As I sit down to write this, Steven Universe is on day 111 since the last time a new episode released. That puts it squarely in third place among Steven Universe hiatuses, with a near certainty that it will tack on the couple weeks necessary to move into second place. To make things even more frustrating, the most recent episode, “Legs From Here to Homeworld,” has still yet to air on TV. Tack on another 14 days since “Reunited” aired, and it has been 125 days since Cartoon Network has shown a new episode of Steven Universe.
A look at the various hiatuses quickly reveals a more disheartening trend: the abandonment of anything resembling a regular schedule for the show. Since the massive Steven Nuke airing almost all of season 3 over the course of one month, new episodes have been reduced to irregular, unpredictable spurts of 1-5 episodes that come and go far too soon. They’re usually grouped together in clear story arcs, but not always. In a couple examples, one or two episodes would come and go with no idea when the next was to arrive. We have no idea when these episodes will air and usually receive little warning before they do.
Any fan of this wonderful show can tell you how common these hiatuses have become. We’ve grown used to the frustration of irregular airing schedules. We take our dose of content, watch it wear off quickly, and wait impatiently for more.
I’ve typically handled these hiatuses calmly. I lament the lack of a regular schedule as much as anyone. Steven Universe is one of the best shows currently airing and I always want more of it. Still, I tend to accept the hiatuses because I know they’ll be worth it. When we do get new episodes, I lean more towards gratitude than frustration. The frustration is always there, but SU tends to always be good enough for me to place it on the backburner.
Except now I’m not so sure. I can’t explain why this particular hiatus threatens to finally sever my patience with the show. However, I can’t deny that it is. For the first time, I’m wondering if it’s all worth it. The constant uncertainty has worn me down. I’ll most definitely be there when the next batch of episodes air. After that? I truly cannot say for certain. I don’t know if I want to bother with yet another long wait for another 1-5 episodes followed by yet another long wait.
Long waits are hard enough. Long waits filled with intense uncertainty about the future might just be too much. I don’t know if I can invest any more energy on this show and this fandom if things don’t change.
Uncertainty stands behind the real frustration with Steven Universe and any other property like it that stresses a fandom to the breaking point. After all, every show eventually has long waits between episodes. 8 months or more typically pass between seasons. Years pass between books in a series. A video game sequel will take 5 or more years these days, and you know that going in. So long as the prerequisite updates and trailers let us know the process continues, we accept the wait.
The problem with Steven Universe comes from knowing little to nothing. We don’t know that the new season will start in 8 months. New episodes could release next week and we might only find out three days beforehand. We have no idea where the Crewniverse is in producing these episodes, no idea how many might be ready, and no idea when Cartoon Network will air them or why they currently won’t. Sometimes a voice actor will mention recording for episodes far ahead of the most recent episode, or post a photo on Instagram or Twitter mentioning recording sessions with unexpected cast members. Or maybe a storyboarder will hint at their progress. That’s all the hint we get.
I know it seems petty to talk about how this affects the fans. I mean, if we’re so frustrated, I can’t imagine how it feels for the people actually working on the show. They’re the ones dealing with our constant questions sometimes crossing over into harassment. When’s it going to be done? How far are you? When do we get new episodes? What’s going on? I can’t imagine what it’s like to feel joy in creating a product, only to have the fans badger you and sap the joy from the process. Not to mention that they sometimes have no idea why the scheduling occurs like it does, or will be told one thing only for the higher-ups to do something else.
I’m not going to pretend this frustration doesn’t exist, though. Uncertain hiatuses have an inevitable way of sapping the joy from us and leaving only bitterness. When you’ve analyzed everything about a new episode/season, gone back through previous seasons to do the same, created all the new memes you can and rehashed all the classics, what’s left? All that remains is impatience breeding frustration breeding bitterness.
The Steven Universe fandom has a somewhat earned reputation as a crappy fandom. Online bullying incidents leave a sour taste, and the most controversial topics of the story often devolve into personal insults. You quickly learn what topics to avoid among the SU fandom. Every seeming misstep has a portion of fans flocking to dismiss the entire show, whether there was truly a misstep or not. Impatience leaves fans dismissing entire plotlines from the beginning rather than giving the Crewniverse any benefit of the doubt.
While there’s an element of the toxicity that can’t be written off as hiatus-related, there’s no doubt the hiatuses make things worse. My worst experiences within the Steven Universe fandom came during the 164-day hiatus between “Lars’ Head” and “Dewey Wins” that took up much of 2017. Between the length of the wait and debates over season 4, the fandom was at its worst and this carried into season 5’s eventual return at the end of the year.
This hiatus was the closest I ever came to quitting the fandom. The anger and vitriol was unrelenting and made me wonder why I bothered. Why subject myself to interacting with these fans if I get so little pleasure out of it? Why go to online communities excited to talk about this show we love if it never feels like we actually love it?
