Tag Archives: Steven Universe

End of the Cartoon Network Renaissance

Five years ago, in 2014, I wrote an article proclaiming we were in the midst of the Cartoon Network Renaissance. Regular Show and Adventure Time were in their prime, leading the pack of highly entertaining shows along with Steven Universe which had premiered just a year earlier. Toonami had also returned after a five year hiatus bringing back adult-oriented anime. That year, we also saw one of, if not the, best shows on Cartoon Network ever, Over the Garden Wall. It was a far cry from just five years before where Cartoon Network was going through its Dark Age, a time of low quality programs, saturated with live-action shows.

I haven’t given the topic much thought until about a few weeks ago when I saw a huge spike in traffic to my article. What gives? After a quick Google search I found my answer.

The Amazing World of Gumball was ending on June 24th, 2019 after eight years of producing chaotic, super-stylized and entertaining episodes.

And along with this I saw a host of articles proclaiming that the Cartoon Network Renaissance was ending.

And I read all of this and I had to wonder. Well…is it?

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It’s very tempting to say yes to this. After all, when I wrote my first article in 2014, Cartoon Network was at a high. All these diverse shows were providing us with quality entertainment, yes, even Clarence and Uncle Grandpa to an extent (I didn’t care for them but I know they have its fans). And right with them was The Amazing World of Gumball.

But most of those shows are done. And the programs that exploded Cartoon Network back into the limelight and made it fantastic again, Regular Show and Adventure Time, ended in 2017 and 2018 respectively. Once Gumball ends, only Steven Universe and Teen Titans Go! remain from 2014.

I admit, I’m not excited about Cartoon Network as I once was. I look at their current line up and I shrug. When I’m at a hotel, We Bare Bears entertains me fine and OK K.O.! occasionally comes out with some cool stuff (I loved that Ghoul School episode!!) but that’s about it. I don’t find myself religiously watching a show like I do for Regular Show, Adventure Time, and Steven Universe. This is just my opinion.

But I was curious. Is the Cartoon Network Renaissance ending? And if so, how do we know?

To answer this question I looked at all of Cartoon Network’s original programs, both live action and animated, from 1999 to 2019. I used the show’s IMDB ratings (taken in June 2019) as hundreds of people have reviewed these shows making them a good approximate to real world opinions. I also strictly looked at the show’s premiere and finale date for their years as reruns make things too crazy keep track of (plus you’re losing an audience that may be a fan of the show). I also added DC shows that premiered on Cartoon Network as they served a huge part of Cartoon Network’s history (Teen Titans and Justice League, anyone?). I didn’t analyze every show (like Johnny Test) as we would get into complicated territory such as shows produced in other countries. In the end, 81 shows were used to analyze Cartoon Network’s quality from 1999-2019. The results can be seen in the graph below.

Cartoon Network Graph Original

Two sets of analysis was used; one with the average of an entire year’s run and one that only used a year’s top three shows. There are some interesting things to talk about so let’s go through this point by point.

  1. There’s not a clear parallel between the two analyses. In both lines, we see a drop in program quality starting in 2004 but the Top Three eventually came back up and was inline with early-2000’s level of programs. However, the Whole Set never recovered to its early levels and stayed far below it with a few ups and downs. This is telling me that audiences found the overall quality of modern Cartoon Network shows to be inferior to the overall quality of shows from its heyday. However, the Top Three had modern programs that were on par, if not better, than shows from the early 2000s. That means people find these shows fun, enjoyable, and entertaining to watch despite Cartoon Network’s overall low quality.
  2. 2009 was one of Cartoon Network’s worst years. That huge drop for The Whole Set in 2009 is no fluke. This was the height of the super abysmal live action shows that CN was pumping out. Destroy Build Destroy has a 2 rating, The Othersiders a 3.5, Brainrush a 3.5, Bobb’e Says 9, and the worst one out of the whole set, Dude, What Would Happen, had 1.7! Three of these shows (Bobb’e, Brainrush, and Othersiders) only lived during 2009. Meanwhile, you have a lack of high quality shows that populate the network as Grim Adventures and Codename had just ended while Regular Show and Adventure Time wouldn’t premiere until the following 2010. This was not a good year for CN…
  3. 2019 is so far looking okay. Overall, June 2019 is below average compared to the other years (6.36 and 8.17 vs. 6.79 and 8.29, respectively). It’s rating for both overall quality and Top Three is only above four other years. It’s not awful but it’s certainly not great. The loss of Regular Show and Adventure Time have already hurt Cartoon Network’s quality.

