In recent years, it has seemed like most children’s shows haven’t been as great in quality as they once were. Long gone are the days of well-written, witty, and entertaining shows for younger audiences like The Rugrats, Hey Arnold!, and Courage the Cowardly Dog. As of late, children’s entertainment has become noisy, unintelligent babble with stories and humor that are weird and random for the sake of being weird and random, like The Amazing World of Gumball, Uncle Grandpa, and Teen Titans Go! I especially shutter at the thought of that last one. However, there is one saving grace: Steven Universe.
Steven Universe is an animated television series that airs on Cartoon Network about a young boy protecting the world along with a group of heroes known as the Crystal Gems. That being said, this is so much more than a typical superhero cartoon. This show is not only one of the most well-written kids’ shows I’ve seen, but it’s one of the best-written series I’ve ever seen period. The characters are extraordinarily in-depth and are developed perfectly, fantastic lessons are taught to the viewer, important real world subjects are touched on, and it contains the perfect combination of serious moments and humor. Let’s not also forget that the songs written for the show are simply wonderful.
Steven, the titular protagonist based on the creator’s younger brother, is the ideal representation of the intended viewer (I say “intended” because this series is just as enjoyable for people of any age!). He’s always looking for fun, friendship, and the right thing to do. What’s especially interesting is that he explores what the right thing to do actually is. He explores every possible side to every conflict he faces. There is no black and white to him. This provides an interesting take on solving problems compared to other shows in this genre. It’s not just good against evil. This provides the younger audience with a surprisingly realistic lesson in how to approach conflict that they will experience in life. Steven is also faced with the stress of feeling like he must live up to the expectations that others have placed on him and living up to his mother’s (the former leader of the Crystal Gems) legacy. This can definitely be relatable to a child who is growing and learning to figure out what they want out of the world while having certain pressures placed on them by parents and teachers.
The other members of the Crystal Gems (Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl) also have arcs just as intriguing as Steven’s. Pearl learns how to be her own person and do things for herself and not just for Rose Quartz (her old flame and Steven’s mother) or for Steven. She learns how important self-care is. Amethyst learns that there are times she needs to be mature and not goof off all the time. Garnet fights to be accepted for who she is, and struggles to accept that Steven is maturing and growing up.
Another amazing element of this show is how it depicts the citizens of Beach City, the non-superpowered side characters. Each citizen, whether it be Sadie, Lars, Ronaldo, or even the always strange but lovable Onion, has their own stories, relationships, and issues. Their everyday lives are explored in great detail, like Sadie starting a band, Lars working at the donut shop, or Jamie quitting his postal carrier job to pursue a theatre career. This not only allows the viewer to witness more stories they identify with, but it also gets them to get to know and sympathize with these citizen characters so that when the Earth is in danger from the evil Homeworld Gems, there is reason to be concerned for the world’s safety. No one would want all these lovable characters to be hurt. That’s something that a typical superhero cartoon forgets, to give us reason to care about those who are in danger.
One of the best lessons Steven Universe has to offer is that people should be accepted for who they are and that no matter how different they are, there is something about them that is beautiful. I know that sounds a bit generic, but the way it’s done in this series stands above the rest that have similar messages. The citizens never question the existence of the Crystal Gems despite them being colorful alien warriors. The Crystal Gems fight against the tyrannical Homeworld so they can live life being who they choose to be and not what they were created and expected to be.
The best example of this message is that there are multiple same-sex couples shown throughout the series without drawing attention to the fact that they are the same sex. It’s just accepted. Plus, they are realistic, organic relationships and don’t feel forced whatsoever. Ruby and Sapphire are an especially perfect couple, I must say.
The show has even been nominated for multiple GLAAD Awards. Having such strong LGBT+ representation in media is important so that people can feel like their identities are represented and they feel valid. It is especially important in children’s media because it allows kids to see that anyone finding love is a norm, not just the heterosexual couples portrayed in Disney Princess movies. After seeing things like this, those kids will grow up having already knowing that everyone should be accepted, including the LGBT+ community.
Ultimately, Steven Universe is a huge step in the right direction for children’s shows. It stands high above the other schlock that unfortunate kids are exposed to nowadays. Actually, I’d say it’s even better than a lot of the great, older children’s series. Hopefully future series get inspiration from Steven Universe and the “random weirdness” trend in cartoons changes to shows that contain more meaning. Steven Universe is a witty, fun, and powerful show that people of all ages can enjoy, and I suggest everyone give it a watch if you haven’t already.