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Friday’s episodes of ‘Steven Universe Future’ touch on mental health. (Photo provided via Cartoon Network on YouTube)

TV Review: With future vision-like prescience, ‘Steven Universe Future’ explores mental health at a time when audiences need to hear it most

Following a trend of more melancholy episodes as Steven (Zach Callison) struggles with finding his place in the world, Friday’s episodes of Steven Universe Future hit hard, putting forth serious themes and implications that they nonetheless handle with grace.

In “Together Forever,” the now 16-year-old Steven Universe asks his best friend and romantic interest, Connie (Grace Rolek), to marry him, following separate advice from the series’ main two lovebirds: Ruby (Charlyne Yi) and Sapphire (Erica Luttrell), who spend most of their time together as the fusion Garnet (Estelle). His decision is followed by a delightful and jaunty sequence as he prepares for his proposal, culminating in an adorable and sentimental song in which Steven professes his love for Connie, as she watches with literal stars in her eyes.

When he gets to the actual proposal, however, Connie declines. They are, after all, only teenagers.

“Growing Pains” sees Steven at his worst, literally falling apart — and being put back together in mangled, cartoonish shapes — as his last possible idea for what to do with his life, living vicariously through his dreamed marriage with Connie, falls away. Urged by Connie to see a doctor, Steven has an appointment with Dr. Maheswaran (Mary Elizabeth McGlynn) to find out what’s going on with him.

The diagnosis is mostly based on human psychology, namely PTSD, while also throwing in some fascinating tidbits about how being part-gem affects Steven’s anatomy. Having the healing powers of his mother, Pink Diamond (Susan Egan), any physical damage Steven sustained was repaired instantly, but his many close encounters with death and destruction have left a lasting effect on his mind.

This is a lot of seriously heavy stuff to be throwing in a pair of 11-minute cartoons. That’s likely because while Steven Universe Future remains appropriate and accessible to younger audiences (the most vulgar words the teenager utters are “poop” and “butt”), it’s most tailored toward those who were children when the show started in 2013.

As a lot of us are feeling right now, teenagers or not, the world seems upside down. Nearly all of us face mental illness in one form or another, and while we may not actually need to save the world as Steven has, social media has seemingly put the weight of the world on all our shoulders.

But it’s not, not even for Steven. Toward the end of “Together Forever” and “Growing Pains,” respectively, Steven seeks out Garnet and Greg for advice. Neither are able to make Steven’s problems go away, but they offer both gem and human perspective that, at the very least, helps him know he’s not alone.

Two new episodes of Steven Universe Future air Fridays on Cartoon Network at 7 p.m.


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