Steven Universe is one of the most popular and acclaimed cartoons on television, but showrunner Rebecca Sugar isn’t shy about admitting she would have changed some things had she known what she does now about developing a TV series.
Sugar told Polygon that while she doesn’t have any regrets with how the show has developed or the decisions they made to get to this point, she’s learned quite a bit in the past few years.
“When I think about the way I would do things differently if I were to do it now, I don’t necessarily feel regret but I’m excited to know that I’ve changed and grown as an artist and a person. I put that toward everything I’m saying in the moment on the show and everything that I want to say in the future.”
One aspect of the series that Sugar is most proud of is how the creative team has managed to balance the more emotionally driven episodes with the fun and charming ones that brought people to Steven Universe in the first place. Sugar said while she acknowledged there can’t be too much of either in a season, there’s a moment of magic that happens when they get it just right.
“I think about this a lot when we’re writing and I feel like I always want those things to have equal weight,” Sugar said. “The show is about humanity. As exciting as it is to do stories about bombastic space adventures, those stories are grounded in humanity. So when we manage to tell stories about real human feelings that come even close to what that is, in the moments when we’ve been the most successful, those two aspects of the show have had equal weight.”
Steven Universe is no stranger to emotion. Episodes like “Lion 3: Straight to Video,” which focuses on the love Steven’s mother, Rose, has for her son and the special connection they have, are also some of the most revered by audiences. Sugar said that a series like Steven Universe is supposed to feel emotional and personal as all art should. The creator added that while she doesn’t feel the need to distance herself from the more emotional storylines, she does find herself experiencing cathartic moments because of it.
“It is cathartic at times, but it’s also just necessary,” Sugar said. “I feel like all art should be coming from somewhere, so you can either face that and learn from it or ignore that and hope you get it right by accident. I’d rather look at what I’m making, learn about myself and lean into the why of what I’m trying to say.”
With a fifth season underway and an Emmy nomination secured, Steven Universe isn’t going away anytime soon ... but it will one day end. Some television creators approach their shows with a solid understanding of how the show will end, while others like to see where the journey takes them.
For Sugar, there’s no question of how the show will end. Sugar admits that part of running a TV show is understanding where the character is going and embracing changes that you may not have seen coming otherwise but, for the most part, she’s very aware of how Steven’s arc will end.
“Everything in Steven Universe is seen through Steven’s eyes, so the show ends when his journey is complete,” Sugar said. “That’s still a long way away, though. I’m very happy to play in this world for as long as I can.”
Steven Universe doesn’t have a set schedule, but its most recent episodes, the first four of the show’s fifth season, aired in May.