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

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Airdate: February 24th, 2014

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. Continue reading

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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. Continue reading

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.) Continue reading

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!