Recently in Episode Reviews Category

Episode: 044: It Sure Seems Like It to Me
Originally Aired: September 17, 1988
From Album: Volume 0: The Lost Episodes

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The Lost Episodes liner notes includes the disclaimer:

“Honor Thy Parents,” “It Sure Seems Like It to Me,” and “Isaac the True Friend” were odd little episodes in which our usual hope of good writing, directing and acting fell a little short of our high standards, so we simply refused to include them in our albums. We include them here as interesting curiosities—and as a glimpse into the dynamic and pressures of creating a weekly radio series.

Since the producers of Adventures in Odyssey recognize that these episodes fail to meet the quality expected of Odyssey episodes, I’ve decided not to rate them. Instead I will let them stand as just that—“curiosities.” I will make a few short remarks about the episodes, but the reviews will be much shorter than my usual reviews.

You can add your own remarks in the comments. Do you disagree with the producers? Do you think this episode is worthy of inclusion in the regular Odyssey lineup? Tell us why.

Album 0 Cover A funny thing about the two “banished episodes” I’ve reviewed so far is that they both make Odyssey sound bigger than the rest of the series. According to “Honor Thy Parents,” there’s a mall in Odyssey. According to this episode, there is an amusement park called Fun City in Odyssey. If a mall automatically bumps you from small- to medium-sized, an amusement park must bump you to large or at least medium-large.

I can’t say with certainty because neither are mentioned in AIO: TOG, but it seems like “Back to School” and “It Sure Seems Like It to Me” may have been conceived as a single episode and when there proved to be too much material for a single episode, they split it up into back-to-back episodes. The problem is there wasn’t quite enough story for two whole episodes, and they ran out about midway through this one. A lot of time was spent repeating information we already learned in “Back to School.”

“It Sure Seems Like It to Me” was still fun though. If I was rating these episodes, I would probably rate it slightly higher than “Honor Thy Parents.”

Matthew's Rating: N/A (out of 10)
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043: Back to School Review

Episode: 043: Back to School
Originally Aired: September 10, 1988
From Album: Volume 3: Heroes

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Friendship Album After the summer-themed episodes of album 2, the first episode of album 3 is appropriately titled “Back to School.” And Leslie is having a tough time back at school. Well, it seems like it to her.

Leslie (played by Azure Janosky who also plays Donna Barclay) has a tendency to exaggerate. She could be dismissed as a sitcom character, but if you think for a moment, you probably know people like her. I know I do.

But this isn’t an episode about stretching the truth. That’s actually the next episode, “It Sure Seems Like It to Me,” which also features Leslie. In fact, this episode and that one are the only two episodes in which she appears making her another of Odyssey’s semi-recurring characters. “It Sure Seems Like It to Me” doesn’t appear next on the album though. It’s not on this album at all! The producers didn’t feel the episode was up to their usual standards and so relegated it to the Lost Episodes album. I’ll break from the album order briefly to review it next just so both of my reviews of Leslie’s episodes are back-to-back. Like my review of “Honor Thy Parents” since even the producers recognize it fails to meet the quality expected of Odyssey episodes, it will be a short, un-scored review.

Leslie’s dishonesty introduces a new framing device: the unreliable narrator. Unreliable narrator is similar to telling a story. With telling a story, you take for granted that what you’re hearing accurately reflects the events being narrated. With an unreliable narrator, there is no such guarantee. The events get twisted, mangled, and augmented—even fantastical elements can be introduced. The point of the unreliable narrator framing device isn’t to reveal something about the events being narrated but to reveal something about the narrator herself. One of my favorite examples of this is How I Met Your Mother, a TV series that plays around with layering framing device upon framing device.

What this episode is about is friendship. And, appropriately for an episode that also emphasizes the importance of honesty, it is truthful about friendship. Much like Leslie “stretches the truth,” children’s entertainment isn’t necessarily dishonest, but it often sugarcoats reality. It tells kids that all of life will be rosy and that the person who’s their best friend now will still be their best friend ten years from now.

Relationships evolve over time. It’s a fact of life that you lose some friends. But then you’re always making new friends too. And, as the episode points out, there is one person who will always be your friend: Jesus. Yes, some friends are lifelong friends, but you will have many transient relationships over the course of your life. This episode never sugarcoats over these facts. Even though Leslie and Cindy appear amiable toward one another by the end of the episode, the episode never pretends that their relationship will ever be the same as it was before.

In a poignant exchange, Leslie’s insensitivity hurt her friend Ann:

Leslie: I lost my best friend today.
Ann: No, you didn’t. I’m right here.
Leslie: Not you. I mean my best friend, Cindy.
Ann: Oh.

The dejected way in which Ann says “oh” is heartwrenching. Writer Paul McCusker and director Phil Lollar (whose “The Tangled Web” had a similarly melancholy ending) choose not to make the episode bubbly and light, and it’s the better for it.

Matthew's Rating: 6.5 (out of 10)
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Episode: 041: Return to the Bible Room
Originally Aired: August 27, 1988
From Album: Volume 2: Stormy Weather

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Evolution of Album 02 We have now reached the end of the second album. Odyssey is becoming more fleshed out and starting to feel like a real place. It no longer feels like this small town with a fascinating ice cream parlor blinks into existence, sticks around for thirty minutes, and then ceases to exist for another week. The characters have lives that continue even when the radio’s not on.

Part of that is the growing number of recurring characters. In addition to all the kids that blink in and out of existence over the course of a single episode, you now have the Barclays, and with this episode, Jack and Lucy. In broadcast order this is actually Jack and Lucy’s second episode. This is episode 41, but they also appeared in episode 29. That episode was held back until the third album for some reason though. Also, the episode title, “Return to the Bible Room” would appear to listeners following the albums to be a non sequitur since “Gotcha!” in which the Bible room debuted was omitted from the albums due to its inclusion of Officer Harley.

When I reviewed the episodes from this album, it was known by the name “Stormy Weather.” Focus on the Family is rereleasing this album next month. In addition to fresh artwork, they have retitled it “The Wildest Summer Ever.” While name changes like that make things more complicated for folks like me who are reviewing every episode, I think this particular name change was a shrewd marketing move. In my review of the first episode of the album, I explained the reasons why I thought this album is the second best-selling album. One of those reasons is that the majority of the episodes have a summer theme. That wasn’t reflected in the previous title and it is now.

Lucy is the longest-running kid character on Odyssey. She and Jack make a hilarious comic duo. Jack is constantly getting into “innocent trouble.” In this episode he’s exploring the Bible room. That sounds like an admirable activity until you learn he’s supposed to be helping with the clean-up day at church. The wonderful comic chemistry the two young actors demonstrated in this episode eventually bloomed into real-life romantic chemistry. The actors who portrayed Jack and Lucy are now married to one another.

