017-018: A Member of the Family (Parts 1 and 2) Review

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Episode: 017-018: A Member of the Family
Originally Aired: March 12, 1988
From Album: Volume 1: The Adventure Begins

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Family Portraits With “A Member of the Family,” we get a peek at some of the raw ingredients that went into making Adventures in Odyssey. Within the continuity of Adventures in Odyssey, this two-parter doesn’t come until episodes 17 and 18. But it was also a part of Family Portraits, the thirteen-week test series that preceded Odyssey. It was then reaired as the 17th and 18th episode of Odyssey. On the first Odyssey album, The Adventure Begins, it directly follows “Whit’s Flop,” the very first episode of Adventures in Odyssey.

Whereas “Whit’s Flop,” was aimed squarely at the eight to twelve crowd, “A Member of the Family” demonstrates Odyssey’s potential for broad appeal. The episode is much more mature and the tone more serious without being inaccessible to children. The story still revolves around a nine year old and addresses very real issues—such as divorce and alienation—faced by children that age in today’s world (as well as the world when this episode was first aired—which was over two decades ago now!).

Odyssey has aged well over the past two decades. It avoids the pop-culture riffs popular in many cartoons that would have made it feel dated. This episode could have taken place in 2011 just as easily as in 1988. Monty would have asked if Whit had a DVD player (or maybe even Netflix streaming) instead of a VCR. Two decades from now a DVD player will be as much of a relic as a VCR is today. Although he doesn’t have a VCR or cable, Whit would appear to have a TV at this point in the series. In later episodes, he does not.

This was the producers’ attempt early on to qualify just who Whit is—and how perfect he is. Of course, we all know, theologically, nobody is perfect. If Whit overheard someone say he was perfect, he would be the first to say, “Whoa! Hold on a minute there.” But we all know people who seem perfect. Somebody that you trust. Somebody that you go to when you have problems. Maybe it’s your pastor. Maybe it’s a grandparent. No, they aren’t perfect, but they are trustworthy and wise. Hal Smith’s contribution to the characterization of Whit really should be recognized here. He has one of those voices you automatically trust. The way he plays Whit, it’s hard to believe he’s not perfect.

But he’s not. Tom Riley tell his friend, “God’s given you a gift for helping people sort things out.” “A Member of the Family” shows that although Whit can give great advice to other families, he has a blind spot when it comes to his own. Many children assume that when you grow up, you’ll always know what the right thing to do is. Tom and Whit’s frank discussion about Whit’s strained relationship with his daughter models for children the importance of having mature, strong relationships as an adult with friends who will keep you accountable.

There is great economy of storytelling in the first part. It goes straight from Monty dishonestly taking money from the cash register at Whit’s End to the aftermath of Monty being spanked. No unnecessary time is spent following Monty to the movies or having Whit discover his deception. We can all fill those details in for ourselves. Then it skips several days directly from Whit’s parable explaining the necessity of the punishment to Tom noticing a marked difference in Monty’s behavior. No scenes of Monty slowly warming up to Odyssey life. A great deal of story was squeezed into a very small amount of time.

While telling one, coherent story over the course of two episodes, a two-parter must also deliver two satisfactory climaxes. While the climax to the larger story will come at the end of the second part, there must be some kind of climax in the first part. The story arc of the first part is Monty’s behavioral change. Many children will be able to relate to this arc. The larger arc is Whit’s reconciliation with his daughter, Jana. Many parents and older listeners will be able to connect with that. “A Member of the Family” makes know attempt to talk down to kids. The death of Whit’s son in the Vietnam War is dealt with frankly and honestly.

Matthew's Rating: 6 (out of 10)
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4 Comments

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