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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A Lengthy Analysis of Album 58

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.

My goodness, this album was good! I even venture to say that this album is the best since the relaunch. I hesitate to say that, because there were certainly episodes that I very much enjoyed in the seven albums that have preceded this one. And there are even episodes that I liked more than certain single parts of this 14-part episode. But as one whole episode, this one did something that I don't think an AIO episode has ever done before. It interwove and expounded at least six major plots (listed later) in a coherent, inter-related, inspiring way. During the last episode, as all of the story lines were being resolved, I was in awe at how well each resolution was handled and how deeply almost every one affected me. 

I looked through the episode titles of the shows from every album since the relaunch, and I realized that I don't think an AIO episode has affected me this much since The Inspiration Station in Album 51, with the possible exception of Your Servant Is Listening on Album 57. Although I recognized the excellence of the writing fairly early on and was anticipating a tremendous season, it was especially the last several episodes that really touched me. It surprised me in many different ways, most of which involved how deeply I found myself lost in the story. In fact, the writing and the acting were so good that I forgot several things that I didn't think I could forget:

  • 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.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Sorry for My Absence... Hopefully This Makes It Up to You a Little...

Yeah.... So, if you hadn't noticed, I've been slightly less than active on this blog. xP  You can blame life for that. *nods*

However. I haven't forgotten about you people! At least.... I remember you about once every few weeks or so. =P  Anyway, two of my little siblings got Albums 56 and 57 for their respective birthdays, and I've been listening to the episodes the last couple of nights... and I realized that I sorta dropped the ball at just the wrong time.

Those albums were *really* good. With the exception of the Penny and J&P episodes, nearly every single one has made me seriously think about something, or has really entertained me. The writers worked really hard to give us entertaining, yet meaningful episodes these last couple of seasons. We saw episodes about prayer, true repentance, tithing, Scripture, and even one where a girl who grew up in a Christian home realizes that she needs to make the faith her own and trusts Jesus for the first time! And as if that weren't enough, a subsequent episode deals with her struggle to keep her newfound faith alive! I don't know if I could have asked for anything better, really.

I don't want to presume upon anything, but.... I think I will anyway. =P  During the Green Ring Conspiracy episodes, I couldn't stop whining and complaining about the lack of solid biblical truth in the episodes; and I was especially disturbed by the less-than-adequate descriptions of sin and salvation that I was hearing. Several times, I believe, I made sure I said that I believed a person is truly saved when they repent of their sins and trust in Christ for salvation. And at that time, I don't think AIO had ever featured a description of conversion in those specific words.

But then fast-forward to The Bible Network. In the first sequence, "Who's the Real Sheep?" we are given a precise definition of how to be saved: "by repenting of our sins and trusting in Jesus." Exactly. What. I. Asked. For. Does anyone think that could be more than a coincidence? Like I said, I don't want to presume that the writers read my blog faithfully and take into account everything I say.... but whether or not that's the case, I have seen a very evident change in the content and focus in many of the episodes.

Just last night I was listening to Disc 2 of Album 56, which has "The Holy Hoopster" and "The Lost Riddle" on it. Both of those episodes explicitly and repeatedly have characters saying "Jesus" and/or "Christ," names that I had felt were conspicuously absent from Odyssey for a long period of time. And even though it wasn't the primary moral of the story, "The Lost Riddle" had a very strong message about the Providence of God. Even though Kenny did wrong to Dale and thereby got a headstart on his career that should have gone to Dale, God worked through it, and Dale says that he wouldn't have it any different even if he could. I was very touched by this episode. And it's even a Jones & Parker episode! I couldn't believe it. xD

All this is to say.... Well done, Odyssey. I complained for a long time, and you didn't have to deliver, but you did. Even though some things don't totally line up with the specifics of what I believe (see my review on The Bible Network for that...), I think what we've been given is much better than what we had been getting. And given the fact that AIO has to cater to a huge audience, made up of people from all kinds of denominational backgrounds, I think they've done an excellent job. I've seen the gospel several times over the last two seasons. In The Bible Network, in Your Servant Is Listening, and even in Life Expectancy. I could hardly be more pleased.

