Steven Universe Review: "Frybo" (Season 1A, Episode 5)

This is one of the reasons why I don’t trust fast food mascots. Except for Jack Box. He is awesome personified.

Airdate: November 18th, 2013

Synopsis: After rescuing his jeans from the negative effects of a Gem Shard – used to animate articles of clothing, amongst other inanimate objects. – Steven goes into town. There, he meets up with Peedee Fryman, a disillusioned fast food mascot man working for his father’s fry business. Feeling sympathy for Fryman Jr, he takes the gem shard and animates the costume. Unfortunately, the effects don’t include “sell more fries” as much as it does “attack the patrons.”

Review: Over the past four episodes, Steven has established himself as one of the most idealistic characters to ever make his mark on TV. He’s warm, affable, and does things such as make breakfast for his guardians/roommates/whatever-they-are-at-this-point. Satisfied with his lot in life, his largest desire (so far, at least) is that he wants to be more involved with the Crystal Gems and their various adventures. His largest flaws, thus far, are his naiveté and inexperience. His idealism would make him fit right in amongst, say, the Bartlet administration.

So, just to emphasize how optimistic he is, let’s pair him up with Peedee Fryman, a character so nihilistic, he gives the Underwood administration a run for its money. Oh, and also, have Steven’s idealistic viewpoint deconstructed to the point where his actions help damage a small business.

Steven Universe is set in the archetypical beach town. At first, you would think that it was the idealistic small town – local businesses are the norm, rather than the exception. (Contrast with Long Island, which seems dominated by 7-Eleven stores.) However, in a way, this episode examines that, in some small businesses, entire families have to aid in the business. That, combined with a rather aloof father, has led to Peedee getting his taste in the food industry.

And oh, god, it has aged him.

If I took Peedee’s quotes out of context, you would swear they came from a depressed middle-aged man worn out by his experience in the blue-collar job. He’s 12. At most. Yes, a twelve-year-old has been worn down by his family and their business so much, it’s almost disturbing. It’s also implied that he’s been at this for years. He never really had a childhood, and if he did, it was ground into dust by his experiences in the business, his less-than-cooperative family, and all that.

Contrast to Steven, who’s relative childishness is actually examined… complete with drawbacks. Over the past few episodes, it seems like Steven has had a reasonably good childhood – he has family and friends that love him, and he has the most idealistic view of everything. He tried his damnedest to help everybody, no matter what their situations entail. And, let’s be honest here, that is a very admirable trait.

Unfortunately, this has had more than it’s fair share of faults, and this episode examines one particular problem. Due to his lack of experience (and knowledge) with Gem concepts, he uses his powers to aid Peedee in his depression – sticking the Gem Shard into the costume, giving it the power to do whatever, and giving Peedee some time off. The problem here is that he seemed to ignore Pearl’s explanation of the ill effects of using said shard. It doesn’t end well.

Speaking of which, Frybo is creepy as all hell. We’re talking about a mascot for a small-town fast-food joint that already looks creepy, coming to life, attacking the patrons, and bleeding ketchup. Yes, the living costume bleeds ketchup. That’s… quite disturbing. (Before you ask, no, I don’t eat ketchup on a regular basis. Sorry if you do.)

I think that Frybo was supposed to be a send-up of Ronald McDonald and the Burger King, uh, King, who used to appear in commercials targeted towards kids way back in the 70s. For example, when the popularity of Disco was at its apex (read, was just about to implode stateside), the Burger King starred in a commercial where he helped a bunch of schoolchildren set up their school disco, took them to BK after all was said and done, and also watched as some guy frustrated with the fact that he can’t dance tried to cheat at a dancing competition in the BK, with “hilarious results”.

Back then, it was probably a bit quirky – the worst part about that commercial was that it contributed to the public perception of Disco being too big. Nowadays, even the Burger King character comes off as a bit too strange. (So creepy was he that an attempt to remarket him towards an older audience failed.)

While we did get a brief reflection on Pearl’s knowledge of Gem Culture in previous episode, this episode’s opening minutes really shows it. While it’s obscured somewhat by Steven’s train of thought going off the rails, here, Pearl’s near minute knowledge of the genesis and effects of the Crystal Shard is pretty cool. Worth noting that, if you listen closely (or get frustrated and read the transcript on the Steven Universe Wiki), you can get the full text of what Pearl is saying…

These Shards have a powerful partial consciousness that has been harnessed by Gems throughout history in order to create semi-sentient drone soldiers with the capacity to follow basic orders. Gems once created an army of these drones, but found their obedience waned as the shards overdeveloped inside their uniforms and turned on their commanders. You see, any shard imprinted by any kind of container could become a monster.

So, Steven actually harnessed the power of what was essentially a war machine? Boy, this show is quite disturbing.

Going back to (and speaking of) Steven, he doesn’t just own up to his mistake – he’s willing to sacrifice his own dignity in order to save the town. It’s another sign of his development into a more traditional hero, rather than simply the “goofy kid” that some of the show’s (mercifully very few) detractors see him as. It’s still a bit quirky, but it really shows the more selfless side to the kid… even if the scene was played for laughs.

If there was a weak point, it had to be the development of Mr Fryman. It’s certainly not horribly written- he has high standards, doesn’t really give a flip that his son is exhausted from wearing the Frybo costume, etc – but it does feel a bit underwhelming compared to how the rest of the characters were examined. The ending of that particular plot is a bit “Full House” style, but it’s sold a bit more via the voice acting and the gorgeous animation.

Still, this episode is pretty damn good. Obviously, we’re not in the “sublime” area yet. The good news is that we’ll be there in a few more episodes. Yet, I wouldn’t be too quick to skip over this episode. I think that disclaimer applies to the rest of the episodes until “Mirror Gem”, in fact. Don’t prove me wrong, rest of Season 1A.

Tidbits:

  • If you watched the episode, you might have noticed that this episode’s animation is tighter than that of “Cheeseburger Backpack”. As far as I know, this is because of the storyboard artists – Raven Molisee and Paul Villeco. I don’t mind this – maybe it’s because I grew up with the more tightly animated Simpsons, however. (Yes, I missed the “classic years” of the show.)
  • Of note is a scene in the background featuring Ronaldo, lazing about on his smartphone. What a class act. We get more of him later in the season.
  • Just wondering… will the Gem shards appear in another episode?

Favorite Scene: Gotta be Frybo’s assault on the store patrons. Terrifyingly awesome.

Best Character: Peedee. Oh, the tragedy.

Memorable Quote: “I’m paid in the smiles across the town’s faces.” “I don’t see anybody smiling.” – Steven and Peedee. There’s actually an amazing amount of depth to these two lines. Steven has this belief that appreciation is all he wants. Peedee is too worn down to know it, or is downright unappreciated when it comes to his job. Or, if referring to Steven, he implies that nobody really appreciates the Gems. But why? Granted, the one thing Steven has done so far to save Beach City still caused property damage.

Score: 8. (Silver)

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