019: Recollections Review

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Episode: 019: Recollections
Originally Aired: March 26, 1988
From Album: Volume 1: The Adventure Begins

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Fillmore Recreation Center I realize many people are going to disagree with my rating on this episode. And that’s okay. Some people think all art criticism is subjective. That there is no such thing as good art or bad art. There’s just art and what matters is if you like it or not. I don’t believe that for a moment. There is such thing as good art and bad art, and there are objective standards with which you can judge it. At the same time, there is an undeniably subjective aspect to reviewing. Each reviewer brings her own prejudices and biases.

My own theories of storytelling contribute to me disliking “Recollections.” I solemnly believe that “backstory works best when it’s back.” What I mean by that is that the suggestion of a mysterious past is far more effective than explicitly showing the supposedly mysterious events from that character’s past. Once you’ve shown the events, they cease to be mysterious. I believe this was one of the contributing factors in the disastrous Star Wars prequels. (Not by far the only factor. I am a dedicated Star Trek fan, but I am one of the few geeks who dislikes not only the Star Wars prequels but also the original trilogy.)

Another problem with prequels is that the story stops moving forward. While anything can happen in a sequel, what can happen in a prequel is constrained by what has already been established. Often you already know what happened. You just don’t know all the details. This is the opposite of the economical storytelling I admired in “A Member of the Family” and “Connie Comes to Town.” Rather than trusting the listener’s imagination to fill in the details, all those details are filled in for the listener in excruciating detail.

Sometimes when I dislike a story, I ask myself, If I had written this story, what would I have done differently? While I generally oppose flashback episodes on principle, had the flashbacks been paired with another story happening in the “present”, I think this episode might have worked. Whit could have taken the day off and left Tom and Connie in charge of Whit’s End. Shortly after he leaves, everything that could possibly go wrong does. Between problems, Tom would tell Connie a little more about the history of Whit’s End. The episode would alternate between the story happening in the “present” and the flashbacks, giving about equal time to both.

The second thing I disliked about this episode was the cliché “save this beloved building from being bulldozed” story. Countless movies and sitcom episodes have hashed and rehashed this idea. As far as I can tell, this trope is a complete fabrication of Hollywood’s. While I’m sure campaigns have been launched in real life to save this or that historical building, I’ve never personally encountered one. My suspicion is that when they do happen, they’re just not that big of a deal. Americans have a love affair with progress and most of us don’t have emotional attachments to specific buildings.

The one redeeming aspect of the Fillmore Recreation Center storyline was that it was private industry—not government—that saved the building from being demolished. In almost all “save this building” stories, it is the government that eventually steps in and rescues the structure from certain destruction. It’s simply not the responsibility of the government to prevent beloved buildings from being torn down.

On that same note, Jenny Whittaker’s argument for preserving the Fillmore Recreation Center is for the sake of Odyssey’s children. The government has a responsibility to protect children from sexual predators, kidnappers, and others who would do harm to children. The government does not have a responsibility to judge whether a video game arcade or a recreation center is the better creative outlet for children. That is the responsibility of parents, the church, and private citizens. Private citizens who have a concern for children need to start places like Whit’s End. Not the government. Would we really want the government making those kinds of decisions anyway? I wouldn’t trust the government with that. Would you?

I can see why a lot of people like this episode. Whit’s wife’s death packs a major emotional wallop. I’m man enough to admit I tear up each time I listen to this episode. And Whit gets his hero moment at the end of the episode. He swoops in at the last minute as chairman of the Universal Press Foundation (publisher of the Universal Encyclopedia) and makes a bid to buy the Fillmore Recreation Center for a staggering $3.5 million. And those pieces of the story would have been good as the B-story to a story set in the “present,” but as it is, this episode gives us a lot of details we just don’t need.

Matthew's Rating: 3 (out of 10)
More info about 019: Recollections:

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