Scullyfied Simpsons: “Eight Misbehavin” (Season 11, Episode 7)

Eight Misbehavin

“They’re a ravenous swarm of locusts just eating and screaming and grabbing and poking and pulling and drooling, and two have cradle rash. How do you get cradle rash when you sleep in a suitcase?” – Apu, describing the confusing realities of having children.

Airdate: November 21st, 1999

Written By: Matt Selman

Plot: A meeting with the Simpson clan at the Shøp department store gives Apu and Manjula baby fever. In spite of their efforts, they wind up having trouble conceiving. Thankfully, an attempt involving a poorly-written script winds up successful, and with the help of everybody giving Manjula fertility drugs (including Manjula herself), an attempt at one baby leads to eight children. The initial shock is later replaced with stress, as the media coverage eventually collapses, leaving the duo on their own.

Review:

Full disclosure – no, I’m not using this review to analyze The Problem With Apu and the Simpsons recent reaction thereof in a manner of “is Apu a caricature”. I’m not South Asian, I’ll let them come to a democratic consensus on whether or not Apu (or at least modern Apu) is beyond the pale. All I’ll say is that the writers’ response in a recent episode was so poorly executed in terms of characterization and dialogue, as well as so childishly ham-fisted, that it would’ve destroyed any point they made. Even if they admitted fair play to Problem With Apu, they likely would’ve done so in a way that sunk the show.

Moments like that make me embarrassed to have become a Simpsons fan in the first place, and that recent response honestly made me contemplate reassigning the spot of “favorite show” to either Gravity Falls or Red Dwarf again, because at least those shows didn’t call their critics jackasses while producing some of the most incompetently written television of all time.*

Speaking of which, Season 11. Continue reading

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Steven Universe Review: “Back to the Barn” (Season 2, Episode 19)

 

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Fair play to Pearl – she got a traffic cone on her robot. And you know things went wild if you obtain a traffic cone.

Mrs. Bennet“A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word; and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half-deserved.”
Colonel Fitzwilliam Darcy: “All this she must possess, and to all this she must yet add something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading.”
– Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 8. Wait, wait, wait – wanting to court a woman that doesn’t just act like giddy arm candy? This snob must be quite a radical man to reject truths universally acknowledged about the sexes!

Airdate: October 8th, 2015

Written By: Joe Johnston and Jeff Liu

Plot: That cluster thing is getting ready to cause Earth to go kerplooey. Therefore, Peridot decides to team up with the Crystal Gems to try and save the planet. Trouble is, Peridot doesn’t want to cede the drill project to Pearl. Apparently, Pearls are intended to be decorations back on Homeworld. As a result, the two begin to raise voices. As a result, Steven decides to settle this with a robot building competition.

Review:

Before we begin, I must warn you that this review deals with something of a controversial topic, one that might lead to raised voices. As I’ve mentioned before, I prefer to look at the character interactions in Steven Universe, and leave the sociological aspects into the background outside of brief mentions of the show’s liberalism. That said, there are always exceptions that prove the rule. This review might count as one of them. Sort of.

You know what I find particularly interesting about Steven Universe? For a show with a majority-female character sheet, penned by a self-described feminist, a writing crew that has relative gender parity (maybe a slight tilt towards women), and has a generally liberal philosophy, SU is relatively subtle about its support for feminism.

I don’t think this is a bad thing – get too strident and you risk alienating a decent chunk of your potential audience. Still, SU practices what it preaches by having a wide variety of female (or at least seemingly female) characters, with their gender being secondary to their character traits, dispatching stereotypes in favor of actual characterization. Sure, there’s Kevin and the chauvinistic tones found in his own characterization, but that was more an indictment of sexual harassment (which affects people regardless of gender) than anything. For the most part, gender is just something that exists in Steven Universe, not a rallying cry, and with that, I prefer to focus on the character interactions rather than the sociological aspects of Steven Universe.

Emphasis on for the most part. Sort of. Maybe.

Because here, we have a rare exception.