Earlier on this album in “The Day Independence Came,” a boy interacts with a historical story. Here Jack and Lucy interact with a Bible story. Like the former historical episode, this biblical episode has a format very similar to the one Odyssey eventually perfects with the Imagination Station. Whit has them close their eyes and imagine they’re part of the story as he tells it. The device of inserting children into the story without the Imagination Station just didn’t work as well.

Matthew's Rating: 5 (out of 10)
More info about 041: Return to the Bible Room:
Episode: 039-040: The Case of the Secret Room (Parts 1 and 2)
Originally Aired: August 13, 1988
From Album: Volume 2: Stormy Weather

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Album 02 Gold Cover In “The Last Great Adventure of Summer,” Odyssey experimented with the spy-fi genre. Here they experiment with another genre that was an old-time radio (OTR) staple: the mystery. Both experiments were resounding successes. Jacob Isom of The Odyssey Scoop called this episode one of his “favorite mystery episodes throughout the years.”

In its short time on the air so far, Odyssey has had only three other two-parters: “A Member of the Family,” “The Family Vacation,” and “Camp What-A-Nut.” In all three of those previous examples, part two was written and directed by the same person as part one. “The Case of the Secret Room” breaks from that. Part one is written and directed by Phil Lollar while part two is written and directed by Paul McCusker.

Two-parters should not be episodes with simply too much plot to stuff into a single episode. If there’s too much plot for a single episode, then it’s the wrong medium for that episode. If this were television, instead of making a sitcom episode, you should make a movie. At the same time, you shouldn’t make a two-parter if you don’t have enough plot for two episodes. Maybe you think making the story a two-parter will lend it gravitas or make it feel epic, but if there’s not enough plot, it will just feel thin. I see no reason this story needed two episodes. Everything easily could have fit into a single episode—and that episode probably would have been a 10.

I know it seems like I’m ragging a lot on an episode I gave a score of just one shy of perfect but one last complaint: The character of Jami was unnecessary. In my review of the very first episode of Odyssey I praised:

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).

Jami felt shoehorned in just to provide a child character to keep children’s interest. Whit is such a vibrant character that his sleuthing would have been interesting all on its own. The writers should have trusted in this great character’s ability to keep children’s interest.

This episode has it all. A secret room, a forty-year-old mystery, even buried treasure! And it has all the hallmarks of an OTR mystery. A rule of OTR mysteries is that the mystery is never as simple as it appears. The dame who walks into Sam Spade’s office asking him to help locate her long lost father usually turns out to be working for the mafia trying to trick Spade into hunting down an informant for them.

When the fully-dressed skeleton propped up in a chair found in the secret room is identified as Spencer Barfield, who was suspected of a bank robbery forty years ago, it appears he must have had a partner who shot him and made off with the money. But as fans of OTR know, appearances can be deceiving. Whit puts on his metaphorical deerstalker hat and sets out to find out what really happened.

Inspector Howards plays the role of the red herring, another OTR trademark. Like John Campbell’s excellent music in “Great Adventure,” the music does a wonderful job of evoking classic OTR mysteries shows.

My favorite scene in “Secret Room” will probably surprise you. It’s not the discovery of the titular secret room—but instead, right before that. In brief, (a) Whit is working on an invention, (b) he drops a transistor that rolls under a cabinet, and then (c) Whit and Tom move the cabinet revealing a secret room. Obviously, the writers have to get to (c) to get the plot moving. Because of that, (b) appears to be the least important of the three—just a way to get from (a) to (c).

A MacGuffin is a filmmaking term for a plot element that exists solely to drive the plot forward. What the MacGuffin is is unimportant as long as it moves the plot along. A surface analysis of the above scene would probably say the transistor in (b) is the MacGuffin. It exists solely to get the cabinet moved. It could have been a marble. All that matters is that it gets the cabinet moved.

Transistor I propose (b) is not the MacGuffin. Instead, (a) is the MacGuffin. Whit is making a microwave oven freezer or some such device. Fact is it doesn’t matter. It’s a MacGuffin. On the other hand, I submit that the transistor being a transistor is significant. A marble just wouldn’t have done the job. The transistor is more than just a device to get the cabinet moved.

In my review of “Lights Out at Whit’s End,” I described my imaginary layout of Whit’s End. In the inventor’s corner are Arduino microcontrollers, LEDs, electric motors, and, yes, transistors. The important thing about those things is that they’re all easy enough for a twelve year old to get her hands on. More importantly, they’re all within the price range of the average twelve year old’s allownce. I just did a quick search on RadioShack’s website, and you can get a transistor for $1.19. The significance of the runaway transistor is that you, using parts available at the local hobby shop, can be an inventor too. Odyssey does more than encourage its audience to listen; it encourages you to create.

Later at the library with Jami, Whit asks, “Do you have a library card?” She replies she doesn’t. Whit gently admonishes, “You should get one. Everybody should have a library card.” I couldn’t agree more. I love to read. Plus, you aren’t going to know what to do with those transistors and microcontrollers if you don’t crack a book.

Matthew's Rating: 9 (out of 10)
More info about 039-040: The Case of the Secret Room (Parts 1 and 2):
Episode: 042: The Last Great Adventure of Summer
Originally Aired: September 3, 1988
From Album: Volume 2: Stormy Weather

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Rooftop Escape “The Last Great Adventure of Summer” is a milestone for Odyssey. Not a milestone in the same way “Connie Comes to Town,” which introduced Connie, “Connie,” which introduced Eugene and in which Connie got saved, and “The Imagination Station,” which introduced the Imagination Station, were milestones. But a milestone nonetheless.

“Great Adventure” marked a radical departure in terms of tone and genre from what Odyssey had done before. For the first forty episodes or so (I’ll get to the episode number issue in a moment), Adventures in Odyssey had been a small town sitcom similar to The Andy Griffith Show or reminiscent of old-time radio (OTR) sitcoms like The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet and The Aldrich Family. “Great Adventure,” on the other hand, is more reminiscent of OTR adventure series like The Shadow and The Green Hornet.

Paul McCusker, the writer of this episode, could have made it a spy parody. Odyssey does many—quite successful—parodies in the future. He makes the riskier choice of a straightforward spy adventure. And it pays off. All the production staff do a great job: Phil Lollar as director should get credit for getting the pacing just right. According to AIO: TOG, it was Dave Arnold’s first episode doing the complete postproduction solo. It also said it featured some of the most complicated sound design in Odyssey up to that point, but Arnold pulled it off with style. John Campbell’s influence—from composing the theme all the way down to composing the majority of the music for the individual episodes—on Odyssey has been immense. I loved his score for this episode. It was different than his normal score and brought to mind classic spy adventures.

