Steven Universe Review: "Beach Party" (Season 1A, Episode 18)

Ah, to have the drive to play volleyball… or any sports.

Airdate: April 30th, 2014

Plot: An attempt to destroy a pufferfish results in Garnet crashing into the roof of Fish Stew Pizza. With the trio walking away from the situation, Kofi Pizza (the owner) tells Steven that the trio are not welcome in the shop. Steven tries to patch things up by inviting the Pizza family to a picnic near the Temple. There, we see a bit of a clash between the two sides, drowning out possible underlying similarities… and any potential pufferfishes.

Review: Well, after the dense boringness of “Sunday, Cruddy Sunday”, I’m watching a more straightforward episode with a more down to earth plot… in a show revolving around alien rock people. (Congratulations, modern Simpsons – you are denser and more removed from reality than a cartoon on Cartoon Network. Says a lot, doesn’t it.)

The most notable aspect of “Beach Party” is the fact that fans often tend to overlook this episode. It’s not as “disliked” as “Onion Trade” is – they just tend to skip over it in discussions. While I can see why they tend to overlook it, I actually think that this episode isn’t simply an episode thrown together to fill the season.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s a very silly episode. I don’t mean that in a completely bad way – it’s just that, compared to the intense drama that the show has become well-known for, it’s a very lighthearted outing. Watching this after “Cry for Help” or “Keeping It Together”, you would swear up and down that the episode was written for a different show.

Just because it lacks some of the more complex and dramatic themes found in those episodes, though, doesn’t make it a bad episode. In fact, there are some interesting elements in this episode.

Most of this has to do with the interactions between the Crystal Gems and the Pizzas. The episode uses parallels between the characters, as expressed with Steven’s volleyball teams. It’s beyond a coincidence that Pearl wound up with neat-freak Kiki and Amethyst with iconoclast Jenny. The partnerships are practically perfect.

Where this gets more interesting, though, is with the partnerships between Steven and Nanefua, as well as one between Kofi and Garnet. You would expect, for instance, Garnet to wind up teamed up with the insightful Nanefua. However, not only would that create a hole for Steven and Kofi, but thinking on another level, her team with Kofi makes more sense. The rather serious leaders of the two, their team shows a contrast in styles – the stoic if aloof, versus the hotheaded if justified.

Steven and Nanefua, meanwhile, come off as merely pint-sized eccentrics at first. However, behind their comparative silliness, they are probably the most mature characters in this episode. All they want is some sort of peace between and within their ranks, even if the schisms between the two are severe. This episode, in particular, showcases both of them taking a leadership role in the face of the Monster of the Week (as well as the conflict between the other six Pizzas and Gems). Working in tandem, the end result is the safety of everybody involved.

However, this episode also works for the Gems as a whole. Seeing them interact with human beings definitely provides a great bit of hilarity for the characters, showing just how blunt and aloof they can be to humanity. However, this episode showcases that the Gems don’t necessarily crave any sort of approval for their heroics. It really demonstrates that, while they are physically distinct from humanity, and they might not comprehend many of their customs, at their core, they aren’t really that different – they have virtues and vices, which can work in tandem.

Speaking of which, I’d like to talk a bit about how this franchise showcases the flaws found in these characters. Much as I like Star Trek, I downright love Red Dwarf and Steven Universe because I genuinely think both execute their characters better. Don’t get me wrong – Star Trek has had some great characters (Kirk, Picard, Khan, even Q), but the franchise does seem like it’s about ideas first. Red Dwarf and Steven Universe lure you in with their motley crew of flawed and eccentric characters, and peel away at them to expose the roots of their vices, or the virtues they do possess.

Here, for example, we get to see the Crystal Gems not only shrug off the fact that they damaged a man’s shop, but also Kofi fly off the handle at the slightest provocation. The end result, we see both sides cheat at volleyball. Both sides do come together to battle against a more serious predicament, however. It allows for a more emotional investment into the resolution, and provides for a genuine sense of conflict between two sides who are neither purely antagonistic nor heroic.

Rebecca Sugar said in a pre-premiere feature that…

The characters aren’t perfect, and that’s what makes them so great.”

This episode certainly showcases that. (We’ll talk a bit more about the overall idea of character flaws in my review of “Historical Friction”, due out by the time of PM Trudeau’s retirement.)

I mean, this isn’t the show’s strongest outing – again, it’s a very light, breezy episode, and in the end, does suffer from sparser “belly” laughs that will benefit future “plot-light” episodes. Overall, though, it works as a great time filler.

Tidbits:

  • It’s worth noting that Jenny and Kiki Pizza are voiced by Reagan Gomez-Preston, who voiced Cleveland’s stepdaughter Roberta on The Cleveland Show.
  • This episode was written by Lamar Abrams, whose last episode was “Onion Trade”. Admittedly, that wasn’t the best sign. He did, however, write “Lars and the Cool Kids” prior to this episode, and I did like the Season 1B episode “Future Vision”. So, I’m rather optimistic about his future episodes.
  • I did like the reveal that, not only did the Gems not eat, but also that they can change their clothing at will.
  • Oh, next episode is “Rose’s Room”. This ought to be good.
Favorite Scene: I love the aftermath of the volleyball scene.
Best Character: Nanefua. Hilarious.
Memorable Quote: “Everyone is grounded here!” – Kofi Pizza, during the post-volleyball argument.
Score: Bronze. However, this episode was actually better than I remember. I almost gave it a silver, but this episode just felt a bit too light to earn that. 
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