Methods and Mediums

M&M – “Mr. Greg”

(got my new charger!)

So those of you western animation fans out there probably know that it’s the Summer of Steven – we’ve been treated to a whole host of fantastic episodes from Steven Universe fans. However, as much as I have loved every new story, in today’s post, I want to focus on the show’s first full-musical episode, “Mr. Greg”.

One of Steven Universe‘s strongest points is its masterful storytelling. The staff, fondly known to fans as the crewniverse, are renown for its attention to detail, worldbuilding, pacing, and character development in order to tell a compelling and meaningful narrative filled with themes of love, acceptance, and compassion. The show accomplishes this in spite of its short-form setup, each episode of the show a mere 11 minutes long. Even so, Steven Universe rarely feels rushed or as if its simply ‘telling’ instead of ‘showing’ its story. Each emotional response feels hard-earned instead of forced.

“Mr. Greg” is an episode with one of those hard-earned responses, and it is an episode that could only have been a musical from both a plot and storytelling perspective. Spoiler alert, this episode focuses on Greg Universe (Tom Scharpling) and Pearl’s relationship and how that is affected by their shared romantic love for the late Rose Quartz, the titular character Steven Universe’s mother. In a previous episode “Story for Steven”, it is revealed that Rose’s interest in, and eventual romance with, Greg was a connection forged initially through his musical career. Pearl was always shown to be salty view his music with distaste, not at all subtle of the jealousy affecting her judgement.

Thus, having the episode be fully musical is an effective way to draw attention to the strain in Greg and Pearl’s relationship as well as its eventual resolution. The crewniverse managed to pack seven songs into an 11-minute episode, and each song reveals an element of these two characters relationship, from the gentle acoustic “Don’t Cost Nothing” that might as well be Greg Universe’s theme song to the vaudeville-esque “Mr. Greg” which shows that though the two are capable of getting along, Greg’s attempts are thwarted by emotional landmines that the two have left buried for too long.

In particular, I would like to point out the brilliantly executed solo by Pearl (Deedee Magno-Hall), “It’s Over, Isn’t It?” which was, without a doubt, the highlight piece of the episode.

The gorgeous animation aside, Steven Universe makes full use of a solo to neatly package the extent of Pearl’s grief into two and a half minutes, a feat far more difficult, and arguably impossible, with just straightforward dialogue and action. Furthermore, the musical setup of the entire episode allows for some stylistic choices that may not make sense otherwise. I’ve mentioned in a previous post about the creative license theatre allows for that other mediums might not – say, Pearl singing about her complicated feelings towards her love’s husband at the top of her lungs right by said husband’s room while he’s asleep. It is, in fact, revealed immediately afterwards that this did in fact occur in-story and Greg heard everything she sang, but years of musical storytelling has trained the audience to suspend disbelief in this regard.

Of course, the crewniverse could have decided to go for a normal episode with “It’s Over, Isn’t It” as the only song instead. However, then we would have missed out on Steven’s response and the reconciliation between Greg and Pearl:

Again, the song allows for distinct stylistic choices, and it of course allows for Greg and Pearl to dance together. The thematic role of dance in the lore of Steven Universe has been well-established over the course of three seasons, and it is only natural that this conflict resolves through the communication and understanding of a dance. Furthermore, it allows for Steven as well to make leap over the exposition and cut straight into the emotional undertow of his words – his father and Pearl’s shared grief and love for his mother should be drawing them together, not estranging them.

Furthermore, a fully musical episode allows for the crewniverse to add one of my favorite things about musicals: a reprise!

Notably, in this reprise, Pearl joins in and sings along with Greg’s tune from the start of the episode, which she had so disdained. Having Pearl acknowledge and join into Greg’s music, which she viewed to have won Rose from her, demonstrates the emotional growth that took place over the course of this 11-minute episode.

 

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