TV Features

Thank You for Everything, "Steven Universe"

What to say about a cartoon that's given us so much...

Cartoon Network

Here we are in the future, and it's been one wild ride.

With its many landmark episodes featuring diversity, mental health, and representation, Steven Universe has proven to be one of the most thoughtful and inclusive shows on TV.

The show has officially reached its conclusion in the final episodes of Steven Universe Future, wherein the eponymous Steven is undergoing some severe growing pains. With the series having come to a close, there's no better time for fans to express how grateful we are for all that it's done. Personally, even though it's a children's cartoon, Steven Universe has meant so much to me in my adult years. Series creator Rebecca Sugar and their team consistently used the show as a vehicle for inclusion, and its timely messages have made me feel seen and heard like no other show before it. Watching Steven Universe has truly been a life-changing experience for its viewers, and all we can do is thank the show for everything it gave us.

Now, where to start?

Steven and Connie's fusion is a firm representation for the transgender experience.Cartoon Network


Thank you for giving us Stevonnie

In a show that consistently blurs the line between gendered constructs, Stevonnie is the perfect representation of Steven Universe's ideals. As a physical fusion of Steven and his female friend Connie, they are a being that transcends the concept of gender to begin with. They're a confident presence and a wonderful role model for trans people. They're also heroic, valiant, and capable of exploring their identity in healthy and productive ways.

In Stevonnie's debut episode, "Alone Together," Stevonnie tests the waters of their new form by interacting with Steven's friends and family and going out for a night on the town. They explore their new identity, ask themselves questions, and become more informed of who they are through conversations with others. Stevonnie is a prominent example of intersex representation, and their ongoing development allows them to further understand what being Stevonnie—and beyond the gender binary—means.

(Personally, I'll always appreciate Steven Universe for giving me outlets like Stevonnie to help me understand my gender identity. One year, for New York Comic Con, I even cosplayed as Stevonnie. It felt so right to embody someone whose gender exploration very nearly lined up with my own, and it's a cosplay I'll always be proud to have worn.)

Ruby and Sapphire stand at the altar Few children's shows have been as bold as to show a marriage like this.Cartoon Network


Thank you for the lovely lesbian wedding

Too many other shows conflate LGBTQ+ storylines with "mature content." For the longest time, audiences, especially younger LGBTQ+ ones in the process of finding their identities, couldn't get that kind of representation in any show without at least a TV-14 rating. But there's no reason that two people getting married, regardless of gender, needs to be portrayed as "mature," and Steven Universe's marriage between two women completely shatters any argument to the contrary.

When Garnet, the Crystal Gems' leader, was revealed to be a fusion, we learned that her strength and wisdom come from the love between the two Gems who comprise her. To that end, Ruby and Sapphire's wedding is nothing short of iconic. The entire episode was reserved to let these two hopelessly-in-love gems to join each other in matrimony. As every character prepared for the wedding, the show celebrated an unabashed on-screen marriage in a show that's accessible to everyone. Once upon a time, it was unthinkable for a children's show to display a scene like this. Steven Universe shining an enormous spotlight on their pride sets a new bar for other shows to do the same in the future.

Lars mans the register at his own bakery Lars is one of few prominent Filipino characters in media today.Cartoon Network


Thank you for all the diverse racial representation

Between the show's characters and its real-life voice cast, Steven Universe has never shied away from diverse racial representation. People of color proudly fill a cast as colorful as, well, gemstones, as they work to illustrate a world as diverse as ours.

I, for one, am especially proud of all the Filipinix personalities. From Filipina voice actors like Deedee Magno Hall and Shelby Rabara as major characters Pearl and Peridot respectively to the quick reference to Lars' heritage when he made an ube roll, seeing my own culture receive such enormous visibility made me validated and happy.

Garnet and Stevonnie meditate The show has often presented itself as an outlet for emotional and mental health.Cartoon Network


Thank you for the guidelines on managing emotional health

The characters in Steven Universe experience a lot of hardships. Whether it be PTSD, struggles with growing up, or any form of dysphoria, the Crystal Gems are almost always dealing with some heavy emotional baggage. Steven Universe Future displays this prominently, as Steven himself struggles with the many ongoing changes in his life and has to work through both the physical and mental trauma that he's collected over the years. His growing powers are synced up to his turbulent emotional states, resulting in outbursts that cause more damage than he expects.

But rather than offering a simple solution to everyone's complex problems, Steven Universe prioritizes ways of working through them in our daily lives. Songs like "Here Comes a Thought" and arcs where even the show's most stoic characters become emotionally vulnerable are perfect examples of how this cartoon portrays healthy coping mechanisms. It never tries to be a one-stop shop for emotional recovery, nor does it try to limit anyone's trauma to a solitary explanation. Steven Universe simply states that your struggles are valid and that you can work through them.