As of this writing, the Amazing World of Gumball is at 8.2 making it second place of the 2019 as of June 2019, just behind Steven Universe at 8.3. If nothing else changes, 2020 will continue the downward trend that started in 2017. Thankfully, we may not have to worry about this as Cartoon Network might be getting a much deserved adrenaline shot.

Premiering this year is Mao Mao: Heroes of Pure Heart and Infinity Train. Both of these were well received for their pilots and both are already drawing eager fans ready to watch new and exciting shows. Of the two, I have my money on Infinity Train as its “anything goes” attitude harkens back to Adventure Time’s fun randomness. If they deliver the goods, we might see a renewed interest in Cartoon Network.

Which brings me back to the big question; is the Cartoon Network Renaissance answering? Let’s look at the graph one more time before I answer it.

Cartoon Network Graph Edited

If you were to divide Cartoon Network’s history into four periods it would be the Classic Age, the Golden Age, The Dark Age, and the Renaissance. Now, in my opinion, there’s not really a strict beginning or end to these eras as they flow into one and another. It’s very similar to real life as the Renaissance didn’t start with one year but gradually and over time. So strict years of when these ages start and end are debatable but it may go something like this.

The Classic Age started in 1992 featuring reruns of classic cartoons from Warner Brothers, Hannah-Barbera, and Pop Eye. However, original programming became more and more prevalent starting with CN’s first big hit, Dexter’s Laboratory, in 1996. Following Dexter’s premiere was Johnny Bravo, Cow and Chicken, I am Weasel, and The Powerpuff Girls in 1997 and 1998.

But the Golden Age, in my opinion, didn’t truly start until 1999 with the premiere of Ed, Edd n Eddy, Courage the Cowardly Dog, and Mike, Lu & Og along with the highly popular, weekly event, Cartoon Cartoon Fridays. Toonami was also going 100 mph with its acclaimed, action-oriented shows, introducing anime to million of North American kids including myself. Without Toonami, anime wouldn’t be anywhere near as popular in the U.S.

The Golden Age continued strongly until the early 2000s even when some of its original shows were canceled. Amazing DC shows began premiering on Cartoon Network like Justice League and Teen Titans. You also see other shows make their mark during this era such as Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy, Kids Next Door, and Megas XLR. Genndy Tartarkovsky also created two of his most acclaimed series ever, Samurai Jack, and Star Wars: Clone Wars (not to be confused with the 3d incarnation of the series) during this time.

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Still one of my favorite shows on Cartoon Network.

Unfortunately, all good things come to an end and so too did the Golden Age. Most of the original shows from the 90’s ended or were ending and the shows that replaced them were not as groundbreaking or as lovable. Additionally, Cartoon Cartoon Fridays finished with a whimper with live-action hosts replacing their cartoon counterparts before finally ending in 2007. Toonami had also seen its first cancelation in 2008 due to low ratings and some questionable choices.

Possibly the worst decision that Cartoon Network ever did was producing live actions shows on its network which confounds me. Why…would you ever…show live action shows…on a network dedicated to cartoons???? It makes no sense! And oooooh boy. They really dropped the ball here. Quite a few of their live action shows were just abysmal. Additionally, cartoons did not escape this curse as some were incredibly low quality like Problem Solverz with 1.9 and Secret Mountain Fort Awesome with 3.5.

As such, I put the Dark Age starting at 2006 when the average quality of the shows decreased to a point that Cartoon Network never fully recovered from. Megas XLR and Star Wars: Clone Wars were the last high quality shows in the Golden Age that kept CN afloat until they ended in 2005. The original Powerpuff Girls also ended in 2005 leaving just Ed, Edd n Eddy as the original Cartoon Cartoon Fridays cartoons standing.

Cartoon Network started recovering in 2010 when a series of new, high quality, shows were released that year. I’m talking about Regular Show, and Adventure Time, of course, but we also had Young Justice and Sym-Bionic Titan picking up the slack. Unfortunately, despite the uptick in average ratings in 2010, the early 2010’s were still on the low side. It wasn’t until 2014 that the overall ratings crept back up again and we saw a nice spread of diverse (and at least decent) shows.  As such, from 2010 to 2018, I divided the Renaissance Era into an early and late period with 2014 serving as the halfway point as 2013 ended the last live action shows.  Cartoon Network shook off the last of its awkward phase and went back to basics of what made the channel amazing.

