After the intensity of “Mindful Education,” Raven Molisee and Paul Villeco turn in “Future Boy Zoltron”—an episode that addresses many of the same issues, but in a lighter, funnier way. (Also, we get our first real peek into Mr. Smiley’s backstory.) It’s not up to the standard of some of the Beach City hang episodes we’ve had this summer, but “Future Boy Zoltron” is pleasing enough, especially if you were worried that “Bubbled” would signal a return to full-on Gem lore.

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Passing by the Funland Arcade, Steven finds Mr. Smiley taking out Zoltron, an old mechanical fortune-teller “robot from the future” (like Zoltar from Big) that only seems to read lucky numbers and tell mediocre fortunes. After tapping Zoltron on the back in an effort to get it to work, Steven accidentally breaks the machine—and agrees to pretend to be Zoltron as a way of making up his debt to Mr. Smiley. (“I just don’t want to be banned from any more of your businesses!”)

The first few minutes of Steven acting as Zoltron are pretty great, providing yet another opportunity for Steven to do what he’s been doing best for the past few episodes: butt into other people’s business. Each time someone asks “Zoltron” a question, Steven gives a highly specific, funny, and at least decently Solomonic answer trying to solve their problem. Among other clients, he tells Lars and Sadie to go to work instead of blowing it off to watch movies, a crowbar-wielding Onion to avoid jail, and Peedee and Ronaldo to reconcile with their father. Most of these solutions even seem to work. (The exception is Onion, who just goes back to get a ski mask.)

But then Steven meets Mr. Frowney, a very sad British man who looks and sounds like one of those endlessly recyclable human characters on Regular Show. Voiced by Brian George, Mr. Frowney presents a problem for Steven—there’s no way he can ever be happy, because he just isn’t wired like that. Coming up against definite, unchangeable sadness and pain is unusual for Steven, who is having a rough couple of weeks as far as his indefatigable optimism goes. The mostly low-stakes character of Mr. Smiley is a funnier way of approaching the issues Steven and Connie addressed in “Mindful Education” but I do wish the parallels had been a bit more explicitly. Really, how are you going to aim for subtlety in a Mr. Smiley episode?

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Certainly the best part of this episode isn’t particularly subtle: Garnet’s brief, highly memorable appearance. After asking a bunch of vague questions, Mr. Frowney starts moping on the boardwalk and, in desperate need of future vision, Steven finds Garnet ready to grant him a glimpse of her ability to help a stranger. (“That seems like an appropriate use of my powers.”) Steven Universe maintains its commitment to doing something visually different each time Steven gains future vision (the extended vignettes of “Winter Forecast,” the outline-zoom of “Jail Break”)—this time, a sort of slot machine that comes up negative with each possible outcome. It’s not as exciting as either of those episode, but it’s still fun to watch.

It turns out that Mr. Frowney was Mr. Smiley’s comedy partner back in the day, with a routine that balanced their conflicting personalities against each other. (Convenient ass names, if you ask me.) I’ve wanted some Mr. Smiley backstory for a while, and though this mostly gives us a glimpse at yet another performance venture of his, Colton Dunn still manages to convey some more emotion in his attempt to work through why the comedy partnership (the relationship) didn’t quite work. Yet again, Zoltron succeeds, and though Mr. Smiley and Mr. Frowney work through their issues, Steven has to go back in the box. Looks like he’s in for some cramped legs!

Stray observations:

  • Apparently Peedee wants to alphabetize the condiments.
  • Zoltron was in storage and might not even have worked!
  • Lars tries to get Sadie to blow off work and watch a movie with him, which is sweet.
  • Zoltron to Buck: “You won’t need to worry about that stain. You can make anything look cool.”
  • Matthew Moy (Lars) is the voice of Zoltron.
  • Best Colton Dunn line reading: “You’re ruining the bit. I thought you were a professional.”
  • Best joke of the episode: “Zoltron says that’s a question for your doctor.”

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