Steven accepts a celebratory bouquet Celebrating every single one of the show's accomplishment's is no easy task.Cartoon Network

Simply speaking, it's impossible to overstate the kind of pillar Steven Universe has become for important social concepts and marginalized communities. So as we reach the show's long-deserved conclusion, expressing heartfelt gratitude will need to suffice.

Thank you for all the memorable characters and heartfelt moments. Thanks to Rebecca Sugar and their fellow creators for introducing us to this world. Thank you for everything you've done, Steven Universe. Thank you for being bold and groundbreaking, from beginning to end.

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2020 is on fire.

From the COVID-19 pandemic to the racist police epidemic to freaking murder hornets, let's just throw 2020 out. Yes, the entire year.

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Have you ever been reading up about a true crime case, only to discover that something about it seems familiar—and then suddenly you realize that it's because you watched a variant of the case on Criminal Minds?

Or maybe you never knew that Criminal Minds, the iconic crime show that's ending for good on February 19th, bases a lot of its cases on real-life events. That's how the show wants it. "I don't want anyone who was actually involved in it (the crime) to ever know," said executive producer and writer Ed Bernero, explaining why he and his team typically obscure the details of the real crimes that inspire the shows. "So we start out with a kernel of what's a real case, and then we try to make it so different that nobody who was actually involved in it ever would know."

Despite their dedication to glossing over real events, the show's actors, writers, and production team have to sift through a multitude of real materials to create an accurate depiction of the Behavioral Analysis Unit's experiences. "I got bulletproof windows. Hell, yeah, I did," said Paget Brewster, who plays Agent Emily Prentiss on the show. "I started reading those FBI books, and they are rough. We're not at all showing what people are capable of, not on television. You couldn't put it on television, the things that are done to victims and their bodies afterwards. It's appalling and burns into your brain. I had a good couple of weeks where I didn't sleep so well ... And it does affect you. Knowing the inside look that we get, just having access to FBI material is disturbing."

Sometimes, though, the writers use all this research to go further, making explicit plotlines and creating narratives that mirror real (and often very dark) events. Here are 10 episodes of Criminal Minds based on real crimes.

1. The Thirteenth Step

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The 13th episode of season 6 finds the BAU venturing out west, hunting a murderous couple named Sydney Manning and Raymond Donovan. The couple was based on real-life lovebirds Charles Starkweather and Caril Anne Fugate, who killed 11 people in 1958 and inspired the infamous films Natural Born Killers and Badlands.

Charles Starkweather was 19 when he and his 14-year-old girlfriend went on the killing spree that made them famous, which began when Starkweather shot and killed Fugate's mother, stepmother and two-year-old sister. Contrary to the romantic narratives in Natural Born Killers and Badlands, Fugate may not have been a loving accomplice; she later told the jury that Starkweather had told her he was holding her family hostage and forced her to help him with his crimes. But she was given a life sentence in prison because of the fact that she had many opportunities to escape and had failed to do so, and she also directly helped Starkwater kill some of his other victims.

2. Our Darkest Hour and the Longest Night

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The finale of season 5 and the first episode of season 6 take place during a series of blackouts in Los Angeles, and the primary unsub (unspecified subject in a law enforcement investigation) in the episode—known as "The Prince of Darkness"—has been raping and killing victims during blackouts for 26 years. His activities are based on the career of Richard Ramirez, also known as the "Night Stalker," who raped and killed thirteen victims and tortured a dozen more in the 1980s. The fictional Criminal Minds villain and the real-life Ramirez both tortured and killed adults but did not hurt children, and they both hunted only at night in Los Angeles.

3. To Hell… And Back

Another two-part episode, "To Hell" and "And Back" are two of the more disturbing Criminal Minds episodes of all time, which is saying a lot. The episodes follow the BAU as they investigate a case wherein a serial killer who targets the homeless, prostitutes, and junkies feeds their bodies to pigs on his farm. In the Criminal Minds episode, the killer is actually two people—a mentally disabled killer and his quadriplegic brother who is experimenting on victims' bodies in order to try to find a cure. This fictional case is based on a killer named Robert Pickton, a real-life pig farmer who preyed on vulnerable members of society in the nineties and in some cases, actually fed their bodies to his pigs. Pickton often hosted huge, thousand-person raves in a converted slaughterhouse on his farm, and people who attended these parties would sometimes go missing, though one of his victims had to escape in order for authorities to connect the cases to Pickton. Horrifyingly, Pickton may have mixed human flesh with pork and sold it to local markets. He may have killed somewhere from 26 to 49 women.