Well, hopefully this hasn't been too long. That's another thing that I needed to work on back when I was on here more regularly: shorter reviews. xP  I don't know how active I'm going to be in the future--actually today I was only planning on giving you a preview of this article and writing the whole thing out at a different time--but I hope you can relate to what I said. =)

TL;DR: Odyssey is awesome. Thank you.

Saturday, August 10, 2013


Hey!  If you're reading this, I highly commend you for your faithfulness in keeping up with my blog, even when I take several-month-long hiatuses.  I continue to consider officially bringing an end to this thing, but I keep deciding to keep it alive for a while longer, for just such times as today, when I have some free time and I feel like reviewing an episode. :D

So, yeah, I'm going to review "Your Servant Is Listening, Part 1." I don't think I'll make it very long, but I thought I'd at least put something out. I'm so far behind with Odyssey these days that I still haven't heard one of the episodes from Album 56. Life has finally gotten a hold of me, and I'm no longer a young teenager with too much time on his hands. This summer I've had two jobs, and during the schoolyear I've been taking college-level classes at a vocational school. All of that adds up free time. At least, no free time that I feel like spending on writing long reviews of episodes. ;)

The other part of the problem is that I found myself writing longer and longer reviews, because as I've further developed my theological convictions and opinions, I've found that they often clash with those of the creators of Odyssey.  And if you've ever had a theological conversation with me, you know I can't just let something go if I disagree with it. ;)

So anyway. I had my wisdom teeth removed on Tuesday, so I've had a slow, relaxing week. And I figured, since I don't really have anything to do this Saturday, I might as well give you guys some of my thoughts about the pilot episode of this new season.

I actually found myself really liking this episode. I probably won't have a final opinion on it until I hear the resolution next week, but overall I found this show to be to my liking. And it's funny, because this is the way I felt with "The Perfect Church" last season. It gave me new hope for Odyssey....and then I was let down by other episodes in the season. So I'm trying not to get my hopes too high after this one good episode. But I think it must be that I really like these biblical episodes. In "The Perfect Church," Matthew learned things directly from the Bible that applied to what he was experiencing in modern times. And it seems that Camilla is going to experience the same thing.

And I think that the issue that this episode explores is even more relevant than was the church conflict issue in the other one. In my own family I see several Camillas, who don't really get the point of reading their Bibles or praying consistently. And I thought Mrs. Parker had a very good point: They don't hear the voice of God in Scripture. They don't desire to spend time with God in His Word because they haven't yet come to truly know God. 1 Corinthians 2 says that the things of God are foolish and impossible to understand for those who don't have the Holy Spirit. Now, something tells me that the Odyssey writers aren't going to go so far as to say that Camilla isn't saved, but I still think that's an application we can derive.

But that's not the only lesson we learned in this episode. In a typical Odyssey episode, there's only one moral point that is trying to be brought across. But I was very impressed when I picked up on at least two other semi-related points. Not only did we begin to learn about the importance of reading our Bibles, but we learned about the nature and power of prayer, as well as the meaning of sacrifice in the Old and New Testaments. When the Parkers were noticing the animals around them in the marketplace, I thought to myself, "This would be a great opportunity for the writers to talk about Jesus!"  And when Lucia went so far as to say that sacrifices were offered for the forgiveness of sins, I was pleased. But then she went the extra mile and described exactly what I was hoping for! That the sacrifices required under the Law of Moses were pointing to the ultimate sacrifice: Jesus!  I was very happy to hear that explained in a way that kids could understand.  I've found that not many people understand that connecting strand between the Old and New Testaments these days, so I'm thrilled that AIO took the opportunity to explain such a core Christian concept in the language of kids.

Anyway. I told you I couldn't help bringing theology into these reviews! :P  And it looks like this is going to end up being long anyway... Oh well. I think I've done this before too, and I don't remember anyone complaining then. But hey, I'm not forcing you to read it all anyway, so it's all good. ;P

Okay, back to the episode. On the more superficial side of things, I know people have been complaining about Camilla's new voice....but I really didn't mind it at all. I think the former Camilla had a more annoying voice, personally. Plus, she was starting to sound too old for the part, so I thought it was a good decision. And the new actress sounds so similar to Sydney Shiotani that I think it would have taken me a good while to notice had I not heard about the interview with her on the Official Podcast.

