-betrayal of Basinger and Baldwin.) His appreciation of the perceived layabout lifestyle of the hippies seems to harken back to the days of “Homer Goes to College”, when Homer’s perception of party colleges conflicted with the more academic reality of Springfield U.

In this case, Homer’s perception of the 60s counterculture is based in stereotypes – belief in pseudo-communism, utter degeneration of his hygiene, and calling out dissenters as “narcs” and sellouts. (Insert your own Tumblr joke here.) However, the radical counterculture never seemed to mesh with reality, and the hard-leftish aspects of hippiedom transformed into an arguably liberal (or possibly libertarian) direction. Seth and Munchie are just trying to survive in the capitalist 90s, and simply implemented their hippie personality into their job – making organic juice.

Even further, it’s Homer’s attempts to maintain the supposedly lax attitude that represented the counterculture that caused more harm in the first place – his frisbee laid waste to the shipment. I can’t help but think that this is a symbol of how some elements of the hippie counterculture may have proven detrimental to the lives of those who followed it to the T, but who knows. Maybe Scully and Co just needed an excuse to create conflict in the plot.

Actually, I think that this episode could be an analysis of what the 60s counterculture started off as – an even stronger desire to respect your fellow man, no matter what. Here, Homer’s role as a hippie starts out as just a self-serving expression of the stereotypes. Upon realizing the negative effects of his carefree actions, he takes it upon himself to try and make things right. However, not having the knowledge to run a farm business, nor a knowledge of plants, he messes up. Royally. Even then, facing down a bunch of cops ready to bust them all on drug charges, he still understands what happened… and the end result is hilarious, if a bit abrupt.

So, that looks like a sizable amount of praise for this episode. Was there anything actually wrong with it?

Well, there were a few things I didn’t like.

My first complaint is more of a nitpick than anything. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by Steven Universe‘s construction of secondary and tertiary characters, but I really couldn’t get any noticeable difference between Seth and Munchie. They worked as representatives of how the 60s evolved into the 90s, but apart from that, they really didn’t get too much development. They worked, but I have a feeling that an opportunity was missed.

More of a major complaint, though, is one I mentioned earlier. Homer’s execution of his hippiedom comes off as a bit bombastic for my tastes. It seems like Scully’s view of comedy (and Homer) is just loud and bombastic. While not a bad thing, in my recent review of “Steven’s Lion”, I argued that what makes Steven Universe work is it’s restraint in how it executes it’s comedy and character expressions. To a lesser extent, that also made classic Simpsons work – while it did have slapstick and bombastic comedy, it balanced it out with subtle character comedy and dramatic moments. At least the reaction to Homer’s loutish behavior was more realistic here than it was in… the last episode.

Otherwise, this episode isn’t too bad of an outing. Definitely not gonna measure up to the classics, but for what it was worth, it was still a pretty cute episode.

Tidbits:

  • Burns seemed a tad bit off at the beginning of the episode. I can see him running a commercial on the cheap, as well as his old fashioned tastes and utter weakness. However, there doesn’t seem to be the machiavellian zest that he once had. You could argue that he was humbled by having a trillion dollars taken from him by Fidel Castro, but even then, said loss was caused by his own idiocy. 
  • I loved the inclusion of “Uptown Girl” as Homer’s “hippie song”. Not only does this seem to reinforce Homer’s more 80s-centric mentality, but the song itself is a throwback to the sounds of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons – from the 60s.
  • The theme at the end of the episode was performed by Yo La Tengo, an indie rock band from New Jersey. Honestly, I never heard of them until now. Their cover was pretty cool.
Favorite Scene: Homer singing “Uptown Girl” during the standoff. It was a bit cheesy, but I just loved it all the way.
Least Favorite Scene: Homer’s initial demonstrations of his hippie lifestyle seemed a bit too loud and out-of-character.
Zaniness Factor: 1.5. Nothing too outlandish here, actually, although the standoff might raise a few eyebrows.

