First of all, I must make a confession. I broke one of my rules in listening to this season. I *gasp* listened ahead of the episodes that were airing on the radio. =P After about eight episodes of faithfully, patiently listening to one episode a week, I gave in and visited FAIO to listen to the rest, most of which I finished in one day. xP
But, that tragedy aside, wow. Obviously it affected me pretty drastically, because I actually decided to get on this blog and write a post for once. =p I had started this review about a month ago, though, so it took some extra nudging from a friend to even get it finished and published. But anyways, I'm going to attempt to write a review for a 14-part episode right now -- something I have never done before.. And before I get started, it goes without saying that a certain notification is in order:
You have been warned.
- I forgot that I didn't like Buck. Throughout the season he really grew on me, but in the scene where he explained to Camilla why she needed to be content with her upbringing and the way that her family loved her instead of coveting his life... it totally broke down any remaining dislike of his character that I was harboring. The lines were delivered so well, and the emotion in his voice was perfect, not feeling forced or scripted at all. That was one of my favorite scenes, outside of the several scenes that ended the season.
- I forgot that I didn't initially like Shona Kennedy's attempt at voicing Jules. This album was full of character development for Jules, and I thought Shona handled it exceptionally well. The chemistry between her and Vance was superb. (I'll add here that I was also very impressed with Vance this season. I'm very glad that the voice change happened back in 2010, because even though I was annoyed by it back then, I don't think the original actor could have pulled off what the current one did in this album.) And one scene that really sticks out to me is the scene where Buck is walking her home. The exchange that they have in that scene made them so real to me... There was some excellent writing going on. And Shona did a wonderful job with some scenes that had the potential to be pretty challenging.
- I forgot that Matthew had a new voice! O_o That says a lot about Gunnar Sizemore's ability to fill the shoes that Zach Callison left behind. Perhaps their voices are naturally that similar, but I have to think that Gunnar listened to past episodes to get a feel for how Zach had handled the character; and he did an awesome job replicating that. There were very few times I remembered that Matthew sounded different at all. The majority of the time, I got lost in the episode and totally neglected to notice any change.
- I forgot that, up until this album, I still haven't been totally comfortable with the new voice for Whit. This season featured a Whit that actually taught substantial lessons from God's Word! Consequently, there were very few times that my brain even acknowledged that there was anything abnormal or different about him, when it comes to how Whit's acted in the past. It was so refreshing to have the godly, wise Whit back alongside the grandfatherly Whit that has seemed to dominate the last several seasons.
- I forgot that Wooton has been annoying the last few albums, due to his consistent identity as the provider of lame comic relief. Hadley took that role in this album, and it was a breath of fresh air. Sure, Wooton had his silly moments, but it wasn't overdone like it usually is; it felt like he was finally back in character. And his character was integral to the plot of the album, so he went through quite a bit of emotional turmoil and character development over the course of the 14-part episode. I couldn't be more happy with the more mature character that resulted. Closely related to this point...
- I forgot (and perhaps this one is the most amazing of all!) that I didn't like Penny! I think this was a direct result of the serious subject matter of this season. I honestly can't think of a moment where she genuinely annoyed me or when I was frustrated that she and Wooton got along so well. And that's saying a lot, because her very *presence* usually accomplishes both of those things for me. =P
So yeah, kudos to Mr. McCusker for accomplishing so many things through these episodes that I thought were impossible! xD But there's still something about this album I haven't mentioned (directly) that amazed me more than anything else. Now, you have to understand, I heard a pretty major spoiler before this 14-parter even began to air. I sort of didn't resist hearing this spoiler, though. A friend told me something along the lines of, "You're not going to believe what happens in Album 58.. >_>" and I said, "Wooton and Penny get married? =O" And she was like, "Yeah... how'd you know?" Basically, I had just guessed what I hoped would never happen but knew was inevitable, especially in a season dedicated to exploring the subject of family.
I think it was a couple months after I heard the spoiler before I actually started listening to the episodes, so I had largely forgotten to be listening for it. But as the album progressed, the chemistry between Wooton and Penny was turning out to be really good... Penny supported him through the tragedy of losing his house. (And can I just say right now, could there have been a more perfect tragedy? Could anything have affected fans as much as Wooton losing his awesome house, besides, maybe, someone dying? xP) She was an asset to him, a true companion, not just a partner in comic relief and silly escapades. She was moral support and a voice of reason at some pretty pivotal moments. That's what Wooton needs. That's what any man needs in a wife. So when the last scene started to roll, when I realized what was coming, I was perfectly happy and content with it. I don't think I could be more pleased with how it turned out.