There’s some more reordering of the episodes going on here. I’d already noted, “V.B.S. Blues” was moved to after “Kid’s Radio” to (it appears) keep Ned’s episodes together. Now “Great Adventure” is moved before “The Case of the Secret Room” and “Return to the Bible Room.” Since neither of those episodes have an explicit summer theme, maybe it was moved to turn “V.B.S. Blues,” “Camp What-A-Nut,” and “Great Adventure” into a block of summer-themed episodes.

Despite that the bulk of the episode is about two characters we’ve never heard before and will never hear again, this episode makes one of the most concerted efforts thus far in the series to establish continuity. The episode begins with Whit recapping the summer: He recalls a tornado, VBS, trying to start a radio station, vacations, and camp. Little touches like this are a nice reward for dedicated listeners.

Odyssey, being a children’s series, inserts a kid into the spy action. Inserting a kid into a spy adventure—especially when it’s played straightforward instead of as a parody—is a tricky proposition. Spy Kids and Agent Cody Banks have both tried it with varying degrees of success (though it should be noted “Great Adventure” predates both of those movies by over a decade). Plus, Odyssey’s previous attempts at action adventure (the ditch in “My Brother’s Keeper” and the bear in “Camp What-A-Nut”) have been less than stellar. Terry in “Great Adventure” works and provides a character to describe some of the action you can’t see since it’s radio. Spy-fi is an inherently romantic genre anyway, and you can get away with a lot that is not realistic.

“Great Adventure” is a notch above your standard spy adventure. The typical spy adventure today is cynical: Your government is just as likely to kill you as it is to protect you. “Great Adventure” is sincere and patriotic. When Terry asks his dad why he became a spy, Catspaw replies, “I love my country, and I want to defend it against people out there who want to hurt it.” Contrast that with the antagonist, the “man in black” chasing them who is a “man with no county at all,” and he works for an international syndicate that sells military secrets to the highest bidder.

The climatic scene has an example of Chekhov’s gun. Chekhov’s gun is the technical term for when a seemingly irrelevant detail turns out to be central to the plot. When they enter Maxim’s (oddly pronounced so that it almost sounds like they’re calling the villain Maxine) lair, Terry notes the window washers, a seemingly irrelevant detail. The window washers turn out to be agents who save Catspaw’s life and assist in capturing Maxim.

The climatic scene also includes another spy-fi trademark: the twist ending. It turns out Catspaw’s capture was planned all along. A great episode. You can see why Terry said, “You mean, I just had the greatest adventure of the summer, and I can’t tell anyone about it.”

Matthew's Rating: 8 (out of 10)
More info about 042: The Last Great Adventure of Summer:

030: Honor Thy Parents

Episode: 030: Honor Thy Parents
Originally Aired: June 11, 1988
From Album: Volume 0: The Lost Episodes

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The Lost Episodes liner notes includes the disclaimer:

“Honor Thy Parents,” “It Sure Seems Like It to Me,” and “Isaac the True Friend” were odd little episodes in which our usual hope of good writing, directing and acting fell a little short of our high standards, so we simply refused to include them in our albums. We include them here as interesting curiosities—and as a glimpse into the dynamic and pressures of creating a weekly radio series.

Since the producers of Adventures in Odyssey recognize that these episodes fail to meet the quality expected of Odyssey episodes, I’ve decided not to rate them. Instead I will let them stand as just that—“curiosities.” I will make a few short remarks about the episodes, but the reviews will be much shorter than my usual reviews.

You can add your own remarks in the comments. Do you disagree with the producers? Do you think this episode is worthy of inclusion in the regular Odyssey lineup? Tell us why.

Album 0 Gold Cover Chris mentions Odyssey Mall in her intro. In the small Oklahoma town I grew up in, the closest mall was a 90-minute drive. In my opinion, a mall automatically bumps you from small- to medium-sized town.

Odyssey’s attempts to represent hicks have been uniformly bad. When Odyssey crosses the line from loving tribute to into parody of small town life, the results are generally disastrous.

This episode is a more egregious example of everything magically fixes itself at the end than “Addiction Can Be Habit-Forming.” Whit makes everything right, the little girl learns to respect her parents, etc.

Matthew's Rating: N/A (out of 10)
More info about 030: Honor Thy Parents:
Episode: 037-38: Camp What-A-Nut (Parts 1 and 2)
Originally Aired: July 30, 1988
From Album: Volume 2: Stormy Weather

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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):
Episode: 022: A Simple Addition
Originally Aired: April 16, 1988
From Album: Volume 0: The Lost Episodes

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Family Portraits This is the final episode of the four episodes on The Lost Episodes that were rebroadcasts of Family Portraits episodes with the Odyssey wrap tacked on. The first three were: “Dental Dilemma,” “My Brother’s Keeper,” and “No Stupid Questions.” Of the four, “A Simple Addition” is the best, yet it still doesn’t quite fit in Adventures in Odyssey. There are stylistic issues I’d be much more apt to forgive if I were reviewing this as the thirteenth episode of Family Portraits rather than the twenty-second episode of Adventures in Odyssey.

I think it would have been better to have released a Family Portraits album instead of The Lost Episodes album with the Family Portraits episodes shoehorned into Adventures in Odyssey continuity. I know Family Portraits was released on cassette tape, but that is long out of print. Focus on the Family really should rerelease it on CD with packaging and artwork similar to the most recent Adventures in Odyssey albums. Alternatively, they could have rewrote and rerecorded these episodes to better fit with Odyssey continuity, but the time for that is long past due. Now it would just be better to rerelease Family Portraits in whole.

The producers didn’t decide upon the 8-12 target until Odyssey began. I mentioned “Dental Dilemma” alternated between serious adult drama and fun children’s sitcom. “A Simple Addition” seems to skew even younger than 8-12, like the producers were going after the Sesame Street demographic. The episode seems pointedly targeted at the five year old having a hard time with the birth of a new sibling. We also learn that Whit makes a pretty good babysitter.

“A Simple Addition” imparts biblical truth on a level a five year old can understand. Nicky’s dad shares with him that God created kittens and him and his new baby sister too.

There’s a lot of exposition near the end, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Paradoxically, since radio is not a visual medium, the “show, don’t tell” rule still applies. It is much more exciting to hear events dramatized than to hear a character just tell about them. But slavish adherence to a dictum like “show, don’t tell” straitjackets a writer. Sometimes a touching conversation between father and son can move the story along better than any action-filled event. Movies today have far too few meaningful conversations. The characters are too busy dodging bullets to dig into weighty philosophical issues.

Matthew's Rating: 4.5 (out of 10)
More info about 022: A Simple Addition:

035: V.B.S. Blues Review

Episode: 035: V.B.S. Blues
Originally Aired: July 16, 1988
From Album: Volume 2: Stormy Weather

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Now that I’ve posted a review a day for a solid week since returning from my hiatus, I’m going to slow the pace to every other day for a while. So look for my review of “A Simple Addition” from The Lost Episodes on Wednesday.