Jerkass Homer Meter: 2.5 – his behavior during the first two acts of the episode, again, seemed a bit too arrogant and “in your face”. The third act toned it down, but still.
Score: 7.

Steven Universe Review: "Steven’s Lion" (Season 1A, Episode 10)

“Today, Optimum sent a lion to repair my cable. While it didn’t improve too much, I did see their Raining Tacos commercial. Four stars. Would recommend.”

Airdate: January 27th, 2014

Synopsis: While looking for a structure-generating Gem in the desert, Steven comes across a magical pink lion. Said lion doesn’t eat the kid – rather, the lion follows Steven and the Gems back to the Temple. There, Steven attempts to domesticate said lion like a dog… to less success. However, said lion might have ulterior motives for following Steven to the temple.

Review (SPOILERS): So… Steven gets a pet. Under different circumstances, getting a magical pet would be a sign that your show needs to have a bullet placed in it. However, we’re only in the 10th episode, so the conclusion can either be A) fastest shark-jump ever, or 2) quirky world-building. A closer analysis of this episode (ok, even a cursory analysis) would suggest (ok, confirm) that it’s the latter. Continue reading

Steven Universe Scoring System – The Trial Period

Well, Happy New Year, everybody! Hope you had a winter break, and that if you did, it went very smoothly. Mine went pretty well – decompression after what was honestly a rather rough semester. But, I’m back, and hoping to make 2016 a bit more active than 2015.

That shouldn’t be too hard – while one show is closing, another one is getting back in gear, and I’m reviewing another show I love. In fact, that last show is the point of this post.

Re-reading my Steven Universe reviews, I feel like using my 1-10 score system for that show has some flaws. As far as I know, under the current system, even the worst Steven Universe episode won’t get any lower than a 6 score (and here’s hoping that holds.) Now, you could make an argument that it shows just how good Steven Universe is.

Still, I feel like, to accurately measure Steven Universe, I should score it against the standards it has set itself. Therefore, I have come up with a new score system, and I am going to test it out over the next few reviews, see how I like it.

Let me first reiterate that this is a trial period, and I might discontinue it after only a few uses. Also, as of now, this is only going to be used for Steven Universe reviews, although I might expand it to other shows.

With that said, here it is.

  • Platinum:
    • These are given to genuinely iconic episodes – those that prove that Steven Universe is a damn good contender for the most well-written show on TV. There are pretty high standards for an episode to get a platinum, but really, the big threshold is that it has to be an episode that genuinely moved me, and one that will truly stand out amongst the other episodes.
  • Gold:
    • While not as iconic, these episodes are still a “must-watch” for Steventhusiasts. Great character development, great plotting, etc. Most of the episodes will likely either fall here or…
  • Silver:
    • By the high standards I have set for Steven Universe, these are merely “good” episodes, by which I mean, they are really, really good… they’re just not outstanding in the realm of the show. Very solid outings.
  • Bronze:
    • Solid episodes, yet not spectacular. Nothing that will stand out in “greatest episode” lists, but nothing that has glaring flaws. 
  • Fire Salt:
    • Very few shows are perfect, and Steven Universe is no exception. While still better than most of TV, these are comparatively weak episodes, ones that won’t get frequent re-watches. Expect (or at least hope) not to see too many of these.
I figure I should clarify before I go any further; bronze is not bad. Repeat – bronze is not bad. It’s just not outstanding. In fact, I don’t think I hate a single SU episode. (Dislike, maybe, but not hate.) Again, Steven Universe is being graded against it’s high standards. For example, compared to a modern Simpsons episode, “Cheeseburger Backpack” is gold, but compared to “Jailbreak”, it’s “left behind” at bronze.

Also note that over the next couple of days, older reviews will also get one of the aforementioned awards, yet will have the numeric scores right next to them. New reviews will just have the award scores.

Here’s to a happy 2016!