I actually surprised myself and liked the part that Lucia played in this episode as well. At the beginning, she wasn't that great, but during the actual adventure I thought she was a great asset to the story. She added some elderly comic relief, as well as a good amount of wisdom. She almost felt to me like she was playing the part that Wooton used to play, once upon a time. She was funny, but that never came at the expense of her maturity and wisdom. If she can maintain this balance, I would not at all mind seeing her more often on the show.

And then Eva. I liked her just about as much as I usually do. She's not the greatest of characters, but her actress does a good job with her, so she didn't bother me. She's always seemed to me to be somewhat of a pushover when it comes to handling her children, and that showed through a little bit in this episode, but it wasn't too bad. And then I thought it was cool that she got to use her nursing skills (wasn't this the first time ever on the show?) to help deliver Samuel.

I think one of the best things about this episode for me was that Mr. Whittaker was not involved. I know that sounds wrong, but I think it was a good break to have a show where Whit was not the only delivering the moral in a short lecture at the end. Now, that could be coming in Part 2, but for now, I'm very happy with the way it is, without him.

Well... I think that's all I have to say about the episode. I had forgotten how fulfilling it is to finish a long review. I may just have to try to make time for writing one next week... You probably shouldn't get your hopes up though. ;)  Next week I have work in the morning, and the week after that is the Bible Bee. So I really doubt I'll be consistent in putting out reviews. But I promise I will think about it, and I will review Part 2 if I feel like I have enough time.

Thank you for reading!

-- Christian A.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Album 57 Cover!

Hey, I decided, this is an easy post to make and it won't take much time, so I'll give you guys something for being faithful followers. But it's not much.

However, it is exciting! Reddo posted this artwork on the Soda Shop late last night!

I'm not really sure what I think of it yet, but I don't have time to post my thoughts, so let me know what you think!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

A Qur'an Connection

Hopefully that title doesn't offend anybody.  I racked my brain for some other fitting antonym to "Bible," but I really couldn't think of one. It's a little extreme, I guess, but hopefully there are no Muslims who are browsing my site who will seek me out and kill me for using their holy book's name irreverently.

Well, I said I would have a controversial review for you this week. You would think, with a name and a theme so centered around the Bible, the Odyssey writers couldn't go wrong. That's what I thought as well. And that's what I continued to think as I listened to the first two sections of the show. I was actually very pleased with the first one; the second one was a little cheesy and drawn-out, but I didn't have much of an issue with it. But I was sorely disappointed when it came time for the third section. It was an entertaining enough story, and I think the writers were well-intentioned with it, but it had a very major theological flaw in it. And you know how I am about theological flaws. I'll get to that later in the review though. First, I'll tell you what I liked about the episode.

Overall, I thought it was a pretty decent format. I liked how 2 Timothy 3:16 was the basic framework for the skits, mainly because it's one of the most foundational texts for the Christian faith, since it deals with the inspiration and sufficiency of Scripture. (It was also, along with Verse 17, the focus verse for this past year's Bible Bee. So I know it very well.)  This started the episode out on the right foot for me, because I prefer the Bible to be the starting point for an episode, rather than just a point we try to pull out from the episode once all of the entertainment is over. If you remember, that's what I liked so much about Album 54:  the writers started with a moral, an aspect of love from 1 Corinthians 13, and made a story out of it, rather than coming up with an entertaining story idea and trying to fit a moral into it.  This episode almost didn't feel like AIO at first, because it was so Bible-oriented.