Ladies and gentlemen? Welcome to Steven Universe‘s “Misogyny Episode”. Continue reading

Steven Universe Review: “When it Rains” (Season 2, Episode 18)

Before we begin today, I just want to inform people that came here based on my “Recap of Channel Awesome’s Utter Collapse” that I have no immediate intent to do anything like I did with that post. Not that I won’t provide any coverage of future elements of the CA drama, but long-form posts about said drama are unlikely at this stage.

Steven Universe When It Rains

I know you used my toothbrush!” – Steven, talking to Peridot. You know Steven is a weird kid given how he doesn’t immediately toss it in the trash bin.

Airdate: October 1st, 2015

Written By: Lamar Abrams and Katie Mitroff

Plot: Peridot has still locked herself in Steven’s restroom, refusing to divulge any information regarding this mysterious “cluster”. Going nowhere, the Crystal Gems decide to investigate on their own merits, leaving Steven to keep watch over the prisoner. There, he gets a good glimpse at the severity of this cluster. But what is it? Thanks to a little meteorology lesson, Peridot might be willing to help.

Review:

“When it Rains” is the second episode in the “Cluster Arc”, an arc not only focusing on the development and tackle of a major “cluster” that threatens the Earth, but also takes time out to showcase Peridot’s changing relationship with the Crystal Gems. It’s not just a story of science fiction mystery, but one of personal humbling, regret, redemption, and an appreciation for humanity and the world we live in. I call it probably Steven Universe‘s most poignant arc not just because of how applicable the themes are on both a personal and global scale, but because it really serves as a microcosm of the series itself.

What we see in this arc is the restructure of a character along these lines – that character being Peridot. The last episode had her physically humbled – stripped of her physical attributes and reduced to somebody barely any taller than Steven. The next episode will see her social views challenged and rebutted. Now, though, it’s time to challenge her psychological perception of Earth itself.

And boy, do the writers do it – with one of the most powerful moments in the entire series. But what about the rest of the episode? Continue reading

Steven Universe Review: “Catch and Release” (Season 2, Episode 17)

Just letting you know why I posted this relatively deep into the month. A, schoolwork. B, I’ve been engrossed in what appears to be the utter collapse of Channel Awesome. 

 

Steven Universe Peridot in a Toilet
“It’s agreed – if the International Drainage Commission places a nine hundred dollarydoo call to respond to this, Peridot’s paying.”

 

“Goodnight, happy bear. Goodnight, sad bunny. Goodnight playful kitty. Goodnight, ominous triangle at the foot of my bed.” – Steven. Sometimes, even I wonder how this kid has survived thus far.

Airdate: September 24th, 2015

Written By: Lauren Zuke and Hillary Florido

Plot: Peridot kidnaps Steven out of his bed in a last-ditch attempt to get the hell out of dodge. Unfortunately, Steven’s healing saliva can’t repair the warp pad, and Peridot begins breaking down. She begins to fret about a potential threat to Earth… but before she can complete her warning, the Crystal Gems poof and imprison her. Unnerved by the potential danger to Earth, Steven decides to free Peridot and try to talk to her.

Review:

What arc is more indicative of Steven Universe than any other?

I’m not talking about my favorite SU arc – I mean, I can’t possibly choose between them. I wonder what arc encompasses the themes of Rebecca Sugar’s creation than any other. Is it the Pearl/Rose/Greg dynamic, dealing with themes of loss, regret, delusion, resentment, and a longing for the past? Is it Amethyst’s arc, dealing with intense self-loathing thanks to a society that yearns for the ubermensch and created her as a war machine? Do we focus on Garnet and how her genesis exposed the acerbity of Homeworld against the unknown, the readaptation of tactics for purposes outside their “intended use”? Is it Steven trying to wonder what exactly his life encompasses, and what is expected of him by the Crystal Gems?

All of these are valid answers, but I would like to throw one arc in the mix… the Peridot arc, at least that from the first two seasons and change. That arc has a technician revealed to be her antithesis, going from a stoic heartless cog in the machine to an eccentric, paranoid dork not afraid to question authority.

She’s been sliding down for a long time, but with this episode, Peridot officially and dramatically crashes into rock bottom. By kidnapping Steven.