Now, at this time, I place Renaissance ending in 2018 as that’s when Adventure Time ended. It’s only befitting that Adventure Time, which started in 2010 and kicked off the channel’s revival, also ends this time period. 2019’s quality, so far, has suggest that we are heading into a gradual decline in quality. Perhaps not as steep as we saw in the mid-2000’s, but a decline nonetheless. The Renaissance looks done.

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But keep in mind, I’m looking at this from a very limited perspective. I did not look at the complete catalogue of Cartoon Network’s shows nor did I take into account Adult Swim and Toonami’s effect on the channel. And streaming is taking off in a big way so maybe we should start looking at streaming numbers that determine a show’s popularity. Not only that, we also have the online-only cartoons like Villainous that are becoming more and more popular. We’re scratching the surface of Cartoon Network’s quality and history.

And who’s to say the Renaissance is truly done? In five years time, I might be singing a different tune and place the ending at a different time. Maybe I would continue to extend it further and further into the future. After all Mao Mao premiered tonight and its receiving some glowing reviews! It also has a score of 8.5 right now on IMDB! That makes it the highest rated show of 2019 and puts it 6th out of 82 shows on my list! And Steven Universe is still kicking with its movie and additional season! Perhaps they will usher in…not another Golden Age…but a Silver Age?

Yeah, I like that. Silver Age. We look fondly on the past but things change, sometimes for the better. And as long as Cartoon Network does NOT bring back anymore live action shows, I’m looking forward to what else they may have in store for us.

What do you think? Do you agree with my thoughts? Looking forward to your comments!

How “Fringe” can Hint to the Future of “Steven Universe”

Two shows. One is a live-action, cult hit, drama-oriented show starring three protagonists and their adventures into the slightly strange along with the occasional drug trip. The second is an ongoing, animated show starring a boy, his three alien mentors, and their adventures in the fantastical along with the occasional song. These two shows, Fringe and Steven Universe, are so different from each other that making parallels or comparisons between the two would be difficult if not nonsensical.

Yet both of them have a strong focus on parenting and in particular, Fringe deals with fatherhood while Steven Universe concentrations on motherhood. I want to dive in to how both of these shows deal with their respective parent and discuss if the now ended Fringe can tell us the future of the still ongoing Steven Universe.

Let’s start with Fringe. Fringe’s attitude and theme towards fatherhood is at first quite subtle. Our main source is Peter and his dad Walter who are two of the three main protagonists of the show. Season One focused greatly on Peter and Walter amending their very rocky relationship which culminated to Peter finding a newfound love and respect for Walter. As the series progressed, new fatherly relationships are expanded on such as Astrid Figglesworth’s uneasy relationship with her dad and Olivia being abused by her step-father when she was a child. The big kicker though comes in the reveal that Peter is from an alternate universe and Walter kidnapped him when he was a child when his Peter died. This catalyzed most of the series’ events including one of the show’s main antagonists, Walternate, or the Walter from the alternate universe, and his quest to get his son back. Super trippy and balls awesome, yes, but it does highlight the lengths both Walters had to go through in order to save their son. Fatherhood was ratcheted up a notch in the final season (and this was when my roommate and I noticed its prevalence) when Peter went to great lengths to avenge his daughter’s death and September was willing to sacrifice his life for his son Michael. It was also the season where Walter sacrificed his life for his son Peter in a very bittersweet ending. This article does a great job summarizing Peter and Water’s relationship and I highly suggest you read it if you are a Fringe fan.

Steven Universe’s themes of motherhood are starkly more apparent than Fringe’s initial dip into fatherhood. First off, Steven basically has three moms and a dad that we only see every four episodes or so. Steven’s own mom also gave up her existence to bare her child and to symbolize her love for Steven’s dad, Greg. Season 2 has also been giving us a lot of great mom episodes involving Connie’s mom, Sadie’s mom, and, of all people, Onion’s mom. Already, we have seen themes of nurturing (Onion’s mom), protection (Connie’s mom), and encouragement (Sadie’s mom) that make up a big part of motherhood. I wouldn’t be surprised if we get more mom episodes in the future from other supporting characters along with a more detailed look at Steven’s mom, Rose Quartz, and her love for Greg.

