Steven Universe Review: "House Guest" (Season 1B, Episode 1)

Will Greg Universe use the warp whistle responsibly? Here’s a hint – N. O. The end.

“Now, Greg, there’s no need to be so pathetic.” – Pearl, introducing Greg to the whistle – aka, the plot device de jour.

Airdate: October 2nd, 2014.

Written By: Lamar Abrams and Hellen Jo.

Plot: Greg’s van, which he conveniently uses as a house, was damaged in a recent confrontation with a livid ex-prisoner. Between that, and his injury, Steven lets him coop up in the temple for a while. However, Steven still has to go on missions with the Crystal Gems – for example, to try and repair a damaged Geode. Thus, Greg is given a whistle to play in case of an emergency. With great power… ah, what the hell, Greg abuses it.

Review:

“House Guest” marks the premiere of the second half of Season 1 – which, for the purposes of this blog, I will consider it’s own quasi-separate season. In my opinion, “House Guest” also concludes what I consider to be Steven Universe’s first genuine five-part arc, starting with “Monster Buddies”. (One could argue that the “arc” could start with “An Indirect Kiss” and go into “Space Race”, but I personally think that “Monster Buddies” to “House Guest” contains a more appropriately placed and stronger climax.) So, how does the first episode of the quasi-newly dramatic Steven Universe go?

Eh…

Greg Universe is the “secret weapon” as far as Steven Universe characters go – probably the most relatable human adult on the show. A lot of his appeal comes in just how many tropes related to father figures and masculinity he twists around, if not outright defies.

Now, I’m not saying that masculinity is inherently bad. Hey, I’m a dude, and while I wouldn’t consider myself the most macho person in the world, I do like things that we stereotypically associate with masculinity – football, cheeseburgers, and WBAB. I also consider myself something of an egalitarian/pro-feminist (I know I’ll likely get a flame or two either way) and enjoy myself some Diet Pepsi and soft rock, which are stereotypically considered feminine. Ultimately, humans are complex people – they are more than the sum of their appearances. The same message applies when it comes to men as it does for women. We’re not all perverted, ignorant louts or stoic macho figures, and those of us that are not traditionally masculine are not all complete dandies.

There also, for the longest time, seemed to be this societal view that masculinity and parenthood are somewhat distant – that fathers should be more active in guiding their children through big life experiences, yet also that they are the main providers of the family. Now, this has been changing over the past 50 years, with the second wave of feminism in the 60s, women going out into the workforce on a regular basis, some men staying home, and, affecting some people, societal acceptance of same-sex parenting – all of which combine to slowly dissolve the gender barrier and the perceptions we tend to hold for mothers and/or fathers. Still, old habits and traits take quite a while to dissipate.

At first glance, Greg does seem like your stereotypical father figure – round, balding, and rather unconcerned about his appearances. However, he happens to be quite intelligent – bucking the Bunker/Simpson/Griffin trend of fathers being complete dolts, Greg provides some rather great insight into humanity. Also, unlike Peter Griffin*, Greg Universe gives a damn about his son’s well-being – he’s actually involved in his life, even if he lets his kid be raised by three alien rock women. (It’s far less strange than it sounds.) Here, though, he seems to lament his decision.

And that’s fine – we all have our life decisions that we regret. You might regret rushing into marriage and have to undergo a cumbersome and stressful divorce. You might also regret going to a university based solely on their sports program and “cool” reputation, and have to manage student debt for an unsatisfying school. You might even regret promising to hold a referendum on EU Membership in the event you won a second term, thinking your nation will stay in and shut up a competing conservative party, only to see it backfire and wanting to bail out of office as your nation undergoes a political meltdown unseen in modern history.

For Greg, he laments that decision because, putting it simply, he’s not really seeing his son grow up, thinking that he’s not connecting with him as much as he should be. Thus, his actions in this episode are almost sympathetic.

Note that I said “almost” – they’re still annoying and are only kept out of complete cliche thanks to the relatively skilled writing staff. Even so, it’s a bit irritating, and the idiotic things that he calls Steven off of his mission for makes him maybe a bit too unsympathetic.

Here, we get to see just how badly Greg messed up Steven’s psyche. His little lie about the broken leg led to a hell of a lot of self-doubt at the single worst possible time. For Steven, the Crystal Gems, while certainly not all he knew through life, were the ones that apparently raised the kid. He gets on very well with his dad, but he connects with the Crystal Gems. He wants to be one of them, powers and all.

To have his dad be the one that could’ve sullied that dream cuts like a sharp knife. Deep. He’s not only upset about this, he seems almost disgusted, almost like his father intended to sabotage him. He does come to his senses after a second, but still… that scene hurts.

Thankfully, Greg shows genuine remorse and goes to fix the error of his ways. And, in a pretty cool twist, the Geode is not repaired with gem magic, but with duct tape. Not only does this imply that Steven’s powers work on Gems and Humans, yet not their weapons, but also showcases that maybe the most complex problems have simple and obvious answers.

