“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.
This is not without reason, however. Most shows do take a while to warm up. Red Dwarf didn’t propel into the “great” category for, what, four episodes (out of six in Series I), and didn’t truly become a classic until Series II. The Simpsons, while always a pop culture phenomenon, didn’t propel itself into the “greatest TV show of all time” debate until Seasons 2 and/or 3. (I personally argue 2, but that’s just my opinion.) Even Star Trek: The Next Generation, considered one of the most iconic sci-fi shows of all time, is widely regarded as having a pretty subpar first season. (“Code of Honor”, anybody?) Compared to some shows (such as the aforementioned TNG), Steven Universe was already out on the right foot.
But, yeah, the first couple of episodes come off as having less “gravitas” compared to what is to come. More focus is placed on comedic interactions between the characters, which is fine, but can be disconcerting for viewers expecting something closer to drama. Even the comedy feels slightly weaker compared to what is to come. (Slightly, however.) The animation can be rather off-model, even by the standards of a show that take occasional liberties with how goofy it’s willing to animate Steven. And it does take a few episodes for the characters to really gel – they work from moment one, but watching from moment one, they can feel a tad bit off.
However, if you do pay closely, there are hints that the show does have some darker undertones. “Tiger Millionaire” has a few lines that hint at Amethyst, the comic relief, might have a brooding side. “Laser Light Cannon” provides a look at Greg and Rose’s romance – one that can never continue. Oh, and “Frybo” and “Cat Fingers”… are just creepy as all hell. That, and it is aided by future episodes.
In my opinion, the entire show begins to live up to the hype for the first time with “Giant Woman” – an episode that reflects on the dynamic between Pearl, Amethyst, and Steven. It features fantastic animation, music (such as the titular song), and voice acting (they got Til Tuesday’s Aimee Mann to voice Opal!), combined with a rather complex script. While the show still has a couple of rough patches (“Onion Trade”, probably my least favorite episode of the show), “Giant Woman” takes the show to new heights.
The climax of all this is “Mirror Gem” and “Ocean Gem”. For fans that stuck with the show from episode one, the two-parter responds “Liked it so far? Glad you did – that was only a test drive. You are in for one hell of a ride.” It’s a rewarding experience, and it propels the show from merely a great Cartoon Network show (which is no small feat) into a great sci-fi show.
Overall… I actually do recommend watching Season 1A overall. It’s certainly not a bad season, given the hints that it contains and the callbacks featured in it. As for new fans… there are a few episodes I would skip over if you intend to marathon Season 1A. These, in my opinion, are…
- “Cheeseburger Backpack” (yes, Steven’s first mission with the Gems should be held off for a while. “Serious Steven” is a good substitute.)
- “Arcade Mania”
- “Onion Trade”
- “Beach Party”
- The “Better Than Gabbo” Award for Funniest Episode: “Steven and the Stevens”. Nothing says comedy like messing with Time Travel.
- The “I Need More Tissues” Award for Saddest Episode: I so want to give this to “So Many Birthdays”, but honestly, I award this to “An Indirect Kiss“. Mainly because it was more introspective and permanent.
- The Motel 6 Unwashed Mattress Award for Scariest Episode: I’ll give this one to “So Many Birthdays“. Nothing like watching a twelve-year-old age closer to death to scare you.
- The Wesley Crusher Award for Least Favorite Character: Onion. Hands down. Unsympathetic, and any attempts to garner sympathy raised a couple of eyebrows.
- The Walter White Award for Favorite Character: I dunno… probably Pearl. I love most of these characters, though. Lapis Lazuli does come a close second.
- The “Music Class” Award for Best Song: “Giant Woman”. Aided by a reprise from Aimee Mann.
- The “Shield in the TV” Award for Least Favorite Episode: “Onion Trade” not only takes the award, but runs with it for a touchdown. Then, the opposing side (“Cheeseburger Backpack”) fumbles the ball after running into its defender’s backside, thus allowing “Onion Trade” to score again… OK, I’m exaggerating, but still, that episode is definitely a misfire.
- The “Hidden Tapes in Greg’s Storage” Award for Favorite Episode: “An Indirect Kiss”. While “Ocean Gem” would probably be the default answer for this one, “An Indirect Kiss” is my personal favorite, with not a single moment wasted.