Steven Universe Is The Most Grown-Up Kids Show On TV


This show makes me laugh and cry in equal measure – and it doesn’t hurt that it’s subversively queer to boot…

Steven Universe just got renewed for two more seasons! But why are dorks like Henry celebrating more episodes of a kids show? Let him tell you why…

For more than a year I’ve been telling people over and over and over again that they need to be watching Steven Universe, and here I am doing it again. You see, that’s the kind of fervent devotion this Cartoon Network series inspires in people. Creator Rebecca Sugar’s incredible cartoon world is one of the best shows currently on TV, and it’s hard to grasp why it sometimes feels like I’m the only one talking about it. The world needs to know!

Let me give you the quick series pitch. Steven Universe is a new-ish Cartoon Network show created by Rebecca Sugar, the animator also behind some of the best episodes of Adventure Time (Simon & Marcy, Bad Little Boy). The show stars a hyper-positive, adventurous boy named Steven Universe, who is part of the Crystal Gems, a powerful team of women known as Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl. The interstellar troup defends the Earth from monsters, while also dealing with the fun mundanity of playing video games, watching pro wrestling, or getting a cool backpack.

Each episode more or less features a fun-loving little kid teaming up with Sailor Moon to save the world and learn life lessons, which is as good as it sounds. In fact, a good part of SU’s DNA derives from anime of the ’80s and ’90s like the aforementioned Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball, Utena, and Ranma ½. All those art styles blend together for a twee sensibility all its own, and each episode gradual builds a unique world you come to care about deeply. Interested yet?

Steven Universe’s humor and adorable art style are compelling, and if given enough time, SU will grab onto your heart and not let go. Creator Rebecca Sugar worked on some of the most emotional episodes of Adventure Time, and she and her team bring that same level of empathy and affection to all of Steven Universe’s characters. The core focus of the show is Steven’s journey of self discovery as he goes from a naive kid who eats too much ice cream to a skilled member of the Crystal Gems. But the Gems learn just as much from Steven, and the steady growth of all the characters will be what keeps pulling you back to each new episode.

Soon enough you’ll see how much Steven cares for everyone he meets, and you’ll feel the same for all the people of Beach City, the show’s setting. Like a coastal version of Springfield with a heavy dose of Miyazaki-ish innocence, you’ll see Steven dive into the lives of lovable weirdos like Onion, Lars, Sadie, the Pizza family, and more. Even though there’s tons of humor to be found, those characters’ feelings and histories aren’t dealt with lightly, and you come to know them all through Steven and his family.

Family is a huge part of Steven Universe as well. See, Steven has three moms and one dad, all of which raise him after his biological mother passed away giving birth to Steven. On a certain level, it’s about superheroes and a long-haired slacker teaming up to be a nontraditional family raising Steven together. And that’s just one of many ways the show subversively (and even openly) challenges the status quo while still being true to its goofy self.

Steven Universe is one of the most subversively queer shows on TV, and it’s getting more and more bold each season. Not only is Steven raised by three women, but these ladies have special fusion abilities that allow them to form into one being. Sure, you’ve seen Goku and Vegeta do the same thing, but Dragon Ball’s fusions weren’t as provocative as this…

And yes, that’s Nicki Minaj doing the voice of that fusion. The fusion as sex metaphor has been growing into a whole thing in the second season, saying lots of things about intimacy, same sex relationships, and consent that most kids programs won’t even touch. Working on these levels makes it even more enjoyable for adults, and just imagine the day all these kids realize what these thinly veiled metaphors are really all about. They’ll write so many Buzzfeed articles!

Also, the power of the fusion dances ties into Steven Universe’s stellar use of music throughout. Rebecca Sugar writes much of the music, with many episodes having at least one original song tied to the story. Some of the most important moments in the series history happen in song, to the point where the show is a borderline musical on occasion. These songs range from pop confections to ukulele strummed ballads to glam rock, all to be stuck in your head for weeks at a time.

I can count on few shows to make me laugh, cry, or say “wow,” as often as Steven Universe. It has so many of the qualities (and staff) as shows like Adventure Time or Bee & Puppycat, but with an even more beautiful spirit. You can find the first year of shows on Hulu, or you can buy them off iTunes or Amazon – or other, less legal streaming places. I think you’ll like it from the first moment, but stick with it and you’ll come to love it, just as Steven finds love for every person he meets. And don’t be scared to cry at the feelings that may erupt.

Here’s the best version of the theme, though there are some spoilers for season 1.

18 thoughts on “Steven Universe Is The Most Grown-Up Kids Show On TV

  1. *pumping my fist* damn right, damn RIGHT! SU is my favourite show on television honestly, the maturity and character depth that it brings puts most “grown-up” shows to shame. Good article Hank!

