Passages, Part 1
423: Passages, Part 2
Adventures in Odyssey epics seems to be increasing in regularity as the series goes on. Toward the beginning there were very few of this kind of story, and now, it seems that the "kids slice of life" episodes are further between. I have to admit that I have a weakness for episodes like this. I love big, dramatic, earth-shaking stories like this. It does seem like AIO's purpose is straying slightly, but it certainly hasn't produced lower-quality epic episodes. Passages is the "tie-in" episode to a book series. I haven't read the book series yet, so I don't know how well these episodes introduce the books, but I do know that they got me interested in reading them.
The episode begins with Tom talking to a woman named Alice who knew his son years ago. The story from this point continues as a frame story for the rest of the episodes, a format that has almost always worked especially well for Adventures in Odyssey. One major distraction from the start was how Timmy Riley's voice was so much different than his voice in 224: Greater Love. I realize that they couldn't get the same actor, but why did they get one with a voice that is so different. The original Timmy had a huge accent, and this one has none at all. While we're on the subject of Timmy, I felt that Timmy was not one of the greatest actors. He felt a little tense and didn't seem as immersed in this new world as he should have been. The child Alice is much better. She has the more difficult job of having a split personality and accomplishes it nicely. She is especially effective in the scene in the house after the "Unseen One" has prepared a banquet.
Quickly we are introduced to "another world" and given great descriptions of how it is different than ours. Rapidly things unfold and we are told the story of what is happening in this country. The "two different colored eyes" scene is very well done. I liked all the Biblical parallels and they are a creative way to show Bible stories to those who might not know them. The storyline begins to sound familiar to those who know their Bibles soon, but it took me well into the second episode to know for sure what Bible story it was.
Technically, these episodes are incredible. It seems like we've had a lot of crowd scenes lately in Odyssey, but these ones are right on par, if not above, anything heard before. The smash cuts to action are great, possibly even surpassing the ones in Patrick: A Heart Afire. The music is solid and very well done throughout, showing the mystery and wonder of the whole adventure. The ending music didn't seem quite as dramatic as the episode demanded, but possibly that was because this whole episode leads up to the book series.
The ending on this episode is very open. It seems like we've just been introduced to this huge idea before it's taken away, but we'll have to find out in the book series. I thought that Tom finding Marus in his son's diary was unnecessary and not as powerful an ending as not finding out would have been. I feel that they should have repeated a little of what was heard in 409: Malachi's Message, Part 2, possibly applied Timmy's faith becoming real to this episode a little more.
Overall, though, these episodes are a wonderful adventure that keep a sense of mystery and excitement from beginning to end.
Rating: 4 stars
Blackgaard's Revenge, Part 1
425: Blackgaard's Revenge, Part 2
Remember back when Adventures in Odyssey was just a fun, wonderful children's program? It always seemed like you could relate to it because all the kids in Odyssey felt things just like normal people do. Then Adventures in Odyssey began to get a lot more adventurous and stories took on a more dramatic approach. It was a major change in Adventures in Odyssey, but it was for the best. It made it appealing to adults and teens as well as for children. For many years, AIO kept a very high standard of adventure episodes, with great dialogue and action that worked perfectly.
Now comes the much-talked return of Dr. Blackgaard, as a computer program, no less, and it's the most ridiculous Adventures in Odyssey ever. It's disappointing to hear this episode and remember the power that Darkness Before Dawn had. This episode tries in every way to be powerful and at a few points it succeeds, such as when Dr. Blackgaard talks about eternal life, or when he offered Aubrey a new life. But the episode gets way too bogged down in science fiction. A computer program is trying to take over. Sounds like 415: Gloobers, only this time the program is really trying to take over. Whit and Eugene are trying to battle through the computer with a virus or learning matrix or something like that. Then comes the really crazy stuff where Blackgaard wants to imprint himself on someone's brain and then, at the end, where Whit makes a "computer-generated hologram" of himself. Please. I know that Phil Lollar has been inspired by the Star Trek series and here he seems to have copied it's trademark "insert techno-blather here to replace real dialogue". Adventures in Odyssey isn't like this. The Imagination Station doesn't work like this, or shouldn't.
The episode seems to parallel 83: The Battle, Part 1, where we had the great cuts back and forth between Blackgaard and Whit. However, here, it's reduced to silliness of the computer trying to battle itself. In fact, it ends up feeling a lot more like Video 1: The Knight Travellers, one of the most dubious entries ever in AIO canon. This link is increased even more when Whit and Blackgaard face off at the end. Why does their dialogue sound so similar to the fight at the end of that video? Then we have the silly stuff about the vortex (Star Trek: First Contact, anyone?) and many scenes where Aubrey is seeing history. Why are these scenes needed? Sure, it's sounds good when Blackgaard doesn't want her to see the crucifixion, but that was never followed up on.
I'm giving this episode three stars because it does do one thing: it keeps us in suspense. It holds us through both episodes, no matter how silly the plot gets. And then there is Dr. Blackgaard. I certainly had a tingle when he said "cannot possibly begin to imagine" and his laugh was great. Back in Passages, Part 2, there was a commercial for this episode and it really held my attention. Then Blackgaard's laugh came on and I was in absolute anticipation for these episodes. Unfortunately, the episode itself turns into a science fiction roller coaster that gives us some excitement, but not much to chew on mentally. I could see this episode working with far less techno-jargon and far more talk in the Imagination Station between Blackgaard and Whit and Aubrey. But it doesn't.
I have a sinking feeling that the Darkness Before Dawn would have been a far different series if it were produced today. In "Blackgaard's Revenge" there is also a parallel to where Jack Allen told Blackgaard he was not afraid of death in 334: The Final Conflict. Like Jack, Whit offers himself for Blackgaard. However, the major difference, of course, is that when Whit offered himself, he was only kidding Blackgaard. It would be like Jack saying he wasn't afraid to die and then when Blackgaard pushed the button for the tunnel explosion, nothing would happen. "Ha, ha," Jack would say, "You didn't know I just happened to carry a radio wave transmitter cancellation device. It stops any radio activated detonator from working!"
Need we even discuss how this episode doesn't fit past data? Dr. Blackgaard planted a virus in the Imagination Station? Aside from the problem of figuring out the programming, Blackgaard would have had to take much valuable time away from his excavation of the tunnel just so he could play silly games with future users of the Imagination Station. That doesn't sound like the kind of thing a world terrorist would waste his time on. And there a bigger issue. Blackgaard was planning on blowing up the tunnel under Whit's End for quite a while. Why would he spend time toying with the Imagination Station if he simply intended to blow up the whole place?
I guess overall I'm just disappointed and scared about the direction AIO is going with this episode. Are the ones in the future going to be pure fantasy? For scores of listeners who have appreciated the show's relatively real-world approach over the years, I hope above all hope not.
Rating: 3 stars
|426: The Buck Starts Here|
Marshal Younger has dubbed himself the "kids' slice of life" episode writer, and he has proven it by writing many stories just about the AIO kids and no one can write them better. He can bring out the elements in the personalities of children in Odyssey and then play them dramatically or in humor. The dialogue in his episodes always sounds great because its seems like something everyday kids would say.
This episode comes after two epic stories, one great and the other silly. It's definitely a step in the right direction from Blackgaard's Revenge, but not as funny as his last script, 413: The Devil Made Me Do It, and not as emotionally stirring as 412: A Lesson From Mike or 409: Natural Born Leader. However, as always, the AIO kids have great interaction and are involved in a fun story.
This one really plays up Jared DeWhite, the best AIO child character since the hiatus. He is a great actor and Marshal Younger gives him great lines. I would put Jared a couple of levels above any other AIO kid. Next on the list would be Mandy, simply because she sounds cute and works well in her roles. However, I feel that all of the kids in this episode, other than Jared that is, are very replaceable. They only need a voice to put in the part and it really doesn't matter which character. They don't have much personality beyond very standard one line stuff. Nathaniel's smart and Mandy's cute. That's about all we get. These characters are not nearly as complex as, say, Lawrence Hodges or Jack Davis.
