While many critically acclaimed television shows receive their recognition from awards groups every year, the Emmys have yet to reward the most groundbreakingly progressive TV program aimed at kids: “Steven Universe.”
Since “Steven Universe’s” premiere on Cartoon Network in 2013, the show has dealt with such heavy themes as abuse, loneliness, post-traumatic stress, the cost of war, coming of age, and accepting that life is made out of shades of grey, while not surrendering our own uniqueness as beings and decency in the process. Did I mention that it’s also a comedy and a musical? No, seriously. The fact that the show is able to deal with all of those things while delivering its dramatic moments with a great and effective amount of gravitas makes it more of an achievement than it would be if only ever dealt with one, or a couple of them.
The show tells the saga of a young boy named Steven (Zach Callison), who is raised by his human father Greg and a trio of female aliens “gems” named Garnet, Amethyst and Pearl. They were soldiers in a war to save the earth and its humans millennia ago from their home world, which they won. Steven is the son of the former leader of the gems, Rose Quartz, who died giving birth to him. As a half-human and half gem, he not only must learn to mature and become more responsible as every human should do, but also learn how to deal with and understand the powers and complicated legacy of his mother.
“Steven Universe’s” realistic depiction of LGBTQ people and their relationships has become one of the show’s flagship accomplishments. In “Steven Universe,” multiple gems can “fuse” into a single being and make “Something Entirely New,” which turns out to be a cleverly subtle metaphor for sex. One of the main characters, Garnet was revealed in the finale of Season 1 to be a fusion of two gems, named Ruby and Sapphire. Since all of the gems are female, this makes “Steven Universe” the first ever animated series with a lesbian relationship as not only a matter of focus, but creatively done as a single main character. The fact that the relationship is a loving, healthy, but nonetheless layered and realistic one makes it all the more extraordinary. Regarding the show’s LGBTQ themes the series’ creator Rebecca Sugar admitted at San Diego Comic Con in 2016, “Well, in large part it’s based on my experience as a bisexual woman.” Having a showrunner that is not only a woman, but bi herself contributes to the sincere portrayals of the female and LBGTQ characters on the show.
The voice cast is uniformly excellent, with Callison giving a sweetness and vulnerability to Steven, Estelle delivering Garnet’s line with a sense of real wisdom and coolness, and Deedee Magno making us feel empathy for the intelligent, anxious, and at times overprotective Pearl, who was in love with Pearl before she met Greg and died giving birth to their son Steven. Tom Scharpling also stands out as Greg, a completely normal human who just wants to raise Steven as best as he can, even with all the bizarre out-of-this-world things happening around him. Last but not least, Michaela Dietz makes her character Amethyst into the most funny and free-spirited of the gems, always one to deliver a smart-ass wisecrack even under the most dismal of circumstances.
A key element that also deserves Emmy recognition is the music and songs which are produced by series creator Rebecca Sugar and the show’s writers, who work together on the lyrics of each song. Most of the non-musical score throughout the series is done by the talented chiptune/piano duo Aivi Tran & Steven “Surasshu” Velema, with guitars being done by Stemage.
When “Steven Universe” submitted the episode “Laser Light Cannon” for the category of Best Short-Form Animated Program its first year, it was snubbed entirely However, since then it has been nominated for the past two years for the emotional powerhouse “Lion 3: Straight To Video” and just last year for “The Answer,” which revealed the story of how Ruby and Sapphire first met. “The Answer” was widely favored to win the Emmy, but lost in a shocking upset to “Robot Chicken.”
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