Steven Universe is back for another new episode. Following on the heels of “The Answer,” in which Garnet (Estelle) tells Steven (Zach Callison) her origin story as a birthday present, “Steven’s Birthday” sees the cast of characters celebrating the titular event with a party. Does it improve upon the previous episode? More importantly, how much of my personal rubric does it satisfy?
Joining Steven and the Crystal Gems for the event are his dad, Greg (Tom Scharpling – who’s always nice to hear on the show), and his best friend/semi love interest Connie (Grace Rolek). A walk down the photographs of memory lane uncovers the possibility that Steven may never grow more than he already has, physically. This potential sends Steven into a bit of an existential crisis, one he attempts to remedy by using the magical gem in his belly button to stretch his body out and appear closer to his actual age of 14 – a bad decision for more reason than one.
Written by Lamar Abrams and Katie Mitroff (the writers/storyboard artists behind “The Answer”), the episode makes similar attempts at resonance, this time from a body image standpoint, though Steven Universe has always been really good about embracing body types. Steven is a chubby little guy (which I’ve always appreciated as I’m not in the best shape myself), and that has never been a problem for the show or the character before. Aging has come up previously, though, and in a birthday-themed episode; “So Many Birthdays” featured Steven aging rapidly as a result of anxiety. That episode is probably more successful than “Steven’s Birthday” just in its investigation of Steven’s feelings.
The episode doesn’t skimp on emotion, though, featuring many good Steven-Connie moments. Their relationship is really cute to watch and “Steven’s Birthday” is full of nice interactions in service of that. The episode is funny too, which is a nice rebound from the previous episode. It gets a lot of humor out of awkward visual gags – the simple visual style is made for moments like that. The show has the capacity to be much funnier, but that is often facilitated by Steven’s irrepressible good nature – so an episode in which Steven is feeling blue might not be a comedy goldmine.
There’s no real action or mythology to speak of in the episode, and the only music is a previously-heard song playing in the background in Greg’s van. Another thing missing from the episode is Peridot, an evil Gem from the homeworld whom the show has been redeeming over the last few episodes. This second season has been moving toward a big showdown and this week may see some more progress in that direction. So if these last two episodes have been a brief respite from that serialized momentum, hopefully we’ll get more of that overarching story (and more dynamic Peridot characterization) in the next few days.
“Steven’s Birthday” is a fine episode in the tradition of the series, but I am ready for the show to get back into the groove it had during its last chunk of episodes. This episode receives three out of five baby Stevens: