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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Taking a Short Break

Okay, as most of you probably noticed, I have gotten behind in reviewing this season's episodes.  I wrote a draft last week for "Great Expectations," but I got up too late to finish it before we left to help a family from our church move. And, of course, I had no time to get around to it during the regular week.  Well, today, I got up late again, even though I purposely went to bed early, so that I could wake up to either one of my very early alarms and try to finish both reviews before the day officially started.  Somehow, I missed both alarms and didn't get up until after 7:30. I know, for some of you, that's way too early on a Saturday morning. For me, that's terrible; that's about the latest I ever let myself get up. ;)

Anyway, I've changed my plans. The Bible Bee is becoming time-consuming enough for me that I cannot keep trying to focus on getting these reviews out for you guys. Therefore, since I have several more months than usual to review the episodes (the 57th season has been put off until Fall 2013, if you haven't heard), I'm going to stop reviewing until after the Bible Bee. Consequently, the first day I'll be available to review an episode will likely be November 23rd....a little less than a month.  Sorry I had to do this. Hopefully you guys are fine with waiting a few weeks to get my thoughts on more of this season's episodes.

Thanks for understanding, y'all!  Don't forget to comment. :)   And be sure to come back on the 23rd for my next review!

-- Christian

Saturday, October 13, 2012

An Imperfect Body, Part II

Well, we come now to the conclusion of Matthew's Imagination Station adventure. And I liked it just as much, if not more than I liked the first installment. The acting was, again, very well done, and the plot, though more heavily reliant upon Scripture this time around, was just as good. I'm taking a little bit of a different direction in my approach to reviewing this week. I'm going to give commentary after listening to each section of the episode, rather than summarizing all my thoughts after I've listened to the whole thing. It'll be similar to what my reviews were like during the Green Ring Conspiracy, but not exactly the same. Anyway, here it is:

I was confused by the first scene of the episode, because I didn't remember the story about an angel of the Lord coming and releasing the apostles from prison. But when I looked it up in Acts, I saw that it was after the account of Ananias and Sapphira in Chapter 5. Then I was more confused, since the events regarding that couple hadn't transpired in the episode yet. Obviously, that was quickly resolved with the recap from Rhoda. And again, I was very impressed with how closely the Odyssey team stuck to the accounts and the chronology in Scripture.

I really enjoyed the argument that Seth had with the Hellenist Jew. Everything they discussed was so historically and culturally accurate and relevant. I really love how much thought was put into the conversations and the struggles of the characters in these episodes.

And then if those intricacies weren't enough, during the feud, Peter and the other apostles return, giving account of the beatings they received in Chapter 5:40-41, connecting Chapter 6 very nicely to the previous events. As I said last week, it's really opening up a whole new world for me to have all these stories connected together in such an incredible way. I'm learning along with Matthew that the church back then was just as closely-knit and personal and real as my church is now. I should never think of it as this stoic, unemotional, passionless entity that God wrote about and worked through, but that didn't really experience things like we experience them today. These were real people, like Seth, Deborah, and Rhoda, who had hopes, hurts, struggles, and joys--just like we do today. It's a refreshing reminder to know that we as Christians today are not alone; thousands have walked the road before us; even those thousands of years ago struggled with doctrines they didn't understand, Providences that they didn't know how to take, and persecutions that they felt like they couldn't endure.

The short conversation that Matthew had with Stephen was excellent. It didn't feel like something read off of a script. It felt to me like a re-telling of an actual account, full of things Stephen really would have said. And then that carried over beautifully into the words that Rhoda spoke to Matthew concerning the sacrifice of Jesus in His crucifixion on Golgotha. It was great to see early Christians making connections in biblical doctrines before Paul explained them in his epistles--even before he was Paul!

And then, the climax of the episode, the discourse of Stephen in the temple. At first, I was a little puzzled as to why the writers would portray the entire speech, as, to me, it always seemed a little disjointed and all-over-the-place. I sort of sympathized with the Jews who were asking him why he was telling them so many things they already knew. But then, chills went down my spine as, for the first time, I understood what connections Stephen was trying to make about the temple and the dwelling of God and idolatry. This was the first time in a long time that I felt I truly learned something from an Odyssey episode that I didn't realize before. The whole scene was superbly carried out, and it flowed together logically so well. And yet it all came from the pages of God's Word!

And the adventure ends in basically an exposition of Acts 8:1-4, a passage I recently memorized for the National Bible Bee. All the points in these verses were covered in the closing minutes:
Now Saul was consenting to his death. At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison. Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word.
And, what do you know, I actually found myself really enjoying Mr. Whittaker's words to Matthew at the end. He actually sounded like a wise old man, full of knowledge gained through life's experiences. And through his words, we receive the moral of the episode--and a very good one at that. The church is just as full of problems today as it was back in the first century; and yet, because the true, universal church is made up of believers, it is just as much important to and loved by God as was the church two thousand years ago. Now, that's not to discount that there are errors, and even heresies and false teachers in the church (very many of them, in fact), and we are told by Paul to "mark those who cause divisions and avoid them" and "contend for the faith" and "take heed to the doctrine." So, in that sense, we must always strive for truth. As Martin Luther said, "Peace, if possible, but truth at any rate."  We can minimize the arguments over what type of music, what type of baptism, what type of ministries and programs to have;  but when it comes to the Word of God, the everlasting truth, we are to stand firm and fight to preserve the faith handed down to us by those who have gone before us. The church is "the temple of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth," and that is how we are to act. It's not primarily a mission to save the lost, or to sing good songs, or even to edify the saints--thought those things are definitely very important. No, we are foremostly called to glorify God by enjoying Him forever. We do that by defending His Word, preaching it in season and out of season, exhorting others to repent and believe the gospel of Jesus Christ, who died to save us from the wrath of a holy God. If our message becomes anything more or anything less than that, we have missed the mark of being a faithful and pure church.

Okay, I'll get off my soapbox now. :P  As you can tell, I really liked this episode. I love the Bible, so I love episodes that stick so closely to it and accurately teach it. And it was so wonderful how these shows wove together and connected key stories from the Book of Acts to so effectively portray the life and times of the early church. In fact, the only complaint I have against these episodes is that they didn't last longer, that it wasn't a 4-, 8-, or 12-part episode. Actually, I was really hoping that it would at least go to Acts 12, since that's where Rhoda is mentioned. She's the servant girl who answers the door when Peter comes to the house of Mary and John Mark after being released from prison by an angel. I read that portion of Scripture this morning, and I was surprised at how much I could see the fictional character of this show in the character of Scripture. They fit together so perfectly.

But anyway, I really hope that this isn't the last of the great episodes this season. Episodes like this are why I still listen to Odyssey. Amidst the legalistic moralism and worldliness that creep into the episodes at times, I still listen because I know that the Odyssey writers aren't totally unable to write great episodes like this. When they stick to Scripture like this, they can't go wrong. I hope they go this route more often in the future.

Well, thank you for reading my review. I really appreciate it. And I also appreciate feedback, so be sure to make a comment before leaving. And come back next week for my review of "Great Expectations"!

-- Christian

Saturday, October 6, 2012

An Imperfect Body, Part I

We finally made it to the new season! Or should I say, the new season finally made its way to us? Either way, I'm very glad that it's finally here. It seems like it's been a really long time since Album 55 started airing. Yet, at the same time, it feels like it was just last week. I don't know. I guess that's usually the way things are. Anyway, I think I may be looking forward to this album more than any album since the relaunch. Now, it's easy to say that, since it's the one I'm currently excited about, but I really do think this album seems to have more potential than any that's come so far since Album 51 began. I can't wait to see the different directions all of the episodes will take and how they will utilize Whit's many inventions.

But, no matter what the rest of the season holds, if it's anything like this first episode, I will be greatly pleased. I loved this episode. But I loved it in a different way than I've loved episodes that have come before. In previous seasons, I've appreciated episodes because of how they furthered character development, or how they had entertaining story lines; but this episode was incredible, because it took its general story from the Bible! And, like all the Imagination Station adventures we've come to know and love from Odyssey's past, it made the stories that we read in the pages of Scripture, which may at times seem dry and static, come to life! It was amazing to see/hear so many different accounts that I've read and heard over the years come together into a unified whole to tell the story of the early church. It makes me wish that this episode wasn't only two parts, but that it filled the whole album and covered the entire Book of Acts!

See, I'm sort of a Bible geek. Before moving to the church that my family are currently members of, I was known as the "smart kid" because I knew so many facts about the Bible and the accounts it contains. I did Bible quizzing for a number of years, and for a couple of those years, the book we studied fairly extensively was Acts. So I know a lot about the characters and events of the early church. Therefore, this episode was all the more meaningful to me. It was great to see how different parts of the story found their ground in major parts of the book, as well as to pick up on how minor plots tied in with more generic parts. For example, I thought it was very clever to have the main characters, Seth's family, be the ones who bought the land of Ananias and Sapphira and gave them the money, which, as most of you will know, they dealt with dishonestly, and they later paid the price for it. This aspect of the storytelling also makes it nice, in that we don't have to wonder so much about what's going to happen in the next episode. However, at the same time, the writers took enough liberty in creating the different story elements that we have a good amount to speculate and wonder about--such as what's going to happen to the church now that Saul is in the picture.

I'm also wondering how far ahead the next episode is going to go, because in Acts 12, when Peter has escaped from prison and he comes to the door of the house where members of the church are praying for him, he encounters "a servant girl named Rhoda." That was immediately who I thought of when Rhoda appeared in this episode. I doubt it's a coincidence that she has the same name as another character of her age in the Book of Acts, so I think either the story will jump ahead a little bit and give that account, or it will at least be hinted at, so that we know that Rhoda actually fits in in Scripture somewhere.

Well, all that said about the story, I'll go on to the characters and the acting. I thought the acting was very top-notch. Usually, with Odyssey, we're used to hearing the same actors voice the same characters week in and week out. But the great thing about Imagination Station adventures is that we get to hear a variety of more general actors who we don't hear nearly as often, and they always do an excellent job voicing their individual characters, even though they don't get much air time. I was particularly interested with the lame man who was healed by Peter and John, because I thought he sounded very much like a mix between Tigger from Winnie the Pooh and King Lawrence from Darien's Rise--meaning then that he could only have been voiced by one person: Jim Cummings! It was cool to have him back, albeit for a short amount of time. But that's what I'm talking about. These actors are talented enough that they bring a superb performance and life to their characters in only the short amount of time they are given.

It was interesting to hear from the actor who played Sue in "The Labyrinth" again. I thought she did a very nice job. Obviously, I could tell it was her, but she pulled off the American accent very well (unlike when she tried to impersonate an American in the previously-mentioned episode :P). I thought she had a very sweet-sounding voice, and the chemistry between her and Matthew was pretty good. Though, at times, she reminded me of Emily, so at those points I wasn't appreciating her voice so much. ;)

I'll touch on this a bit more later, but I thought Eugene was a very good narrator. I didn't find myself missing the old, computerized "Mabel" voice at all. Will Ryan did a great job, and I would hope to hear more from Eugene in this role in the future. Then there's Whit. You all, I'm sure, know how I feel about Andre Stojka doing the voice of this timeless, beloved character. But actually he wasn't all that bad in this episode. Granted, he only had a few lines at the beginning (which I thought was for the better), but he actually did pretty well with what he had. I didn't feel so much like I was hearing Andre, but more like I was hearing Mr. Whittaker. I surprised myself. We'll see how he does in the coming episodes later on this season.

Moving on to the workings of the new Imagination Station: I was impressed. Although there was a somewhat radical change in the way things operated, I really liked it. The changes felt more like an update to the machine, rather than a fundamental adjustment. As I said before, I really liked Eugene as narrator at the outset, and then as a general commentator throughout. I laughed the first time he cut in, with the definition for "Gentile," and throughout the episode it was a believable way for Matthew to receive necessary information on the culture and the era, rather than being completely confused like some characters have ended up in the past. In addition to Eugene's overall narration, I specifically appreciated his reading of Scripture at the beginning. I thought that was very powerful, and I would definitely like to hear more of that in the future.  Oh, and then one more thing. I also liked how the Imagination Station transferred Matthew from one setting to the next. It reminded me of Kelly's adventure in "The Imagination Station, Revisited" with the doors; but this was even better. I chuckled every time Matthew was hurled about through time and dropped into each particular environment. Hopefully all of these modifications to the Imagination Station will stick around through the rest of the season.

Well, I guess I should bring this review to a close, as it's become quite lengthy. We hadn't heard an episode totally devoted to an Imagination Station adventure since the close of Album 50, and the only other episode it's been a part of since the relaunch was "Fast As I Can," where many fans complained that it just wasn't the same, that it was operating differently that it always has over the years. It has also been referenced briefly in a few episodes over the more recent seasons, one of the more notable ones being "Child's Play," but this is the first time we've really seen it since Odyssey was "redesigned." And it was a very refreshing reminder of the past. However, at the same time, it wasn't stuck in the past. It was definitely an improvement on adventures that were previously experienced within the doors of the machine. The writing and dialogue were excellent, and the correlation between the plot and the accounts in the Bible, as I mentioned, were wonderful as well. I was also very impressed with the variety of great themes touched on in the episode. Among the things briefly mentioned were the inexplicable blindness of the hearts of the Jewish leaders, the inevitability of persecution of Christians, the inclusion of the Gentiles, speaking in tongues, Jesus taking God's wrath on the cross, and the conundrum about Jewish traditions and the Law of Moses. All of those things are very important, so it was great to see the Odyssey writers incorporate those themes into the story.

That's just about all I have to say about the episode. Hopefully that wasn't too long. I hope you enjoyed it! I look forward to hearing and reviewing next week's episode. I think we can expect some good action--probably along the lines of the trailer for The Lyin' Thing in "I Want My BTV." There may also be some sober plot elements as well, as the death of Stephen and the great persecution of the church come in Chapters 7 and 8 of Acts.  Anyway, thank you so much for reading my review! Please tell me what you thought about it in the comments. And be sure to come back next week for my analysis of Part II!


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Get in the Show Finalists!

Okay, I have to admit, I haven't been all that involved with giving updates on the "Get in the Show" contest and its various offshoots over the last couple of months. Mostly, that's been because I'm busy. But I also wasn't all that excited about it. Recently, however, I don't remember where, but I saw somewhere that referenced "making Odyssey history" by making sure you're a part of the GitS contest in some form. And it hit me that voting for these finalists really is going to make a difference the future of Odyssey. All that is to say that voting for the finalists is finally up on the Official site.

I thought there was some very good talent displayed in many of these videos. Some of the actors/actresses were a little over-the-top, but a few of them really struck me as kids with great abilities. The girl Annaliese, in particular, was my favorite of all of them. She was very genuine, and yet still very forceful in the way she delivered her lines. She was an easy pick as one of of the three I voted for. The other two were tougher, but I finally narrowed it down to Hannah and the last boy Timmy. (Hopefully I have those names right.)  And, don't forget, you can vote once a day! So make sure you get over there and have a say in the future of Odyssey!

Also, I wanted to mention that I was very impressed by a recent podcast (or should I say, blogcast?) that I heard on the Adventures in Odyssey Blog. Austin and Natasha interviewed Josh, Jordan, and Kelli Taylor from Blimeycow. If you don't know who those people are, you must look them up! Their videos are full of Christian satirical comedy about today's materialistic and contemporary Christian society. You can check out their YouTube page here.  But even if you don't know who the Taylors are, you should still listen to the podcast. It's a great interview, and it's also one of the last blogcasts that the Peacheys plan to do, as they've announced that this is their final season.

Well, I guess you got another post out of me before the end of the summer. Oh, I guess summer is over. But it doesn't feel like fall until the new Odyssey season begins to air! Which, as many of you know, is happening this weekend, finally! And I can assure you that I will do my very best to keep up with putting out reviews every week. You can expect the first one on "The Perfect Church, Part I" this Saturday bright and early! Or maybe I should wait until Part II airs before I post a review...  No, just kidding. ;)  You've waited long enough, and I am going to deliver!  Make sure to check in later this week for the review!  Thanks for reading!

-- Christian