Back to Jaw About Odyssey

by Dan Shane

I'm sure most people know that the decision to use two episodes in one has been one of the most debated, discussed, and generally disliked moves ever made by the Odyssey staff. And as the first of the split episodes, these stories are generally what we expected. They are geared to children who have a hard time telling the difference between the long and short hour hands.

The Odyssey writers MUST have heard the uproar that the idea caused—yet they produced several stories of inferior production quality and intellectual content. Most people would be much less critical of the plan (as with BTV) if the first few episodes really got everyone excited. With BTV—especially 317: B-TV: Envy and 345: B-TV: Compassion - the first few episodes of that type were well accepted not only because it was a good idea, but I believe even more because the first few stories tried SO hard to keep us in our seats. They kept me interested. I had fun—and I learned stuff too. And because of that effort, those BTVs are now classics.

I'm not averse to saying that these first few split episodes will never be classics. Face it, most of the split episodes are slick, but don't really take any higher mental processes to comprehend—they don't make me THINK. Making people rethink their positions has always been a high point of Odyssey. Look at the decision Connie made in 405: The Graduate—I didn't agree with what she did, and I have a feeling that a lot of people didn't, for various and sundry reasons. Whether or not I agreed with what she did wasn't the point—it made me think WHY I thought what I did. Not that it made me change my position, it actually helped me strengthen it. I miss it—the way Odyssey took me and twisted what I thought around it's own ideas. The way it threw me a curve every now and again.

Split episodes can never do this for one simple reason: time constraints. Within such a short time (10 minutes or so) it is virtually impossible to develop the kind of plot that a "searching" episode requires - it boils down to a very simple "less value for your time". I mean, I'm a busy person, and I don't have time to sit down and listen to something that won't really do anything for me. Maybe it would for my little brothers, or then again maybe not.

I think that while trying to "re-invent" Odyssey as a kids show - something it has always been, mind you - the writers have basically gone back to the very old days (when Connie came to town, and Whit's End began). They're toying with an idea that they really have very little experience with. Now, I've heard that it is easier for the junior writers to create split episodes, as opposed to long-form ones. This may be true. In fact, creating split episodes may be a great deal easier - but the fact that they are easy to write brings to mind that the easy way out isn't always the best way. If I was to compare the split episodes to something written by one of the new writers, for instance 414: Buried Sin to Sunset Bowlawater, I come away thinking that though Bowlawater was sort of funny, 414: Buried Sin has a real bite to it. It is certainly a better way to show that your sin will find you out that, say, The Telltale Cat.

Another problem with splits is that we ARE trying to make things happen in them. But again, it's too short of a time to develop anything important. So we are left a choice - do we have short little episodes with all sorts of stuff crammed into 10 minutes, or do we have "sitcomish" episodes with a fast pace, but no real substance? These are, I believe, the two choices the writers have. I also would like to point out that those are not very nice choices. It's a catch-22 position—no matter which you choose, the quality goes down.

Which brings me to this: why is the Odyssey Staff trying to fix something that wasn't broken? Why do we have to create an "Odyssey For Dummies" when the old format was doing absolutely fine reaching kids as it was? Why do we have to alienate an entire portion of the audience (and a MAJOR part of the market) when both were quite satisfied by the way the show was progressing?

Why shoot yourself in the foot? Face it, 7 year olds don't have a lot of money. They don't buy the albums. Most of them still have trouble finding the right radio station. Tell me this: what is the motivation for a parent to buy something as expensive as an Odyssey album, if there is absolutely nothing inside that is worth their time listening to? Why waste time doing something that doesn't really challenge or change you? By appealing to adults as well as children, you assure yourself that you keep your audience - because not only the kids, but their parents as well like the show. The parents are more ready to actually go out and buy the albums, to sit down with the kids and listen to Odyssey. Tell me, have you heard "get the whole family together and join us for an Adventure In Odyssey" lately? Maybe there is a reason for this? It isn't a FAMILY show anymore, it's a KIDS show. And as a ministry, not a commercial enterprise, I would think this would be very seriously taken indeed.

Let me test my theories. I had my brothers and sisters listen to the split episodes, and then to the last episode of Darkness Before Dawn (25)—and their choice was UNANIMOUS—they wanted to hear the rest of DBD. Let me give you a quick quote: "That last episode was stupid!" I'm not exactly sure that that was the response AIO was hoping to evoke.

This is not to say that the catch-22 I spoke of above cannot be worked out of - quite the contrary. The entire dilemma is being caused artificially—I mean, the SEs could be stopped anytime they want to stop producing them. We don't HAVE to have fluff, we CAN have solid stuff again—but only when Odyssey decides to get back on track.

But there is a limit to how much goofy fluff I can take before I really want to start listening to my old albums and not tune in to the radio show anymore.

Why do you think the Toy Story movies are so successful? Because they have great graphics? I don't think so. I would wager it is because the parents of all these kids who love it go in, thinking they will fall asleep, and come out laughing their heads off. Why do you think that the "The Land Before Time" videos never took off the ground commercially? Could it be because they were dull and boring?

I find it hard to believe that this can be a continuing trend, rather than a passing fad. Like the lead-in skits of Chris. Like the skits of Connie and Eugene. Like some of the worse ways of introducing the episodes. To be sure, some of the splits brought tears to my eyes. But an onion does the same thing, and probably tastes better. They are just plain downright bad! There are no buts and maybes. They are inferior to anything in the history of AIO, including ALL of the BTVs, no matter how absurd they may have been.

Are we trying to reduce the radio show to a rediculous farce like the videos are?

I think maybe we should all go listen to Darkness Before Dawn (25) again, just so we don't forget why at one time were so interested in Odyssey.

For me, listening to Split Episodes is like pouring sugar into a cup of coffee: at first it tasted okay, but after a while it begins to taste like diesel fuel.