On the whole this episode is fun and fast-paced. Sometimes it strays slightly, such as when Marshal Younger can't resist doing a parody in the mud war (which almost borders on an anti-war message), but overall, it's enjoyable listening from beginning to end.
Rating: 3 stars
|427: Something Cliqued Between Us|
Utilizing many of the major kids in Odyssey, this episode jumps quickly (and sometimes haphazardly) from one storyline to the next. The episode contains many different elements that all come together in a final scene, but it is really a little too full. In fact, this episode has a little too much of a lot of things.
The music for the episode is good, but a bit overwhelming at times, drawing attention unnecessarily away from the scenes. The episode moves too quickly, especially in the final scene, where it moves from being really zany to really sweet (almost too sweet) in a few seconds. The music barely has time to adjust. Another strange thing is that Julie's friend seems to have suddenly changed her name from Heather to "Liz", which is pretty distracting.
However, as usual, the episode is fun. It's the first AIO episode to mention e-mail and deals quite a bit with cyberspace. A nice touch. Another interesting thing is how Cassidy and Beth are talked about constantly through the episode, but not heard until the last scene. It increases the separation we feel from these characters, which is exactly how we're supposed to feel.
While the episode was a little crazy and a little fast, it was an entertaining ride.
Rating: 3 stars
|428: The Eternal Birthday (a) /Imaginary Friend (b)|
I have long been worried about the direction that AIO seems to be going. For many years, AIO appealed to both children and adults with its broad focus and great writing. Shows often had a "double-layered" purpose, appealing to children with one element of a program and adults with another. I can't help but notice that the show now seems to be following on the coat-tails of VeggieTales and trying to appeal only to younger children with a fast pace and lack of engaging storylines that tie the episodes together. This episode showcases the ultimate application of that fast pace: it cuts the already short 24 minutes into two fly-by "mini-episodes". And aside from a couple tie-ups of the Transmuter and Connie working at the Timothy Center, little has been done with real storylines since Malachi's Message.
The beginning of this episode seems to be trying to reverse ten years of progress on making AIO appeal to a more mature audience. It has been a very long time since Chris said, "Don't go away" or "And now back to Adventures in Odyssey". Much of what happens throughout these episodes sounds like very early Odyssey, without most of the wit and snap of good AIO dialogue.
The first episode is a parallel of the movie Groundhog Day and its a pretty good episode, but it's so short, there's little time to get into it. It's cute through some of the show, but becomes more desperate for good lines as it goes on. I don't mean to whine again, but this episode, yet again, has not only the "wake up and it's all just a dream" bit, but also the "wake up again after you thought you already woke up" bit.
Between the two episode segments, we have another AIO short skit. This one is about the history of Halloween and it's pretty poor. The entire skit is incredibly zany, fast, and silly and doesn't convey a clear point. Was it to say that Halloween is a terrible holiday? Then why did it say "Happy Halloween" at the end?
Next we have a quickie story about the Shepard Family and an imaginary friend. Like the other episode, it's short, but this one has few good lines. It feels almost like the writer was chasing after a Marshal Younger-type episode, but there's no way anyone can do them like he does. It has a number of scenes where Aubrey is doing various things and Bethany follows her. The point of these many scenes? We never get it.
The episode has a "family meeting" in an obvious reference to the Barclay family and then it has one of those incredibly sweet endings where the whole family is laughing. Those work for some episodes, but this episode hasn't had enough story time to earn that kind of ending.
The major problem with this new episode format is that it just doesn't give the ability to ponder an issue deeply. It ends up with some "lessons" from the episodes that just sound so obvious. Get this: you can't have fun all the time (really!) and imagination is good. I'm certain these episodes, like Blackgaard's Revenge before them, would work for younger children, but they just don't work for me. They further my fears and suspicions about the future of AIO. If AIO is really going to try to head toward only children's entertainment, they're going to leave a huge fan base of teens and adults alike, all of whom were touched by the show. In trying to narrow the appeal of the show, AIO may defeat the purpose of a Christian "family" program in the first place.
The Eternal Birthday Rating: 2 1/2 stars
Imaginary Friend Rating: 1 1/2 stars
Rating: 2 stars
|429: The YAK Problem|
Marshal Younger is a very diverse writer, but the two things that he consistently comes back to are parody and kid's slice of life episodes. Recently, he seems to always inject something wild and crazy into his stories. This wasn't the case for previous episodes like A Lesson From Mike or Natural Born Leader. Even the comedy in such episodes as The Jokes On You or Poor Loser is more downplayed. And now, here is one of the craziest Marshal Younger episodes in a long time (probably since Hidden in My Heart) and it's an instant classic. The YAK Problem perfectly blends his strengths of kids slice of life and parody into something we have never seen before. It's a hilarious episode with a strong moral and political message, but instead of using the adults of Odyssey, he uses the children.
The episode begins with the announcement of an upcoming speaker at school and follows the growing paranoia of Nathaniel and his "followers" until the date. Marshal Younger mentioned at the Town Hall Discussion Forum that this script was written for Jared DeWhite and, boy, does it show. It certainly was perfectly geared for him. It was also nice that for the first time (that I can remember anyway, besides the Barclays), an explanation is given for why someone disappeared. I wonder if Marshal was influenced by the many people on the web who complained about vanishing characters.
I won't go into all the details of this episode since most of the fun is discovering how Marshal applied so many aspects of the Y2K mania to his episode. It contains a large number of short, humorous scenes, all of which contribute to the larger picture. The "cotton candy" scene and the scene with bulldozers at the monkey bars are good examples. They stand alone as interesting scenes by themselves and fit perfectly into the context of the episode. This episode is the best news for AIO this season.
Rating: 3 stars
|430: Blind Girl's Bluff|
So many episodes end on a perfect, sweet note that it's great when an episode has the courage to break the mold. Completely liberating herself from the average Imaginary Friend mini-episode, Lisa Halls Johnson has put together an excellent story with Marshal Younger that is touching emotionally and shows that AIO is finally going to start some continuity with the series again.
The episode parallels The Good, the Bad, & Butch in many ways, but takes it from a different angle. Both use the idea of someone forming a friendship for selfish reasons, but this one deals more directly with the twisting of relationships to get back at others. While not quite up to the emotional standard in that earlier episode, this one still manages to make us think about our own relationships. It was great how the episode didn't try to make everything work out just right. Things in real life don't always work out. If the friendship had been repaired in a matter of minutes at the end of this show, it would have lost its power.
Throughout this episode, unique and unexpected story twists occur. The whole idea of listening devices for a blind person sounds like some scams that people have actually set up. The ending was very unexpected, as was how Lisa got caught. Liz and Sarah's reactions were also unexpected, but they were my one problem with the episode. Why did Liz and Sarah suddenly get so mean? I mean, they were downright nasty in this episode. They were rude, conceited, and dishonest and were never really reprimanded for it. I'm hoping this will be followed up on in the next episode. It won't be a good thing for continuity if they are back to their normal selves in the future without some kind of explanation.
And that's another thing about this episode. AIO is at last bringing some continuity back to the show. Jared DeWhite's disappearance is again explained and used as a story point. Aubrey is continuing her journal. The Odyssey kids are finally interacting with one another! Aubrey, Liz, and Lisa Mulligan are in the same episode! Wonderful! Finally! Please, AIO writers/producers/directors, keep this continuity going!