Odyssey Skyline The first biblical reference of the series appeared in the second episode; the first reference to an aspect of Christian culture came in the fourth episode. Several months and a few dozen episodes later, “V.B.S. Blues” contains the first Bible story; it’s also the first episode where the primary setting is a uniquely Christian setting.

Focusing on the latter, as I remarked in my review of “Connie Comes to Town,” one-third (or approximately 100 million) Americans are evangelical Christians. Like Mugsy and his gang in this episode, in addition to evangelical Christians, VBS programs at churches around the world draw in millions of unchurched children every summer. Hundreds of millions of people have attended VBS, yet until Adventures in Odyssey, I can’t recall a single sitcom episode where a VBS was the setting. Odyssey is filling a gap left by mainstream media.

If you are paying attention to the episode numbers in the review titles, you probably noticed the last Volume 2 episode I reviewed was episode 36, and then this is only episode 35. That is the actual order the episodes are in on the album. Ned Lewis appears in only three episodes, this one and episodes 37 and 38. If the album had kept the broadcast order, Ned’s episodes would have been split up by “Kid’s Radio.” The producers must have chose to reshuffle the order on the album to keep all of Ned’s episodes together.

Whit and Connie (and later Eugene) are the main characters of Odyssey. There are also recurring characters like Tom Riley and the Barclays. Then there are one-time characters like Craig and Annie. Ned falls somewhere in between. Odyssey has a lot of characters like Ned. They’re there for a few—or maybe even several—episodes, and then they’re gone. Maybe we should call them semi-recurring characters.

I like Ned. That’s probably because I identify with him. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a Bible teacher at a camp for 9-14 year olds. I teach the 12-14 year old class each summer, approximately the same age group Ned was teaching at VBS. Plus, I started teaching at this camp when I was still a teenager. Also, I started a Christian drama team with three other friends when I was in high school. We performed sketches at our churches, other area churches, and coffee shops.

This episode shares the same theme as “Kid’s Radio,” the preceding or following episode depending on whether you’re following album or broadcast order (I’m reviewing the episodes in album order). Pastor Williams (played by Chuck Bolte who also plays George Barclay who eventually becomes a pastor—foreshadowing?) admonishes Ned, “It’s admirable for you to want to use your talent for God.” The episode encourages the audience to create. Anyone—even a teenager—can write and perform sketches for the church.

“V.B.S. Blues” has two framing stories. The first half is Ned recounting the travails of the past week to Whit. The second half is what is called a show-within-a-show, or in this case, a sketch-within-a-show. The show-within-a-show is how the episode tells the Bible story of Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego—or a pool rack, a tool shed, and a billy goat.

Matthew's Rating: 7 (out of 10)
More info about 035: V.B.S. Blues:

016: No Stupid Questions

Episode: 016: No Stupid Questions
Originally Aired: March 5, 1988
From Album: Volume 0: The Lost Episodes

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Album 0 Packaging Contrary to the popular maxim that is quoted in this episode, there are such things as stupid questions. For example, before passing out a test, the professor often asks, “Any last questions before you take the test?” On numerous occasions I’ve heard a classmate (usually thinking they’re being funny) ask, “Yes, do we have to take the test?” I dare you to challenge a group of junior high boys that they can’t come up with any stupid questions. I assure you you’ll be barraged with idiocy.

The sentiment underneath the cliché is true: It is never wrong to be curious, you should investigate God’s creation, and it’s okay to question commonly accepted knowledge. Odyssey could have communicated this sentiment without resorting to a tired cliché.

There was a potentially great story buried by the sappy stuff about no question being a stupid question. Chris, the wheelchair-bound, grumpy, middle-aged reference librarian, and Meg, the precocious, question-asking little girl, form an unlikely friendship—similar to the bond between the grumpy old man Carl and adventurous little boy Russell in Pixar’s Up. “No Stupid Questions” is an excellent example of how mentorship changes both the mentoree and the mentor.

Although the episode numbers may lead you to believe otherwise, “Dental Dilemma,” “My Brother’s Keeper,” and this episode all actually precede the very first episode of Adventures of Odyssey (technically Odyssey USA, but we aren’t going to get that pedantic here). They were all episodes of Family Portraits, the thirteen-episode test series that preceded Odyssey. As such, not all the stylistic details had been nailed down yet. It’s one reason they’ve been consigned to an album of “lost episodes.” Whit’s soliloquy at the end stuck out. I’m sure it was fine during Family Portraits, but Chris’ opening and closing of the Adventures in Odyssey version rendered it superfluous.

Matthew's Rating: 2 (out of 10)
More info about 016: No Stupid Questions:

036: Kid's Radio Review

Episode: 036: Kid's Radio
Originally Aired: July 23, 1988
From Album: Volume 2: Stormy Weather

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Kid's Radio I grew up in a small Oklahoma town. The church I attended broadcast its service on the local television affiliate. Starting in seventh grade until I graduated high school, I helped out with the television ministry. I started out operating a camera, then moved up to typing graphics (names that appeared on the screen), moved on to running sound (the television feed had a separate sound board from the house sound), and eventually graduated to directing.

Although the service was not broadcast live, we essentially did a live edit. We had three (sometimes four) cameras. Each camera operator wore a headset. Directing consisted of giving the camera operators instructions over the headsets and switching between the camera feeds using a video switcher. The switcher fed into a non-linear video editor that was used to burn the service to a DVD that was then delivered to the local television affiliate.

I gained invaluable skills while also doing a ministry. Brad and Sherman gained invaluable skills while operating Kid’s Radio, and they also were doing a ministry. They weren’t just playing music and delivering news; they were also sharing God’s truth with Bible verses. Adventures in Odyssey itself is both ministry and art.

Some think it’s an either/or: Either you do ministry, or you do art. The church is accused of suppressing, censoring, or simply not caring about art. That’s not my experience. The church fosters the arts. Some of the greatest paintings, sculptures, and poetry of the last two thousand years are products of the church. Today, the church utilizes video, radio, the internet, and mobile apps.

And half-measures aren’t good enough. Odyssey wouldn’t have lasted as long as it has if the producers’ attitude was, “Since it’s a ministry, it doesn’t matter if the sound quality is perfect or the voice acting professional or the sound effects are all that good.” We are producing art for a God who demands our very best in all we do. Whit pulls the plug on Kid’s Radio when it is obvious that Brad and Sherman don’t have the support they need to continue producing a quality product.

“Kid’s Radio” teaches an important lesson that to go from inspiration to realization requires hard work. Also, Christian art can only survive if Christians are willing to invest time in it. If there are just two members in your church’s drama team, they are going to feel like Brad and Sherman trying to run Kid’s Radio all by themselves.

The failure of Kid’s Radio was not a lack of effort—both Brad and Sherman put in plenty of effort; it was a failure of leadership. A leader must motivate others to get involved by effectively communicating the vision of the project to them. Brad can’t be blamed. He can’t be older than thirteen or fourteen. This was a learning experience for him.

