Steven Universe Review: "Lars and the Cool Kids" (Season 1A, Episode 14)

There’s probably some form of symbolism in this image… or maybe I’m just seeing things.

Airdate: March 10th, 2014

Synopsis: Steven’s quest for lunch lands him against Lars’s continued attempts to come off as cool, and thus, get involved with the “Cool Kids” – Sour Cream, Buck Dewey, and Jenny. Hilariously enough, Steven manages to talk to them, and convince them to bring along the kid and Lars. They take a trip up to “Dead Man’s Mouth”, a lake that contains a lot of moss… moss that was grown and treated by Rose. It’s also moss that will overtake whatever it touches in a matter of seconds.

Review (SPOILERS): Before we begin, I should mention that “Lars and the Cool Kids”, if my memory serves me correctly, was among the first episodes of Steven Universe I recall watching. (I think I may have seen “Gem Glow” and “Laser Light Cannon” before, though.) I don’t recall watching the episodes first run until StevenBomb 3 (“Cry for Help”, to be more specific), and I don’t remember when I saw this episode, but, hey, this was an interesting intro to the show.

One of the first characters introduced in the Steven Universe canon (if the pilot is discounted), Lars set the stage as a direct contrast to Steven. Cynical, insensitive, snarky, and brash, Lars is the closest thing the show had to a reoccurring antagonist in Season 1A – the “sitcom” days, when Steven rolled around in a bubble with the new kid in town, when he became a pro-wrestler, when his attempts to be a birthday clown almost killed him.

Where was I? Oh, yes – Lars. The show’s shift to more dramatic themes put him out of the picture, to an extent. However, he does get to shine in “Lars and the Cool Kids”, an episode that shows him and some cool kids interact with the fantastical world of the Crystal Gems.

So, what d’ya expect – Lars is an ass, right? Well… true, he’s dismissive and cocky, but this episode makes him out to be a more complex creature than the one we saw in “Gem Glow”. This episode, as implied, seems to indicate his desire to be at what he considers to be among the “teen elite” – the titular cool kids. To do this, he tries his damndest to imitate their patterns of behavior, but, in his mindset (and, to an extent, in execution), can’t really seem to impress them.

Steven, however, manages to form something of a closer connection with the teenagers. Thing is, the kid doesn’t pretend to be somebody he isn’t – he’s upfront, acts genuine, all that jazz. This tells us that what brings the teenagers together is their honesty and genuine behavior. (I’ll talk about the group in a bit)

However, this connection is still not perfect – there’s a pretty obvious “maturity” gap that goes both ways. Steven, being a kid, has interests typical of your average pre-teen. The gang of three… eh, not so much. Ironically, while Steven has a curiosity about the lake, he is also well-aware of the dangers it possesses, mainly due to prior experience (read, the beginning of the episode). The teens, though, go in, and get covered in moss.

Admittedly, the “subverted lionization of the fallible cool kids” is a bit of a cliche, although the show does show them not as jerks, but as merely impressionable teenagers who are frank with their speech and their actions. That’s a pretty quirky characterization strategy by Lamar Abrams (who voices Buck) and Matt Braly. On that note, we do learn a more about these “cool kids” than the fact that they are cool. We get a peek at some of their families, the dynamics of said families, and they all have at least somewhat distinct personalities. Pretty good, considering that this is an 11-minute episode.

This, though, returns us to the subject at hand – Lars. Yes, this episode fleshes him out beyond the obnoxious teen that we saw mocking Steven and Connie. Indeed, he is insecure about his popularity, and, as mentioned above, desires to be the cream of the crop. There is a problem, though – not only is he unnatural, he’s also a jackass. Compounding that last part, he turns into a jackass at the worst possible time, saying one of the worst possible things, to the worst possible person.

He insults Steven’s mom as the others face suffocation from moss.

With that, friendly, kind Steven? Out the window. Yet, his character is not compromised at all – if anything, it might very well have been developed. His quote after Lars mocks’s Steven’s “weird mom”?

What do you know about my Mom?! I didn’t even get to know my mom! But I do know, she saw beauty in everything – even in stuff like this… and even in jerks like you!

Sure, it’s typical for a pre-teen to defend their parents. Steven’s reaction is, therefore, very much realistic. There’s also an emotional levity to this scene, because it really shows that, no matter what, Lars definitely crossed a line of acceptable conversation.

Here’s the thing – at the beginning of the episode, Pearl noted that Rose kept the moss because “she saw the beauty in everything, no matter how gross”. Indeed, this is Steven making a statement based largely on Pearl’s declaration. In effect, Steven does follow Pearl’s view of Rose without really questioning it. Granted, Steven was right about the moss. And, again, he is a kid – we have idealized views of our parents at a young age. Imagine, though, if Rose is revealed have some distaste for anything – where she couldn’t get past her negative feelings. That would be a shocker.

Conversely, though, in that same scene, he becomes the leader of the crew – ordering Lars to drag the trio up to the top of the mountain. That’s what makes him stand out, and places him above Lars in terms of people’s opinions – Steven is willing to take some level of initiative, even if it’s not always correct. (Again, in this case, he was more than correct, but still.) Yet, popularity isn’t necessarily Steven’s ambition. Friendship? Yes. But not necessarily popularity – he dodges responsibility for saving their lives, tossing it to Lars instead.

Remember this – we’ll get back to this theme in around a few dozen episodes. And it will be brilliant.

There’s really a lot to like about this episode, as a whole. It fleshes out Lars to be more relatable and, thus, sympathetic; it gives some emotional levity to Steven; and it twists around cliches. Oh, and the animation, yet again, is flipping gorgeous. “Lars and the Cool Kids” is easily among the better episodes of season 1A. Even if you plan to skip most of 1A (which, honestly, I don’t see why), make one of the exceptions this episode.

Tidbits:

  • While I’ve mentioned the voice acting before, I don’t think I’ve mentioned Zach Callison’s voice acting yet. Like the others, he does a great job. The “I didn’t get to know my mom” rant, besides adding pathos to Steven’s situation, is also done so well. Besides the shock, his voice actually breaks at the start of the rant, before turning into full-blown anger. The best part? As far as I’m concerned, it only gets better.
  • Kudos to Pearl summoning, from her gem… police tape. In fact, she even declares that, once put up (with a bow, even) that it is practically an impenetrable membrane. Even Mr. Spock was more in tune with human behavior than Pearl. Even more damning – she’s been on Earth for centuries – millennia, even. Methinks she doesn’t go outside often, nor has she paid attention to human history since early on. As the science officer would say, this gem is illogical.
    • This does lead to my one nitpick about this episode. I know that the Gems themselves aren’t too in tune with human customs, but even I find it hard to believe that Garnet and Amethyst are so accepting of this theory of heeding police tape that they wouldn’t voice any objection. I’ll let it slide for pacing purposes, and maybe I’m missing something, but please.
  • Also of note – Buck Dewey is the Mayor’s son. I love how, in contrast to his father’s attempts to build the perfect public image (as seemingly typical of his field), Buck doesn’t really give a damn about image. He just seems to be awesome.
  • My question is this… why is Sour Cream’s voice so deep? Dude rivals Worf in “Deepest Voices in American Science Fiction”.
Favorite Scene and Memorable Quote: “What do you know about my mom?” That entire rant from Steven is the emotional centerpiece of the episode.
Best Character: Lars – hey, he’s actually fairly likable in this episode, even if he is a bit of an ass.
Score: Silver. But, it’s very close to Gold, and is only held back by my insistence that Gold should go to more memorable episodes of the show.
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