There’s a tendency in pop-culture criticism to slide towards academic waffle. Themes overshadow performance, politics eclipse visuals and soon all you’re doing is writing about how a competently-made horror film represents the decline of modern America.
I’m going to resist that temptation talking about Steven Universe which, yes, is about the most-woke cartoon you’ve ever seen. But this show is more than its queer themes, intersectional feminism, its life lessons about trust and inclusivity. It’s intended as entertainment, so let’s look it at from that perspective, not how well-suited it is for Tumblr screenshots.
I worried a little about the show early on. Initially episodes introduced the world of Steven and the Crystal Gems – magical, aliens, adventures, etc – and their supporting cast, but once the world was established the show began to spin its wheels. Without the humour or creativity of Adventure Time, the mid-season’s standalone episodes felt comparatively flaccid.
Thankfully, the show moves into a new gear in the back stretch of its debut season, unearthing its characters’ complex backstories and interrogating genuine conflict in a way that most children’s shows shy away from. Steven Universe is more than an expression of identity politics – it’s a damn good show.