There are some shows that kids adore, but play for adults like fingernails on a chalkboard. There are others that grown-ups love, but you can’t get your kids to watch unless you bribe them with candy.
But every now and then, something comes along that is equally entertaining for all ages – a true sweet spot for parental pop culture. Such is the case with “Steven Universe,” the clever Cartoon Network series currently in its third season and really hitting a stride.
Is it time to make Steven part of your “Universe”? Read on for a crash course about the series, and why it might be the best current show that your kids need to make you watch.
Where you can find it
Cartoon Network, various times
Steven is a young, energetic boy who lives in the town of Beach City alongside three humanoid aliens dubbed “The Crystal Gems”: Garnet, Amethyst and Pearl. A half-Gem himself, the boy goes on adventures, defends Earth and tries to get to the bottom of his own origin — albeit, with healthy doses of humor and quite often a song or two.
Why kids love it
Like Kimmy Schmidt filtered through the lens of an ’80s Spielberg movie, Steven is eternally upbeat and indefatigable. He also plays into childhood fantasies that there is something greater beyond the everyday reality, while the Gems have an “Inside Out”-like knack for helping young people understand emotions and how to deal with them. It also has a bright color palette, which never hurts.
Why grown-ups will love it
The show can be pretty off-the-wall, but mixes in lessons about broken families, the value of self-determination and tolerance. The animation is clean and feels like a throwback to a simpler time, as do the often-elaborate musical numbers.
The show also has a refreshing female-empowerment angle, particularly for a show about a boy. Created by “Adventure Time” artist Rebecca Sugar, the series is loosely based on her younger brother — and Steven and his farmer-tan-father Greg are the only major male characters in what is largely a female story.
Will inebriation help?
It actually wouldn’t. Unlike “Spongebob” or something similar, “Steven Universe” isn’t about embracing the “WTF?” randomness below the surface as it is letting the show cast its unique, magical spell on you. There truly has never been anything quite like “Steven Universe” before, and you’ll want all your wits to pick up on little details and the show’s detailed world-building.
— How much stuff could you realistically store inside Lion? And why doesn’t Steven use that power to open up a billion-dollar company that would put every storage unit company out of business?
— Is Greg’s van the greatest genre vehicle since The Millennium Falcon?
— If the Crystal Gems arrived on Earth thousands of years ago, what kind of things were they doing before Greg Universe came along? And what impact did their actions have on humanity as we know it?
If you’re looking to build a rainbow bridge between yourself and the kids in your life, “Steven” is a great place to start. Dive into the world-building together, learn all the songs, and watch in joy as the bigger messages (self-empowerment, embracing your quirks) seep in between belly laughs. Here’s hoping the “Steven” universe has a lot more to explore.