“Lars And The Cool Kids” is an early highlight of Steven Universe for me—not only is the episode a great way to show off Lars’ insecurities, the introduction of the cool kids and their subsequent attraction to Steven’s earnestness feels like an important statement about the way the show’s world works. Steven will, in general, always be rewarded for being himself, even where reality would likely dictate that he’d be picked on (or worse) as a response to naivete. So an episode that sees Steven continuing to deal with the emotional fallout from the Gem invasion, this time with the help of the surprisingly nice cool kids, is, conceptually at least, an immediate win for me.

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Simply seeing Steven bounce off Buck Dewey (voiced by storyboarder Lamar Abrams), Jenny Pizza (Reagan Gomez), and Sour Cream (Brian Posehn) is a joy. Buck and Sour Cream, in particular, are a great excuse to exploit the storyboarders’ (in this case, Hilary Florido and Katie Mitroff) and voice actors’ collective sense of bizarre, excellent comic timing, drawing out each of their surreal lines of dialogue like Sour Cream’s fantastic, “Night’s whatever you want it to be. Time is an illusion” or “That’s as bright as, like, 600 glow sticks.” Their laid-back energy changes the show’s dynamic a bit, turning Steven into the over-eager kid hanging out with his older friends, but they still fit in quite well with him—something they themselves acknowledge when they try to get him to hang out, emphasizing, as Buck puts it, “That much-needed counterpoint to our cynical worldview.”

In this case, the cool kids might like Steven a bit too much, stealing over to his room at night and tossing pizza at his window to get him out of the house. (Steven’s curious reaction is perfect: “Pizza rain… but no pizza clouds.”) Their interactions, and the first of the two joy rides Steven takes over the course of the episode, help put his problems in perspective by contrasting them to the issues the cool kids have with their own parents (and, in Jenny’s case, siblings). Like Ronaldo’s “brooding” from “Full Disclosure,” the coolness of these kids snaps into place as a response to emotional distance, suggesting a route Steven could go, but doesn’t. (Take notes, kids. Most people who are trying hard to be “cool” have some stuff going on.) And, like in that episode, Steven is conscious of the way that the power of the Gem mythology threatens to detract from the humanity of his life in Beach City.

If there’s an issue with the way the cool kids are used here, it’s that Steven acquiesces to their angst a little too easily. Though feeling down and unable to talk to the Gems is one of several possible reactions for Steven to have to “Jail Break”—in part because of the way he increasingly realizes that they blame him for Rose’s absence—his disappointment and reserve doesn’t feel quite earned. The conversation between Steven and the Gems at the end of “Political Power” appears to be a serious shift in their relationship, suggesting an increased level of unity and collective honesty, something that obviously couldn’t be fully instantiated going forward (after all, there has to be conflict for the show to have drama) but also isn’t referenced in this episode. And the work he’s doing to clear the debris from the wrecked ship functions as shorthand to dictate some degree of hardship, without giving us a scene of Steven attempting to talk to the Gems and being shut down. I understand why this has to play out over the course of several episodes, but it occasionally threatens to conflict with the supportive environment the show has created.

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Still, as with pretty much every episode, it all comes to an excellent head when Steven, commandeered by Peridot’s escape pod, is unknowingly attacked by the Gems. As much as Steven likely should have taken the pod back to the temple, no one is really in the wrong here, and the pod malfunctioning in conjunction with the Gems swooping in provides a nice peek at what this stuff must look like to normal humans. I gasped at the shot of Steven cowering in the pod, waiting for Garnet to punch him, pulling on my heartstrings again (thanks a lot, show). As much as we’re itching for the series to fully dig in to what the Gems are up to (and, now, where Peridot is), it’s truly great that Steven Universe is just as interested in what the rest of Beach City is up to. And the whole thing culminates in Steven being ungrounded from TV! Hopefully this means we will get a lot more Crying Breakfast Friends, and soon.

Stray observations:

  • The repeated use of quick photos of Steven, the cool kids, and eventually the Gems is a fun way to introduce some silly visuals and the final ”Earth Forever” sticker. (Though the introduction of the word “selfie” is kind of a big mark against this episode and instantly dates it—for me, at least.)
  • “Oh, but I don’t really have anything against squares. I like all basic shapes.” Steven.
  • “The working man’s burden is truly a heavy one.”
  • “I only wanted to see you laughing. In the pizza rain.” Lamar Abrams kills this line delivery, and that whole introductory night-time scene is just fantastic.
  • This episode strongly suggests that Sour Cream’s step-dad is Yellowtail, which means Onion is probably his step-brother. Those have to be the weirdest, best DJ-ed family dinners ever.

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