Rating: 3 1/2 stars
|431: Where There's Smoke (a) /The Virtual Kid (b)|
If you read comments on the Internet, the split AIO episode has been one of the very least liked ideas to be discussed. Far fewer people like the idea than even favored Blackgaard's return. Most agreed that the first split episode wasn't very good. And now here's the second split episode, and it's better, but still not as good as a standard length episode. I think it's interesting how VeggieTales, the series to which AIO is so often compared, did the first three episodes of its series in "split" format with two shorter stories on one tape. Then, the series switched to do one longer story for each episode. Interesting how even VeggieTales realized that its hard to tell a good story in just a few minutes.
The first split mini-episode is pretty good. It deals with a friendship between Nick Mulligan and Nathaniel Graham. However yet again, the child's part is expendable. Nathaniel is squeezed into a part that he didn't really fit into in the previous episodes. In the episode, Whit says that Nathaniel needs more self-confidence and it seems that he's had a hard time finding friends. Looking at his latest episodes, that is hardly so. He had no trouble with friends in The Buck Stops Here and he practically led a "rebellion" in The YAK Problem. Others in this episode are out of character too. Whit insists that Nick call him Mr. Whittaker on the job? Since when did Whit change into a very formal person. He never had a problem with Connie or many of the kids calling him Whit before. For me, this little tiny line removed some of the intimacy I have always felt with the Whit character. Additionally, while Nick is still his old self, he doesn't have most of the smart aleck lines that he usually gets. On the positive side, this episode does have some interesting chemistry between Rodney Rathbone and Nick, and features some typical Eugene banter and has a good message about being a role model. Overall, a pretty good episode, but it still feels very rushed.
The second episode is another "pretty good" episode that would have worked better if it were developed more. There are some good lines in this one, such as Eugene worrying about being quoted using incorrect English and where Alex is talking on the chat room ("Don't worry...I'm right here..."). Interestingly, this is not the first Alex Jefferson to appear on AIO. There was another Alex Jefferson way back in The Fundamentals. Whit's character was better in this episode, notable as he confronted the reporter and in his good advice to Alex. Alex also seemed to have a bit more personality than some earlier kids; I'm hoping he'll be used more.
Overall, this was an "okay" episode, much better than the previous split episode. It had a few interesting story points and a fun skit in the middle. But I still don't think these episodes are as good as the full-length episodes, especially for older fans. For once I'm hoping AIO will follow in VeggieTales footsteps and make their episodes full-length.
Where There's Smoke Rating: 2 stars
The Virtual Kid Rating: 2 stars
Rating: 2 stars
|432: You Win Some, You Lose Some|
It's been a long time since we've had an "Odyssey kids go to camp", episode. In fact, this is probably the first since Connie Goes to Camp, another episode where Connie had to face difficult situations as a counselor. In that episode, Connie had to share the plot with the Odyssey kids. In this episode, she has it nearly all to herself, and she carries it well.
The episode begins with Connie wanting to resign from the Timothy Center. She goes on to explain the things that have happened in the past week and why she's discouraged. The problems begin with a girl named Wendy who is being taunted by Liz and others. It's good that Liz is still the mean girl and some explanation is given to her actions and Heather's. It's more good continuity and it connects this story with previous ones. We begin with predictable things happening when Wendy tries cooking for her fellow campers. Why wouldn't Connie have checked the recipe when Wendy made the cookies?
But then unpredictable things start happening. I won't give it away, but there is an excellent twist at the campfire one evening as Liz and Heather turn the tables. This was a very unexpected development and it's a perfect way to add to Connie's discouragement. The scene is both humorous and sad at the same time. The ending of the episode works well with what's happened and makes sense.
Technically speaking, these episodes are very well done as well. The campfire has a lot of interesting sound effects, as does a food fight scene. It's hard for me to believe that Katie Leigh was not here for the recording of this episode. The other actors played off her so well. Chalk one up for the actors and production engineers.
Overall, a surprising episode that finally shows us what actually happens at the Timothy Center.
Rating: 3 stars
|433: The Treasure Room (a) / Chain Reaction (b)|
It's been awhile since I've gone away after listening to an AIO episode feeling completely excited about listening to the episode. There have been a couple times recently that I was left "in awe", such as after listening to Passages, or after reading Passages 2: Arin's Judgement, but it has been a long time since I listened to an episode and just said, "That was great" when it was over. This episode was one of those times. It finally proves that there may be some justification in having split episodes, though it also shows that it is not possible to carry the weight of the show through only split episodes.
The first mini-episode is about yet another new room at Whit's End that Aubrey and Lisa are desperate to get into. It contains some humorous sections, such as where Aubrey imagines that she's rich and where the two girls try to "break into" the room. The ending of the episode is a nice touch and really the only way it could have ended, thankfully there actually was something substantial in the room and it didn't avoid having a payoff. However, I still would have liked the whole thing about Aubrey's want for money to have been tied into the episode a little better. That didn't really seem to be the point those scenes were trying to make. This episode, like the other split episodes, still felt a bit too short, but it was a lot better than the previous ones.
The second episode is probably the most fun AIO this season. It deals with the intricacies of how things go awry after a seemingly meaningless task is left un-done. It's fun to follow the episode as the results scramble on and on. The humor throughout the episode is good, especially with Harlow Doyle, who is used exactly how Harlow should be usedas a small, humorous, supporting character in a rather light episode. However, I'd have to say the very best part of the episode is at the very end, when David is unknowingly convicting himself with his own words. It is such a great ending that David does not find out all the events that happened. There really wasn't any way that he could have been told about it without big stretches in believability and the subtleness of the ending would have been lost.
Some of the best parts of this episode are its continuity with other episodes. Aubrey's still writing her journal, Whit's ownership of his encyclopedia company is mentioned, and Bernard even has a Hip Hobson record collectiona great reference. However, there are also some continuity problems. Aubrey says Jared gave her a lock-picking kit, yet she said she didn't know him in 430: Blind Girl's Bluff. (Thanks to Joni Slade for this catch.) Aubrey and Lisa had broken up their friendship only three episodes ago and now they are seemingly best friends again. Finally, didn't Cody live next to Bernard Walton? (379: Best Face Forward) In this episode, it's the Straussberg's, who also live next to the Rathbones (according to 397: Tornado!). Bart and Bernard never seemed to be neighbors in previous episodes.
But, imperfections aside, these are two quite good AIO episodes. I'd give the first episode 3 stars and the second episode 3 1/2, but since this episode really did excite me, we'll go with the higher rating.
The Treasure Room Rating: 3 stars
Chain Reaction Rating: 3 1/2 stars
Rating: 3 1/2 stars
Part 1: I would like to be able to say that this, the third split episode, thrilled me into giving it a more than two star review.
Thank goodness I listened to "Lyin' Tale", which says lying is not a good thing. Otherwise I might not have known that.
However, I would like to say this: it's not THAT bad. It had it's moments. But like Shakespeare, they are few and far between.
Basically, what happens in "The Treasure Room", is that Whit has a new room in Whit's End. Boy, that place must be some kind of mansion the way new rooms and stuff start popping up all the time.
Lisa and Aubrey really want to get into the "treasure room" and go through all sorts of antics to get in. We have a couple of cute scenes, especially when Aubrey dreams of being rich. Then they get into the room. But while inside, they mess up a painting by accident. Then Mr. Whittaker comes, and catches them, and we learn a lesson about how to control our inebriated curiosities, a lesson we have already learned some six times in previous AIO episodes - not to mention almost any episode with Connie in it. But since this is obviously such an important topic, I guess I forgive the writers for beating the dead horse. I mean if the theme of the episode was something trivial like how to reach out as a christian, or how to be" in and not of" the world, maybe then I would be mad.
Apart from all that, it was pretty stale. You know, like we've seen THIS loaf before. I could easily name 3 episodes that prove the point better, with a bigger punch than "The Treasure Room".
It's kind of like eating too much candy - yes, I'm sure there's a soon-to-be-released AIO Split on THAT topic - you end up feeling like you had a good ten minutes with lots of calories, but nothing else.
