Steven Universe Review: “Shirt Club” (Season 1B, Episode 21)

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“It’s so current, you can’t stop it. I’m a taste maker, and I’m gonna keep making tastes… forever.” – Buck Dewey, proving that he would either be the centerpiece of the new Beach City art scene… or be washed up in a tiny Tampa studio by the time he’s 30. Either one works.

Airdate: April 16th, 2015

Written By: Lamar Abrams and Hellen Jo

Plot: Steven has the bright idea to promote his father’s business by putting a silly little drawing of “Guitar Dad” on fliers through the city. Buck Dewey catches wind of this, and decides to put the drawing on T-shirts – all as his father is running an election campaign. The promotion doesn’t do much to support the business… but Buck doesn’t seem to mind – he views Steven as more of an artist.

Review:

The Cool Kids aren’t cool kids.

Don’t get me wrong – they are the most chill group of teenagers in the Steven Universe universe, enough to attract the (tragic) admiration of resident grump Lars. By all accounts, they carry this aura of being the coolest group ever. Yet, they’re not stock “cool kids” – they function within the rules of society (“There’s nothing lame about seatbelt safety!”) They have lives outside of the quasi-clique they’ve formed – there, they are but normal, everyday teenagers, doing everyday, normal teenage things such as working and navigating everyday issues.

And what aspect of normal everyday teenage life is more relevant than tensions between parent and child? Or an unintentional conflict between friends regarding the use of art and what it means?

Hence, “Shirt Club”.

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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: "Gem Glow" (Season 1A, Episode 1)

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This transformative moment in Crystal Gem history… brought to you by Ice Cream. Maybe.

Airdate: November 4th, 2013

Synopsis: It has not been a good day for Steven Universe – his favorite brand of Ice Cream sandwiches, Cookie Cat, have been discontinued. Not helping matters is the fact that he can’t harness the powers of his gem – even when his fellow Gems are under attack by Centipeetles. However, when eating some of the last Cookie Cat ice cream sandwiches available (Amethyst stole them, and Pearl paid for them afterward), Steven’s gem seems to activate. With the three gems giving different techniques on how they activate their gems, Steven believes that his technique is to eat the Ice Cream… which comes at an interesting time, given that the Mother Centipeetle attacks the quartet.

Review (SPOILERS)Steven Universe begins on a note that, while at first casual, has many of the hallmarks of a pilot – near-universal character development, and elements of world-building, but also a simple, breezy plot, to get the most casual viewers sunk in.

As far as the rest of the show goes, though, it’s a pretty mild affair. Continue reading