‘Steven Universe’ Post-Show Analysis: Season 3, Episodes 10-11: ‘The New Lars’ and ‘Beach City Drift’
Welcome to Together Breakfast, the feature where Elle Collins and Katie Schenkel come together to dig in and relish every last drop of Cartoon Network’s Steven Universe. With the current nightly summer schedule, we’re going to be doing a couple of these a week, and two to three episodes per column. It may be hectic, but hopefully you’ll keep up with us as we dive headlong into the world of the Crystal Gems.
Rounding out the first week of Steven's summer run, we had an episode about Lars, and then an episode about Kevin, who makes Lars seem likable and considerate by comparison. The New Lars was written by Raven M. Molisee and Paul Villeco, and Beach City Drift was written by Hilary Florido and Lauren Zuke. Both episodes were directed by Kat Morris and Jasmin Lai.
Elle: So I guess The New Lars is another episode where Steven exhibits a new power, but it’s not really presented that way. Steven possessing Lars’ body is just a thing that happens. But honestly, my main takeaway here is the same as Island Adventure: Sadie and Lars are such a realistic depiction of a teenage relationship that it’s frequently painful to watch.
Katie: Definitely. They are so awkward and flawed and not super great at talking to each other, not least of all because Lars is not the easiest person to get to open up. So of course Steven ships them and of course he assumes they’ll get married and name one of their kids after him. Of course Steven stares at them like he’s watching a compelling TV teen drama of their lives.
Speaking of that island, I’m wondering if this power is not so new after all. Remember the watermelon Stevens? Maybe this is just an extension of that power we saw a few episodes ago.
Elle: Oh that’s true! I assumed he could only do that with watermelon doppelgangers, but I guess he can do it with regular people too.
And yeah, Lars is the worst, but in a pretty typical teenage way. He wants so badly for the cool kids to think he’s cool that he treats Sadie, who actually cares about him, terribly. And even the cool kids don’t like him because they can see how hard he’s trying. And there’s nothing less cool than trying hard.
Katie: Yeah, it’s rough to watch Steven as Lars win over the very people Lars wants to be friends with, simply by being kind and genuine. Every cute scene of Steven being Steven (with Lars’ voice actor Matthew Moy doing an impeccable Steven impression) and each person being surprised by his sweetness is a reminder that Lars isn’t seen in nearly as positive a light. And yeah, some of it is that Lars tries too hard, but Kiki is surprised that he’s even giving her a compliment.
Elle: But then there’s Sadie. When she sees how different Lars is acting, she assumes he’s trying to hurt or manipulate her, which is understandable. It’s a pretty unnerving scene, with Steven trying to be nice to Sadie and help Lars win her over, but the nicer he is the more it freaks Sadie out.
I do like that Steven eventually just tells her what’s going on. He’s pretty good at knowing when he’s in over his head.
Katie: There’s an interesting message that comes out of this, namely that Sadie doesn’t want Lars to be a totally different person, but just a little nicer to her. Which you know, I think is fair. But the fact is, while the others in town would be totally okay with Lars becoming a happy, smiley, overall positive person, Sadie generally likes Lars for the grumpy teenager he is. And the fact that she freaks out at Steven saying “I love you!” is proof that she knows him better than anyone else (or at least isn’t willing to accept a Lars who is not acting like himself, unlike pretty much everyone else Steven encounters this episode).
Just like it’s refreshing to see Steven be honest with Sadie when he realizes he’s over his head, I liked that Sadie believed him pretty much immediately, simply because dragging that out is a trope I’ve seen a lot. It’s still sad that the reason she believes him is the realization that Lars would never apologize to her like that.
Real quick though, did you have mixed feelings about Steven’s attitude here like I did? While I appreciated Steven bringing up respecting Lars’ body while he was in it, there’s still some iffy consent issues that I could see season one Steven not think to ask. I dunno, I feel like this more mature version of Steven might have thought twice about going over to Sadie’s and confessing what he believes is Lars’ love.
Elle: I definitely agree that wasn’t cool. And while I think Steven thinks he’s being helpful, he has an unhealthy investment in Lars and Sadie as a couple. Like you said before, he looks at them like characters in a TV show. I think that’s where his own lack of maturity is evident.
But I really loved the scene at the end, when Lars gets his body back and just freaks out in front of his parents, Steven, Sadie, and the cool kids because he can’t even cope with the possibility of how embarrassing Steven has been in his body.