And if you have a straight diet of candy, you don't last long.
Part 2: Here we get a little more interesting. "Chain Reaction" overshadows almost all of the other split episodes, because it does exactly what the Split Episodes are good at.
It's like a sitcom.
It's funny, witty, happy, and has a bit of punch.
And the ending, when David is convicting himself with his own words, is one of the better endings I have seen recently. The only problem I have with the episode is this: it's too short. It would have been MUCH better as a full episode, and could have had a LOT more bite to it than it did.
Those objections aside, most kids should enjoy this one.
Kinda stinks that I grew up.
Rating: 2 Stars out of 5
|434: BTV: Redeeming the Season|
BTV has been one mainstay on AIO as the program has gone through many, many transitions. In fact, its one of the few things still left over from the "golden era" of AIO (which was from 1994 to 1996). While this BTV is a good one, much better than the previous 410: BTV: Forgiveness, which felt a bit tired in places, it still can't compare to those first three shows, when the idea was still new and fresh.
The episode begins with a new theme and Bernard introducing the show from the mall. Eugene throughout the show tries to sing a song, but is repeatedly (and rather predictably) stopped. The episode contains nearly all short skits about the history of Christmas. Some are very funny and well-done, but some are only "pretty good"; they get the point across, but without the snappy humor and interesting voices of previous BTVs. An exception to this would be the skit where a person is put in jail for celebrating Christmas and the one where Augustine hears a commercial about how to transform Christmas.
The highlight of the episode is a "story from Bernard" (instead of the usual "story by Bernard") that tells the story of Saint Nicholas. It's humorous and even touching by the end. The only thing I wondered about in this skit was Saint Nicholas telling the waves to calm and raising a man from the dead (through the power of Jesus, of course). Did these things really happen on Nicholas's trip? If not, they seem like overkill to me.
One thing that BTV has always had are great sound effects. Todd Busteed does a great job with the many wacky sound effects required for an episode like this. A good example would be the subtle humming noise when Eugene is giving a definition or the sounds of Nicholas throwing the bags of gold.
For trivia buffs, this is first time that BTV has had two "Did You Know?" segments and also the first time that it has had a "Go Figure!" segment. Overall, I guess that I would probably give an even higher rating to this BTV had I not been spoiled by the first three excellent BTVs. The second three, while still good, just don't match those in quality, humor, or ingenuity. But on its own merits, this BTV still does a good job with the history of Christmas and helped to get me in the "spirit" of the season a bit more.
Rating: 3 stars
Well, it's nice to see some measure of quality coming back to the beleaguered BTV franchise! Having dismally failed to create a good show with 410: BTV: Forgiveness, the Odyssey staff comes bouncing back with an almost-as-good-as-the-original BTV. Where 410: BTV: Forgiveness was lackluster, BTV: Redeeming The Season shines - the skits are fresh, original, and some of them are quite funny.
Some things I especially appreciated were the mixture of new technology (the phone) and old (the ship) in the St Nick skit, the wacky voices back in full force, and the trivia segments (which were in abundance).
However, I did have a problem with St Nicholas calming the storm. Is this actually a historical event that warrants inclusion in a show like BTV? Is it really necessary to the point of the story to make St Nick appear more than human?
These objections aside, I must admit that BTV:Redeeming The Season was charming, sophisticated, and fun all the way around.
Rating: 3 1/2 stars out of 5
A Look Back, Part 1
436: A Look Back, Part 2
Adventures in Odyssey has been on the air for thirteen years...quite a feat. Adventures in Odyssey has produced 436 episodes...a nearly unequaled feat among radio or television. There are very few drama series on the radio or television that ever reach 100 or 200 episodes, let alone nearly 450. We've seen an incredible range of programs over the last years with Adventures in Odyssey and this is a program dedicated to helping us relive those memories. While there may be a few noticeable parts missing, the program on the whole is fun, touching, thoroughly enjoyable look through the history of Adventures in Odyssey. This program will probably be compared to 138: The Adventure of the Adventure, another AIO episode that extensively looked back at the program. However, that program mainly reviewed the storylines of Adventures in Odyssey. This episode looks more at the program itself.
I liked both parts, but I'd have to say that I liked Part 1 better due to the "quick cuts" sections where we got to hear large collections of pieces of our favorite episodes all in one short segment. We have a part highlighting the best Eugene and Connie banters, a segment where 31 different characters are heard (we are to try to guess as many as possible), and even a segment looking at the different ways which people have said hello while coming through the Whit's End door.
In fact, I think the episodes are strongest when they are doing quick cuts. During the "Imagination Station" section on the second half, we hear some overly long clips from the IS episodes, especially from 191: Moses: The Passover, Part 2. I think it would have been much better to do some shorter clips and get more IS episodes into the collage. I had two other minor complaints. First, the episode seemed to skip most of what has happened in Odyssey since the hiatus. Secondly, Phil Lollar says "The show isn't called soap opera in Odyssey." This line to me sounded like a rather thinly-veiled swipe at the the Eugene/Katrina shows.
Overall, though, these shows brought back some great memories. I enjoyed a look through the past of Odyssey. I hope that some of these episodes show current fans the "best of" Odyssey and remind everyone on the staff of the show's power. These two episodes were a good way to begin a short break in Odyssey. Let's hope that a lot of the episodes after this short hiatus live up to the quality of some of the episodes presented here.
Rating: 3 stars
|437: Sunset Bowlawater (a) / The Long Way Home (b)|
After listening to the previous AIO split episode (The Treasure Room/Chain Reaction), I was excited. Maybe they actually could use the split format to make fun, interesting episodes. When I listened to this episode, I had a smile on my face and was eager to hear how they would use the split format again. My smile melted away on my face and this episode fell flat on its face. It's a pretty poor one, one of the worst ones in a while.
The first mini-episode begins with a sudden revelation. Mandy's goldfish has died! She goes to the most capable person in town: Harlow Doyle. I had actually begun to like Harlow again after the excellent use of him in Chain Reaction. Here, there's absolutely nothing new with him and he doesn't have much funny to say. There's the old bit about name misspellings and other typical Harlow jargon, but he seems to be a just a place-filler in this episode.
Most of the episode is told from a weird perspective with the dead goldfish as the storyteller. While this may have been a unique way to tell an episode, I think it will lead to some rather interesting questions for a Christian parent to try to answer. Additionally, while there were some interesting effects done to the goldfish voice, it was sometimes hard to hear just what he was saying.
Mandy wins the goldfish at the fair at a booth run by Whit and Eugene, who are also place-holders, since what they do in the episode has nothing to do with their characters. For the first time (in the audio series, anyway), we learn that Eugene has red hair and that he used to raise goldfish. How convenient for the episode!
For most of the rest of the episode (which isn't very long since we only have about ten minutes to work with), we get some scenes from the goldfish's perspective. Most of them aren't really very interesting and don't really do much for the plot. Finally, at the end, there seems to be a mystery of sorts, but we haven't had nearly enough clues or time to build a real mystery for the episode to work on that level. John Beebee knew how to do a great mystery with 414: Buried Sin, but it just doesn't work here. The episode seemed like it had some potential for humor, but it was just about all lost. When Crackers was doing impressions of Jaws, Shamu, and John Wayne, we could have had some fun there, but we didn't get any.
The ending of this episode was also rather disturbing. As an older listener, I can shrug it off and if I'm in a twisted humor mood, I could laugh at it. However, I think it would be very jarring for some of the members in the eight to twelve range who become very attached to their pets.
The second episode is worse than the first one, mainly because it is pretty boring and feels tired and unoriginal throughout. I hope I won't be giving anything away to say that in an episode about "appreciating what you have," the main character will be down on their life in general, have an experience that shows them that their life isn't so bad, and then end the episode on a high note. This episode follows the formula to the letter, only taking side trips to add unnecessary scenes to get to the 25-minute mark.