4. The Tribe

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The sixteenth episode of season 1 finds the BAU seeking out a pack of killers as they try to frame a group of Native American tribes for murder. Eventually, the BAU figures out that the actual tribe is a group of white killers who are attempting to create racial hatred against Native Americans. This is based on the actions of none other than Charles Manson, whose murderous "Family" was inspired by his desire to begin a race war between whites and blacks (which Manson referred to as "Helter Skelter").

5. Minimal Loss

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In episode 3 of season 4, the team goes undercover to examine allegations of child abuse at a cult compound. They discover a cult leader named Benjamin Cyrus, who has named himself the Messiah and married a teenage girl. When police raid the compound, Cyrus blows up a rig of dynamite, killing law enforcement officials and cult members alike.

This case (and its brutal end) is based on the real-life story of David Koresh, the leader of the Branch Davidians, a cult based out of Waco, Texas. The Davidians had already been kicked out of Shepherd's Rod, a sect that in turn had been kicked out of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. During his time as leader, Koresh abused children and kept his cult members trapped. At one point, an FBI raid of the compound ended in a massive fire (though it's unclear as to what actually started the fire), and Koresh was found inside, having been shot by his second-in-command.

6. Alpha Male

CBS

Many of the killers on Criminal Minds are motivated by deep insecurities about their masculinity, and this episode's perpetrator is no different. The episode follows a murderous, misogynistic man who takes out his anger at not being in a relationship by spraying women with battery acid. It was based on a real-life killer named Eliot Roger, who murdered six people in a spree in Isla Vista, California as part of a "day of retribution" meant to punish women who had previously rejected his advances.

7. Ashes & Dust

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Season 2's nineteenth episode follows an arsonist as he sets a series of deadly fires. The unsub turns out to be Vincent Stiles, who has been killing the families of wealthy corporate developers building on the same contaminated land. In the show, his actions are linked to Earth Defense Front, which is likely based on the Earth Liberation Front, an environmental organization active in the 1970s that set fire to places like ski lodges to draw attention to the urgency of global action on environmental issues. However, in the episode, the killer winds up murdering several people, whereas in real life the Earth Liberation Front's efforts never had any human casualties.

Stiles was inspired by real-life killer Paul Kenneth Keller, an arsonist whose crimes were also likely spurred on by his divorce. Keller was convicted of setting over 107 fires in the 1970s, which resulted in the deaths of three people, though he was not connected to the Earth Liberation Front or the environmental movement in any form.

8. Natural Born Killer

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Season 1's eighth episode follows a mob hitman who turns out to be a serial killer. The unsub, Vincent Perotta, is an extremely sadistic psychopath who kills over 100 people in horrifying manners and at one point feeds a body to flesh-eating rats. In the episode, he holds an undercover cop hostage, sending the BAU on the trail.

Perotta is based on the serial killer Richard Kuklinski, a mafia hitman active in the 1980s who ultimately took credit for hundreds of murders, though he may have embellished the details of many of them. (Like his fictional counterpart, Kuklinski claimed he fed bodies to flesh-eating rats, though there's doubt as to whether these sorts of rats actually exist). Kuklinski was nicknamed "The Iceman" by law enforcement, was known as "the devil himself" among his fellow hitmen, and was notorious for the graphically violent nature of his murders, which holds true for the Criminal Minds killer.

9. 25 to Life

CBS

The eleventh episode in season 6 tells the story of Dr. Don Sanderman, who is 25 years into serving a life sentence for a crime he insists that he didn't commit. Sanderson is set to be released, but he's then arrested for murder. The BAU's investigation reveals that Sanderman was being framed by a trio who actually killed his family, one of whom has killed the other two members of the trio in order to keep them quiet.

The actual story that inspired this tale is a little bit different—the opposite, you might say. In 1970, an army surgeon named Jeffrey MacDonald was convicted of killing his two daughters and pregnant wife. However, he told the police that his family was killed by a group of hippies chanting "Acid is groovy, kill the pigs." The hippies were most likely taking acid and chanting about peace and love, though, for forensic evidence on the scene proved that MacDonald had indeed murdered his family and staged an invasion.

10. The Big Wheel

NBC Chicago

The 22nd episode of the 4th season tells the story of a suspect named Vincent Rowlings, who scrawls "help me" in red lipstick on the walls of his victims' homes.

Rowlings is based off of the "Lipstick Killer," a man named William Heirens. In 1946, the then-18-year-old killer was linked to three murders, and at one murder scene, he wrote, "For heaven's sake catch me before I kill again I cannot control myself" in lipstick on the walls. Heirens died at age 83 in a Chicago prison, and after 65 years behind bars, he was reportedly Chicago's longest-serving prisoner (and he maintained his innocence for all that time).