Katie: I liked that too. Something I noticed in the scene before when Lars’ peers and her parents run after Sadie and Steven is that the other teens don’t know who Sadie is at all. But they’re such decent young adults that I can totally see them warming up to her quickly. I wonder if we’re going to get a future episode where Steven introduces her to them, or maybe where Lars stops being a butt and introduces Sadie himself.
In any case, I liked the subtle moment in the last scene where Lars asks Steven exactly what he did at Sadie’s house and when Steven tells him he confessed love to Sadie, Lars groans, but in a very particular, not necessarily angry way. And him immediately asking what she said... as you said, they are so, so teenagers, and his reactions in that scene play that way.
Elle: Totally. And Friday night’s episode, Beach City Drift, also deals with the teenage culture of Beach City, and with some complicated and confusing emotions. So Katie, how did you feel about the return of Kevin?
Katie: That jerk?! Sorry, had to use a four letter word there.
But no really, this was a hard episode to watch, because man, have I had Kevins in my life. And I’ve definitely dealt with Kevins online. And I’ve seen Kevins gleefully go after friends of mine. And I have a feeling the show knew exactly what it was doing by having Kevin talk and act the way he did here. I was right there with Steven and Connie (and later, with Stevonnie) when they’re upset at this guy being mean for fun.
Elle: Kevin is the worst! That’s a five letter word so I’m fine. I’ve definitely known some Kevins too, and he is all-too realistic. Not just the "being mean for fun" part, but how you can become obsessed with someone terrible in a way that gives them far more of your energy than they’re worth. But the emotional core of this episode was a lot easier to swallow, since it was wrapped in a Speed Racer homage that was coated in a Fast and Furious reference.
Katie: Something that also helped early on is Greg’s reaction to learning how they knew Kevin. Connie is pretty clear in the way she describes how Kevin made them feel, and Greg, while not knowing how to make things better, listens and believes them and tells them he’s sorry they were made to feel that way.
But of course the kids still don’t feel better (again, man have I been in their shoes when a cruel person has walked away from me laughing), so that’s when they hatch the plan to fuze and borrow Greg’s brand new used car.
Elle: Greg’s car is literally the car my Dad had through the '80s and into the '90s, by the way, which is just so perfect.
I find it fascinating that Stevonnie can drive so well. I’m not sure if it’s that kids as old as Steven and Connie have enough of a sense of how driving works that the two of them combined equals a good driver, or if Stevonnie just has really amazing instincts, or what. But I’m willing to buy into it.
Katie: When Stevonnie makes that incredible drift turn during the race, I thought that was a little unrealistic considering they’re children driving a car for what we learn later is the first time. But then I remembered that this is a show about gay space rocks and a kid named Onion with an onion-shaped head, so I guess it’s all relative.
One of the details I did like about this episode was how all the teens looking on were clearly rooting for Stevonnie, especially Kiki who gets another spotlight after “The New Lars.” It’s nice to see these youths clearly not dig what Kevin is buying, even if they still have to deal with him being around and being terrible.
Elle: One of the things I love about these characters is that the “Cool Kids” --- Buck, Kiki, and Sour Cream --- aren’t particularly superficial or obnoxious. They really are pretty cool.
I enjoyed the Speed Racer-esque scenes of the race down the hill, and of course the moment when Stevonnie notices the beautiful view was great. But the best part was after the race, when Stevonnie is nice to Kevin while making it clear that they don’t care about him at all, and Kevin can’t even deal with it.
Katie: For me, the part that hit the message home was when Connie and Steven realize they had chosen to turn Stevonnie --- an experience that’s beautiful and good and wonderful between them --- into an experience all about Kevin. It’s really easy for kid shows to turn stories about bullies into “just ignore them” messages, which I bristle at for several reasons. But here we have Steven Universe figuring out a better choice to a problem that doesn’t have a perfect solution. Essentially, if you only have control over your own choices, don’t waste energy and good moments in your life trying to win a game that jerks have rigged in their favor.
It helps that Steven and Connie have each other for that support and experience, but it’s still a good message.
Elle: Oh, I agree. I feel like we say this kind of thing all the time, but this show is so great at getting at emotional truths and positive messages.
And by the way, after spending all that time at the barn, it’s really fun to be getting these episodes that are all about the Beach City supporting cast. I can’t wait to see who else we’ll be spending time with in the weeks to come.