“Steven Bombs” Are a Terrible Way to Air Steven Universe Episodes
By: Dylan Hysen
The best show on television returns on Monday after a several month-long hiatus, and not only do we get one new episode next week, we get five! Great, right? Not so much. In fact I think Cartoon Network’s reliance on the “Steven Bomb” scheduling format, for which this is fourth time they’ve done five episodes in a week, represents a clear negative for Steven Universe overall, in every single imaginable way.
Am I excited for Steven Universe to return on Monday? Of course I am. Not only do I think it’s the best show on television (animated or not), it’s coming off of two of its best episodes (“Too Far” and “Back to the Barn”) of the entire series. To put it lightly and colloquially, the hype is real. Unfortunately I’ve been distracted from the hype of seeing “The Answer” on Monday by the prospect of also seeing four other episodes very soon after. Instead of wondering whether “The Answer” will be an all-time classic like the show’s previous two entries, I’m stuck seeing speculation about what will transpire plot-wise in episodes that will air later on in the week. Most of this is due to a promo released by Cartoon Network, and also to the usual episode descriptions put out for all five episodes.
This is a real problem in two regards. First, each episode of Steven Universe doesn’t get its proper due with this airing format. Since everyone is anticipating what will happen with Peridot and the Crystal Gems later in the week, people are less concerned with the backstory we will get in “The Answer”. “The Answer” could be the best episode of all time and people would still be more concerned with what’s to come later in the week. I think often in the hype of fans of the show anticipating future plot events, we lose track of how truly brilliant the episodes we’ve gotten are. I’m honestly much more concerned with analyzing “Rose’s Scabbard” for the fifth time than I am in speculating on the gem homeworld. I know that what we’ve seen is brilliant. What we will see is an unknown.
Second, because of the way Steven Universe presents its mythology, plot speculation is often a very bad thing, as it leads to unrealistic or distorted expectations for future episodes. Steven Universe is so subtle with its world building in such a brilliant way. Most of it comes through cavalier lines of dialogue that fit very naturally into the Steven-centric perspective of the show. This has been on display in the last two episodes more than ever, which have increased our knowledge of the show’s universe by a significant amount, and all through natural and brilliant dialogue. If you’re waiting on pins and needles to see if Peridot reacts to a situation the way you think she’s going to, you’re not going to be as in the moment, objectively viewing the episode as you would be without those expectations. You’ll miss the subtle world building, theme work, and character work that the show does.
This applies to not only expectations of what the plot will be, but to expectations of if there will be plot. For me, the least successful “Steven Bomb” by far was the “Week of Sardonyx” which featured a running plot thread of conflict between Pearl and Garnet. Having an unresolved plot thread built up expectations for me so much between Monday and Friday of that week, that by Friday I was expecting huge plot movement and excellent quality. When “Friend Ship” turned out to be a good, not great episode subtly focused on Garnet and Pearl without huge plot movement, I was supremely disappointed. This wasn’t the fault of the show as much as it is the fault of airing those five episodes one after another. With a week-to-week airing of those five, I believe my expectations wouldn’t have been unrealistically built to that point.
So what are the alternatives to “Steven Bombs”? The obvious is a week-to-week airing of episodes, like Cartoon Network typically does with this show. This has its own problems for Steven Universe with its 10 minute episodes of varying importance. If a certain week’s episode happens to be a lighter one focused on a minor character, you may be disappointed you waited a whole week for it and won’t get the next one for another week. This seems like another expectations problem, but one not nearly as severe as ones that come with the “Steven Bomb” format.
How about a Netflix season-long or half season-long episode dump all at once? This will never happen with Cartoon Network, but it’s an interesting hypothetical to consider in the differing potential episode scheduling formats for this show. I think it would be largely successful in negating expectations, as all of those type of problems I considered have to do with the wait time between episodes, or the closeness of some episodes airing together rather than others. If you dump an entire season at once, people negate expectations by continuing their viewing or stopping at their own leisure. This format brings up its own problems though in the brilliance of individual episodes getting lost in “binge” viewings, in addition to much less fan build-up and hype, whether you consider that a problem or not.
Both of these formats seem significantly better than “Steven Bombs”, which I believe build-up fan expectations to the highest degree of any possible format. The optimal way to air Steven Universe episodes is probably just a consistent one per week, and at the prolificacy with which the episodes are made, Cartoon Network could put out an episode for most weeks of the year. It’s not a perfect format, but it’s a nice leisurely pace that keeps fans engaged in the show at all times, and is one that I believe to be better in every regard than the upcoming “Steven Bomb”.