001: Whit's Flop Review

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Episode: 001: Whit's Flop
Originally Aired: November 21, 1987
From Album: Volume 1: The Adventure Begins

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5

Pizza Oven Of all the television pilots produced, only a small fraction make it to your TV screen. Wikipedia estimates that only a quarter or less of produced pilots become TV series. Pilots are meant to be a proof-of-concept for studio executives. Adventures in Odyssey had its own proof-of-concept in the form of a thirteen-week test (or pilot) series titled Family Portraits.

Usually pilots end up serving as the first episode of the series. Not always though. Sometimes the studio executives think the concept shows promise but needs additional work before going to air. A famous example of this is Star Trek: The Original Series. The original pilot, “The Cage,” was thought too cerebral by NBC, so a second pilot, “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” was created.

First episodes—whether pilots or not—have a tricky proposition. The purpose of the first episode is to introduce you to the main characters and establish the premise of the series. But often the main characters already know each other. They don’t need to ask each other questions like “What do you do for a living?” and “What is your deepest, innermost secret?” They already know. In most cases, they’ve been friends for years before the events of the series begin.

A common trick in pilots is to have at least one character who is new to the group. I call it the new kid on the block strategy. For example, The Big Bang Theory is about four geeks who have been best friends for a long time. That could have made it hard for the audience to learn anything about these characters. Enter Penny, the pretty neighbor who just moved in across the hall. She serves as an audience surrogate. You meet the characters through her eyes.

If I was listening to “Whit’s Flop” in 1987 (I wasn’t, because I was only one year old), I wouldn’t know who John Avery Whittaker is or what Whit’s End is. But the people within Odyssey would. Enter Davey Holcomb. Davey, conveniently, has never visited Whit’s End before either. He becomes the audience surrogate through whom we learn all about the wacky and wonderful Whit’s End.

The second purpose of a first episode is to establish the premise of the show. Odyssey’s target audience is the 8-12 age group. This episode’s simplistic message of failure/never giving up is aimed squarely at that age range. And that’s okay. That’s appropriate for a pilot of a series whose target audience is 8-12 year olds.

But it’s no different than what you can get from a dozen different shows every afternoon on the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon. Where “Whit’s Flop” stands out in comparison to other children’s entertainment is in its portrayal of adults. In most children’s entertainment, adults are played as fools. In a Disney Channel show, the children would have discovered the message of never giving up in spite of—not because of—the adult characters.

And Odyssey is more realistic because of it. Yes, some adults are bad examples. Some parents are even bad examples. But in reality, adults usually assist children in learning lessons like never giving up—especially strong Christian adults like the adults portrayed in Odyssey.

It is telling that the main character of Adventures in Odyssey is an elderly man. The main characters of most children’s entertainment are children. And if not children, then young adults. You rarely see the elderly as the main characters in children’s entertainment (a notable exception being Pixar’s Up). What this teaches kids is that there’s nothing to be learned from age when the exact opposite is true! By making Whit a fascinating character (in the very first episode we learn he’s an inventor), Adventures in Odyssey teaches children that there is much to be learned from older adults who have much more life experience.

Whereas first episodes are a tricky proposition for creators, they are an equally tricky proposition for critics. Was it an average episode of the series? Was it an example of the best the series has to offer? Was it below average for the series? You don’t have any other episodes of the series to compare it to yet. The way I score, 5 is an average episode of the series (6 = slightly above average, 4 = slightly below average, and so forth). Some pilots wow you, and, as is more often the case, other pilots fail to impress. While “Whit’s Flop” isn’t amazing, it does set a fine baseline for the series.

Matthew's Rating: 5 (out of 10)
More info about 001: Whit's Flop:

15 Comments

Wow!!! This review was TERRIFIC!!!

You're very intelligent and it was cool to see how you and I (although I'm 14) sort of have the same basic grounds of interest like how you made that Star Trek reference and such. That made me get up and cheer lol.

Keep up the awesome work!

-Wes

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