002: The Life of the Party Review

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Episode: 002: The Life of the Party
Originally Aired: November 28, 1987
From Album: Volume 1: The Adventure Begins

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John Whittaker Wearing an Apron Meet Craig. Craig likes to tell jokes. Craig is also new in town. Sound familiar?

If you read my review of “Whit’s Flop,” the very first episode of Adventures in Odyssey, you’ll remember I introduced a technique I call the new kid on the block strategy. “The Life of the Party” is Odyssey’s second episode, but it is not uncommon to see this technique creep up in the first few episodes of a series. The first six episodes of Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse were referred to by Whedon and crew as “six pilots,” because each episode reestablished the premise of the series for those who may not have caught the actual premiere. Like Davey was new to Whit’s End, Craig is new to Odyssey. We learn facts about the town through him that the other characters would have no need of asking about.

Now forget Craig. And for that matter, forget Freddy too. We’ll never see (hear?) either of these characters again.

There are traditional series and then there are anthology series. Star Trek is an example of the former, The Twilight Zone of the latter. While traditional series follow the same group of characters from episode to episode, anthology series present a different set of characters each episode. Anthology series used to be more popular than they are now. There were a number of anthology series on the air during the 1950s and 1960s. Today, you’d be hard pressed to name a single anthology series currently on the air. You’re able to form an emotional bond with the characters of a traditional series that just doesn’t exist with an anthology series. I think that is one reason for the decline in popularity of anthologies.

At this point in its history, Adventures in Odyssey seems to be shaping up to be an anthology series. To be exact, a traditional-anthology hybrid. There are a few characters that are the same from episode to episode (so far only Whit and Tom). The rest of the cast has been different each time so far. As the series progresses, it begins to focus more on recurring characters, but it never completely loses its anthological component.

This is the first episode where we really see kids interacting with other kids. In “Whit’s Flop,” the first episode, Davey interacts some with his teammates but mostly with Whit and Tom. In “A Member of the Family,” seventeenth and eighteenth in series order but second in album order, Monty almost exclusively interacts with Whit and his mom. A significant portion of “The Life of the Party” is Craig interacting with other children.

If you were to describe Adventures in Odyssey to someone who had never heard of the series, it is likely that the word Christian would appear somewhere in your description. That’s why it’s surprising the first biblical reference in the series doesn’t appear until the second (or third depending on whether you’re following the series or album order) episode. On top of that, this reference wasn’t didactic or even religious. It was on offhand remark that wouldn’t have been out of place in a secular series.

The Bible has had a tremendous influence on the English language. David and Goliath and Samson are used as metaphors just as often by those who have never attended Sunday school as by those who are there every time the doors of the church are open. Whit serves Tom a concoction that draws into question just how good of friends he and Tom really are: Chocolate ripple, pistachio, and peanut butter, with just a touch of orange sherbet. Tom says it reminds him of the story of Joseph in the Bible. When Whit prompts him for why, he jokes, “The Cone of Many Colors.”

This exchange between Whit and Tom is the highlight of the episode. The scene doesn’t propel the story forward. It doesn’t reveal an important plot point. It just is. It’s a beautiful peek at what life in a small town is actually like.

The second biblical reference of the episode is didactic in purpose. Whit uses a raspberry seed Tom finds in his multi-colored cone as a parable for the biblical truth that you “reap what you sow” (see the AIO Wiki for a funny anecdote about this line in the episode). The reference does not feel forced or artificial. Those who criticize the didactic use of Scripture in fiction must not spend much time around committed Christians. If you’ve ever hung around people like Whit and Tom in real life (and if you haven’t, seek out the avuncular seniors in your church now), you’ll realize this is really how people who have spent their whole life steeped in Scripture speak.

The transition music felt distinctly different in this episode than the previous episodes. It had a very 80s techno vibe to it. It made the episode feel more dated. If it had not been for that, I probably would have given this episode an 7.

Matthew's Rating: 6 (out of 10)
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