Aubrey's writing in her journal again and wants to get away from being at the Timothy Center all the time. She finds that her friends Lisa and Mandy are going to a "Fun Park", but it costs $20. So, we get a series of unfunny and unnecessary scenes where Lisa tries to earn the money to go. Toward the end of the episode, we get all the typical scenes where Aubrey (rather quickly) begins to appreciate the Timothy Center once more. The mini-episode is just far too standard and short to accurately convey the point, and ends with the typical clichéd closer.
I'm hoping this episode was just a fluke on the Spring 2000 season, but it doesn't look that way with a bunch of split episodes coming up. The highlight of this episode was the short skit in the middle. It's pretty disappointing when the best part about the whole AIO episode is a two-minute bit of fast-talking in the middle.
Sunset Bowlawater Rating: 2 stars
The Long Way Home Rating: 1 stars
Rating: 1 1/2 stars
|438: The Lyin' Tale (a) / The Telltale Cat (b)|
Okay, I’ll say it right up front. I just liked this episode. I don’t really know why. There are lots of episodes that produce better similar material. There’s nothing especially original or creative about it, but it manages to have just enough fun to keep my attention and entertain me.
The first episode is completely unoriginal story-wise. It’s the old "continuously exaggerating story" bit. There’s nothing new to the formula here, but it is rather well-told, with excellent production values and some interesting acting. The episode begins with Aubrey being "forced" to take out the garbage. When she lifts the lid of the garbage can, she is frightened by a kitten and scratches her arm on a bush. Needless to say, every time she tells the story all the details get bigger and bigger until the story is colossal size.
The best scene in this mini-episode is the one where Aubrey tells the story to Alex Jefferson. There are some very humorous sound effects and Aubrey’s over-dramatic acting is great. There are some other smaller laughs throughout the mini, but it still can’t compare some of the episodes of past seasons.
The second episode is a rather sarcastic "murder" story about how David Straussberg can’t stand Mandy’s cat so he decides to get rid of it (in a rather upsetting scene that might take some explaining to younger children). The story is told from the interesting perspective of Harlow Doyle. Harlow gets a lot of better, funnier lines than he got in 437a: Sunset Bowlawater, but they’re still not up to the originality that he got back in 207: The Case of the Candid Camera or even as recently as 433b: Chain Reaction.
The entire story maintains a "spoof" element throughout, recalling much more creative episodes like 350: The Time of Our Lives. David’s evil laugh, his temporary insanity, Harlow’s fun "The Shadow" reference, and David's rather haunting "Telltale Heart" reference contribute to this effect. The difference is that previous episode was a KIDS Radio episode. This one takes place in "real" Odyssey. Odyssey seems to become less realistic by the week.
One aspect that really works on this episode is its continuity. The Timothy Center is described as being close to Trickle Lake, connecting this episode to 375: The Pushover and others. David seems still really enjoy becoming entrenched in front of the television like in 433b: Chain Reaction. Alex Jefferson is still working on the Whit’s End website. Nice touches.
Despite fact that both of these episodes almost sounded a bit like 433b: Chain Reaction and that all episodes they are compared to are superior, wry humor pervaded throughout. The production quality was great and especially Telltale Cat had perfect music and great timing. They are just enough fun to warrant a "thumbs up" rating.
The Lyin' Tale: 3 stars
The Telltale Cat: 2 1/2 stars
Rating: 3 stars
Part 1: Well, this idea had a little bit of promise from the start. Too bad it ended up fizzling like a candle under Niagara Falls.
Yet another installment in the "Aubrey Files" leads me to believe that Aubrey is one of the most annoying, shallow characters that has ever disgraced Adventures In Odyssey. Her life seems to be a voyage from one gripe to another; her diary is filled with nothing but a bunch of complaining most of the time!
Having introduced the character, let me introduce the props.
Having introduced the props, let me have a shot at the plot. Now that I think of it, the word "plot" is probably too strong of an expression. Let me delve into the "alleged storyline" as Harlow Doyle would say.
Aubrey falls into a bush having been scared by a cat. Then she retells the story, and it keeps growing and growing and growing, until it is a sort of "Batwoman meets Wild Tiger" tale.
Only when she is in the hospital does she tell the truth. But then we find that Whit was "on to her" story, and the whole thing was a bluff. End of tale.
This I think is maybe getting to deep for me.
I have to say, the episode was boring. Nothing happens, no one does anything real serious. It is basically a rather bland installment of Aubrey's life.
But get this awesome ending: people liked her "kitten story" better than the
outrageous lie, everybody is happy, and maybe we should have concluded with
the Smurf theme song.
Skit: Well this skit isn't as good as the last one, but it shines over anything else going on here. Pretty sad, eh?
Part 2: Well, the second recent episode that parodies something (Sunset Bowlawater/Sunset Boulevard), "Telltale Cat" is really the worst thing happening here! It is a BUTCHERY of one of my favorite Edgar Allen Poe stories, namely "The Telltale Heart". Maybe it could have worked as a skit or a "Twilife Zone" - hey that's an idea - but it's just to unrealistic to have actually happened in someone's life.
Harlow Doyle. This has to be the worst use of his character ever. I have never heard the word "alleged" used so many times in one episode before. This, of course, gets very tired very quickly. We could probably have had some fun with him, like for instance in "Chain Reaction", but no, he's like old soda. Flat.
Mandie seems to have trouble with her pets. And with her personality, which seems to be defined by "cute."
David is a bad voice actor in this episode. He lacks enthusiasm, and his frantic ravings sound very stunted - unlike a sterling performance in "Tornado".
Not a very shiny effort, Odyssey.
So. can you all feel the excitement about the 2000 season?
Well, neither can I.
Rating: 1 Star out of 5
|439: BTV: Grace|
BTV has the potential to be a great escape from typical AIO episodes, with its radically different format. However, when that format isn't fully taken advantage of or thought out fully, what you get is really tired episode that just floats from one skit to another. This seems to be what happened in BTV: Grace
The show begins with Bernard and Connie on the street giving away food. This could be a good demonstration of grace, but it is really ruined by Eugene's appearance. Yes, Eugene...the one who has added so much to BTV broadcasts in the past is reduced to an annoying, whining bit part here which is way out of character.
I found very little humor in any of the skits, I'm afraid, though I nearly cracked a smile at "I want to direct" and the Amish in Paradise idea in Bernard's story. The "Story From Bernard" is an a lackluster version of the Prodigal son. Past stories have emphasized the emotional (345: B-TV: Compassion) or even spiritual (434: BTV: Redeeming the Season), but this one tries to be pure comedy and comes up way short. It consists mainly of Bernard saying short sentences and then pausing for the characters in the story to "insert smart remarks here". Not that that's a bad way to do a skit...it has worked wonders on past AIOs (5: Gifts for Madge and Guy comes to mind), but for it to work well, the story has to be really creative and the remarks have to be humorous. Neither is present here.
As usual on BTV, we have some great production values, especially during the Parable of Lost Coin where we get some great funny background noises. BTVs also are supposed to have lots of wacky voices. This episode has some, but some are so extreme it's hard to hear what the characters are saying.
The whole episode just feels completely drained. We get interruptions by the "NT News Squad", which feel like they were misplaced from the OT Action News episodes. There seemed like there was more potential for some humor or even inside jokes throughout. How about Bernard muttering that Bart Rathbone gave him a good deal on the tickets to Hawaii? Or some fun lines during the sitcom parodies?
I'd have to say that this is the least of the BTVs. I laughed at the great skits in 298: I Want My B-TV. I felt the emotional pull of 345: B-TV: Compassion. I admired the fun and even the subtlety of 317: B-TV: Envy. I marveled at the many different skits that could be used to the show thankfulness in 383: BTV: Thanks. I loved the funny commercials and history in 434: BTV: Redeeming the Season. I even had to smile at the fairy tale references in 410: BTV: Forgiveness. With this episode, it was pretty much a straight face affair from start to finish.