Then we get to the first call/"letter". Now, don't get me wrong, I understand the main concern of this caller, and I understand why Connie answered it the way she did, but the way it was handled may have resulted in some misconceptions. The caller said that her friend was telling her that what she needed to do to get to heaven was follow the Ten Commandments. Connie responds by offering a skit that shoots down that idea by presenting a caricatured guy who advocates doing your best to follow the Moral Law and hoping that your good ends up outweighing your bad. That's moralism. And it is a part of the basic philosophy of today's culture. It's called "moralistic therapeutic deism," which means that there's a god somewhere out there; he's not really involved with our lives, but he got this place going. Since we're his creation though, he wants to see us do what's right, so he has some rules; and he's okay if we don't obey them all the time, but as a general principle of life, we should try to follow the Golden Rule and stuff like that. And when we're depressed or needing love or self-worth, he's there to give it to us. Therefore, it's a combination of deism, the belief that god never interferes with humanity, he just started the universe and watches to see how it'll all play out; moralism/legalism, the belief that all god requires of us is that we do what's right when we can and when it serves our needs, and that'll be enough to please him; and therapyism, the belief that god is here just to make us feel loved and give us a sense that we have purpose in life, that we were made for something more--we're all his children and he's our father who will always try to make us happy.

Notice I used a lowercase "g" to describe the god of those worldviews. Each one has a false god as its object of worship. Therefore, when all of these philosophies are molded together into the ever-popular moralistic therapeutic deism worldview, it is absolutely correct that one cannot get to heaven by following that system. The writers were right in shooting that down. However, in doing so, they may have undermined the Moral Law of God in a way. God didn't give us His Law and then not expect us to obey it. He expects every human being to obey the Ten Commandments, down to every last detail and heart attitude. Unfortunately, none of us are able to obey even one of them, by nature. We are slaves to sin from birth and can't do anything but disobey His Law. So, in that sense, none of us can enter Heaven by obeying the Ten Commandments, because we've been born with a soul already imputed with the sin of Adam, and therefore a nature that cannot obey the commandments perfectly. In addition, God says that all of our "righteous deeds" are filthy rags because of the corrupt heart that they come from. But, the important point I'm getting to is, there was One who was able to keep all of the Ten Commandments perfectly. In fact, it is because of Him that we go to Heaven. Jesus was born of a virgin, shielded by the Holy Spirit, so that He was born without the sin of Adam, without that originally corrupt nature. As a result, He was able to never sin once, throughout his entire life on Earth. And He did go to Heaven based on His righteousness. And we go to Heaven based on His righteousness. Therefore, in that sense, we are saved by obedience to the Ten Commandments--but not our obedience, Jesus' obedience!

Okay, so... all that was to say that the statement that we don't get to Heaven by obeying the Ten Commandments could have been better clarified. But I didn't say all of that for nothing. The previous paragraph will become more important when I get to the problem I had with the third skit. 

Other things I enjoyed about the first skit were Jess Harnell's impersonation of the spiritualist who believes that Heaven is a state of being or something like that, the quick dismissal of the guy who said we're "all good" and "made of the same stuff," and, of course, I was very excited to hear the fifth panelist's answer to the question. It was nearly exactly what I would have said. I almost felt like the writers did it for me or something, after all of the complaining I did during the Green Ring Conspiracy about what the true Gospel message should have been. His definition included repentance and surrendering to Jesus as Savior and Lord--a part that many people leave out these days. Now, the contestant was a bit sketchy on how she explained salvation; she said that it's our faith in Jesus that saves us, while I would contend that it's God Who saves us, not anything we do, like the verse says.  But that was minor, and I was so impressed that she was going through a passage verse by verse that I didn't really care about the specifics of what she was saying. To me, this was a major step in the right direction, even if it was just a part of a little skit.

Then we come to the second skit. I appreciated Connie's introductory remarks to the caller. It drew out another primary function of the Law of God: to show us our sin. Because none of us can live a perfect life, none of us are good, we need the law to show us how we have utterly failed to please God. The BSI skit was a cheesy way of showing that, but I don't really have any theological axes to grind with it, so I guess it was alright. It was sufficiently entertaining the first time I heard it, but listening to it the second time, it felt a bit empty, so it didn't really have much value as something that can be enjoyed over and over again.  Surprisingly, that's about all I have to say about that one. :P   Now on to the biggest problem with this episode.

