Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Steven Universe spends a day at the races

Illustration for article titled Steven Universe spends a day at the races

Cars. Are. Serious. And. Awesome. This is an area that Steven Universe has never really had the opportunity to explore since the Gems don’t drive and Greg lives in his van. But with all of his newfound wealth, Greg finally takes it upon himself to buy a used Supremo, the car he was obsessed with as a kid—complete with photo montage of young Greg getting scared off by cops after literally slurping over one of the cars. (Of course Greg uses his millions of dollars to buy a used car, or as he puts it, “I like to think of it as more experienced than used.”) It’s a good thing he bought the car, because Steven and Connie need it to race.

It was only a matter of time before Steven Universe did a race episode (so soon after “Hit The Diamond,” too!), and “Beach City Drift” is pretty much exactly what you’d want. When Kevin, the creepy dude from “Alone Together,” returns to skeeve on Steven and Connie and insult Greg, Steven goes ballistic and gets Connie to fuse with him so they can take the car and beat Kevin at his own game. Greg tells them to ignore Kevin and just be how they’re going to be, which (surprise!) is the lesson of the episode, but for the time being Steven is pissed as hell.

Connie may not be as outwardly angry as Steven, but she’s still “thinking mad,” and wants to say something to Kevin, to “make him think.” This is an understandable impulse after the kind of experience they had with Kevin, and the kind of highly specific emotional moment that Steven Universe somehow pulls off regularly. (How often has a kids’ show successfully dealt with what you do when dudes are creeping on you, or worse?) Steven doesn’t hate a lot, and his obsession with Kevin’s jerkiness sticks out. This continues yesterday’s tendency to have Steven’s heart being in the right place—the qualities that have made him so great and mature in the past—getting him in trouble. He really wants to take down Kevin, and that righteous fury ends up clouding his head. I have a hard time blaming him though, because Kevin sucks.

It’s possible I spoke too soon earlier this week when I said that Marty was the closest thing Steven Universe had to a human villain, because Kevin is really the worst. Andrew Kishino does a great job with his smarmy delivery, from talking about his socks getting pressed to insulting old man Greg to his repeated taunting of Stevonnie to maybe my favorite moment of the episode, when Kevin gives Stevonnie a fake sappy backstory about his sick brother. (Complete with light score touches from Aivi and Surrashu that threaten to break out into full sap before quickly melting back into the main race theme.) It’s the kind of absurd emotional logic that we just take for granted in fiction (especially on kids’ shows), but even on its face, this logic makes no sense at all. Kevin is just messing with Stevonnie, who is willing to go along with it because Steven and Connie are both kind people and this is the kind of show where Kevin could turn out to be misunderstood. Nope. He’s just an asshole. (Also, the name “Kevin” is just inherently hilarious if you say it intensely and with enough emphasis, which I know for a fact because my father’s name is Kevin.)

Hilary Florida and Lauren Zuke do an awesome job with the race sequences, integrating everything from full-on drifting to, obviously, Speed Racer. Kevin has a sleek racing vehicle, while the Supremo has super drifting power but looks a bit bulkier and more like a dad car (which is a great visual metaphor for Kevin and Stevonnie, respectively). The abstracted backgrounds highlighting the intensity and absurdity of the two racers yelling at each other out their windows is great, as is the design of the mountain, which might have more specific reference points but feels like pretty much every crazy teen racing course you’ve ever seen. (In a good way.)

As terrible as Kevin is and as fun as the racing sequences are, “Beach City Drift” is, as it ought to have been, about Stevonnie. It’s been so long since we had really great Steven-Connie interactions, it’s just nice to see them together. As always, their relationship is pitch-perfect. (Connie: “I smell what you’re stepping in.” Steven, intensely: “Ew.”) But when they get stuck on the raceway, their anger forces Steven and Connie to unfuse, in a sequence that’s briefly animated to look a bit like the Star Wars hyperdrive. When Connie points out that Kevin is the reason they made Stevonnie, it’s quietly sad. The creation of a fusion is always supposed to be a beautiful thing, and in this case they did it out of anger, not love. (I wonder if there were any discussions about having Stevonnie be slightly physically off, or whether that violates fusion rules.)


In the end, Kevin uses nitrous that he has in his car because of course he has nitrous in his car, and also at least one car in every racing sequence needs to have nitrous. He wins. But Stevonnie doesn’t really care about losing, because they’re having a great time driving for the first time. (And by not caring, Kevin’s victory loses all of its power.) The storyboarders make their view quite beautiful, with the twinkling ocean, full moon, and a shooting star racing past the night. It’s a wondrous, magical experience, and Kevin didn’t even need to be there. I’m glad he was, though. That guy is terrible.

Stray observations:

  • Connie literally says “What a time to be alive” in reference to the ‘80s, so I am dead. Thank you so much, Crewniverse. Thank you.
  • Steven, defending Greg: “He’s not a grandpa, he’s just a regular pa.”
  • Overbearing enthusiasm for the car is an incredible use of Ronaldo. Do you know the true power of the Supremo?
  • Kevin, looking at Stevonnie’s outstretched hand: “Are you trying to kiss my hand with your hand, or something?”
  • Also worth noting: Stevonnie is the only fusion we see this week, and we don’t even see her actually fuse. Maybe fusion is on the backburner for a while, which might not be the worst idea. (Me saying this means Peridot’s first fusion is going to happen on Monday.)
  • And that’s it for the first week of the Steven Nuke. See you Monday!