Or, at least, it should have been.

The ending undermines the message of the rest of the episode. Whit, as an inventor, surely understands you learn as much from failure as you do from success (he said as much in the very first episode.) A local radio producer offers Brad and Sherman their own show on his station. They would have learned much more if they had to spend the rest of the summer analyzing why Kid’s Radio had failed and determining how they could regroup to succeed.

The radio producer isn’t concerned with ministry or even art. He’s hoping to get in on a fad before it’s over. The only thing they learned is that if your YouTube video gets a bunch of hits (the 2011 analogue to Brad and Sherman’s short-lived radio success) a hotshot producer may offer you a show of your own (that is, until the next reality television sensation comes along).

I loved the do-it-yourself ethos of “Kid’s Radio.” During the news segment, Brad urged Sherman to hurry up because his fingers were getting tired. Brad was generating a typewriter sound effect by actually typing on a typewriter in the background during the news report. This is very similar to the footlights in “Lights Out at Whit’s End.” Both encourage the audience to create. “Kid’s Radio” even especially emphasizes that kids can create.

I’ve mentioned before Odyssey has aged remarkably well. The episodes on Volume 2 first aired in 1988 but are as fresh today as they were twenty years ago. Of course, there’s a VCR here and a dated gang reference there and every once in a while a cassette player, but overall it would be difficult to tell these episodes weren’t recorded in 2011. In Sherman’s news segment, he announces, “Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev announced a change in the policy of glasnost.” There is no more Soviet Union. If kids listening to this episode today even know what the Soviet Union and glasnost are, it is from the history books and not current events.

Matthew's Rating: 6 (out of 10)
More info about 036: Kid's Radio:
Episode: 015: My Brother's Keeper
Originally Aired: February 27, 1988
From Album: Volume 0: The Lost Episodes

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Album 0 Cover By the time I review an episode, I’ve listened to it at least three times. Episodes on albums I really like, I may have listened to five or six times. I started listening through Adventures in Odyssey in album order in 2009, which eventually inspired this website. In my personal listening, I’ve listened to the first twenty-one albums so far.

I keep my most recent album in my car to listen to while driving around town until I’ve listened to the album once through. That’s the first time I listen to the episode. When I go on longer road trips (like the 4.5-hour drive to my grandparent’s house), I take a couple albums I’ve already listened to and listen to them again. That’s the second time I listen to the episode. When getting ready to review an episode, I listen to it and take notes. That’s the third time I listen to the episode. Albums I really like get taken on road trips more than once.

Before listening to “My Brother’s Keeper” a third time to review it, I couldn’t recall a single thing about the episode. I even read the summary on AIO Wiki and still couldn’t remember the episode. That I’d listened to the album twice and couldn’t remember this episode didn’t bode well for it. It didn’t mean the episode was necessarily bad—just not memorable.

A lot of the episodes on The Lost Episodes album aren’t that strong. There’s a reason they were lost. I question the logic of releasing so many weak episodes together on an album. I think some of these episodes would have done better as bonus episodes on much stronger albums. I really wouldn’t recommend The Lost Episodes for anyone but the Odyssey completist, which I obviously am.

The structure of this episode is similar to “Dental Dilemma,” the lost episode that preceded it, and, like “Dilemma,” it was originally a Family Portraits episode. The framing device is Philip telling Whit a story about another Odyssey character, his little brother. Both episodes are even about sibling rivalry.

Whereas “Dilemma” was a family drama about a brother pranking his younger sister, “Keeper” turns into a Lassie-like adventure tale with the little brother falling into a ditch and going to the hospital. And that is where the episode stumbles. Had it stuck to family drama like “Dilemma,” it may have been much better. Odyssey has had some great adventure episodes, but this isn’t one of them.

Hal Smith sounded off in this episode. In fact, my Dad listened to the episode with me and asked me if it was one of the actors who succeeded Smith who was playing Whit in the episode. My guess is that it’s such an early episode Smith hadn’t decided upon the cadence he would eventually settle into for Whit.

I wonder if I’ll remember anything about this episode a few months from now.

Matthew's Rating: 3 (out of 10)
More info about 015: My Brother's Keeper:

034: Stormy Weather Review

Episode: 034: Stormy Weather
Originally Aired: July 9, 1988
From Album: Volume 2: Stormy Weather

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Connie Kendall Legs Crossed At this point, Adventures in Odyssey isn’t even a year old. It’s still early in the second season, but Odyssey is already showing signs of maturing.

Connie was introduced during the first season in “Connie Comes to Town.” In that episode, she was anxious to get back to California. In “Stormy Weather”, her interest in returning to California is renewed. Connie is on a journey that began with her coming to town and will culminate with her making it to California later this season in the eponymous “Connie.” (And where that journey ends, a wonderful new journey begins.)

Connie feels that she doesn’t have many friends in Odyssey, because she doesn’t have many friends her age. She does have many friends though when you count Mr. Whittaker and the kids who come to Whit’s End. Then Chris reinforces that you, the listener, may have friends you don’t realize—classmates, your siblings, even your parents.

At first glance, it would appear this episode is about friendship. Even Chris’ epilogue is about friendship.

But that’s not what it’s about.

It’s about the moving of the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit who draws you to salvation in Christ, and the Spirit has begun to noticeably work in Connie’s life. Debbie tells her, “We thought you were getting religious or something.” Connie feels that everyone is preaching at her. This is the Spirit tugging at her conscience. I doubt anyone is treating Connie differently. She’s feeling the tug of the Spirit without realizing it.

When her mom asks her how long she wants to stay in California, Connie rashly replies, “A week, a month, I don’t care. Just let me get out of here.” That’s not the rational response of a teenager who simply misses her old friends or feels stymied by a rural locale. She’s trying to get away—not from somewhere—but Someone. Like Jonah tried to run from God, Connie is trying to resist the Holy Spirit.

A while back I asked readers of this website if they knew of any non-Christian fans of Odyssey. An interesting debate developed in the comments: Does Adventures in Odyssey negatively portray non-Christian characters? Since Christians often blame mainstream media of misrepresenting and negatively portraying Christian characters, it is a fair question.

Unlike non-Christians trying to write a Christian character, all Christians have been non-Christians at some time. What Connie is going through in this episode—although a non-Christian at this point—is something each of the writers of Odyssey have gone through. I don’t think there is anything about the portrayal of Connie in this episode for a non-Christian would object to.

Odyssey hits a stride with this episode. This is the first of a string of really good episodes—all of which I’m looking forward to reviewing over the next several days.

