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!