On May 12, Cartoon Network will air the season 3 premiere of its hit show Steven Universe, the story of a half-alien boy being raised by the allies of his mother who he never knew. The show has gained a considerable following among adults, which in itself is hardly amazing anymore. Children's entertainment like Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Rocko's Modern Life, Animaniacs and Shrek were all famous for gleefully throwing in jokes intended to go over kids' heads. Steven Universe's creator, Rebecca Sugar, is herself an alumnus of Adventure Time, another Cartoon Network show famous for inserting philosophical thought exercises and experimental art pieces into the coming-of-age story of a boy adventurer and his stretchy talking dog brother.
Where Steven Universe most differentiates itself from its predecessors is a sense of maturity. Not to belittle any of those properties, but all the ones I mentioned take place in much less grounded realities. Even though Steven Universe is about alien super heroes protecting the Earth, it draws just as heavily from the type of slice-of-life comedy seen in King Of The Hill, Peanuts or Azumanga Daioh. And while it does use its fantastical elements as stand-ins to talk about heavier social issues, it does not obscure its underlying moral message: everybody has the right to be themself, and anyone who tries to take that away is wrong. Most notably it has pushed to portray both the struggles and the normalcy of LGBT+ people harder than any American kids' cartoon has before.
In our newest podcast episode, we travelled to Lawrence, Kansas to talk to comedian Amber Lehman (host of the Good Time comedy showcase) about her love for this amazing show.