Matthew's Rating: 8 (out of 10)
More info about 034: Stormy Weather:
Episode: 011: Addictions Can Be Habit-Forming
Originally Aired: January 30, 1988
From Album: Uncollected

Pizza Oven That is not the episode I expected based on a title like “Addictions Can Be Habit-Forming.” It sounds like a public service announcement on the dangers of drugs. It turns out to be a public service announcement—not on the dangers of drugs—but on the dangers of overeating.

The premise alone is cringe-worthy. It’s hard to imagine how this episode ever went further than the brainstorming stage. There are a few things that could have saved this episode from being a complete disaster: (1) if it had been about self-improvement, (2) if it had been about the pitfalls of helping others, (3) if it had been about friendship surviving mistakes made by both parties.

Mike & Molly is a sitcom about two obese people who fall in love which has just started its second season. Last season before it premiered, critics were apprehensive. Based on the premise, critics feared thirty minutes of fat jokes. Fortunately, the series ended up being about two likable characters who realize they need to lose weight and are working on it by attending Overeaters Anonymous and dieting. If “Addictions Can Be Habit-Forming” had been about Stephanie’s self-improvement, it may have been a much better episode. She seemed vaguely aware that she had an eating problem, but she was mostly a passive character in the episode.

Recent books, such as When Helping Hurts, point out that there are both good and bad forms of helping. Had Joey attempted a series of ill-conceived attempts to help Stephanie, it would have been comical. The focus would have been on Joey instead of Stephanie. It would have been Joey that needed to learn a lesson. While the episode did focus on Joey somewhat, her ill-conceived attempt to help was more tragic than comic.

Finally, Joey’s attempts to help Stephanie would have been less awkward if Joey and Stephanie truly seemed to be good friends. It seemed like they knew one another, but they were not—at least close—friends. Rather than Stephanie being a random charity case, it would have been the deep concern of a true friend. Yes, Joey made mistakes, but Stephanie had problems too. The episode could have been about two friends reconciling by recognizing that both had made mistakes.

To top it all off, “Addictions Can Be Habit-Forming” had the most trite ending of any Odyssey episode I’ve listened to up till now. Stephanie got counseling and now she’s lost seven pounds. And the episode is bookended by model train sequences where Joey magically learns not to give up on something if it doesn’t work out exactly like you think it should the first time.

I don’t know what the statistics in 1988 were, but today one in three children are considered overweight. Not all of those kids need counseling. Some of them need Weight Watchers. Most of them probably just need to get up off the couch and do something other than update their status on Facebook, play video games, or watch TV.

Based on this episode, losing Officer Harley doesn’t seem like that big of a loss. Harley was not only not funny but didn’t add anything to the episode. Harlow Doyle, Harley’s replacement, is much funnier.

Matthew's Rating: 1.5 (out of 10)
More info about 011: Addictions Can Be Habit-Forming:
Episode: 033: The Day Independence Came
Originally Aired: July 2, 1988
From Album: Volume 2: Stormy Weather

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Wow, it’s been five months since my last review. Sometimes time gets away from you. The wait is finally over. Here’s a new review, and I promise I’ll have another review tomorrow.

Red Coats Stung by Wasp Nest I like history. In fact, the Revolutionary War is my favorite period in history to study. Like Irwin Springer in this episode, I like reading “big, thick” books about that era such as David McCullough’s John Adams.

Based on the above paragraph, you probably think I look forward to the historical episodes of Adventures in Odyssey. On the contrary, when I see a historical episode coming up on the track listing, it feels like a chore. And I don’t really know why. Once I listen to them, I find I enjoy most of them.

It may be that when I think of historical adaptation what comes to mind is a dry PBS documentary. Historical adaptation is a hard genre to pull off, and special attention must be paid to prevent it from turning into a dry PBS documentary. The problem is we are already familiar with the historical facts. A series must give those facts its own special twist.

Unfortunately, “The Day Independence Came” is a fairly straightforward historical adaptation. The story isn’t given any special twist to make it fit into Odyssey. Later episodes with Bernard Walton narrating a story do a much better job. They could have (and we’ve discussed this before) sent Connie back to the Revolutionary War instead of Irwin Springer. We have more of an emotional investment in Connie, because we know her. They also could have told the story from the perspective of an unknown solider rather than the big names like Nathan Hale and George Washington we all already know.

The episode even makes the point that history is more than rote facts. When Irwin rushes off to get the book about Benjamin Franklin Whit picked up for him at a sale downtown, Tom remarks, “Look at him go. You’d think he was looking for buried treasure.” Whit’s response is: “Well, what makes you think he isn’t?”

This was Odyssey’s first historical episode. The Imagination Station hadn’t been introduced yet, but it is the same type of episode as an Imagination Station episode. It employs what I would call the Wizard of Oz framing device. Irwin is knocked out by a “big, heavy book” about Benjamin Franklin and then takes part in the Revolutionary War. Ben Franklin even looks and sounds like Whit!

It should also be pointed out that Irwin likes history. Many shows would have fallen back on the cliché of a kid who hates history who is sent back in time to discover how fascinating history actually is. Instead we’re treated to Irwin’s “oh wow”s as he sees all the amazing things he’s read about in history books first hand. This wasn’t a bad episode; there were just so many better episodes on this album.

Matthew's Rating: 4 (out of 10)
More info about 033: The Day Independence Came:
Episode: 008: Dental Dilemma
Originally Aired: January 9, 1988
From Album: Volume 0: The Lost Episodes

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We’ve seen the telling a story framing device before. Whit told a story in “Gifts for Madge and Guy,” and Connie read a story in “The Tangled Web.” The way that framing device is used in this episode though is different from those episodes in two ways: (1) The story is about other Odyssey characters (fictional to us but real to the characters), and (2) There is no narration. Narration can add to an episode if used creatively as in “Gifts for Madge and Guy” where the characters interacted with the narrator. Narration can also detract from an episode if overused as in the second part of “The Family Vacation.” My opinion is that narration is usually unnecessary, and if the episode can do without it, it should. Narration almost certainly would have been superfluous in this episode, and the writers made a wise decision omitting it.

Family Portraits This episode isn’t really an Adventure in Odyssey; it is a Family Portrait. It was just repackaged with the Odyssey wrap. Family Portraits is the thirteen-episode test series that preceded Adventures in Odyssey. The producers didn’t decide to narrow their target audience to the 8-12 crowd until Odyssey proper (first, Odyssey USA and soon changed to the title we’re now familiar with, Adventures in Odyssey).

Not being sure who their target audience is (Which is, really, okay at his point. It is a test series, remember?) causes this episode to have split personality disorder. At one point it’s a serious adult drama. At another, a fun children’s sitcom. The first of the episode feels more like a supplement to Dr. Dobson’s talk show than a standalone drama. “Wives, have you ever quibbled with your husband over breakfast over seemingly trivial matters? Here’s an example.” Then the episode morphs into a morality tale about bullying your younger sibling and dental hygiene.