And now, finally, after only 2 seasons in the past 3 years, an unknown wait for the last episode of season 5 still ongoing, and the very likely possibility that we’ll get yet another hiatus once this last season 5 episode airs, the question finally entered my mind. At what point do these hiatuses ruin my investment in Steven Universe? At what point do fans of all ages just stop caring?
Once again, impatience enters the picture here through my experience with the fandom. When “Dewey Wins” ended that 164-day hiatus in 2017, a lot of SU fans hated it. A lot of SU fans hated the entire Steven Bomb. We enjoyed it here, as we always do. However, these episodes were the long-awaited follow-up to a story arc involving the main antagonists of the series. Fans wanted immediate follow-up after such a long wait. When instead we got a (very effective) focus on Steven’s friends and family in the aftermath of the danger he faced, it upset people.
This happens a lot now with Steven Universe. All these hiatuses break up the story in a way that kills story flow for a lot of people. It creates even more bitterness when you wait so long for new episodes, only to not have those new episodes focus where you wanted them to.
The Crewniverse is faultless here; they don’t order these episodes based on release schedules they can’t predict. They don’t know that 4 months will pass between the penultimate episode of a season and the finale. When you go back and watch these episodes without the breaks, they flow naturally. All the frustration and complaints about the uneven story don’t apply like you thought they did when they first aired. The episode orders make much more sense. It’s no longer a 6-month wait to find out what happened to Lars. It’s one hour of other episodes you enjoy.
Unfortunately, binge-watching doesn’t work in the moment for anything except shows no longer airing and Netflix. When fans only get 3 hours of content a year, have to wait months in between said content, and don’t feel like the wait is worth it, it encourages us to stop caring until we know something big happened. Until then, why bother watching? This isn’t like other shows that air episodes for 3-4 months and then vanish for a year. Those shows give you 5, 10, 15 hours of content at least. And you know when they’ll come back. There is a consistency.
The problem with waiting comes if the network sees failing interest in Steven Universe because we wait for big moments. Right now, SU seems to be in a pretty good place. It has a movie, a guaranteed new season, and a nice PR push coming out of San Diego Comic Con this year. Back when it happened, it felt like the show was at one of its strongest points. The momentum was greater than we’d seen in a long time.
Then it came to a screeching halt.
I suppose most of my complaints might only exist for geeky adults like me, and not the children Steven Universe exists for. Maybe they don’t care about the breaks. However, that might ultimately be a problem. A kid may enjoy Steven Universe, but kids have short attention spans and plenty of other stuff to entertain them on Cartoon Network or Nickelodeon or the internet. How many kids are going to pay attention to the increasingly inconsistent schedule and be sure to watch new episodes of SU?
Let’s be honest, it is that audience Cartoon Network ultimately and rightfully cares about, not me. That worries me even more as a geeky adult who thinks Steven Universe is one of the best shows currently airing and a strong contender for best animated show ever. I’m not going to insult kids or act like they can’t follow the story because of the breaks. They are perfectly capable of doing so. Thing is, why would they? They have plenty of other options.
Of course, so do adults. With so many other shows to watch, including animated shows, at what point does the erratic scheduling make both kids and adults stop caring and just move on? When do we walk away and wait for the show to end, and then catch up afterwards? And what happens if we endanger Steven Universe in the process? Has the erratic scheduling already begun this process?
You’re left with a question that leads to the old familiar question about what came first, the chicken or the egg. Why does Cartoon Network not only schedule SU this way, but also show so little in the way of reruns? Do they schedule this way because of falling interest, or did interest decline because of the scheduling? Thing is, while certainly not at a high point, the ratings for Steven Universe haven’t exactly fallen off a cliff. It’s still one of the most-watched and best-selling properties Cartoon Network owns.
So why in the world is it scheduled like this? Why are SU fans left in the dark? How long before a dearth of new content ultimately kills the fandom, as a dearth of content inevitably does for any fandom?
So here I am, for the first time, wondering if it is all worth it. I don’t worry that the story will disappoint; the Crewniverse has never let me down here. What I wonder about is bothering with all the frustration involved in being an active fan of Steven Universe. For the first time, I wonder why I invest so much of my love for fiction in a fandom becoming increasingly unpleasant. I wonder whether I really want to pay so much attention to a show airing 2-3 hours of content a year.
Barring unexpectedly bad decisions with the story or characters, I will always love Steven Universe. It’s likely that upon its return, all my reluctance to engage will vanish quicker than Garnet poofed Peridot. Then, of course, it will end. I’ll be right back where I was, waiting months for, at best, 4 or 5 episodes. Now that the questions have begun, I doubt they’ll go away.
So here I am, wondering at what point my answer to the question, “is it worth it?” will eventually shift from yes to no. Many others have already shifted. And I wonder how many more will, and how quickly others like me will follow, leaving one of the best shows I’ve ever seen alone in the vacuum of space: abandoned, cold, and inevitably doomed.
Images Courtesy of Cartoon Network