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‘Steven Universe’ Recap: ‘So Many Birthdays’ and ‘Lars and the Cool Kids’

“So Many Birthdays”

Written and Storyboarded by Raven M. Molisee and Paul Villeco.

“Lars and the Cool Kids”
Storyboarded by Lamar Abrams and Matt Braly.

Usually I walk away from Steven Universe having laughed a little, often forgetting what had happened as soon as it’s over but if things continue to be like “Giant Woman” and “So Many Birthdays” this show could end up meaning something special to me. This episode’s theme was heavy on the idea of growing up and the end result was a great realization that everyone should take into consideration.

Once again we start with Pearl and Amethyst arguing about something irrelevant. A smell lingers in the air, and the Gems and Steven stumble upon a five-year-old burrito (likely the cause of the stench) and an “old timey” picture of the Gems and Steven’s mother. This brings us all to wonder how old the Gems really are. Thankfully, the always-inquisitive boy asks. The Gems live a long time, but they don’t show signs of aging like humans although they can get hurt. Steven then has to badger on about their birthdays – Garnet admits that’s not something Gems do or care about. Much like Steven, I was appalled by that. He then pledges to throw them each a birthday party. 

Each Gem got her own special day that ended as a failure, even though they’re all wearing Steven’s lucky birthday suit–a cape and crown. Amethyst doesn’t understand the concept behind piñatas and asks the question I think we’ve all wondered: “You had candy and you just didn’t give it to us?” Steven tries to step it up by performing as a clown for Pearl’s party and telling jokes. They go over her head and she cringes at the pie-in-the-face bit. When Steven proclaims Garnet’s will be the “ultimate birthday,” you think, yeah – this is where it’ll all turn around. Nope. Kazoo racers weren’t a hit because riding in miniature cars and playing kazoos doesn’t sound appealing to the Gems.

Their hesitance towards celebrating their birthdays leaves Steven questioning if he’s too old to blow out the candles on his special day anymore. This mental breakdown was probably my third favorite moment in this series so far; the first one came in a previous episode (we’ll touch on that later) and the second was in this week’s again, later on. Anyways, his breakdown led to a very interesting result… 

Walking through a fog both in reality and in his mind, Steven continued to question birthdays and growing up. As he did this, his gem glowed and he started to age. At first it was just simple puberty; four hairs on his upper lip, noticeable vocal changes and acne. As he came to a store and decided a job was what he had to get, he became a five-o’clock-shadowed man standing tall. By the time he got to Lars’ shop, he looked like George Costanza from Seinfeld. After being run out of the store due to a misunderstanding about his ‘birthday suit’…his aging process escalates from looking like his dad to grandpa status; Gandalf beard and all. He is returned to the Gems thanks to his lion. Yup, that lion from “Steven’s Lion” was back this week, but didn’t play an essential part other than party attendee before this point.

The Gems always show concern for Steven when he gets himself into a pickle but this was the first time they showed an emotional concern rather than an instinct to save. This was probably because they had to face death. With Steven being half-human, his death was a possibility and actual fear swept over his three gal pals as they tried to reverse his aging by over-celebrating the birthday rituals they’d learned: piñatas, tiny cars, clowns, and pies. Pearl, in tears, while trying to complete the clown bit was a hilarious moment in a tense situation. 

Steven’s age starts to fluctuate with his state of mind, going back and forth between a boy and a man. Turns out, you’re as old as you feel. This lesson was my second favorite moment and goes hand in hand with my first, which so happens to be from “Frybo,” the episode that played wonderfully after this week’s new one – both of those dealt with the essence of adulthood and the way it feels like it’s strangling you even when you’re years from it.

One can only hope that this theme continues because as much as Pearl and Amethyst butting heads is entertaining, these episodes that capture Steven’s journey to manhood are way more interesting.

Since “So Many Birthdays” was the best I’ve seen from Steven Universe, I didn’t expect much from what Steven and Lars had to offer when they encountered the so-called cool kids in “Lars and the Cool Kids.” It was just okay, and the best part was a tossup between Steven defending his mother and Lars bombing at being cool.

The Gems and Steven come across a huge quarry of nasty moss growing out of control that Steven’s mother planted once upon a time. Pearl points out that Steven’s mom, Rose Quartz, always saw “beauty in everything, no matter how gross,” which also might explain why she was with Steven’s dad in the first place. You can refer to the opening credits to check out what he looks like if you’ve forgotten since we haven’t seen him for a long while. After Pearl produces some police tape to keep the humans out of the moss, we lose the Gems for the rest of the episode as Steven heads out on his own for lunch at Fish Stew Pizza.

