“Story For Steven” is the last episode produced from the first season to run late, moved past its original air date to make room for the Steven Bomb. (Edit: Sorry, it’s the second-to-late, I forgot about “Shirt Club” which airs next week. We’ll be out of the woods on this soon, I promise.) It makes sense that this one, like “Open Book.” would be moved—it’s framed as a smaller-scale episode about Steven and one other character. Where that was Connie in “Open Book,” here it’s Greg, who, after a bit of adorable setup, tells Steven the story of how he met your—sorry, Steven’s—mother. In some respects, “Story For Steven” suffers from airing after “The Message,” the show’s best use of Greg to date (and, I think, the episode that would have originally come right after this one—more on that later), but it’s nice to see at least a bit of this period.
There have been repeated intimations that there’s enough story in Greg’s early relationship with Rose and the rest of the Gems to fill a whole separate show, and while I’m sure there’s a lot of material there, it isn’t quite present here. The creators’ (and, in particular, storyboard artists Jeff Liu and Joe Johnston) obvious love for the characters and the amount of thought that’s been put into their backgrounds is enough to justify a bit more faith in this period as a fruitful place for the show to go, especially if it helps us understand more of the complications that continue to reverberate throughout the family. Still, it doesn’t quite balance out the fact that “Story For Steven” feels a bit thin.
Greg and Rose’s meet-cute is this show’s equivalent of the beginning of a standard romantic comedy—something that we’re told over the course of the episode is basically a love at first sight, but that is totally retroactively justified by the knowledge that they had a relationship and made Steven. It’s not like there’s a lot of time in the episode to show their attraction or explain why they cared about each other, but without pointing at something like that beyond Rose simply liking Greg’s music, it’s tough to be invested in Greg’s triumphant decision to stay in Beach City against the wishes of his manager Marty (whose photo sets off the episode).
Even with the considerable vocal talents of Tom Scharpling’s comedy partner and musician Jon Wurster, Marty is never enough of a threatening presence to legitimately generate tension, particularly since he’s such a big jerk that it’s obvious Greg will push him away. In fact, it’s hard to see why they were friends in the first place. Did Marty just promise the community college-dropout Greg that he would become famous as a rock star? It’s not that we don’t know Greg and Rose will end up together, but the way “Story For Steven” depicts the events, there’s never any question.
As muted as “Story For Steven” often is, it’s nice to know that it probably isn’t the full story. Marty seems to have spent some… quality time with his friend Vidalia (Jackie Buscarino, who has appeared on a few other Cartoon Network shows), and given her name (spoiler: it’s a type of onion) it’s not a stretch to think that Marty might be the father of Onion, Sour Cream, or both. Is Vidalia going to reappear as their mom? (And will Wurster get to come back, for that matter?) And “Story For Steven” breezes through Rose’s immortality-based objections to the relationship. It would be refreshing if Steven Universe had just decided to ignore something that has become a total genre cliche, but there’s probably quite a bit more that we haven’t seen yet—an entire history of the town that’s only just being teased at in the way the Gem mythology was treated in the first few episodes of the show.
Instead, the pleasures of “Story For Steven” mostly come from what we do see—our quick glimpses of the Gems in the past, before they had learned much about how to interact with humans. Even more than in “Gem Glow,” each of the Gems are at their most archetypal: Amethyst is mischievous and solely interested in pranking Greg, Pearl is confused by humans and focused solely on problem-solving, and Garnet just wants to throw Greg over the fence by the temple. Their character designs are a lot of fun (and Amethyst’s remark about Greg’s hair might explain a bit about her current form), and while it’s not quite enough to sustain an episode of the show, it gets a boost over the top from Greg’s song, which is pretty much everything we could have hoped for from his initial music career. (He’s… a comet!)
As much as the high-flying Mr. Universe track front-loads the episode, my suspicion is that “Story For Steven” will take on increased importance with time and feel a bit more three-dimensional. In the same way that the episodes that would have run just before it begin to explore Rose’s loss, “Story For Steven” starts to hint at how sad it must be for Greg that he, somewhat ironically, outlived Rose. (Captured by Rose making a big deal out of whether Greg was going to stay in Beach City to “play” with her, and Greg’s wistfulness when Steven teases him for how much he loved Rose.) Greg looks like he’s going to be an ever-more crucial part of the show going forward—here, he introduces music to the Gems, an enormous part of the show’s world (and foreshadowing his helpfulness in “The Message”). If those contributions continue to be on the subtler side, well, maybe that’s something we can deal with.
- This probably isn’t that interesting as a theory, but it makes sense to me—do you guys think Garnet’s initial unwillingness to deal with humans, or other people period, was because of how wrapped up in their own relationship Ruby and Sapphire were?
- “I may be losing my hair, but the magic’s still there.”
- “He’s just an old amigo from way back when… he’s dead to me.” The pacing on this is just fantastic. As-ever, props to Tom Scharpling.
- Rose whispering “His gimmick is space” is probably the first moment Rose has appeared as a real person (as much as the Gems are capable of being real people) rather than a symbol.
- “I can sing.” Okay, Pearl-Rose shippers/crushers, you’ve got your evidence. Go nuts.