Continue reading

Steven Universe Review: “Sadie’s Song” (Season 2, Episode 16)

Sadie dunks her head in a water pitcher.
Me too, Sadie. Me too.

“Ever since my act two years ago, there’s been a rule that you gotta wear clothes.” – Steven. The good news is that that is a very good rule in most situations. The bad news is that the episode only once eclipses the brilliance of that line.

Airdate: September 17th, 2015

Written By: Raven Molisee and Paul Villeco

Plot: While trying to promote the annual Beachapalooza, Steven overhears Sadie belt out one of the highest charting pop songs on the radio, “Haven’t You Noticed I’m A Star”. Impressed with her ability to sing, Steven encourages her to sing for the event. Unfortunately, her overenthusiastic mother, Barbara (Kate Flannery) gets wind that her daughter is going to sing pop records. It all goes downhill from there, leading Sadie ona  path to a breakdown before her pop career even starts.

Review:

Well, all good things must come to an end, and so must Season 2’s run of “very good-to-exemplary” episodes stretching back to “Keeping It Together”. And it ends in the most unusual way – a sequel to the previous episode, written by the same damn people as the previous episode, dealing with many of the same themes as the previous episode.

Yet, while “Nightmare Hospital” could’ve challenged for one of the best episodes of the entire season, “Sadie’s Song”… doesn’t.

Jay from Steven Universally absolutely tore this episode to shreds, even going so far as to call it his second least favorite episode of the entire series (dispatched only by the questionable ethics of “Island Adventure”). And honestly, the more I think about it, the more I have to say… he’s not too far off base. Thinking about this episode enough makes me wonder what the hell happened in the writer’s room. The fact of the matter is, this does not feel like a Steven Universe episode in the slightest. Continue reading

Steven Universe Review: “Nightmare Hospital” (Season 2, Episode 15)

 

Nightmare Hospital
Somewhere, a Huffington Post commenter is using this scene to show how it symbolizes healthcare in the pre-ACA era. And somewhere, a Breitbart commenter is using this to write a rant about the need to destroy Obamacare and rescue Britain from the NHS. And somewhere, Rebecca Sugar still wonders what the hell Molisee and Villeco drank during the boarding process.

Maybe you’re just like my mother.
She’s never satisfied.
Why do we scream at each other?

This is what it sounds like when doves cry.
– 
“When Doves Cry”, Prince.

Airdate: September 10th, 2015

Written By: Raven Molisee and Paul Villeco

Plot: A complete lapse in timing leads to Steven meeting Dr. Maheswaran again at the Maheswaran townhouse. He and Connie brought Rose’s sword with them. Dr. M, however, is no fan of swords, fearing that one accident can turn a person’s face quite bad, so she confiscates it and prepares to ground Connie until the Tories win in Liverpool. Fortunately, she’s called into work to deal with a strange patient at the Hospital. Unfortunately, she takes the sword with her, leading Connie and Steven to sneak through a dark corridor at night, where the trio faces the wrath of one of the Gem experiments.

Review:

And we’re officially out of the Week of Sardonyx. It was an emotionally taxing block of episodes to take on, and even the “lighter” episodes of that entire week contained some sort of deeper symbolic meaning. It was probably my own personal favorite “StevenBomb”, not only as far as my reviews have gone, but probably of all time. (No, the Summer of Steven does not count, for that was more like a StevenNuke.)

So, the drama’s over, right? WRONG! For now, we’re full-swing into Steven Universe the dramedy. Long plot arcs will become more frequent, and even the oft-critiqued (not without reason) “Townie” episodes begin to take their own little arcs. We’re two episodes out from the next long-form arc, one involving one of SU‘s most celebrated characters and her own personal bottoming out.

To bridge the gap, we have two episodes focusing on two of Steven’s friends and their rather tragic relationships with their mothers. In “Nightmare Hospital”, we get Connie Maheswaran and her mother, Dr. Priyanka Maheswaran.

Don’t worry, it’s not as bad as it sounds. Continue reading

Steven Universe Review: “Friend Ship” (Season 2, Episode 14)

 

Pearl and Garnet trapped in a room about to compact them.
“I got a bad feeling about this.”