Okay, now on to analyzing the actual plots, the interwoven story lines that formed the backbone of this album. I counted six primary stories which were surrounded and penetrated by nine smaller plot devices specifically relating to families. I also noticed three other very minor ones that I will briefly mention as well. And if I missed any, be sure to tell me in the comments!
So, first, in no particular order, here are my thoughts on the major plots:
1. Buck and the Meltsners: I knew this was coming. I think we all did. Ever since Buck ran off with Mr. Skint in Album 53 after having developed a bit of a relationship with "Ms. Katrina." Then our thoughts were confirmed when Eugene and Katrina learned they couldn't have kids. So yeah, I suppose this was predictable. But Paul McCusker knew that it was predictable, so what does he do? He slips some awesome dialogue in through Connie that lets us know that he knows and that he doesn't care because it's a pretty awesome story, nevertheless. And I agree. Adoption is a beautiful thing, whether that's what ends up happening in this situation or not. And even if that's not what happens, it's still a great picture of Christlike love to take in a kid who has caused you and people you love a lot of trouble. Almost makes me want to forgive all the wishy-washy stuff Katrina said to Buck back in Album 53. xp I'm actually finding myself looking forward to what comes of this in the seasons ahead.
2. Jules and Connie: We knew Jules was coming back, but I don't think any of us could have guessed how it was going to be handled. One of the most awesome things about her as a character, I think, is how similar she is to how Connie was when she first came to Odyssey from California. Sure, she's a 21st century version with social media to aid her sense of independence, and she has different reasons to feel uneasy in Odyssey, but she's still the same girl. And as I mentioned before, it's really awesome to watch her progress throughout this season. People say her secret intentions were obvious and that her story line was too predictable. I disagree. Yes, it was obvious from the beginning that she was up to something. I even said to my siblings before the first episode was over, "She's the Perilous Pen." But then the Vigilantors get introduced. And Vance seems to have some connection with them. And she hangs out with Vance quite a lot. So for a while, I was really unsure of what she was actually doing. She seems to be more connected to the vandalism than she does to Wooton and his comics, even though she initially shows up at Comic-Connelsville. Of course, if you were astute enough to keep the very first scene of the season in mind, retaining that Wooton's comics were in the supply room at Whit's End, then you would have had a pretty good grasp on every thing. I, like anyone else, knew something was up when Jules kept getting caught sneaking around near there, but I had not paid enough attention to know that it was hiding Wooton's comics. So although it was obvious that she was the Perilous Pen by the time everything was being revealed, I thought the writers did a good job maintaining a moderate amount of uncertainty along the way.
3. The Parkers: I'm going to treat this one as the core of the season, because I think it ultimately was. It was the Parker kids who received the most powerful and direct instruction and explanation from Whit as to the nature of biblical families. Matthew was directly related to both the LGT Festival plot and the Hangman's Hollow plot; Olivia was indirectly related to the LGT Festival plot; and Camilla was indirectly related to the Buck plot. So in a lot of ways, this family is at the center of everything. And they have their own issues to sort out, even if all of the craziness weren't going on around them. I think Mr. and Mrs. Parker really shine as parents in this album. Some people say that the family talks were contrived. I'll give you that. But sometimes that's sorta how family conversations are, aren't they? Sometimes it's just like, we need to have a talk, so let's just do it. It doesn't have to flow well. =P Others complain that the "tension" thing was never really resolved. But what about after Camilla talks to Buck? Does she not leave him with a newfound appreciation for her family, tense and imperfect though they may be? That was resolution enough for me: they aren't perfect, but God has blessed them richly with an intact family, so they need to be there for each other.