Right from the get-go there's a problem. The caller says that his friend tells him that he gets to decide what is right and what he wants to do to please God, basically. To me, this sounds like an issue of absolute vs. relative truth. Obviously, we as Christians believe that the Bible is the source of absolute truth and that only it is the final authority in telling us how we are to live. Connie does seem to go that direction with her answer. But then she makes a wrong application. She says that we need to follow the Bible "if we want to be righteous."  Now, just a few years ago, or maybe even a shorter time ago than that, I would have been totally fine with that statement. In fact, there's a VeggieTales episode that teaches the same thing: if we do what God wants us to do, we will be righteous, and God will be pleased with us.  Let's follow that idea to its logical conclusion though. If we become righteous before God by our works, what we accomplish, then we are earning our own salvation. You see, it is only the righteous who will enter Heaven. (Being righteous means that there is no fault in you.) If we can be righteous on our own, then there was no reason for Jesus to live a righteous life for us.  The reality is that it's exactly the opposite from the way this episode presents it. We don't follow God's commands to become righteous. We follow God's commands because we have been made righteous, because the perfect life Jesus lived has been credited to our account. There's a big difference.

In fact, the difference is bigger than you might realize. This issue is what caused Martin Luther to post his 95 Theses on the door of the church in Wittenburg in 1517. He was taking a stand against the Catholic understanding of justification--that we become righteous before God primarily by improving upon the goodness of Jesus imparted to us. Jesus is not the sole source of our righteousness; we play a part in pleasing God as well. This is why I had such a big problem with this episode. This is an issue central to the Christian faith, central to our salvation. The episode presented us with Catholic doctrine, disguised as Biblical truth. The problem is, most Protestants are too theologically illiterate to have picked up on that. As a result, it appeased Catholic fans, and Protestant fans weren't paying close enough attention (or didn't care enough) to know what they were really hearing.

Now, to give credit to the writers, none of the things that the "soldiers" were doing in the skit were wrong; it's perfectly good for Christians to read their Bibles and memorize passages, to meditate on Scripture day and night. But that's just it, it's good for Christians.  Christians do it because their hearts have been changed and they desire the Word of God because of how great a Savior has saved them; they want to know what He would have them to do--not to gain them a good standing before Him, but to express their gratitude for what He has done for them. Unbelievers would have a wrong motivation behind engaging in such exercises. They would be doing it to try to please God, to try to earn their own salvation. That's why this sort of teaching is so dangerous; it gives the idea that doing things commanded by the Bible are means by which we may be made righteous before God. But the only way we become righteous before God is through His Son, Jesus Christ, the perfect Lamb of God who was fully obedient both in His life and His death. Unfortunately, Jesus was only briefly mentioned in the first skit, and His righteousness was not addressed at all. Instead, the emphasis was on our need to be righteous and to please God.  That was very disappointing to me.

So, there's the big controversy. Do what you want with it. If you are the type who believes that Catholicism is merely another brand or denomination of Christianity, then you will probably discard this issue as unimportant and "arguing over semantics." But if you truly care about the truth of God as revealed in His Word, you will realize that this is really an important issue, and it is our duty as Christians to contend for the truth and to oppose falsehood. That's what I've striven to do here, cleverly disguising it as the review of an Odyssey episode. I tried to present it in an inoffensive way, but I can't please everyone.

I guess you'd probably like to know what I really thought about this episode overall.  Honestly, I have very mixed feelings. As I said, I really liked the first skit, and I liked the framework for the episode. But then the contention I have with the third skit is so great that I think it overrules the goodness of the first part. I can't listen to this episode and enjoy it, because there's such a wrong philosophy behind it.  So, I guess, overall, I don't have a very approving opinion of this episode. I know there will be those of you who disagree, so I would like to hear your opinion as well. Please comment and tell me everything you thought about what I said.

And then, as you know, you should come back next week to read my next review, the next episode being "Happy Hunting." I'm definitely going to have to listen to that episode again, but right now I'm not thinking that my review is going to be very favorable. My thoughts are very similar to what Ben Warren had to say about the episode on his website. But I will still try to keep my review fairly original. Either way, make sure you visit next Saturday and see what I have to say.  Thank you for reading!

-- Christian