Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Steven Universe Segments 7 and 8: All New, All Similar Steven Universe

Influence mongering is a weakness of critics. You see, if a show is a sum of influences, then criticism of those influences is sufficient to criticize the new show. After all, original thought is difficult enough that it should always be avoided by a critic. Plus, claims of influence are a dangerous speculation onto the innards of a strange human's mind. I recall writing a story once, a story about a man who turned off all the lights in his house. When I looked back on it, I could see through the poorly worded garbage the influence of Edgar Allen Poe, Nicolai Gogol and Joseph Conrad. I had read all those works, but when I wrote I didn't think of them once. Are they an "influence"? What does that even mean?

That being said, the obvious biggest influence on Steven Universe is The Simpsons. Steven Universe is too original (uh oh) to just be The Simpsons, but with more action, but the point remains. In this episode, we meet the young woman who seems to be in the Lisa Simpson mode, Steven's first love interest Connie. I say all this hoping that long time fans are laughing.


Okay, even if The Simpsons is the biggest influence on Steven Universe, and it is, Connie could be just as influenced by Khannie from King of the Hill. I don't know. She's obviously going to be Important (TM), because she is given such prominence in the opening credits. I suppose of I'm gonna be a hack reviewer, I might as well go full hack and give an overview. In this episode, Steven inconveniences his love interest Connie briefly but is so sweet about it that she forgives him.

Simple descriptions don't imply simple writing. This episode had to jump through so many hoops its amazing they could fit it in 11 minutes. This episode had to: advance the metaplot (meeting Connie, establishing that yes all the monsters have a gem, introducing Steven's bubble), have a coherent internal plot ("Steven inconveniences his love interest Connie briefly but is so sweet about it that she forgives him"), have a straightforward emotional thrust (Connie learning to trust Steven) and maybe even some comedy ("funky flow"). If Steven Universe has a weakness, then it is that in stretching out to do so much, comedy is often sacrifice. This episode should have been full of physical humor and I was in a mental state likely to appreciate physical humor. Yet this episode fell flat. Connie seems like a nice girl, but she isn't quick with a quip and this episode isn't any quicker with laughs. This isn't a murder mystery, we are meant to laugh at Steven's ineptness. But there just ... isn't that much to it. The episode looked good, the music was alright... But why? Did these people really have to work so hard to make this?

Serious Steven

Segment 2 was "Serious Steven", a Steven and Garnet episode. Steven and the other Gems find an dungeon they have to defeat in a strawberry field. Yeah Beatles. Garnet is usually a font of hilarity, what could be funnier than someone who takes our absurd world seriously? This episode suggests "Anything" as an answer to that, it is as funny as buggery.

Of course, buggery is pretty funny and this episode provides a couple laughs. The characters in this episode claim that this is Steven's first mission. Apparently the superior episode "Cheeseburger Backpack" just doesn't count. My guess is that these were written out of order and "Serious Steven" was supposed to be a precursor to "Cheeseburger Backpack". The lesson here is identical: Steven's unorthodox POV is actually helpful on a mission in small doses. One could argue this episode makes that lesson sticks better by giving Steven and the other Gems a straight ending, if you liked to be wrong. The ending of "Cheeseburger Backpack" cut through the treacle, "Serious Steven" lies at the bottom of the Dormouse's treacle well.

Albert Einstein

Also, why couldn't the other Gems notice they were in a non-inertial frame of reference? Are they just supposed to be so tough they don't notice the forces around them? And the strawberry fields were very over-the-top, but Pearl implies this is part of Earth. Do strawberries just grow as big as watermelons in the SU Earth?

Princess Zelda, Navi the fairy and commoner adventurer Link

I did like the set piece in "Serious Steven". It was an inverted pyramid that worked according to Legend Of Zelda logic, but with puzzles that aren't quite so creative. Is Steven like The Hero Of Time? Probably not, I couldn't imagine Steven going around stabbing folks as is the main occupation of our man Link. Steven and Garnet solve these puzzles non-conventionally, but not so non-conventionally as to be independently interesting. I guess it is nice to know that Garnet is over-leveled for these missions.

The reviews for these segments are overly negative. They were the first segments to just be kind of okay, which makes them look bad in comparison to - for instance - "Cheeseburger Backpack". Really, I shouldn't intervene in SU's funky flow. As the number of constraints on these episodes goes down, the episodes themselves will likely improve. Though I'm not giving numerical ratings, I think you can tell I didn't like these as much as the last ones. What can I say but "strawberry fields forever~"

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