I’ve been hooked by several animated TV shows recently, and I find them just the right mix of goofy, immature humor, clever plotting, interesting character development, and sly, understated humor.
The first one is Steven Universe, which I’ve written about before. The second is Gravity Falls, and the third is my most recent discovery, Star vs. the Forces of Evil.
(l to r:) Pearl, Steven, Amethyst, and Garnet.
Steven Universe follows the adventures of Steven, his dad, and three individuals who watch over Steven, and protect the Earth: Garnet, Pearl, and Amethyst. These three characters are living gems, their human forms a projection meant to put humans more at ease. Steven is the product of a human father and a Gem mother. To create Steven, his mom, Rose Quartz, had to give part of herself to him. No one has explained satisfactorily what happened to Rose Quartz; Steven’s dad only says “she went away”, and the Gems don’t talk about it.
Steven Universe deals with slightly sensitive subject matter — non-traditional relationships, LGBT issues, and growing up — in ways that will make sense to kids without lecturing or talking down to them, and I’m really impressed by the way they handle it. It features some fantastic world-building, with the alien Gems, their homeworld, and the creatures left behind after the foiled Gem invasion. Garnet, Pearl and Amethyst are all that’s left of the Crystal Gems, a group that rebelled against the Gem homeworld in order to save Earth from destruction. Rose Quartz was their leader. Of the three shows I preview in this post, Steven Universe is probably the most friendly for younger kids.
Next up is Gravity Falls, which seems to spoof X-Files in a way. Fraternal twins Dipper and Mabel Pines are sent to live with their great uncle for the summer. Stan Pines is a two-bit hustler who runs a roadside attraction in Gravity Falls, Oregon called the Mystery Shack. During the course of the summer the twins — particularly Dipper — discover that there are an unusually large number of supernatural events happening in gravity Falls, and Dipper’s curiosity is piqued when he discovers a journal in the mystery shack written by a mysterious someone who was cataloging these anomalies.
The show is again filled with goofy fun, has great character development over the course of the series’ run, has loads of fascinating world building — though limited to the one town, mostly — and throws in plenty of subtle humor to keep adults entertained. It does have its scarier moments, and so might be too much for kids younger than 8 or 10 years of age.
The last show in this roundup is a more recent discovery for me: Star vs. the Forces of Evil. The show follows the adventures of Star Butterfly, a magical princess from another dimension who’s been exiled by her mother for… well, for being a jerk, and for misusing magic. Star is banished to our world, and is taken in by Marco Diaz and his family. Marco is let in on Star’s true nature and deals with it well, but the rest of the family seems clueless.
Star is periodically visited by denizens from her own dimension, the land of Mewni. These visits fall into one of two basic categories: to check on her progress, or to try to take her out. Occasionally, monsters show up needing a favor, and those adventures tend to go sideways in a big hurry.
Like the other two shows I’ve previewed, Star has a great depth when it comes to the backstory and the world(s) around the characters. The two primary characters, Star and Marco, are both in their early teens, and while Star seems to have a pretty good handle on life at that age, Marco’s teen angst is multiplied by Star’s enemies cursing him with magic as a way to make Star’s life difficult. The show is filled with fun surprises and a sensibility that adults will enjoy.
The thing that these shows all have in common is good writing. The animation quality and styles vary, but all tell great stories with humor, style, and a very solid level of compassion. All three shows can be seen on television currently: Steven Universe can be found on Cartoon Network, while Star vs. the Forces of Evil and Gravity Falls are both show regularly in reruns on the Disney XD channel. Go out and watch a few episodes — you can thank me later.