There he comes across a reluctant Lars and fails to engage him with a high five. Lars is trying to play it cool as he lurks in the parlor’s window staring in at the cool entourage he’d die to become a part of. There’s Jenny, an in-charge black girl who’s dad owns the pizza place. She’s surrounded herself with Sour Cream, a raver who could be related to little Onion based on his paste-like appearance and his name, and Buck Dewey, who’s forever decked out in sunglasses – possibly hiding his relation to his political father.

For some reason Steven wins over the cool trio in an instant and gets him and Lars invited on their cruise session. It’s like an animated scene from 21 Jump Street on their drive. You had Steven being considered awesome for being safe, and Lars not-so-much due to his acting too pretentious to impress. Steven continued to be the safety patrol when they decided to go to Dead Man’s Mouth.

Turns out that’s what the humans called the moss pit we saw earlier. Ignoring Steven’s warnings, the cool kids end up being covered by the moss. As Steven and Lars argue about what to do, Lars crosses a line. He badmouths the moss and Steven’s mom, setting the little guy off. It was really weird and surprising to see Steven react in such a manner. Usually he’s happy-go-lucky, so the angry face was a new one on him.

Lars and Steven have to get the moss-covered cool kids to the hill, per Steven’s idea, and that wouldn’t have been a problem if Jenny’s car wasn’t a stick shift. Lars and Steven use teamwork to get them to the hill, and as they too are being engorged in the moss, the sun breaks thus permitting the mossy gunk to blossom into beautiful flowers. When the cool ones come to after their moss is off, Steven gives Lars all the credit.

This wasn’t anything high-concept like last week, but it did showcase something that’s really important to see from Steve—human interaction. Usually it’s a quick run-in, or one-on-one. This week we saw him with a group of peers instead of the Gems, and he even went on to prove he doesn’t always need his gal pals to save the day.

  • Tom

    I absolutely loved Pearl in the birthday episode. When things got serious in the last few minutes, her expressions and animation were hilarious and heart-breaking at the same time.

  • Related: Cartoon Network and Boom! Studios will debut an ongoing Steven Universe comic book series later this year, with more Steven Universe-related titles arriving quickly thereafter.

    Comics and cartoon fans may already be familiar with the CN/Boom! pairing, as it has produced tons of great Adventure Time titles, as well as some Regular Show books.

  • ddrazen

    Did anyone else get that Buck, Jenny and Sour Cream were counterparts of Garnet, Amethyst and Pearl respectively? Definitely not a cowinky-dink.

    And I was floored by the Gems’ concern for Steve’s mortality. Because that’s what it was: they weren’t just watching Steven age, they were watching him die. This ups the ante for Steven getting control of his own gem power considerably.

    And Lars bad-mouthing Rose Quartz really was way over the line, which demonstrates a tendency to talk without thinking. It also showed Steve actually showing some emotion for his jazzed family situation and that he still has feelings with which he needs to deal. Both eps really stressed the Heart factor.

    • Bag of Magic Food

      I like how the “counterparts” concept makes you see Lars as Steven’s counterpart, trying too hard to present himself as the fourth musketeer.

  • Trevorton Thompson

    On So Many Birthdays, I shed a few tears when I saw the Gems (especially Pearl) crying and watching Steven almost die. This was the top emotional episode of the series so far (I say ‘so far’ because you never know what to expect on the next one).

    As for Lars and the Cool Kids, This was a great episode as well and I’m glad to see that the people who boarded this didn’t go with the stereotype of cool kids breaking laws and being above adults. I’m also glad Steven handled Lars’ insult to Rose with class and didn’t take it one step further by giving him one in the face. That was also a beautiful spectacle at the end with the flowers raining on Beach City.

    Rebecca Sugar and Her World Class Staff continue to impress, shock, and awe every week.

  • Maggiemay

    I haven’t seen anything on this show I haven’t seen a hundred times in other shows.

  • Adam Duffield

    I dunno why you felt Pearl with the pie was hilarious, I thought it was heartbreaking. The way she was crying seemed really believable to me

  • Mzuark

    I felt rather sorry for Lars during that episode. He clearly just wants to be accepted and yet he’s ignored over someone like Steven. And I’m supposed to side against him for that.

  • I think Steven and Pearl is secretly in love.
    Because,like Greg and Rose fall in love,Steven and Pearl really falling in love for the first time!
    the two couple’s will make a lovely couple.:^)