I remember when I would come home from school and turn on Fox 29. I’d watch Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Blossom, Bonkers, Goof-Troop, and all the Disney cartoons. Even in the morning, I recall enjoying Gargoyles and the Saturday afternoons with Hercules, Xena, and Sinbad. And I practically lived on YTV. It felt like they were always there. It felt like they would always be there.
But that’s not right either. I think what I always thought was going to be there was that mid-to-early nineties time. You know: that period where you’re at school, where it’s sometimes easier to meet up with your friends, you’re outside a lot more, and you have more child to adolescent responsibilities going on. That is a lot of generalization, I know, especially given how no one’s childhood is exactly the same for a whole lot of different reasons but I hope that I said enough to which somebody can relate.
Yet what I think about the most is the early nineties, perhaps even the early to late eighties when musical shows like Fraggle Rock existed. Talk about a belated nostalgia alert. Fraggle Rock was like the Rainbow Connection Muppet Movie Song extended and made into a race of beings that lived all communally with one another, discovered things in wondrous environments, and took care of one another. God felt like a kindly but brusque and clueless old man named Doc whose Dog Sprocket only occasionally was a well-meaning force nature intruding on a world of friends. I think I like that version of God more than some others I’ve seen.
I think aside from Under the Umbrella Tree, Today’s Special, and Alvin and the Chipmunks, that was the first time I really felt like there was a show that was a friend to me. They all felt like my friends and perhaps more real than the rest of my life at the time while, somehow, also managing to encompass it.
I remember the Fraggles Gobo, Wembley, Red, Boober, and Mokey. I recall how close they were together. I think about that episode when everyone got sick and they took care of each other complete with a song “Sister and Brother,” and there were lessons about life and death and storytelling. And I remember really thinking the world was like that. I definitely wished that it was.
But time goes on and no matter how much I wanted to stay with my friends, it always going to be different. I grew up and saw sing-alongs as something silly and embarrassing. I saw talking about feelings openly as something children did: as something that made adults weak. Despite how much I gained the habit of not trusting, and even detesting the world as an adult, of wanting to go back to some idyllic time that can’t exist again, I gave up on ever really feeling like I belonged again, that there was some extended communal family like Fraggle Rock that was there somewhere in the back of my heart. It’s all differences, and hard angular edges, and expectations that you put on others.
It was Gaming Pixie that introduced me to Steven Universe.
As with most recommendations I’m given, especially towards shows that everyone is talking about, it takes me forever to watch them. This is especially true when I have a whole lot of other things going on.
When I came to visit her almost a year ago, she had the opportunity to get me to watch the series as it was. It started off very slowly. It seemed silly and strange. A child’s cartoon. I’ll admit, I wasn’t even fully paying attention as I was on social media responding to people about The Force Awakens that we’d just seen recently.
Then … there was this point. It was about the point when I became to realize there was continuity to each episode. When the background of the world began to spread more constantly, and seemed to tell a more quiet and larger story while Steven, Garnet, Pearl, and Amethyst were more vocal in theirs. It may have been when the Gem species and the Crystal Gems’ Homeworld was introduced that I started to pay attention.
With more questions and mysteries to match each answer, I rewatched the old episodes with Gaming Pixie and then the others afterwards. I remember just watching Power Puff Girls casually when I was younger, and then hearing about the renaissance of My Little Pony and thought Steven Universe was something along those lines. Back in the day, I might have thought it mostly geared towards a mostly younger female audience and felt ashamed of watching it due to some perceived notion of masculinity, but nowadays I know better: especially coming to grips with having been invested with Sailor Moon on YTV.
Perhaps it all ties together. I just thought it wouldn’t relate to me. Or I didn’t want to become emotionally invested into something else. Combine that with the fact that music, especially musicals, can create a sense of vulnerability in the layer of irony making up adulthood and you might have a greater picture as to why it took me some time to get into Steven Universe, and why it affected me so much when I let it in.
There is something very Scott Pilgrim about Steven Universe himself with his neotenous features, his pink shirt, and the star in the middle of it. But whereas Scott Pilgrim as a character lacked a lot of maturity, even though Steven continues to grow he has a lot of wisdom for a young child. He grows up in a non-normative family, with three moms, aunts, sisters, whatever role they are, and his father. The Gems themselves are all, from human understanding anyway, female.
Describing this show is a lot like trying to explain a certain kind of music without actually just getting you to listen to it. I think what really gets to me, aside from watching Steven grow, is how the show deals with diverse contemporary issues like ethnicity, gender, and sexuality without being preachy, and by telling an excellent story with natural character development. But more than that, it isn’t afraid to be vulnerable. It isn’t afraid to sing, and its song isn’t oppressive or intrusive. It allows you to get used to it first. It allows you the choice of listening to it and perhaps remembering part of why you loved music, and imaginary worlds to begin with.
It also makes me really value Steven. It makes me appreciate the wonder and the heartbreak he goes through as he grows. It also reminds me that he has a large and diverse family, not unlike the communal one that Fraggle Rock will always be in my heart: that perhaps Sense8 might be in a more live-action and grittier adult sense if the series continues on as well as it has.
Above all, watching Steven makes me want to paraphrase something his biological mother told him on video tape, and tell the Gems, his father, and his friends that he will need them, to take care of him: to encourage him to continue to be the awesome person he’s meant to be.
Steven Universe feels like this generation’s Fraggle Rock, with Rebecca Sugar and her crew’s storytelling equal to Jim Henson, and I’m just glad that — in some ways — I can feel that way at least twice in my own life. We are lucky to have a friend like this — with friendships like these — again.