Okay, so is there a connection between these two, vastly different shows’ approach towards parenthood? Well, there is but both of them handle it differently.   Boiling down plot elements to their purest form, we see a strong sense of sacrifice from both mothers and fathers. As mentioned before, the fathers in Fringe go to great lengths to avenge, protect, or preserve their offspring from harm no matter what the costs. In Steven Universe, Rose Quartz sacrificed her life to bare Steven while the Crystal Gems defend and protect Steven even if they are harmed during the process.

Now granted, Steven Universe is still an ongoing and continuously evolving show so we have yet to witness the full potential of it. This idea of sacrifice may play out more or there may be other themes of motherhood that would be touched on instead (like the aforementioned nurturing, encouragement, and protection). Nonetheless, Fringe could give us a clue into the future of Steven Universe, a future where things aren’t as rosy as they currently are.

As situations will likely become dire, we should expect the characters on Steven Universe to make tough decisions that would ultimately change the current standing of the show. This show is not afraid to challenge familiar tropes and the status quo. Other Cartoon Network shows, mainly Adventure Time and somewhat Regular Show, have done the same thing to their setting and characters and it’s not surprising that Steven Universe is already doing it despite its still young lifespan. Likewise, Fringe is similar in to Steven Universe due to its plot setup, its embracement of the untypical trope situations, and how every season is unique due to dire changes that happened at the end of the previous season. What I’m saying is that Steven Universe is changing and will continue to surprise us in ways we won’t expect, the days of status quo continuity, as seen in Powerpuff Girls, Dexter’s Laboratory, and Ed, Edd, and Eddy, are long and forgotten.

First off, if we were to be directly inspired by Fringe, there might be a global invasion of Homeworld Gems. If the Cluster, whatever that is, does not work out. Yellow Diamond may take it upon herself to call a massive invasion onto Earth, and establish a matriarchy on the planet. Steven’s home could be destroyed, his city would be forced into curfew, and Homeworld Soldiers would patrol the streets looking for him and the Crystal Gems. This happened in the final season of Fringe when the Observers took over the protagonists’ universe and basically established a fascist patriarchy. This comparison between the Observers and the Homeworld Gems is not farfetched as they are characterized by their mysterious nature, their power, and their preference towards one particular gender. Both forces were hinted at since near the beginning of their respective shows and we’re only given teases and glimpses into their world as their series continued. And now, it will only be a matter of time before the Homeworld Gems make their true, and world-shattering entrance.

As fan theories go, this one is kind of out there so if you were looking for something easier to swallow I present you with this. Fringe’s final season was intense with emotion, action, and payoff. Steven Universe will likely emulate this on both the positive and negative notes. If sacrifice does come into play in the show’s final moments, we will likely see some of our favorite characters pass away (and not just reborn) for the protection and preservation of Steven.

While Fatherhood, both in Fringe and in general, may be categorized by bravery, morality, and wisdom and Motherhood may be categorized by the aforementioned nurturing, protection, and encouragement, both are ultimately link in self-sacrifice. What lengths would any good Father or Mother go to in order to preserve their child? Fringe knows this and embraces this. Steven Universe will likely go the same path. Pearl loves Rose Quartz and her child Steven. Pearl has sacrificed herself so many times in order to protect Rose. Whose to say that she won’t do it again but this time, end her life permanently by doing so? What effect will this have on Steven’s psyche when that time comes?

Perhaps Steven will become hardened by his loss and take on the role of both a father and a mother figure to the rest of his family and friends. We saw a glimpse of this in the premiere of season 2 when he tried to shut Connie away from his troubles. He wants to protect those he love. If a true tragic loss were to occur, he may go more extreme than this and take on a role similar to Peter when his daughter died in the final Fringe season. If that were to occur, he’ll need Connie, similar to Peter’s significant other Olivia, to pull him back and embrace his true humanity, once again.

The Cartoon Network Renaissance

Up until about two years ago, I wasn’t watching Cartoon Network.  I mean, besides from Adult Swim, I had no interest in their daytime programs.

This changed over the 2012 summer when I was barraged with Cartoon Network’s 25th anniversary ads at San Diego Comic Con.  My girlfriend had also forced me to watch Adventure Time during this period.

