03rd Apr2015

‘Steven Universe S02E04: Say Uncle’ Review

by Gretchen Felker-Martin

“Don’t worry, bro.  None of this is canon.”

That’s how Uncle Grandpa, star of a show so tonally divorced from Steven Universe that absolutely none of this should work at all, pops into Beach City.  What follows is a bizarre adventure that’s equal parts Terry Gilliam cartoon, bad anime, and Fourth Wall demolition session.  Steven, frustrated by his inability to summon the magical shield his mother bequeathed to him, calls out to the universe for help and receives a reply in the form of a hollering, reality-warping weirdo who sets about trying to unlock Steven’s latent potential.  Mostly by firing bees at him.

It’s unclear how much of this will matter in the overall scheme of the show, and I’m sure some people will be upset about an unannounced detour into bat country, but even though it doesn’t really strike any of the gentle, growth-focused chords Steven Universe is known for, except indirectly, it does have a great sense of humor about its own existence.  Throwing logic to the wind is about the only way any of this finds footing, and since it does that pretty much right out of the gate the rest of the episode is wall-to-wall gags and jokes.  Literal plot holes swallow the Gems, Uncle Grandpa duplicates, separates, grows, and teleports at will, and denizens of the encroaching cartoon espouse fan theories and present their Tumblr-ready “Gemsonas” for Steven’s approval.  The show takes loving aim at itself, poking fun at Lars and Sadie shippers, teasing the much-desired return of Rose Quartz, and indulging in other in-jokes and references.  I can’t say I’m all that into punchlines like “that’s a man in a dress” but it seems to fit neatly into Uncle Grandpa’s totally rules-free existence as a cosmic traveler.

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Using the Gems as broad comic relief mostly pans out as they dash in terror between dimensions and scenes, pursuing Uncle Grandpa whom they believe to be a dangerous being capable of untold manipulations of space and time.  What follows is…weird.  Pearl’s terrified “That’s not my baby!” upon seeing a small, anthropomorphic slice of pizza present itself as Steven is part of a glimpse of a Flanderized version of the show’s universe, a world of hammy performances in which the Gems are reduced to their most basic qualities and then ratcheted up a notch.  I found it less than engaging to watch complex people I’ve grown to care about reduced to sputtering hand puppets, but I can understand the comedic impetus behind it.

Say Uncle is about as weird as this show has ever been.  That it concludes with the Gems talking numbly over one other while Uncle Grandpa quotes Dale Cooper from Twin Peaks and ascends into the skies on the back of the aptly-named Giant Realistic Flying Tiger is completely appropriate, and all in all it’s a lively eleven minutes of animated mayhem, one for which Jeff Liu and Joe Johnston clearly had a great time developing story boards.  By the time the clock runs down, though, I’m pretty much with Garnet: “Okay, I’m ready for this episode to end.”

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