“Steven Floats”

Finally, we’re back in Beach City! “Steven Floats” is a light episode (literally), celebrating Steven’s love of his hometown and how happy he is to be back. Written and storyboarded by Paul Villeco himself (no assistance from usual partner Raven Molisee), it’s a deliberately paced throwback of an episode that sometimes feels like it should have been even shorter than its run time.

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There are some really lovely moments here, starting with the still shots of the uninhabited temple before the Gems warp back in (sadly without Peridot and Lapis). They’ve been gone for a long time in the world of the show, and even longer for viewers considering how long the break between episodes has been. (“Back To The Barn,” the first episode away from Beach City, aired in October.) So it makes sense that the temple needs some upkeep: For example, all of the food in the fridge is bad, and Steven is hungry. (Steven looking into the fridge: “That was a cake?”)

The temple is Steven’s home, as is the rest of Beach City, and he’s missed it. Pretty much the first thing he does is run to the Big Donut, looking for food (when was the last time Steven even ate anything?), only to bump into Sadie closing the store. But she promises him a “fresh” doughnut (with attendant cut to her mouth to make it seem like the best, most vaguely erotic thing in the world) first thing in the morning. He jumps for joy back at the temple, and the shot phases into the sort of patterned background that usually indicates indeterminate action in animation. But instead of cutting back to Steven on the ground, he’s way up at the top of the temple. He can float!

For the rest of his night (and the bulk of the episode), Steven slowly comes down while the Gems keep him company by jumping up and down and talking to him on a stolen cell phone. (Garnet: “I found a phone.” Amethyst: “Whose is it?” Garnet: “That’s not important.”) There are all sorts of things that could have happened here to speed up his descent from a plot perspective, the most obvious being Garnet or Amethyst just grabbing Steven and taking him back down. But the jumping sequences are really cute, and each of the Gems has their own little activity for him. Steven and Garnet play checkers, which seems pretty unfair since Sapphire can basically solve the game. Amethyst throws him chips. Pearl tries to play a form of Pictionary in the sand.

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Mostly, these parts of “Steven Floats” are a showcase for Zach Callison’s voice acting, which is a bit too close to the earlier, annoying version of Steven for my taste. (Appropriately! But still.) Steven spends a lot of time by himself, bemoaning his situation imagining what’s going on with everyone else in Beach City (Sadie makes a Hamlet joke, and everyone else talks about how sad it is that Steven can’t get his doughnut). Eventually, he works out that his floating power is tied to his emotions and lands while thinking about the Gems, which duh. (“Just like all my stupid powers!”) He makes it in time for the first doughnut of the day (the store opens later on Sundays), only to jump up for joy and smash into the ceiling. It’s sweet and fun, but I’m more excited to see what everyone else in Beach City is really up to outside of Steven’s head.

Stray observations:

  • The Big Donut started making its own donuts after a workplace safety lawsuit was thrown out.
  • “The captain has turned on the fasten seatbelt sign. Looks like we have some boys in the sky ahead of us.”
  • Amethyst sees Steven in the air: “Wait, can Steven fly? Yeah, I think I remember that.”
  • Garnet sends Steven running to The Big Donut after he lands, without time to hug the Gems. Pearl: “I would have liked a hug.”

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“Drop Beat Dad”

Steven Universe is all about mothers and maternal relationships, from Steven’s complex feelings about Rose to his connections with the other Gems. Even the secondary characters have complicated, fleshed-out relationships with their mothers (think of Sadie and her sandwiches, or Vidalia and Onion, or Connie and Dr. Maheswaran). Fathers are another story. Greg is a good dad, but his relationship with Steven is so specific it rarely falls into “daddy issues” territory. This is a good thing, for the most part, but it’s nice to see an episode focused on Sour Cream and his two dads.

Sour Cream is, basically, the main character of a coming-of-age movie from the 1980s where the parents try to stop the child from pursuing vaguely artistic (or at least lofty) dreams, like Breaking Away with breakbeats. Except that, in this case, Vidalia is enormously supportive of her son. Sour Cream fights with his stepdad Yellowtail over his DJ career: “Why would I want to bring home fish when I could bring home sick beats?” The conflict appears to at least partially be in Sour Cream’s head (we only briefly see Yellowtail frustrated with his stepson), or at least connected to his independent issues with his biological father, Marty.

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Marty, the closest thing to a human villain the show has, finally returns to Beach City after his brief flashback appearance in “Story For Steven.” In that episode, he’s the product of Greg’s memory, so it would be easy to imagine him turning out to be a bit less obnoxious and self-centered when he appears in the flesh. That doesn’t happen. The “hype man and promotor,” smarmily voiced by Jon Wurster, sucks. He refers to Sour Cream as his “friend,” incapable of even the simple emotional effort it would take to acknowledge him as his son, with all of the attendant obligations he’s skipped out on for the better part of a decade (at least). He controls everything about Sour Cream’s show, moving it to the middle of town and taking over for Steven with professional roadies. And though he has all the trappings of success—extremely ostentatious sneakers, a sunglass visor, a gleaming tour bus—it’s all dependent on a sponsorship deal with a shitty soda company.

It’s not super surprising that Sour Cream’s show is, initially, a bit of a disaster. (For example: Steven just looks at the mic to check it, rather than turning it on.) And it turns out Marty is just trying to sell a new avocado-flavored soda called Guacola. (“Each can comes with the power of three whole avocados!”) The soda is gross, made from concentrate, and doesn’t even taste good on chips, leading to a rapidly-edited sequence of the townspeople keeling over as if they’d all been hit with the plague rather than an unpleasant beverage. (Poor Ronaldo!) What is surprising is that Yellowtail appears to be supportive of Sour Cream’s DJ career, running off to grab his stepson’s old equipment and help him set up for a show in front of his boat. Sour Cream eventually starts talking like Yellowtail, and refers to the fisherman as “dad,” which is very sweet.

If the Gems are chosen family (which they almost certainly are), it’s nice to see at least a slightly different sort of familial bond on Steven Universe. The plot of “Drop Beat Dad” is rather straightforward, but it still somehow feels a bit crowded, perhaps because Lamar Abrams and Katie Mitroff are also working to round the Marty-Sour Cream-Yellowtail story out with parallels to Steven’s relationship with Greg, Marty’s own past with Greg, the actual DJ show, and a couple of really solid crowd scenes. Packing all of that into one episode is tough, and while “Drop Beat Dad” is a solid Steven Universe (and Brian Posehn does solid work as Sour Cream), it’s hard not to imagine a slightly looser version of this dad tale that tugs a bit more at the “Cat’s In The Cradle” heartstrings.

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Oh, also, Greg gets ten million dollars from Marty for some reason. That should be fun.

Stray observations:

  • Somehow, Steven’s seven-second speech in defense of roadies manages to be funnier, sweeter, and a better case for roadies than Roadies.
  • Sour Cream: “80% of Germans make their living DJing.”
  • Marty: “Throwing a cool semi-annual DJ rave thing is a classic father-son bonding experience.”
  • Marty gets a quick Zoolander reference in asking if the warehouse stage is for ants. Sour Cream responds: “Aunts, uncles, music is for everyone.”
  • Onion is the only person who likes Guacola.
  • We’re back, with a new verse of “A Love Like You” and 21 (!) episodes of Steven Universe airing over the course of about a month. I will be here, reviewing all of them.

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