Rating: 2 stars
|440: I Slap Floor|
Imagine an episode that knows Adventures in Odyssey's past so well, it can reference it over and over. Imagine an episode that provides perceptive commentary on Odyssey's storylines and characters. Imagine an Odyssey fan's dream come true. Imagine the new Marshal Younger episode "I Slap Floor".
I Slap Floor contains more to laugh and smile about than most of the rest of the 1999-2000 season put together. It's a superior work of self-spoofing in-jokes and episode references that works simply as an episode of hilarity. In fact, this episode didn't even try to make up much of a "moral to the story" beyond it's good to have a laugh now and then, and truer words were never spoken, especially after listening to an episode like this.
The episode consists almost entirely of Bernard telling a story to Mandy and David of what happened while they were out of town. The first thing he describes immediately drops all jaws to the floor (of the listening audience, anyway). Richard Maxwell suddenly pops through the door at Whit's End! Richard seems way out of character, but that's understandable based on what happens later. Suddenly all kinds of strange things begin to happen. Nearly every one is a jab at one of the characters or storylines that has taken place on AIO lately.
Some of these work for tremendous laughs. Eugene and Connie actually seem to fall in love. These scenes were spectacular, mainly due to the chemistry these two characters have and how familiar we are with their personalities. Then there's Edwin and Margaret Faye who are going to get married, with some very appropriate lines from Edwin. The actor who plays him delivers the lines with perfect timing and energy. Bart suddenly seems to show a human side and Harlow actually solves a case. And then, of course, there's Whit, who gives the first bad advice of his life. They're all told with great revelations and fun.
The episode also achieves it's "parody" feel with all the previous episode references. Connie and Eugene mention Eugene's driving attempts (194: A License to Drive) and early romance (254: Truth, Trivia, & 'Trina). And then there are my favorite part of the episode...quick lines that serve as in-jokes for long time listeners. From obvious ones like Tom's seeing an angel named Haggai and Whit's invention of, well, the Stratoflyer to more hidden ones like when Connie says "Remember when I was, like, sixteen" or Eugene's "There's no sense in a long drawn-out, seemingly never to end engagement!". The episode is full of those.
The episode even references some things that fans on the web have been dying to hear. Eugene is actually working at the college (took him a year an half, but anyway), Katrina is finally at least mentioned, and we even get a fun spoof of "Blackgaard's Revenge".
There are a few minor problems with the episode. It seems obvious that the script included lines for Margaret Faye, but the actress must not have been available. It would have made far more sense for her to read her own speech. There's another issue, though. Since this episode doesn't really say within the episode that the inner story wasn't true, I wonder how some of those less familiar with AIO (or those who don't decipher "I Slap Floor") will react to it. But I can't really judge what other people will think. I only know what I think about the episode.
Any time a series reaches a place where it's had enough shows that it can draw from it's own material for themes, episodes like this are possible. As a fun, completely harmless, insightful self-parody, this episode shines.
Rating: 4 stars
|441: What Do You Think? / Idol Minds (Split)|
John Avery Whittaker, Connie Kendall, and Eugene Meltsner are very developed characters. They need to act a very particular way since we know so much about them. This split episode shows nearly the ultimate problem with long-running series when characters act very unlike themselves.
The first half show is pretty good. Not up there with Chain Reaction or The Treasure Room, but okay. The episode just doesn't have enough time for some great pay-offs that should come from this idea. The story begins with Liz in three very quick instances where she wishes that she could know what other people were thinking about her. She whines her problems to Whit and he instantly whips up a Room of Consequence experience to help her with her problem. Whit must be a whiz on that programming! It took Jason a full day of work to make an ROC program on a soap opera, but Whit pulls a program out of his hat just about instantaneously.
The program then (very briefly) shows Liz what people really think of her. End of story. The episode flies by so fast that you're really waiting for more at the end. Everything feels so inevitable that even the characters are noticing how familiar this sounds.
However, this half does have some "saving graces." It's a pretty cool idea to hear what other people are thinking and it's accomplished with nice sound effect work. Additionally some of the lines are pretty clever, especially Eugene's William Tell. Alex Jefferson was pretty good, too. Great job on that part! The half also references previous episodes like The Eternal Birthday and mentions Greenblat's Department Store. And finally, Liz's constant whining is pointed out. Nice touches all around. Too bad that these weren't put into a longer story and fully developed.
The short skit is a nice one. It's a movie trailer and has some good, smart lines. Not as good as a couple past ones, but pretty nice.
Idol Minds contains some of the very worst characterizations of Whit, Connie, and Eugene. As far as I'm concerned, those three empty shells bear little to no resemblance to the three characters that I hold dear to my heart. Furthermore, I think that the point the episode is trying to make isn't really a valid way to tell it.
The episode begins with Whit away from town and the kids wanting advice. This idea was used (to far better success) in 62: Let This Mind Be in You. The first scene of this episode provides an opportunity for Eugene and Connie to interact. It's almost as though the script contained a section labeled, "Put in clever banter here," but the clever part was forgotten. Only the banter is left.
Eugene ends up making a robot of Whit, but it's really more like he got some robots that could represent himself and Connie. Were Eugene and Connie really in this episode or were their evil twin suddenly written in? The pair practically act like non-Christians in the episode. And then there's Whit. When he pops up at the end, they must have run out of time, so they couldn't even give him the decent "Whit speech." In what Whit seems to think is a serious issue, he does nothing more than toss the kids a Bible verse and send them home. Come on! The real Whit would take the kids aside and explain the issue to them.
But another thing that really bothers me about the episode is the "theme." Whit is not God, so the same rules don't apply to him. I don't think that it's really very good parallel to show idol worship with some kids wanting to see a robot talk. This brings up some interesting theological issues that the episode shrugs off and doesn't have time to discuss or bring any resolution to.
There are other problems with the episode as well. One problem with some of the episodes lately seems to be with the "rules of a series." One of the laws of writing for any kind of series is that you are supposed to write within the confines of what you've already done and presented as "fact." You can't have long-established characters suddenly start acting differently without giving a reason. You can't just throw Connie back into work at Whit's End without giving a reason for her being there. You shouldn't just forget characters (Katrina, Jack, Jason) for two years. Like it or not, what has already been written is now Odyssey "history" and the writers should write shows that correspond to existing data.
I did enjoy some points of What Do You Think?, but Idol Minds completely ruined any semblance of pleasure I could have gotten out of this episode. I almost hope that Idol Minds will not be released on tape, which is something that I have never wished for a previous episode.
What Do You Think?: 2 1/2 stars
Idol Minds: 1/2 star
Rating: 1 1/2 stars
|442: Two Roads (a) / Sticks and Stones (b)|
Can you handle reading the instructions on a label of shampoo (Lather, Rinse, Repeat)? Then you can probably handle the moral advice in this episode.
Two Roads is a KIDS Radio broadcast featuring the nearly-forgotten "Twilife Zone". I've got to admit that when the episode began with that great Twilife Zone music, I felt chills. That music generally sets apart episodes that are among the most clever, humorous, and spoof filled episodes in AIO canon. Unfortunately, this episode only uses "The Twilife Zone" as a cover for an overly tired and pretty uninteresting story. So much for the normal parodies and in-jokes (unless those weird names are supposed to reference something). It's all very straight-forward here. We don't even get the "do not adjust your radio" or cool character voices that we should expect.