I recently distinguished between family-friendly and all-ages. “Dental Dilemma” tips toward the family-friendly side of the scale. While the marital drama at the beginning of the episode is child-safe, it doesn’t seem like something a child would particularly enjoy listening to. Ironically, when Odyssey narrowed its focus to 8-12 year olds, I think it broadened its appeal to all ages.

Sometimes it feels like they based Odyssey around my life. Not the specific storylines but just the general setting. I’m sure it feels this way for a lot of people who grew up in a small town and were raised in a largely evangelical environment. I grew up in a small Oklahoma town, and my dentist went to the same church I did. I never tried to convince my younger brother that the dentist was going to pull all his teeth though. This is a refreshing change of pace. Most sitcoms are set in LA or New York (for a sitcom that’s actually set in a small, Midwestern town, see The Middle, which is going into its third season).

Matthew's Rating: 4 (out of 10)
More info about 008: Dental Dilemma:
Episode: 031-32: The Family Vacation (Parts 1 and 2)
Originally Aired: June 18, 1988
From Album: Volume 2: Stormy Weather

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Barclay Road Trip According to AIO Wiki, this is the second best-selling album. It’s not hard to imagine why.

Not everyone buys every album and obsessively listens to each episode like me and the three people reading these reviews. Many who buy albums are probably parents who are about to embark on a two-day road trip like the Barclay’s in the opening two-parter and just want something to keep their kids quiet on the road. They go to the local Christian bookstore, browse through the CDs, and come to the display of Adventures in Odyssey albums. They flip this album over and read:

“Sweetheart, look at this one. The first two episodes are about a family vacation just like we’re going on,” says Mr. Busy Parent to Mrs. Busy Parent. She skims the episode list herself and exclaims, “And look here. ‘V.B.S. Blues’ and ‘Camp What-A-Nut.’ You know the kids have VBS next week and camp the week after that.” Then Mr. Busy Parent points out, “This one, ‘The Last Great Adventure of the Summer,’ has ‘summer’ in the title. I know these are children’s programs, but this ‘The Case of the Secret Room’ sounds pretty exciting.”

In fact, my family went camping about this time last summer. The campgrounds were about three hours away. Three hours there and three hours back—the perfect amount of time to listen to one six-hour Adventures in Odyssey album in the car, but which one? I chose this album because of the road trip episodes and because it simply seemed like the perfect album to listen to at the beginning of summer.

Ideally, I would be able to review these episodes as someone who was hearing it for the first time in 1988. I’m not talking about that it would be weird in 2011 for Donna to bring along a cassette player instead of an MP3 player. If I was hearing this for the first time in 1988, I may think “The Family Vacation” is another “A Change of Hart” (at least, unlike “Hart,” Whit makes a brief appearance). Already being familiar with the Barclay’s, it feels like a serialized episode to me, whereas it may have felt more like an anthological episode if the calendar was turned back two decades. At first, it was somewhat of a shock to hear prepubescent Jimmy again!

The framing device in this episode is Jimmy journaling the vacation for school. This is the first time an episode has actually been told from a child’s point of view rather than just being targeted at children. “Promises, Promises” was told from Connie’s point of view (that episode used Connie writing a letter as the framing device), but Connie is a teenager (or young adult) not a kid.

I felt the episode leaned too heavily on Jimmy’s narration in the second part, but otherwise it was an effective framing device. It perfectly captures the mentality of a nine-to-ten-year-old boy. I’ve mentioned before that I’m a Bible teacher at a camp for 9-14 year olds each summer. I also went to this camp when I was a kid. The first two years after I returned as an adult, I served as both a counsellor and a Bible teacher. Now I’m just a Bible teacher, because I found it too stressful to have two jobs at once. But those first two years I was also a counsellor for the nine-year-old boys. I know from first hand experience that a nine-year-old boy will go the whole week of camp without showering or changing clothes unless you make him. I laughed out loud when Jimmy told his mom that he was already wearing the clothes he would wear on vacation. Jimmy narrates:

It took three more tries before Mom would let me leave. And I had to take out most of the good stuff too—like half of the comic books and the army boots. Just for some clean underwear, socks, and shirts that make my neck itch.

Two-parters are not simply stories-too-long-for-a-single-episode-so-they-had-to-be-split-in-half. If a story is too long for a single installment in whatever medium you’re employing, then you’re probably using the wrong medium or you should modify the story so that it can be told in one installment. If a comic book story can’t be completed in twenty-four pages, then you should probably consider writing a graphic novel rather than just splitting the story up into two or three issues. If a TV episode can’t be completed in forty-two minutes, then you should consider making a movie rather than just splitting the story into two episodes. A two-parter is two separate and complete—yet tightly integrated—stories that, when combined, form a whole story but can stand alone as coherent stories on their own.

A lot of people who script TV shows and comic books today fail to grasp the purpose of a two-parter. “The Family Vacation” employs the two-parter correctly. There are two stories being told here: (1) preparing for and leaving on vacation and (2) the unexpected events that transpire on the vacation. The first part is the stronger of the two. It is also the more original of the two. We’ve all seen vacation gone awry a million times before. The first part is the slice of life storytelling that Odyssey excels at.

The second part features diegetic use of the Odyssey theme song. Non-diegetic music is music that the audience can hear that the characters can’t. The transition music between scenes is non-diegetic. The theme song, when played at the beginning of each episode, is also non-diegetic. Diegetic music is music that is actually part of the story. In other words, music the characters of the story—not just the audience—can hear. When the Barclay’s sing praise songs in the car or when Donna plays her cassette player, that is diegetic music. Whit’s Boredom Buster playing the Odyssey theme song was a nice creative touch.

Matthew's Rating: 5 (out of 10)
More info about 031-32: The Family Vacation (Parts 1 and 2):
Episode: 003: Lights Out at Whit's End
Originally Aired: December 5, 1987
From Album: Uncollected

This episode is not collected on album. To find out how to listen to it, check out this post.

Because Whit’s End is a fictional location and not a physical building (yes, I’ve visited “Whit’s End” in Colorado Springs, but I’m talking about the radio Whit’s End), the possibilities are endless. There’s not one Whit’s End. There are a million Whit’s Ends. For anyone who’s ever listened to Adventures in Odyssey, there exists a Whit’s End they imagined that’s unlike any other Whit’s End. There are an infinite number of rooms in Whit’s End. In a physical building, you can only walk so far before you bump into a wall. In the Whit’s End you imagine, there is always just-one-more-room. Only you can answer what’s behind the door.

One of the purposes of Whit’s End is to encourage children to create. Whit supplies tools for the children to create with. In the Whit’s End I envision, there are basic tools such as crayons and paper in a corner of the dining room and costumes to dress up with in the theater. There are also more advanced tools such as professional audio equipment in the Kid’s Radio studio and Arduino microcontrollers, LEDs, and electric motors in the inventor’s corner.

