“Steven Universe” is one of the best television series I have ever consumed. I, like many others, had not heard of the show until an enthusiastic friend told me about it. The show is about a boy named Steven and his three alien guardians who protect Earth from invaders. However, this is a simplified version of the plot, the one that I am forced to repeat when I explain the show to people in passing. “Steven Universe” has affected me on so many levels that I stumble on my words when I try to explain how I feel about it.
The first thing to note is that the color scheme of the show is sublime. In contrast to “Adventure Time”, which is built on a basic and primary color scheme, “Steven Universe” draws its colors from purples, blues, oranges, and other shades found in sunsets. While watching the show, I am often moved simply by the palette of hues used to color backgrounds.
The story takes place in a small ocean-side town called Beach City. Steven’s guardians are a species of aliens called “Gems”, and are thus named Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl. Along with super-strength, shape-shifting, and the ability to manifest matter just by thinking about it, Gems also have the ability to “fuse”. When Gems dance together, or connect on a profound emotional level, they physically merge into each other to form an entirely new being that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Episodes often have a surprisingly intense emotional peak. Characters cry and reconcile and grow in a way that feels remarkably tender. We learn that the Crystal Gems are protecting Earth from their own kind, that they are fugitives from the Gem matriarch and can never truly return home. Steven himself has a mother her never knew, and only pieces together memories of her from his friends. The show unflinchingly addresses complicated topics of belonging, family, and loss while still being a show about fighting aliens. After a couple seasons, I find myself impressed by the show’s balance. To me, it’s not a show for children, but simply a show for people.
One of the most jaw-dropping episodes in terms of subject matter is “Gem Harvest” (Season 4 Episode 8/9) which appears to explain the American right-wing mindset. On Thanksgiving, Steven meets his Uncle Andy, who is upset that Gems have moved into a barn he built for himself. He yells at his brother, Greg (Steven’s Dad) for leaving to become a musician rather than having a real job and supporting their family. They argue about tradition, and Andy expresses that he has trouble keeping up with everything that has changed on Earth and in his family. By the end of the episode, Steven and Uncle Andy find common ground, but I was left reeling. A children’s television show had artfully and lovingly explained American ideological differences in about 20 minutes of lighthearted entertainment. Of course, the truth is not as simple as the show paints it to be, but it opens the topic for conversation, and gives a basic framework from which to operate.
There is a wealth of fandom surrounding “Steven Universe”. You can find troves of thought-pieces and blogs explaining why “Steven Universe” is one of the best shows on television today. I already and trying to get my hands on a copy of the book Steven Universe – Art & Origins, due to come out this summer (link). Since there is so much to dissect in the show, and since it feels so cohesive and effortless, I feel like it will always nourish me artistically and spiritually.