The short episode tells the story of two men, one who lived his life trying to be as bad as you can be and another who lived a good life, but wasn't a Christian. And the ending? Well, that shouldn't be too much of a surprise, but they both end up in hell. And that's about it. The episode never tries to throw in a single wrench into the sermon that we've heard for a long time. It certainly is a valid point, but it needs to be done far more creatively to make much of an impact. Think of the past Twilife episodes and what they did with simple subjects like "drugs" or "time wasting". However, the episode does manage to put in a bunch of stuff that I really don't like to hear very often in AIO. We get a robbery with lots of yelling and even a reference to dumping bodies in a river. Not very pretty.
The skit in the middle is a James Bond spoof done by the James Bond master, John Beebee. It has great music, sound effects, tons of in-jokes, and cute phrases in nearly every line. It is far and away the best part of the episode.
Sticks and Stones is sad not only because it's uncreative and doesn't move clearly between its points or odd sub-plots, but also because it's written by Marshal Younger. Marshal has been the paragon writer for the past season, but here he presents an episode full of half-developed ideas a number of scenes that add up to nothing. It may be his worst episode.
The episode's focus isn't very clear, but it is supposedly about the impact of harmful words. Bart discovers that Matthew Peterson, someone he once knew and made fun of, may be opening an electronics store in Odyssey. Thinking that Matt is out for revenge and hating the idea of competition, Bart uses his family to try to convince the guy not to move to Odyssey.
But again the episode has no clear point. Bart picked on the guy when he was younger, so therefore he must be back for revenge. Okay, but then the episode goes into a central section that has Doris trying to convince Matthew not to come and Rodney picking on Matt's son. These scenes are poorly written and don't contribute much to the overall message.
And there are other problems. Characters just seem to be at the right place and the right time with little explanation. They pop into the scene out of the blue. Whit just happens to show up with Matthew while Bart is apparently standing in the street. Young Matt runs into Tom in the woods. And then there's that scene with Doris in the restaurant; it took me most of the scene to figure out where they were and what exactly was trying to be conveyed. Furthermore, there's the problem of Bart's origin. In 129: Not One of Us Bart says he grew up in New York.
I'm reeling to understand what Marshal could have been thinking on this episode. Is this supposed to be his own personal parody of just how bad Adventures in Odyssey has become?
Both episodes are terribly straight-forward with absolutely no plot twists or creative leaps. Their stories could be outlined on a very small Post-It note, without even using the back. There's not a bit of subtlety in either episode. Connie wondered if kids were getter meaner in 432: You Win Some, You Lose Some. I'm wondering if the AIO writers think kids are getter dumber, too, and can't follow stories more complex than "A leads to B". Just about every episode seems to be resorting to the "bash them over the head" technique to get a message across.
It's really too bad that the first thing Chris says at the end is "Funny, isn't it?" Inevitably, an entire section of listeners doubtless said "No" all at once.
Two Roads: 1 1/2 stars
Sticks and Stones: 1 star
Rating: 1 1/2 stars
|443: Changing Rodney|
Changing Rodney is an episode that incorporates a lot of odds and ends from other AIO episodes, using some of this information to piece together a plot, and other things for some "continuity mentions" or to tie up loose ends. It's an episode that knows AIO history and, while its not especially funny or creatively different than other episodes, it does manage to be entertaining and interesting.
The episode mainly consists of Mandy trying to turn Rodney Rathbone into a nice guy since he is mean to her all the time. She uses the advice of Eugene (who seems to be reading from a psychology textbook) to work on different methods of converting Rodney. Much of the episode is a back and forth structure with Eugene and Mandy conferencing on strategy and then Mandy trying the advice on Rodney.
I liked the episode's use of past information. Connie's father is mentioned (though never heard), Rodney still sounds like his old self, and Eugene and Connie's little interactions are far better on this episode than a few of the previous ones ("snippy argumentative..."). Furthermore, this episode clears up many holes that AIO writers had dug for themselves. Evidently, Connie is now working at Whit's End and the Timothy Center (though that does seem to contradict her "old stomping grounds" line in Blackgaard's Revenge). We now find out that Mandy is taking high school classes and is in middle school (that makes sense).
The episode itself seems to have a pretty familiar and unsurprising structure. We've heard the old "think they are changing and then they turn on you" bit before in The Good, the Bad, & Butch, What Happened to the Silver Streak?, and others. The final principal scene (which features about the third voice of Principal Skinner) and the final confrontation scene are pretty well-handled here, but can't help feeling like those earlier, more original episodes.
I liked the interaction of Mandy and Rodney. I think Rodney's character is getting pretty boring because he's been such a static character for so many years. I believe it is about time for him to change (whether for better or worse), even if it may be just in tiny steps.
I felt that the message of this episode was a bit muddled. What was it really trying to say? That we should or should not try to change people? Whit mentions that Rodney may have had a point, but the episode backs off from making a strong point either way, which leaves the audience a bit uncertain. Normally, I like some subtlety and episodes without straight lines, but this episode manages to bring up the issue and make some good points without bringing a proper closure.
Issues and possible weaknesses aside, this was a good full-length episode that sounds a lot more like the kind of Odyssey episode that I like to sit down and hear. It's more well-written than most of the episodes this season and at least provides some basic continuity for eager fans.
Rating: 3 stars
|444: Career Moves / The Bad Guy (Split)|
"One cloud is enough to eclipse all the sun," or so said Thomas Fuller, an English clergyman in the 1600s. This quote basically sums up my feeling about most of the AIO spring season. Some of the episodes have been so disheartening that I've started to become cynical about all of AIO. Yes, there are exceptions, but I honestly don't think we've had episodes this bad for a long time, if ever.
This split episode is written by Marshal Younger, a gifted writer of both slice of life, humor shows, and others. Look back at what he was working on about a year ago—Natural Born Leader, A Lesson from Mike, The Devil Made Me Do It. Marshal is positively a spectacular AIO writer, and he proved it only a few episodes ago with I Slap Floor. But he also wrote Sticks and Stones and Career Moves/The Bad Guy. I Slap Floor was creative, fun, and engaging, but these other episodes are quite the opposite. Did he write them on a lunch break? Perhaps his alter-ego occasionally takes over, like Regis Blackgaard and Richard Maxwell in I Slap Floor.
The first of the two split episodes is the story of Nathaniel Graham working for Bart Rathbone at the Electric Palace. Bart tries to teach him to be a good (crooked) businessman. The Official Site says that "when Nathaniel chooses honesty, Bart surprises him with his reaction." The word surprise should not be used anywhere in connection to this episode. It is incredibly unsurprising. To avoid giving away any possible semblance of surprise, I'll simply say that Bart and Nathaniel have little chemistry and the episode is plain boring and flat. There is one scene that works—when a customer brings back a product to Nathaniel for a refund—but that scene can't carry an otherwise yawner episode.
The second split is marginally better, but still painfully obvious and uncreative. An old friend of Nick shows up as a Christian, despite the fact that Nick remembers him as a "rough guy." The episode follows as Nick tries to make Vince fall into temptation, but is unsuccessful. These scenes have the potential for loads of humor (what funny things could Nick find around Odyssey), but are played with the excitement of a funeral. Again, I'll refrain from giving away the supposed "surprise" ending, but I think you'll be able to guess it. We've had so many like it in Odyssey that it's starting to become a cliché.
On other notes, Nick isn't in top form here; he's missing his usual energy and his wise-cracks are dead in the water. Of perhaps greater concern, however, is Whit. I used to dream of how great it would be to meet a "real Whit." Now I almost wonder if I'd want to meet him. Whit sounds so harsh in this episode and, just like Idol Minds, he doesn't take time to properly explain himself. If we had more time, Whit could have pointed out a few verses or given Nick some sort of "object lesson" or something. But since we're in a split episode, we don't have time for all of that.
The episode was just rather depressing for me. Maybe it's because I'm outside of the oft-quoted AIO "target age range," but I really can't see any members of that age range that I know enjoying these episodes. I'm reminded of another quote, this one by Charles A. Beard, an educator and historian. He said, "When it is dark enough, you can see the stars." Perhaps the one good thing that comes out of this time in AIO history is that we can appreciate some of the earlier episodes even more.