4. Ms. Adelaide and the LGT Festival: (Am I the only one who recognized that the initials of the festival are pretty darn close to those of another association with similar values and aspirations? =P) Now we come to the plot that gave many fans the most grief this season. And, honestly, I don't understand why. I mean, I hear their arguments, but the arguments just don't make sense to me. This is a show for 8- to 12-year-olds. And many of the children in that target audience have younger siblings who are not quite that old. Do they need to hear the words "homosexuality," "gay," "lesbian," or "AIDS" being thrown around? Even if it would be okay for their older siblings? I don't think so. And this is certainly the case in my family. If all of the subjects either directly addressed or touched upon in this album had been described with the aforementioned words, some of my younger siblings would not have been allowed to listen? Is that because my parents shelter their kids? Perhaps. But it's more just because they want to be able to make the determination about when their children are old enough and mature enough to hear those terms and have them explained to them. I think Mr. McCusker made an excellent decision in the way he wrote the dialogue and set up the situations throughout this season. All young kids needed to understand was that Ms. Adelaide and Mr. Whittaker had a disagreement based on their principles; and Mr. Whittaker got his principles right out of Scripture, so he was obviously on the right side. =P As they get older and their parents introduce them to these deep issues on their own timing, they will understand more about the message behind these episodes, and I think they'll be able to appreciate them even more. Now, there's also the issue of whether or not Ms. Adelaide was caricatured. Meh, I suppose you could make that argument. There were certainly scenes where she was over-the-top. But I think there are people out there like her who are both inconsistent within their belief systems and also unaware of just how much their belief system affects them. So I don't think it was all together unrealistic. The message was very clear to those old enough to understand all of its nuances, and there were several subjects broached about which parents were then given the opportunity to have conversations with their kids, at their own discretion. That's what Focus set out to do, and I think they accomplished that goal very well.
5. Hangman's Hollow: Ah, yes, the least substantive of the plots. =P After having listened to most of the episodes two or more times, I feel like there was a lot of emphasis on this plot point at the beginning...without much return at the end. It's almost like the initial mystery about the guy going around buying all the old antiques existed merely to involve Jason and to introduce an opportunity for the Jones & Parker Detective Agency to have a mini-case. =p I suppose those aren't horrible things, but it does still feel like the low point of the season, with regard to quality of writing. It does seem to serve as a decent source of comic relief, with Harlow Doyle making an appearance, as well as zombies, which were the last thing any fan expected to hear in an Odyssey show. xp So I'll admit that it was creative! And it was a good way to touch on the interesting study that is the effect of television sitcoms on American life and morals, which I'll talk about more later. So, I guess, although this plot didn't impress me as much as the others, it was still unique and served a purpose, so I can't fault it too much.
6. Wooton and Comic-Connelsville: And, last but not least, we consider what's probably my favorite of the story lines in this season. I don't know about you guys, but I thought this whole "Comic-Connelsville" thing was pretty darn clever -- just barely a notch above corny. =P When I heard this idea introduced in the first episode, it was basically right then that I knew we were in for a very good season. This is the largest focus we've ever had on Wooton and his PowerBoy comics, among the others that he writes. I thought it was awesome to see Wooton among people who think of him as a celebrity. This plot point introduced so many opportunities for character development -- the deal with Maximized Comics, the possibility of selling artwork, the Perilous Pen, the Sleuth Family Robinson concept, and, of course, the break-in and burning down of his house. I think I loved just about every minute of all the directions this story went. Even Hadley, as a character, intrigued me a good deal, especially as we neared the end of the season. As with Jules, although I had inklings of the things he was involved in, the nature and flow of the story kept me guessing. Of course, once Jules was exposed as the Perilous Pen and it was clear that the Vigilantors had no reason to set their sights on Wooton, it wasn't hard to figure out who was left to be behind the various felonies at Wooton's house. But I still don't think that made it predictable. As I've alluded to previously and will further expound upon soon, I believe this plot was the heart and soul of the album, inasmuch as the Parker family and their involvement were the substance of the album... if that makes sense. =P
Okay, now I'm going to switch gears and try to briefly go over the nine or so family structures that we saw in this album. A lot of these are fairly obscure and discussed only briefly, but every one is important, I believe.
1. Buck's (lack of) family: This one is really key, I think. Especially when we see the conversation that Buck has with Camilla. Emotional depth permeates his lines, and you almost come away with it even more grateful for your *own* family. It's incredibly hard for me to imagine what it would be like to grow up without committed, loving parents. God is very gracious. So I need things like this as reminders that there are people out there who really struggle in orphanages and foster care systems, always looking for permanence and unconditional love that are seldom found.