Honestly, though, I thought this episode was slightly underwhelming. Granted, it’s coming off the heels of the legendary “Ocean Gem”, and it is a breather episode to relax and take in. I get it. Besides, an episode that focuses on Greg and Steven’s relationship is actually rather interesting.

Still, I felt like a lot of the writing was a bit too much on the safe side. Some moron abuses a power, is exposed as a liar, and tries to make amends. And while this episode does go a bit deeper than “broken trust”, it’s still an irritating cliche. That hurts the episode a bit in my eyes. That, and maybe it was just me, but the van being repaired so quickly would seem like an easy resolution to the plot… if it wasn’t done by Pearl. (Seems natural for her to be the technician of the quartet.)

“House Guest” is certainly not Steven Universe‘s strongest episode – it runs a bit too strongly on cliche, and I didn’t really like the dialog in this episode. Thankfully, there’s just enough character development for Steven, especially expanding on the consequence of Greg’s actions, to make it worthwhile – at least for one viewing.

Tidbits:

  • Before anybody asks, I’m sorry that this is out a bit late. Besides some other obligations I had, I also got hooked on the NBA Draft. And that Brexit thingy. If I might editorialize on the former for a split second…
    • For those unaware, the Orlando Magic drafted Domantas Sabonis from Lithuania, and had him for about two seconds before dealing him, Victor Oladipo, and Ersan İlyasova to the OKC Thunder. In exchange, the Magic got Serge Ibaka. While it’s quite the risk given the slow and steady improvement the Magic have made, it honestly wasn’t enough within four years. The Magic kept dropping leads in the 4th Quarter last year. Something had to be done. With Ibaka, the team has some balance in terms of “big men”, and with his experience on a playoff team, might be able to bring some magic to, well, the Orlando Magic. This team needs something – even going to the playoffs at this point would be
  • Honestly, I wasn’t a huge fan of the song. It was cute to see Callison and Tom Sharpling duet (and for Scharpling to show off his singing chops), but left little impression on me. I did like the callback close to the end of the episode, though.
  • On a side note, Gravity Falls has apparently been added to Hulu. No wonder why Disney isn’t cutitng a DVD set. I predicted that they would go the route of streaming – albeit on Netflix rather than Hulu.

Wrap Up

Favorite Scene: Guess I’ve gotta go with Greg’s sheer audacity of getting up to get food, mere seconds after Steven leaves for The Big Donut. And then getting found out. And Steven’s rant – which, again, cut like a freaking knife.
Best Character: Steven. Greg crossed a line for me, so it’s gotta be the kid. His frustration is so real.
Memorable Quote: Not really a quotable episode, honestly. I’m going to forgo this.
Verdict: Bronze. Steven’s rather realistic reaction to his father’s idiocy saved it.

* I’m referring to the more sociopathic post-cancellation Peter, not “pre-cancellation” Peter Griffin, who was more of a lovable, if somewhat selfish and short-sighted, goofball.

Steven Universe Review: Season 1A Wrap Up

 

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Poster created by Rebecca Sugar, taken from Wikipedia.

 

“I summoned my weapon by eating ice cream!” + 24 episodes = “YOU CAN’T TRAP ME HERE ANYMORE!”

That’s pretty much the formula of Steven Universe Season 1A. Over the course of ten-and-a-half months, Steven Universe established itself as a valuable part of the sci-fi realm, as well as the critical centerpiece of the Cartoon Network canon. And, over the past ten and a half months, I have been reviewing it. Yes, that was a total coincidence on my part.

One particular stereotype about the fandom is that they tend to discredit 1A, mainly because of the thought that it is weak compared to the sublime rest of the show. While I totally believe that 1A is pretty great overall, I do think that, yes, 1A is the weakest stretch in terms of writing this show has had so far. Continue reading

Steven Universe Review: "Ocean Gem" (Season 1A, Episode 26)

Before I begin the review, I would be remiss to not offer my deepest condolences to the victims of the recent terrorist attack at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, as well as their friends and families. Not only was this the deadliest mass shooting in postwar US history – with 49 dead and 53 wounded – this was also (as far as I’m aware) the second deadliest domestic terrorist attack in postwar American history, superseded only by the 1995 Murrah Bombing in Oklahoma City. That this particular massacre happened at a gay nightclub, in a region so many Americans associate with happiness and innocence, is especially heinous.

It goes without saying that this shooting was a disgusting act of hatred against LGBT people, an attack against all Americans and the values that the nation thrives on, and even a crime against humanity, which should have moved beyond acts such as this. I’ll save the political discussions for somebody else – partially because I don’t want this post to be overshadowed by talking points on issues such as homophobia, religious extremism, gun laws, tabloid media, and counter-terrorism. I will, however, proudly declare myself an ally to the LGBT Community.

And yes, I am very aware that Steven Universe is a show that has strong gay and transgender overtones. If anything, take the existence of this show – virtually unfathomable ten years ago in its current form – as a way of saying that attempts to set back rights and progress for LGBT people, especially via terrorism, will achieve so little in the end. As far as terrorists in general, no matter what ideology they use to justify their warped actions, well, Jon Stewart put it best after 9/11 –

“They live in chaos. And chaos… it can’t sustain itself. It never could. It’s too easy, and it’s too unsatisfying.”