Career Moves Rating: 1 1/2 star
The Bad Guy: 2 stars
Rating: 1 1/2 stars
|445: No Boundaries|
Occasionally we get an AIO episode that almost belongs in the "AIO horror" file. This definition should not bring with it the inevitable connotations from the film world. Instead, it is made up of episodes that show the drastic (and perhaps a bit over-the-edge) effects of actions in order to make a point. The best of these episodes are 288: The Twilife Zone and 350: The Time of Our Lives.
We must now add No Boundaries to the AIO horror file, and while it is not as funny or creative as other two episodes, it does manage to make it's point well and, just like those other two episodes, it ends a "tough" note—really driving the point home.
The episode begins with a very brief conversation between Whit and Alex where Alex explains that he has practically no freedom and he can't see any reason for his parent's rules. This little bit of dialog isn't one of the episode's highlights. Whit's comments are limited to "Oh?" and "Really?" at first and the conversation should last a bit longer to set up the rest of the episode. Whit whips out another Room of Consequence adventure (seems like we've been in there a lot lately) and the main part of the episode begins.
When reading the Chronicles of Narnia or even the Passages books, I have long thought that the weakest parts of the story tend to be the "frame" of the story. In the case of the Narnia books, I don't think that the action and dialog that takes place before and after the children are in Narnia is nearly as good as what occurs while they are in Narnia. The same holds true of these Room of Consequence episodes. Even on the classic episode 295: Soaplessly Devoted, the scenes outside the invention are far less entertaining than the ones in it (except for the great soap opera scene). Maybe the writer's need to work on these scenes a bit more, using them as something more than just a "rush through and get to the real episode."
David's R.O.C. use begins with his parents telling him they're changing their discipline method and now using a book called Dare to Let Go (a sly reference to Dr. Dobson's Dare to Discipline). David begins by taking his new freedom to eat candy bars and stay up late and escalates his destructive path from there. Soon he's ending up in Principal Johnson's office (whose voice is very different than his last voice in 409: Natural Born Leader.)
I wish that the episode was a bit more humorous, at least in the beginning. Both The Twilife Zone and The Time of Our Lives were hilarious and still managed to convey their serious message at the end. We've heard for a long time that the writers have been trying to be lighter and funnier. Most of the episodes this season have been very heavy on the "light" but very weak on the funny side of things. This is an episode that would have benefited a bit from having some humor in the first half (that would help complement the second half).
The performances by three of the main characters are stellar in this episode. In a few earlier episodes, I thought Alex was a pretty good child actor. He was better than some of the other new characters, but not as good as a few in the "old days." However, in this episode, his ability shines. Around the time he is robbing a hardware store, there is a change in his voice and he doesn't sound at all like a child actor saying lines in a script. He sounds like he really believes what he says. There is a desperation, anger, vengefulness and even sadness to his voice that you usually can't find in actors until they are older than he. Alex's parents also do a superior job in a role that requires a balancing act between being a bit loony at the beginning (I especially appreciated the "Wonderful!" when Alex said he was sick) to being quite tragic toward the end. Furthermore, the school teacher and even Whit himself are more well-written and well-acted than a few previous episodes. Whit is his old self in this episode, ready to hug someone when they need it and lending a listening ear at to kids' problems. I do wish he had a bit longer "talk" at the end (are there any Bible verses he could have used?), but it's not a major point. The production end of the episode is excellent as well. There's some great music throughout, along with a great smash cut to Alex driving a car.
Overall, an interesting diversion from the typical Odyssey episode with lots to think about at the end. The episode seems to get a bit deeper than the overly simple ones on previous episodes like "lying is wrong." There were some little hidden things about the episode, too—like how Alex realizes that having "no boundaries" actually makes his life have a huge boundary at the end. Good job, John Beebee! It looks like you're back in your stride!
Rating: 3 stars
|446: A Matter of Manners (a) / The Seven Deadly Dwarves (b)|
Adventures in Odyssey has used a multitude of methods for telling stories. From KIDS Radio and BTV to the Imagination Station and Room of Consequence to real life episodes and stories by Bernard, I think that AIO may have more methods for telling stories than any other series. The possibilities are nearly endless for story-telling devices. Despite having all those story-telling devices, when one of those mediums isn’t fully taken advantage of, the episode doesn’t work. I’m afraid that’s what happened with A Matter of Manners. On the flip-side, a medium can truly be over-exploited and overdone so much that the episode loses its message in all of the production values. I think this is what happened on The Seven Deadly Dwarves.
A Matter of Manners is supposed to be a rather "true to life" episode, a kind that has been rather rare in Odyssey lately with all of the fantasy. The problem with Matter of Manners is that it isn’t very focused and Whit doesn’t get to be his usual Whit. The episode begins with an incident that highlights plainly the problem with Whit for the past season—he’s just too mean. In various episodes before this season, Whit would "strong voiced" when it was needed, but he always seemed very gentle with the kids of Odyssey. He was the kind of guy that kids could always come to and count on to be there to listen. One of the elements that really worked and held true in 400: The Spy Who Bugged Me was how Jared and Dwayne immediately went to Whit when they wondered who would believe them. But in A Matter of Manners, Whit shoves the two boys out of Whit’s End without taking them aside to talk to them. I believe this is the first time anyone has ever been "banished" from Whit’s End and I think it’s a sad day.
There are some other "groaning" moments in the episode and not just because it’s supposed to be about bad manners. One comes as we get to hear a voice that obviously belongs to Tom Riley as Principal Johnson. This is the third voice of Principal Johnson and he sounds nothing like he did just one episode ago in 445: No Boundaries. Then there is the message of the episode. It starts out for the first five minutes of a very short episode to be about good manners, but it lands more on a message about legalism. I’m sorry to say, but Whit’s speeches are getting almost clichéd anymore. And it almost seems like he would have had to be at the boy's school to know all he knows about what happened that day.
Have you ever seen in a movie where the production values are stupendous and the characters have good one-liners, but the story doesn’t make much of a point? Seven Deadly Dwarves would fit in with those types of movies nicely. The show has some terribly humorous moments that combine a funny bit of writing with great sound effects (HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey and the Amazon.com chick), but the message is lost. What is the message anyway? Well, we get to hear the names of the seven deadly sins, but what are they anyway? We learned more about them in the 30 second "Did You Know?" segment in 317: B-TV: Envy than we learned here.
This is the ninth split episode and, as far as I’m concerned, they’ve proved their point. They don’t work for carrying the weight of the series and most shows produced in the split format either just don’t work as episodes or should have been expanded to full episodes to better make their points. I would be willing to accept the split format if it came around every ten episodes or so and featured exclusively shows like The Treasure Room and Chain Reaction—shows that work fine in the short time slot and don’t feel rushed. But to have seven out of the last twelve episodes as splits? Talk about overkill.
|447: Potlucks and Poetry|
Aubrey is a poet now, but a conflict arises when she signs up for a poetry reading at Whit’s End that is the same night as a church potluck. She hasn’t told her parents, so Aubrey is imagining all sorts of disasters if her parents attend. Meanwhile, Ellen’s parents are coming for a visit and Ellen worries about them causing a stir at the church potluck. When her little sister Bethany finds out, and accidentally tells her grandparents, it seems like a disaster is eminent. But Grandma and Grandpa come up with a plan for Ben and Ellen to go to the potluck, and them and the girls to attend Aubrey’s poetry reading. All goes well until the parents find out about the poetry reading and rush to Whit’s End. At the same time, the grandparents find out they weren’t exactly wanted at the potluck and rush to the church. This was a pretty exciting tale of why parents may embarrass us, but only because they really care about us.