2. Meltsners' want of family: Obviously this one is very related to the previous one. This, again, is something that a lot of us with traditional families are not used to thinking about. A lot of us know couples who struggle with infertility, but I venture to say that not many of us at all understand all of the heartbreak that accompanies such a struggle. In our culture that's becoming so comfortable with family planning, birth control, and the like, we lose sight of what a blessing it is to have children. We're more likely to think about how they can benefit us rather than how blessed we are to be given the responsibility and privilege of investing in *them*. And infertility gets in the way of such blessing and privilege. But there is also great beauty in adoption -- often the result of infertility -- and I hope we get to see this beauty expounded even more as we continue to follow the story of Buck and the Meltsners. It's unfortunate that the process is often so costly in our country, but I imagine the rewards are worth the effort and I believe Christ is exalted because of the beautiful picture adoption paints to remind us of what His sacrifice did for us.
3. Jules's family: In Jules we have a great picture of what happens when a girl has no consistent family life -- and when she does have family life, it consists of a father who is not very respectful in his treatment of women and a mother who obviously has better things to care about. Unfortunately, I think this is a very common situation. Way too many teenage girls today do not have a respectable, caring father-figure in their lives. Feminists would say, "Who needs one?" but I think suicide and self-harm statistics speak for themselves. Girls need a man who will tell them they're beautiful, who will treat them and the other women in his life like they're worth something. If they don't have that, they don't have an accurate picture of how guys should treat girls, and they won't end up being very selective when it comes to the guys they date. Case in point, Jules initially having no problem hanging out with Vance and others like him. Her father doesn't treat her with the dignity she deserves, so why should she be turned off by a guy who wants her help to do wrong things? I don't recall what the exact situation is with her mom -- whether Bill has moved on to someone else already or not -- but I do recall that she made it to Odyssey before her parents even thought to worry about her. So hers wasn't a good situation. I'm glad Connie was given the opportunity to have a better influence on her and give her better direction than she'd been getting at home. I trust this season wasn't the last we'll see of their relationship.
4. Connie and her mom: Even though this ended up being a really small and somewhat forgettable part of the season, I still thought it was really meaningful. Connie's mom did a pretty decent job of bringing her up after Bill divorced her, and I think the trunk she saved was just another really sweet example of just how much she cared about Connie. We get a little sense of generational legacy here, since June makes it clear that she wanted Connie to be able to show the stuff to her kids someday. Makes me stop and think about stuff I might want to do for my kids someday that would impact them in a way similar to this.
5. The Parker family: Yes, we discussed them as part of the six major plots, but they're a picture we see of family, too, so they're worth mentioning again. I remember when this family was introduced with the relaunch and Album 51 and we found ourselves complaining a bit about different idiosyncrasies here and there; but who today wouldn't say that the Parkers have grown on you? Even with all the voice changes I think the kids are still very real kids, and many of the listeners in the target audience can certainly identify with them. I love the chemistry of the parents, and I love the times of banter that the siblings often share. It's a very realistic family, in my opinion, and it's an intact one! One without divorce, without extramarital affairs, without teenage rebellion, and without a deadbeat dad or a domineering mom. It's a group of individuals that God has placed together to live life and glorify Him together. We might not all enjoy such a thriving family, but I think most people would agree they wish they had that. So I'm glad Odyssey has consistently kept such a model for us over the years.
6. The family on the TV show: The name of the show escapes me at the moment (they did name it, didn't they?), but you guys know what I'm talking about: The family with *gasp* lesbians at the head. When I heard the producer of the show explaining the members of the family to Matthew, Emily, and Jay, I was simultaneously shocked and overjoyed that Odyssey actually went so far as to mention a family with two moms. I think it's about time we start addressing things like this with our kids, because it's only a matter of time before such "family" units become even more widespread than they are now. When things get to the point where your next-door neighbors are lesbians or a male gay couple, what are you going to tell your kids? Well, I hope to have already prepared my kids for such situations. Obviously we don't have to tell them all of the inner workings and the sexual motivations behind the decision that two people of the same sex make to marry one another; but we can establish for them the biblical model of the family and explain that anything else is rebellion against the law of Christ and direct defiance of nature. That's why I was excited to hear the subject broached in an Odyssey episode. Hopefully it will give parents who haven't equipped their children for such questions and observations the chance to start some important conversations.
7. The Sleuth Family Robinson: Here we have essentially the opposite of the previous family model. This creation of Wooton is intended to have the opposite effect that the lesbian couple would have in the media. Whereas seeing homosexuality depicted on a sitcom would encourage the normalization and social acceptance of the sinful, destructive lifestyle, seeing an intact, cooperating family portrayed in a good light would promote, in however small a way, a biblical view of marriage and family. We could argue about how much influence one family in a comic book would have on society at large, but we'll set that aside for now. I just thought it was a really cool idea on the part of Paul McCusker to have Wooton create characters like this to counteract so much of the junk we see representing families in most media today, as the Parker family discusses. I wish something like this actually existed, because I found the concept quite intriguing.