And, remember – letting terrorism deter you from doing whatever you would normally do – whether going to a nightclub or marching in a Pride parade- only gives these madmen a sense of victory. We can’t let that happen.

Now, on a hopefully lighter note…


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“Your pain runs deep! Share it with me!” (I may have just gotten myself banned from Trek fandom for life.)

“I’m gonna bring the ocean back, or get really thirsty trying.” – Steven, stating his resolve. Gonna need a lot of water, kid.

Airdate: September 25th, 2014

Writers: Joe Johnston and Jeff Liu

Plot: Last time on Steven Universe, Pearl introduced Steven to a magic mirror, the mirror proves sentient and begs to be released from it’s prison, the Borg capture Captain Jean-Luc Picard and rename him Locutus, Charles Montgomery Burns is shot outside Town Hall after angering the entire town, Kryten creates a franchise-killing dinosaur with the Time Wand, Bill manages to start the Apocalypse via a distraught pre-teen, President Bartlet and his staff are targeted by assassins, and Lapis Lazuli is released before threatening to drown the Crystal Gems in an act of revenge.

Just as Steven is being reprimanded and grounded by the Crystal Gems for insubordination, they find out that the ocean has receded. To nothing. This presents a problem – Beach City stands to lose quite a lot of tourism dough. Realizing that he helped screw up an entire town’s economy, Steven, the Trio (who nullify the kid’s punishment), Connie, Lion, and Greg all go out to bring the ocean back. En route to the source, Steven finds out about a schism in the Gem society.

Review (Spoilers):

So, in the last episode, Steven Universe raised the stakes plot-wise. It hinted that our heroes might be in greyer territory than we thought. that Lapis might be morally questionable while still coming off as tragic, and that there is a universe of Gems beyond Earth.

This episode merely serves to confirm what we learned in the past episode, yet does so in a way that supersedes almost every episode up to this point in terms of quality.

Continue reading

Steven Universe Review: "Mirror Gem" (Season 1A, Episode 25)

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“School’s out!” – Steven, after taking a class on a Gem mirror. His summer vacation takes a bit of a downward turn from there.

Airdate: September 22nd, 2014

Writers: Raven Molisee and Paul Villeco

Plot: Steven, as it turns out, hasn’t received formal schooling. At all. He manages to get Pearl to teach him a lesson – one revolving around a magic hand mirror. At first, it appears that the magic mirror doesn’t work. However, it begins repeating phrases that it overhears during Steven’s walk. In a way, it becomes sentient. And when the Gems find out, they all begin to think that Steven might be in danger. However, Steven also begins to think that the mirror itself is in danger.

Review (SPOILERS):

“Mirror Gem” is well known in the Steven Universe fandom for it’s twist, one that completely re-routed the plot development in Steven Universe and marked the show’s transformation into a dramatic, science fiction epic…

Pearl stabbed MC Bear Bear! 

That’s just an absolute tragedy, unforeseen in the show’s canon. And for one of our heroes to do it? An action on par with the destruction of Alderaan, that is. It’s as if a stuffed bear cried out in shock… and then was silenced…

…oh, and Steven lets loose a gem, one that’s hostile to the Trio and wants them dead because, apparently, they effectively imprisoned and kidnapped her before tossing her mirror prison aside like a subpar movie that they got at the Walmart dollar bin.

Continue reading

Scullyfied Simpsons: "I’m With Cupid" (Season 10, Episode 14)

 

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“Both of my ears are filled with nougat!”

 

“You told me that it was an American tradition to work all the time and not see your wife!” – Manjula, to Apu. Give it 17 years, Manjula…

Airdate: February 14th, 1999

Plot: In 2005, in response to developments regarding Anglo-American relations, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe penned “I’m With Stupid”, a satire on a theoretical romance between British Prime Minister Tony Blair and US President George W Bush.

Whoops – this is a television episode… Patrick is afraid that his parents will mock him for being rather stupid. Therefore, SpongeBob decides to take up the role of “The Fool”.

…I’m sorry, this is “I’m With Cupid”, not “I’m With Stupid.”

Apu’s relationship with Manjula is on the rocks. Apparently, the life of a convenience store manager isn’t exactly conducive to free time. To make it up to her, Apu goes all out in his Valentines Day celebrations. This, though, alienates the wives of Springfield’s men. They all proceed to sabotage the actual Valentines Day celebration.

Review:

Two years ago (because I am a lazy bum), during my coverage of Season 9, I reviewed “The Two Mrs. Nahasapeemapetilons”. There, my complaint lied in the fact that the episode revolved around Homer’s antics, and was overall rather pedestrian. In hindsight, though, I can recognize some of the character development in that episode, even if I would’ve preferred more. That, and it was a pretty funny episode.

“I’m With Cupid” serves as a follow up to that episode… but it ultimately feels a bit underwhelming. Continue reading