Though I found Adventure Time appealing it was Regular Show that reeled me back into Cartoon Network.

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There was a period during Cartoon Network’s history that many people refer as the “Golden Age of Cartoon Network.”  Though when these years started and ended can vary from person to person, the Cartoon Network wiki puts this age from 1996 (when Dexter’s Lab premiered) to 2004 (when the live action hosts replaced the cartoon hosts on Cartoon Cartoon Fridays and when Samurai Jack ended).  Many of Cartoon Network’s most famous shows premiered during this timeframe including Powerpuff Girls, Courage the Cowardly Dog, and Ed, Edd n Eddy.

Cartoon Cartoon Fridays was living it large as it took Friday nights and celebrated them.  This was not like your Saturday morning cartoons, no, these cartoons interacted with each other and hosted segments!  Toonami was at its peak during this time and I dare say it was one of the main reasons why a young generation of American kids got into anime.  That’s how good it was.

But times change.

As the years progressed, shows were syndicated and canceled, blocks were moved around or disappeared altogether, and live action shows became more and more common for CN.  Many people refer to this era (including the wiki) as the “Dark Ages.”  Many fan articles and videos are filled with hatred and disgust while discussing this era of Cartoon Network.

Image from http://themetapicture.com/r-i-p-cartoon-network/. It's very easy to find internet art despising new Cartoon Network.  This image made me laugh because what are Hannah Barbara cartoons doing there?  It's so funny it has to be a parody of the fan hate.

Image from http://themetapicture.com/r-i-p-cartoon-network/.
It’s very easy to find internet art despising new Cartoon Network. This image made me laugh because what are Hannah Barbara cartoons doing there? It’s so funny that it has to be a parody of the fan hate.

But what about now?

On April 5th, 2010, Adventure Time premiered on Cartoon Network after first becoming a viral hit on Nickelodeon’s “Random! Cartoons.”  Later that year, Regular Show premiered on September 6th, 2010.

As I said before, I didn’t watch Cartoon Network until about two years ago.  By then, these two shows had developed a dedicated fan base (especially for Adventure Time).  Memes and jokes from these shows circulated the internet like a slow moving turtle.  By the time I sat down and watched them they had already become CN’s most popular shows.

Why?  Why do these two shows work?

The first thing that comes to my mind is that they are not annoying nor do they talk down to the audience.  The second thing is that they are original and feel fresh.  You could argue that Adventure Time’s motif of simple randomness has been done countless times before but I think not.  Behind Adventure Time’s random nature are deep storylines that connect loosely from episode to episode.  Actions have meaning behind them.  Actions have consequences.  We see both of these aspects as the series progress.

Regular Show though is on the opposite side of this spectrum.  While Adventure Time relies on child-like logic in a fantastical world, Regular Show relies on adult (albeit slacker)-like logic in a seemingly normal world.  Never have I seen a general audience cartoon hit on so many real world issues in a believable character setting (this is most true for the romantic episodes, especially in “I Like You Hi”).

Because of these two shows approach to hit a wide as audience as possible, Cartoon Network has seen an unbelievable success with them with both shows averaging between 2 to 3 million views an episode.  The success of these two shows brought with them four other moderately successful shows; The Amazing World of Gumball, Uncle Grandpa, Steven Universe, and Clarence.  All six of these shows (with the exception of Steven Universe which has yet to finish airing season 1) have been nominated or won various animated awards including the Emmys.

All six of these shows (with others on the side) remind me of the “Golden Age of Cartoon Network.”  Not only are they creative and well animated but they are diverse as well.  There’s a show that can appeal to anyone whether you like fantastical adventures, pop culture references, spontaneity humor, or well developed characters.  These are cartoons that anyone can seriously enjoy.

Sure, Cartoon Cartoon Fridays may be gone and all our old favorites may be on another channel but I say the “Dark Ages” are gone.  Cartoon Network is experiencing its own Renaissance right now.  And though you could view this as just a slight improvement where it once was several years ago, I say otherwise.  It’s a good time to be watching cartoons on Cartoon Network.

And hey, “Toonami is back bitches.”

Image from http://xeternalflamebryx.deviantart.com/art/Cartoon-Network-Never-One-Moment-440621220 This image has no bearing to the article I just stumbled upon it and I found it quite funny, yay for all the straight men/women!