VTR Video Switcher

I also envision that behind one of those infinite doors is a fully-equipped video editing bay. In 1987 there was probably a VTR and video switcher in that room. I’m sure Whit’s kept up with the times though. Today, you’d probably find a Mac Pro with Final Cut Pro or maybe even a PC running Ubuntu with PiTiVi and OpenShot installed. At the beginning of “Lights Out at Whit’s End,” the children have borrowed a couple cameras and lights from this hypothetical AV room and are making a movie.

One of the things that makes Adventures in Odyssey unique is that it encourages its listeners not only to be consumers—listening to episodes of Adventures in Odyssey—but also producers creating their own work. It’s why Odyssey has such a vibrant fan community. When the power goes out and the kids are no longer able to operate the cameras, Whits enjoins, “Used to be that fun was something you created. Didn’t come delivered to you. You had to go find it for yourself. And you know what? That was the most fun part of all!”

Whit then explains to the kids how to construct footlights that the kids listening (with proper adult supervision) can make. Place a pie tin behind a candle so that it reflects the light. Use electrical tape to attach the pie tin to the candle holder. I hope some parent listening to this episode with their children in 1987 went out and bought pie tins, candles, and electrical tape and made footlights with their kids the next day.

I’m a Bible teacher at a camp for 9-14 year olds each summer. Every year on Wednesday, the night before the last night of camp, the counselors put on a skit night for the campers. The skits are often hastily thrown together that afternoon. Props and sets consist of whatever the exhausted counselors can scrounge together during the week. A lot of the skits are the same year to year. It doesn’t matter how good the skits are. Never fail, the children have a blast watching their teenage and adult counselors just be goofy. The whole night is filled with laughter. I know the kids at Whit’s End would have had a blast watching Whit, Tom, and Officer Harley doing skits as well.

And that brings us to the infamous rap—easily the weakest element of an otherwise strong episode. I did get to cross “Listening to Hal Smith Rap” off my bucket list. I do wonder where they got the power for the drum machine when the power was out. I really think this episode belongs on a album. If the writers find the rap embarrassing, maybe they can hire tobyMac or Lecrae to record a replacement for the album version of the episode.

Matthew's Rating: 8 (out of 10)
More info about 003: Lights Out at Whit's End:
Episode: 027: A Change of Hart
Originally Aired: May 21, 1988
From Album: Volume 1: The Adventure Begins

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Album 01 Cover With this episode, Volume 1 comes to a close. The first volume had ups and downs. Unfortunately, it ends on a down.

Volume 1: The Adventure Begins is a great starting point for new listeners. It features the very first Odyssey episode, “Whit’s Flop,” we meet Connie for the first time, “Connie Comes to Town,” and gives some background on Whit’s End, “Recollections.” That’s not to say Volume 1 doesn’t have its low points. It does. And, unfortunately, “A Change of Hart” is one of those low points.

“A Change of Hart” is a mishmash of messages, and it doesn’t help that it’s the first completely anthological episode of the series. Previous anthological episodes such as “The Life of the Party” still featured at least one of the regular characters in a minor role. “Hart” doesn’t include any of the regular characters (Whit, Connie, Tom, etc.).

There are four messages bundled into one. First, the episode is about the psychological effects of bullying. Kids may seem sweet and innocent, but anyone whose gone through elementary and middle school knows how brutal kids can be to their peers. Second, running away from your problems is never the answer. Freddie thinks moving to a new school will end the bullying, but it doesn’t. Third, there is a message about being yourself. Freddie learns that changing who he is to please his peers is not the answer. Fourth, there is probably what is the most explicit evangelistic message of the series thus far. All of these are good messages, but the episode would have been much better if it had focused on just one (or two) of them.

Freddie tells his mother, “I thought if I did my hair different than people might like me better.” He explains, “At a new school, I can be anybody I want.” Freddie thinks he needs to change to impress his peers. His father teaches him, “You don’t have to change for [God]. You just let him make the changes through you.” Instead, he needed to let God change him.

The highlight of this episode is the tender moment of a father leading his child to Christ. I’m not sure why the producers felt the need to stuff the episode with so many other messages. Were they worried an entirely evangelistic episode would turn people off?

Matthew's Rating: 3 (out of 10)
More info about 027: A Change of Hart:
Episode: 012: The Tangled Web
Originally Aired: February 6, 1988
From Album: Volume 1: The Adventure Begins

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John Whittaker Pointing Whit is a schemer. It’s part of what makes him mysterious. You could say he tricks you into doing what’s right—although that wouldn’t exactly be correct. Rather, he makes you realize that you should do what’s right without ever coming out and saying that.

This isn’t the first episode we see this in. When “Connie Comes to Town,” almost right away Whit starts scheming to keep her in Odyssey. Ostensibly he asks Connie to guest MC the Bible Bowl to keep impressionable Bobby from running off to California, but it also effectively keeps Connie right there in Odyssey and working at Whit’s End.

Whit is also incredibly perceptive. He’s pieced together that Connie is planning on going to a concert her mother would not approve of. He could have just come out and called her on it. Had he done that, she likely would have gone to the concert anyway. Rebellious teenagers are like that sometimes. Instead, he has her help catalog some old stories he’s written and picks a very specific story for her to read.

Similar to how the main plot of “Gifts for Madge and Guy” was a dramatization of a story Whit was telling, here the main plot is a story Whit has written. But since it’s Connie who’s reading the story, Connie provides the narration.

The story-within-a-story has an ingenious ending. Some of the best episodes so far have been by Phil Lollar. Although, to be fair, a significant portion of all the episodes so far have been written by Lollar, so by the law of averages, a portion of the good ones are bound to come from his pen. Regardless, Lollar’s contribution to Odyssey cannot be underestimated. According to AIO: TOG:

The first script for “The Tangled Web” featured Jeremy Forsythe refusing to accept the award; instead the 11-year-old broke down and confessed to a lie in front of the entire town. However, in later drafts the ending was changed so Jeremy accepted the award on stage and never confessed.

Making the ending unpredictable was an excellent idea. It’s what made this an above average episode instead of just an average episode. Just a quick refresher on how I rate the episodes: 5 = an average episode of the series, 6 = slightly above average, 4 = slightly below average, and so forth.

Although the basic message of this episode (do not lie) is universal, the application (sneaking off to a concert your parents wouldn’t approve of) is surprisingly mature. Up to this point, the applications have been aimed squarely at Odyssey’s target audience of 8-12 year olds. The application of this episode is aimed more at teenagers than preteens. That’s not to say “The Tangled Web” is not relevant to preteens.

Even good Christian teens (and Connie’s not even a Christian yet in this episode) make bad decisions. For preteens listening to this episode, when they are teenagers and find themselves in a situation similar to this one, they’ll at least be armed with biblical advice.

Matthew's Rating: 6 (out of 10)
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