 

Cast in this unlikely role
Ill-equipped to act
with insufficient tact.
One must put up barriers
To keep oneself intact.
– 
“Limelight”, Rush.

AIrdate: July 17th, 2015.

Written By: Joe Johnston and Jeff Liu

Plot: Pearl finally has her pulse on Peridot’s every move. There’s just one issue, though – her attempts to take Pearl down on her own only serve to push her further and further. You see, there was this thing that happened a few episodes ago that cut through the Crystal Gems like a knife. Anyway, they manage to corner her (sort of) in an old Gem Ship, only to wind up stuck there thanks to the angry nerd. Facing possible death, Pearl is forced to face her inner demons.

Review:

Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends, Steven Universe (thanks, Cartoon Network). And today, we take another stop at ROCK BOTTOM! Here, we take a look at the moral and ethical depths of a character, their psyche, and the impact it has not only on themselves, but those surrounding him/her, the people surrounding them, and the grand plot as a cohesive whole.

In short, welcome to the end of the Week of Sardonyx, starring Pearl as, well, Pearl.

While Pearl has scraped Rock Bottom before, the Week of Sardonyx was probably the straw that broke the camel’s back. Her prior callousness mainly impacted a kid so forgiving that it’s almost unreal. This time, though, she dared to cross Garnet, and the results were disastrous. Not only was Pearl practically abandoned, Garnet came undone and turned into a borderline divorcing couple for a night, Greg’s attempt at feigning a holiday was ruined, and Steven had to watch Onion get propelled out of his mother’s body. Emotional turmoil for everybody!

But all good displays of psychological trauma must come to an end, and so must the story arc. So let’s cap it off the way it started with everybody’s favorite Zim deconstruction, Peridot, and have her and Pearl enter psychological breakdowns simultaneously! Continue reading

Scullyfied Simpsons: “Hello Gutter, Hello Fadder” (Season 11, Episode 6)

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“Mr. Simpson bowled a perfect game without the aid of steroids, crack, angel dust, or the other narcotics that are synonymous with pro-bowling.” – Edna Krabappel. You heard her, kids – stay off drugs, you’ll get your 15 minutes of fame. (Hey, better than nothing… I guess.)

Airdate: November 14th, 1999

Written By: Al “Recession-Proof” Jean

Plot: Homer’s most recent attempt to brush off a rough day at work (which involved being told to eat toxic waste) not only proves successful, it nets him a perfect game at the Bowl-O-Rama. His accomplishment nets him a brief dip into local fame. However, ego gets to his head (again), and when his fifteen minutes are up, he’s left in something of an existential crisis.

Review:

It was pop artist and professional Soup Can icon Andy Warhol who infamously remarked that everybody has their “fifteen minutes of fame” – they enter the public consciousness for some reason for a brief period or something, and then they move on to the next unlucky victim.

Being as wide-reaching as it is, The Simpsons has touched on these topics before, notably in Season 5 – “Homer’s Barbershop Quartet” took on the concept by throwing four of Springfield’s most notable adult males and mixing it in with one of the best Beatles satires of all time, while “Bart Gets Famous” took on the art of the catchphrase and how it turns people into shooting stars, sending them high only to carry a huge burnout factor. They were insightful, funny, brilliant, tightly plotted, all that jazz.

Six years later, we got “Hello Gutter, Hello Fadder”… which is not really any of those things. At all. Continue reading

Steven Universe Review: “Historical Friction” (Season 2, Episode 13)

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Bad language or abuse, I never, never use
Whatever the emergency;
Though “Bother it” I may occasionally say,
I never use a big, big D.
What, never? No, never!
What, never? Well, hardly ever!
Hardly ever swears a big, big D!
Then give three cheers, and one cheer more,
For the well-bred Captain of the Pinafore!

“You’re the only one that showed up. But, hey, some plays only have one person in them, so we’re already in two hundred percent better shape than that.” – Jamie. I mean, you have enough actors for one of EastEnders infamous two-handers. Just get a Cockney accent and check your shame at the door, and you’re in!