8. Ms. Adelaide and her brother: This, I thought, was a very profound move to make. Yes, an awful lot is packed together in this one album, so adding another aspect to the debate on marriage and family could be perceived as overkill. But I thought this particular aspect was handled very well. I mean, come on, would you have ever seen it coming that AIO would feature a character with AIDS? Really? I remember a discussion years ago on the message boards about whether or not it would work for a homosexual character to appear on the show, how the people in the town would respond, what Whit in particular would do in such a situation, etc. And now here we have the answer! Whit handled his conversations with Ms. Adelaide's brother so delicately and with such grace.... It was really inspiring. And the fact that he apparently got saved in the end really just warmed my heart. You could tell he was repentant; he saw where his sin had gotten him, and he acknowledged that it was all his fault. Even his friends wouldn't come to see him because he reminded them of where their own wrong choices could take them as long as they persisted in them. Yeah, sure, not every homosexual ends up with AIDS, and certainly not every one that does end up with AIDS repents of sin and trusts Christ for salvation. But isn't it a beautiful thing to think that God actually does save such people? 1 Corinthians 6 tells us as much. And I like to be reminded of that sort of thing, because I know it was just as much of a miracle that He saved me.
9. Wooton and Hadley: Oh, I could go on and on about how much I loved the resolution of this plot. When the truth comes out that Hadley was the one who caused the destruction to Wooton's house and had been attempting to misuse his artwork; when he goes and tries to sell the artwork to Hugo Wells; when Hugo Wells rejects it because he knows it wouldn't be an honest transaction; and then when Wooton confronts him about it..... I don't know what I was expecting, but I certainly wasn't expecting him to go back in with him and sell the artwork honestly to help Hadley pay his bills. I legit just about cried. My eyes teared up. Wooton is so freaking awesome. And I love it when he does things like that that are just so... Christian. Such evidence that he's been treated with undeserved favor, because he's so ready to show it to others. Really makes me wish I could be more like that toward the people closest to me.
Alright, then, just to round things off, I'll point out that we also got small glimpses into the Smouse family (Jay can do basically whatever he wants whenever he wants because, quote, "they want him to be quiet." XD) and the Jones family (Emily, as we've seen before, could potentially haggle with her parents until she talked them into letting her see a zombie TV show, if that's really what she wanted to see. =p). And then I wanted to point out that we got another small look into the father-son relationship between Whit and Jason in the short conversations they have after Whit's collapse. (While I'm on the subject, by the way, I don't know what's up with you people who say that that situation was not resolved. Jason says to Whit, "You should have come in to see [Dr. Graham] days ago," and Jules makes a remark that she's certain by the looks of Whit that all the stress just got to his head. So I really think that's all it was... I'm not sure why people want something more, as if his collapse was part of a plot by Ms. Adelaide to get him out of the way or something. xP)
So there you have it! Family, family, family! You're probably sick of hearing me talk about it by now, but I do want to say just a few more things. I work with kids on a daily basis during the school year whose lives are a wreck, mostly because of the horrible home situations they have to return to every day. Some of them go through verbal abuse, and some physical and sexual abuse. A couple have intact families, but the majority have parents who have gone through a divorce, who never got married at all, or who are in jail because of terrible choices they've made. One of the young girls I work with lives with a lesbian mom and her partner. One of the boys I work with never knew his dad because his mom is always switching boyfriends. I could go on and on with stories, but you get the point. Family matters. And God's model for family matters. That's what this album was about. And you have to acknowledge that it drove that point into the ground. If nothing else, my above analysis of just how many family units we saw this season proves it. We are talking about a product from Focus on the Family, after all, people. =P
Was this album perfect? No. But I truly think it's the best we've been offered since all the changes in 2010. I don't think the interconnected-ness of the plots and the constant switching from one to the next detracted from the album; I think it enhanced it. I think it drove home the point that families are integral to society, to everything we do. If we lose that, as our culture seems bound to do, we begin to lose everything. And never have I understood that point so well as I have when listening to and considering this, AIO's first and only 14-part episode. Hopefully my analysis has done some justice to its greatness. ;)
Please comment below if you think I missed anything or if I just have a horrible perspective on something that needs corrected. I look forward to hearing what you guys have to say!
~ Christian A.