037-38: Camp What-A-Nut (Parts 1 and 2) Review

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Episode: 037-38: Camp What-A-Nut (Parts 1 and 2)
Originally Aired: July 30, 1988
From Album: Volume 2: Stormy Weather

Buy album from Amazon!
7

Bear Attack! Odyssey’s going to camp! And Donny’s going too. Who’s Donny? Well, he’s writing a journal and he’s short. Other than that, it doesn’t really matter. He’s basically Jimmy.

In fact, according to AIO: TOG, the episode was originally conceived for Jimmy Barclay, but the actor who plays him was unavailable during the recording. It was going to be a continuation of Jimmy’s journal from “The Family Vacation.” The problem is Donny is never given any characteristic to differentiate himself from Jimmy, so he ends up being a generic character.

Camp—like VBS—is an almost universal experience. Most evangelicals have attended Bible camp, but even non-Christians have probably attended some kind of summer camp. If you’ve never been to summer camp, I pity you. Camp What-A-Nut is a great setting. It’s a story well I’m surprised Adventures in Odyssey hasn’t dipped into more often. You could easily base a whole Odyssey spin-off at the camp. This camp even has a chemistry lab! I personally have never been to a summer camp with a chemistry lab.

Camp What-A-Nut is only featured in three other episodes. “Camp What-A-Nut” aired during the summer of 1988. Connie and Lucy return the following summer in another two-parter, “Connie Goes to Camp.” After the summers of 1988 and 1989, Odyssey doesn’t return to Camp What-A-Nut until the fall of 1994 when Jimmy Barclay attends basketball camp (“The Fundamentals”). And it hasn’t been back since. Maybe Whit is too busy with Whit’s End to be camp director.

Most television sitcom episodes have a B-story, a subplot that usually thematically relates to the main plot. Surprisingly, most Odyssey episodes have not had a B-story. They generally have a single plotline running throughout the episode. “Camp What-A-Nut” is distinct, then, in that it has a B-story: Donny’s adventures at camp—especially his dealings with bully Chas Wentworth—form the main plot while Ned believing Donny’s sister Gloria has a crush on him serves as an entertaining B-story. Maybe the length of a two-parter afforded writer Phil Lollar a little more room than normal to maneuver.

You may remember from my review of the two-part “The Family Vacation” that I have a strong opinion on what kind of stories should and should not constitute a two-parter. “Camp What-A-Nut” is episodic enough that part 1 can stand on its own apart from part 2 fairly well, but nothing is really resolved in part 1. Thus it fails to meet all my qualifications for a two-parter, yet I’m willing to overlook that for the most part since it is otherwise such a strong story.

Which brings me to another feature of two-parters: the cliffhanger. A successful cliffhanger should accomplish two things: (1) keep you in suspense and (2) make you want to come back for the conclusion. The latter doesn’t matter so much when you’re listening to the albums—you’ll most likely listen to both parts back to back. At the end of part 1, Donny and Whit are being chased by a protective mama bear. Part 2, unfortunately, deflates any suspense by visiting the bear storyline just shortly at the beginning of the episode and not returning to it until almost nine minutes into the episode. And even then the resolution is delivered via narration rather than being dramatized. Here the “show, don’t tell” rule should have been followed.

Will Ryan, voice of the abandoned Officer Harley and eventual voice of Eugene, is a versatile and talented voice actor. Here he voices the goofy character chef Marco Dibiasi. Many sitcoms—even sitcoms like Odyssey that feature mostly realistic characters—often employ various goofy characters. For example, Dwight on The Office. Sometimes these characters are referred to derisively as “sitcom characters” (i.e. they couldn’t exist outside sitcoms). Some critics seem to think this is a negative, but realism is not the goal—nor should be the goal—of sitcoms. These characters serve the same purpose as caricature; they magnify specific character traits.

You can’t have it both ways though. A character can’t be both goofy and self-aware. Lollar trying to disguise what are clearly puns as misunderstood English falls flat. The puns Marco delivers require an understanding of English that we are to believe he does not obtain. He’s surprisingly self-aware when giving Ned advice about the possible crush and then again when lecturing Chas on treating people right. Using the character inserted to provide comic relief to also deliver serious messages sends mixed signals.

Ned’s line, “They’re just a bunch of 6th graders. How bad can they be?” should make anyone who’s served as a camp counselor laugh. As much as I’ve criticized Lollar for some of his characterizations in this episode, he should be praised for the work of classic comedy he pulls off in the boys cabin: pillow fight, lights out, tripping on luggage, pine cones in sleeping bag, tripping on luggage again, bird in cabin, tripping on luggage yet again. I would hazard a guess that Lollar’s been a camp counselor himself. I’ve been a camp counselor, and the preceding events aren’t that far off from the typical first night at camp. You spend all your time before lights out getting the campers ready for bed, so once the cabin goes dark, you still have to shower and get ready for bed yourself. Since you don’t want to use a flashlight and possibly disturb the (hopefully) sleeping campers, you stumble about tripping over luggage.

I think Odyssey should visit Camp What-A-Nut more often.

Matthew's Rating: 7 (out of 10)
More info about 037-38: Camp What-A-Nut (Parts 1 and 2):

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