Steven Universe Can Shake Things Up With One Big Boom

By: Dylan Hysen

 

Steven Universe is the best show on TV, has been for well over a year now, and yet is in desperate need of a shake-up to the show’s traditional format. It’s become increasingly obvious over the past few weeks of daily episodes that this show is very capable of executing absolutely incredible episodes, but those episodes come every other day, sometimes less frequently, completely due to the narrative structure this show has been beholden to since its inception. The solution is simple: completely change how the show approaches narrative arcs and groupings of episodes, and it’s a solution I think we’re going to see come in play very soon.

First: the problem. Steven Universe feels the need to bounce around recurring characters and plot arcs, never staying focused on any character except Steven (with a major exception: the Peridot barn arc). When Steven Universe began it imported the Adventure Time structure: a loose plot continuum told through a rotating slate of the show’s very large cast and the plots associated with those characters. Adventure Time doesn’t stay still: we rotate between BMO episodes, Bubbline episodes, Ice King mythology episodes, Jake’s kids episodes, and there’s at least 20 more. The structure works for Adventure Time, which doesn’t really have a recurring narrative. We’re not going anywhere in that show, which makes the audience very content to explore the show’s vast, vast world at a relaxed pace.

Steven Universe is different. This is a show with a large overarching narrative: us learning about Gem Homeworld bit by bit and Homeworld eventually coming after the Crystal Gems. This is even a narrative the show has continuously chosen to make urgent, especially with the Cluster recently, and Peridot’s rejection of Yellow Diamond. This choice completely eradicates the relaxed pace of the show’s first season, which was more similar to Adventure Time, and makes a constant stream of episodes about characters irrelevant to the overall narrative extremely frustrating.

We’re past the point now where we can go back to the Season 1/Adventure Time relaxed pace. We’ve turned the corner. This show now needs to move to a more focused, continuous narrative structure. One where the only characters we see have a direct relation to the big narrative at hand. One more similar to the Peridot barn arc, where we focused in on Peridot and her relation to the main characters because that was what was both most important and most interesting at the time.

I think we’re actually going to get this. The natural question is how do you break out of this holding pattern we’ve been in? And I think there’s one very elegant way to accomplish almost all of this at once, and one the show seems to be heading towards:

Destroy Beach City. Blow it up. Just wipe it off the map. I’m looking at you, Yellow Diamond.

What this would do (whether the denizens of Beach City survive or not, which I suspect they would) is cause our main cast to completely change locations (maybe a different Gem colony planet? Homeworld? Just a different place on Earth?), and only bring the most important characters. Steven, Garnet, Pearl, Amethyst, Peridot, Lapis, Greg, Connie, Lion? You guys can come. Everyone else? I’m sorry, but we’re rarely if ever going to see you again (Lars and Sadie you almost made the cut but no).

Getting rid of Beach City gets rid of the ties we have to all the very minor characters that live there that we occasionally check in on. It also forces us into the action of the plot, via whatever location we end up in. It’d certainly make for an incredibly interesting Season 4, and one which would more closely match where this show has naturally been headed.

Dylan Hysen, a software developer from the DC area, hosts the Overly Animated podcast discussing everything animation.
 

14 Comments

  1. Steve July 29, 2016 at 10:16 pm

    I thought you were going to talk about changing the whole Steven’s prospective rule which I would like to see, which I think is holding the show back, one of pet peeves. I think Rebeca and the Crewverse ought to follow Adventure Time example, if I can another comparison a recent episode of the Loud House “House Music” for a new show to do such a radical change of format even for one episode (though I hear season two we will see more of that) early on that was daring, Crewverse you can learn from that.

    I am thinking perhaps the REAL season 3 episode “Last One Out Of Beach City” which is the last leaked title, you might get your wish.

    I just wish if you are going to give some focus back to the Beach City characters in this recent episode, than bring Peridot and Lapis along for the ride, let’s see them interact with the Beach City bordies, the original Crystal Gems barely interacted with them.

    I wish they didn’t have to divide Steven’s world, his gem world, and his human world, and ironically Connie human is part of Steven’s gem world, she interacts with the Crystal Gems and Greg (who is the only character to be part of both worlds) a heck of a lot more than any of the Beach City residence.

     
    • Dylan Hysen July 29, 2016 at 10:18 pm

      Good point about the Steven’s perspective constraint, this would be a great time to get rid of that too! They’ve definitely been trending in this direction and today’s episode was another one where we saw a non-Steven event despite the rule.

       
      • John July 29, 2016 at 11:03 pm

        They’re working in some cheats here and there to that narrative constraint (body swapping, watching Ronaldo’s Rising Tides video, Third-person story telling, etc.), which is an admission that the world is just becoming too vast to keep in that perspective and have it work cohesively. Its working for the most part, but they’re too wedded to the initial angle to chuck it now.

         
        • Dylan Hysen July 29, 2016 at 11:07 pm

          Agree, the fact that they feel the need to work around it too much is proof it should go. I think they could change things up though, especially alongside a big location shift like I suggest here.

           
  2. gurrenprime July 30, 2016 at 8:58 am

    I agree that we need to stop focusing so much on the Beach City residents. It kills the pacing (which had already taken a bad hit from the constant hiatuses) and they just aren’t as interesting as the ancient magical aliens that are locked in a cold war turning hot. Plus, the fact that we keep on revisiting unfinished story arcs instead of just finishing them and moving on, just feels disorganized.
    I disagree that the constrained POV is a problem. I sorta see it as an artistic choice that makes SU stand out a bit more, and the workarounds they’ve come up for it have been interesting and creative enough in their own right.

     
    • gurrenprime July 30, 2016 at 9:19 am

      That cold war comparison made more sense when I was still half asleep.