  2. It definitely didn’t seem like a show that I would get into as “children’s shows popular with adults” shows like Adventure Time, Gravity Falls and Regular Show didn’t look interesting enough for me to give it a watch. But for whatever reason, Steven Universe had me intrigued.
    I only started watching about a month ago but I was instantly hooked. The short episode lengths made it way too easy to get completely lost in the (no pun intended) universe.

  3. Amen, Hank! Spread the gospel! This is probably the best show that Cartoon Network airs right now. Great action, music, comedy, music, excellent characters with (with real development), and heart…and music. (That Rebecca Sugar sure knows her way around a tune. )

    A word of warning, if you’re interested in this show you owe it to yourself to watch from the beginning and not just catch an episode while it’s airing on CN. This is a show with continuity. Characters, jokes, and story all build off what comes before it. I’ve tried to convince people to watch this show but they can’t get into it because they caught some random episode one afternoon and were lost.

  4. The show is pretty okay, but the fans are the meanest group of zealots I’ve ever had to deal with, both in person and online. That’s not to say everybody who likes it eats babies, but good shit this show has more intolerable followers than Sony circa 2007, and for that alone I’ll never forgive it.

    1. Yeah the fandom has totally turned me off on this show. Ever since they decided to raid the AV Club Adventure time thread every week, it made me realize the type of person who is into this show.

      Here’s a hint. Taking over an unrelated show’s message board and being completely obnoxious isn’t the best way to pursue people to watch the show you care about so much.

  5. Well, the LT crew has rarely led me astray with show recommendations and I just signed up for Hulu. I don’t have a good reason not to give this one a try. Looking forward to it, Henry. Thanks!

  6. I don’t want to touch this show because it’s fans are worse than the fans of adventure time and homestuck combined…

  7. I can separate the show from the possessive, venomous fans you can find on tumblr, but my god I can’t stand Steven’s voice, which I know is pretty weak as a reason to dislike a show, but that kid’s voice hurts my soul anytime he speaks. Which is a shame because the gems are pretty cool characters as far as space rocks go.

  8. Protip: Fanbases ruin everything. 🙂

    Just ignore all that brickabrack, Steven Universe is legit. I’m a big fan of Adventure Time, Regular Show, Gravity Falls, and this new one on Disney called Star vs. the Forces of Evil, but SU is my personal favorite of these five. It’s just… it feels like something I can often rely on to be good when there’s a lot of other aspects in life I can’t trust as much.

      1. Star vs TFOE feels very much like a standard wacky cartoon. It hits the crazy marks and can be funny, but it doesn’t really feel like it has a whole lot of depth to it.

  9. I absolutely love Steven Universe, it’s the first kids TV programme which has shown gender variance as a normal and, in the most recent episode, celebrated part of life for Steven, a young boy with interests from both traditionally male and female backgrounds. Whilst I really enjoy the show, my 10 year old brother also watches it and, upon finding out that I watch it too, he now talks with me about it and watches it with me all the time. I believe that it is important to me that he has been exposed to it, as he is a boy who likes to wear dresses, the colour pink and unicorns just as much as he enjoys traditionally ‘boyish’ stuff, and if he can be shown that this is normal then he can probably have a much happier childhood than he would have done otherwise.

    Also I don’t think you should condemn something based on a section of the fanbase, because there will always be fans that do nasty stuff. Just look at Gamergate!

  10. Wait, a great show on Cartoon Network and it’s not been cancelled? Surely some mistake?

    I’m intrigued though – what makes the fanbase so odious?

  11. Without getting close to finishing the article or reading other comments, I love Steven, cookie cat, lion and everything else to do with this show. I remember early on watching Tiger Millionaire and thinking “Henergy would love this”.

  12. I like this show a lot(though not as much as I used to like Adventure Time before it stopped being funny or fun).

    My biggest complaint with it though is Steven’s VA. It’s very annoying, especially for a character that cries and screams a lot. And what’s worse, he’s a pretty awful singer on a show that has him singing all the time.

  13. oh wow, reading through the comments here… I honestly had no idea how many people didn’t like SU or weren’t willing to give it a chance because it has a very vocal fanbase. Actually they’re only vocal if you listen. I mostly just watch the show. And hang out on the production blog and storyboard blog. It’s a solid show that doesn’t talk down to kids or adults. it’s just memorable and wonderfully animated and the animators aren’t afraid to go “off model” and I love that it’s done traditional 2d animation old school style on paper versus using frames in an animation program like ToonBoom. so cool. This show is like the kind of thing that would have surfaced in the mid to late 80s with a toyline with little gems embedded in plastic action figures like the best of boys and girls toys of the 80s. Me and my sisters played with a mix of all of our toys “boys and girls” toys and yah, this show would have appealed to us then. My 10 year old self is thanking Rebecca Sugar and Ian J Quartey for pulling together the amazing crew of people to make this show.

  14. Checked out the “Tiger Millionaire” episode after hearing you guys talk about it. It wasn’t bad, but I just can’t see myself really getting into the series.

    On the other hand, I finally watched Rick and Morty and I’m all in.

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