Airdate: July 16th, 2015

Written By: Hilary Florido and Lauren Zuke

Plot: Jamie has been commissioned to direct a play about the founding of Beach City. Entitled Beach City or Bust: The Tale of William Dewey, he soon encounters one major flaw with the production… the script is bad. Like, Emoji Movie bad. The glaring issue is the script’s lionization of William Dewey to godlike status… because the script was written by the mayor. Afraid that his friend will have his career go down in Shamalayn-shaped flames, he takes it to Pearl for a rewrite. Good timing, as Pearl’s deep into introspection. Deep.

Review:

Welcome to Part 4 of the Week of Sardonyx!

What we’ve seen this week is a deconstruction and analysis of our four main protagonists. What started with Pearl’s desire to fuse with Garnet, even if it required deceit, has resulted in every single one of the trio being analyzed on their own terms. “Keystone Motel” took a look at how Garnet maintains a balance between her two components, and how they can come apart with a great internal conflict exacerbated by their own flaws. “Onion Friend” took a look at the surprising loneliness of Amethyst, the most openly social of the trio, as she met back up with an old friend. Concurrently, the two episodes have also featured Steven-related plots while fleshing him out – showing how he tends to internalize the grand turmoil between the Crystal Gems and how he manages to befriend even the weirdest of landbound persons.

Today’s episode focuses, surprise surprise, on Pearl and Steven. However, it does so in a manner that is simultaneously more meta and more unique. In many ways, it’s the odd episode out within the Week of Sardonyx, as it poses one overarching question – how do a character’s flaws make them so lovable? And how can a lionization of a character backfire dramatically?

The answer, surprisingly, actually plays into the overarching worldbuilding of Steven Universe, and results in what I think is one of the show’s more underrated episodes. Continue reading

Steven Universe Review: “Onion Friend” (Season 2, Episode 12)

 

Steven Universe Onion Friend
Forget Lapis, forget Jasper, forget the Strawberry Fields, forget Bismuth, and forget the Diamonds. This is the moment Steven’s childhood came to a crashing end.

“Why do you hate food?” – Steven, thinking that he can unwrap the grand enigma that is Onion.

Airdate: July 15th, 2015

Written By: Lamar Abrams and Katie Mitroff

PlotSteven’s breakfast is ruined when Onion steals his packet of Chaaaps. While running to get him, he finds a garage of paintings… of Amethyst. Turns out that those paintings were from Onion’s mother… Vidalia. Y’see, Vidalia used to be one of Amethyst’s closest friends. The two reconnect and have dinner, along with Sour Cream, Onion, and a weirded out Steven. The weirdness only continues when the two younger kids hang out for a bit.

Review:

Hey, there’s an Onion in my StevenBomb! What maniac thought that was a good idea?

…Two of them. I see. Now, what maniac signed off on this?

RebeccaSugarComicCon2016
Note: images of writers taken from SU Wiki.

…oh, her. I see. Alright, Crewniverse, you sadistic nuts – an Onion episode it is!

OK, seriously – Onion has historically been one of Steven Universe‘s less popular characters. Part of this is due to the comparatively poor showing of his debut episode, “Onion Trade” – ranking fourth from the bottom in a recent Steven Universe fan poll (as well as the bottom for Season 1). My argument for the comparatively cold fan reception (of which I am part of) came from how it failed to make Onion a sympathetic character, as well as the awkward implications of how his behavior might be rooted in his father being out of town all the time. I mean, there are worse things that the writers of Steven Universe could’ve done, but that wasn’t a major standout, so to speak.

That, meanwhile, was well before Steven encountered Lapis Lazuli, found out that Garnet was two smaller people in a trenchcoat, met Peridot, realized that his guardians are emotionally warped while not realizing he’s heading down a worse path, and oh yeah, found out that Pearl was starved for some form of stability driving her to a grand act of deceit.

Yeah, in Part 3 of the Week of Sardonyx, “Onion Friend” is in a somewhat more sober environment compared to “Onion Trade”. And it shows.  Continue reading