       
      • Dylan Hysen July 30, 2016 at 9:44 am

        lol, no I think it works. And yeah that’s a valid perspective, I certainly think the constant checking in with rando characters is more of a problem ATM than the Steven perspective. And they constantly circumvent it, so is it really even a problem? I would say yes because when you have to keep going around something, it’s kinda inherently a roadblock, but it’s probably not a super pressing issue.

         
        • Steve July 30, 2016 at 1:19 pm

          The thing is, I find the the Crystal Gems, I want to follow them more, I want to know more about that, I want to live through me more than I would Steven. But that is just me.

          I loved “House Music”, got to live through Luna for once instead of Lincoln. I would love to have one episode with Amethyst or Peridot was the main.

           
  3. Tyrone Wells Jr. July 31, 2016 at 8:33 pm

    Nope. Could not disagree more, hahaha.

    Dylan’s suggesting we just Micheal Bay everything by blowing up the entire setting of the show for plot advancement–then potentially pull a James Cameron and go to an Alien world–only to JJ Abrams our way into a more stellar 4th season. Let me tell you something, mister: seen it, been there, done that.

    Here’s why your wrong.

    Beach City *is* it’s own character, maybe the biggest character in the show. It’s the vibe of the show, you can’t get rid of the *vibe* of a show. You can’t blow up Mushroom Kingdom and drop Mario, Peach and Bowser in Call of Duty and tell them to get serious about advancing the plot. Beach City grounds the show in familiar territory, tone, and feeling–vibe. You can’t just teleport a portion of the cast and expect to get a similar vibe that drew you in the first place.

    Do you remember the early CG-cartoon Reboot from the 90’s? They blew up the main world around the fourth season. They took a small section of the cast. They changed the vibe of the show–and made it into a Matrix/Mad Max shadow of its former self. It wasn’t the same show. It couldn’t be even when they tried. It went from being one of the best cartoons on TV to *not* that.

    Remember Legend of Korra? Yeah, I’m going there. Korra. They said “nah, instead of exploring the ancient colorful world inspired by the orient, let’s focus on this one concrete city where everyone mostly wears grey and learns MMA techniques during their free time.” They took the old world and said, “no thank you.” We’re changing it. Updating it. Well. They changed the vibe of the show. And guess what. They took a cartoon that used to be the greatest thing on TV–and turned it into something that wasn’t.

    Are we seeing a pattern here?

    And you want to do that to Steven Universe, Dylan? By blowing up beach city the real homes of many fleshed out characters–so the “important” characters can get serious and destroy the boss monster (while everyone else rebuilds from the ashes or is dead). There’s character specific episodes because of this exact reason–to highlight that they aren’t just fodder to be destroyed and forgotten about. They’re people with aspirations and family who would miss them if they were to suddenly be blown up.

    Beach City is important.

    The people that live there are important.

    There’s no distinction between Steven and the background characters. They are all, one. They are all, Beach City.

    And so much more. Beach City is our culture, it’s what Steven’s mother fell in love with, it’s where he grew up, it’s where we saw him grow up and mature, it’s what we’ve seen get damaged and repaired–it’s the place where we get to come back to during Steven Floats. It’s home. It’s comfortable. After stopping the cluster in a farm somewhere, we come back to Beach City and it’s only *then* that the trouble truly feels over. That we feel safe. It’s a homecoming. It’s our victory lap. It’s where we have our favorite memories as fans of the show. It’s where some of our most favorite episodes take place. It’s where the Big Donut is–it’s where Sadie’s Song took place and Greg fell in love with Rose, beach volleyball, Mr. Butler. Beach City is the home of all of that. It is, simply put, Steven’s Universe.

    It is OUR Universe (as fans of the show :P).

    And you want to blow it up? To spike ratings for Season 4? That’s like saying you want to burn down your highschool so you can improve your GPA from 3.99 to 4.00. Beach City is worth more than whatever you gain by sacrificing it.

    Steven Universe is the best show on TV. You said it yourself. You don’t fix what ain’t broken. #Beach City stays.

     
    • Dylan Hysen July 31, 2016 at 9:22 pm

      I think Steven Universe is good IN SPITE of Beach City!! Like, I think the location is a pretty weak one, and the show succeeds despite a boring location and supporting cast. So yes, the show is the best on TV, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be better! Get rid of the clear weakness, IMO the location and supporting cast, make them a strength, and improve the show!

       
      • Tyrone Wells Jr. July 31, 2016 at 11:25 pm

        Dylan Hysen 2016: “Just blow up everything and kill off the supporting cast.”

        This is what watching four seasons of Korra does to you. This is your one-man intervention.

         
        • Dylan Hysen August 1, 2016 at 8:29 am

          Eh, in all seriousness I don’t think me trying to hold things to as high of a standard as a show like Korra is a bad thing. Sure SU is great how it is now, I just see an opportunity for it to be even better, and one I’m not entirely sure the show isn’t about to do??

           
          • Tyrone Wells Jr. August 1, 2016 at 5:40 pm

            Actually, I think what you’re saying would make for a perfect rationale of a supervillain in the Steven Universe world.

            Green Diamond, “I just want to blow you up because I love you so much.”

            In all seriousness, I think your suggestion only forces current b-tier storylines to abruptly end and joylessly rushes the a-plot along there after. That’s your suggestion in a nutshell. That’s also my point in a nutshell. It’s nutty, quite frankly.

             
          • Dylan Hysen August 1, 2016 at 5:41 pm

            I mean, I guess we wouldn’t know unless they tried it, but I think a focus on all the various A plots they have would be really good for the show. They’re the best episodes already, so just put them together and it’s great (in theory).

             

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