Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Adventures in Odyssey Review: The Lost Episodes

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Rare gems like "Train Ride" and "Dental Dilemma."
Cons: A few of the episodes are duds.
The Bottom Line:
Several classics here
And a few that don't hold up
Collection for fans




A Collection of the Rare in Odyssey

When I first heard about The Lost Episodes collection of Adventures in Odyssey, I knew I had to get it and listen to it. Okay, so it's the geek in me. But there was one episode in particular I had somehow missed and wanted to hear. And I knew the other episodes would revive great memories. And I was right, although some memories didn't hold up as well with age.

What is Adventures in Odyssey, you ask? It's a rarity these days, a still in production radio drama. Produced by Christian company Focus on the Family, its target audience is 8-12 year old kids. And back when the show started, I was in the target audience. But I continue to listen to it every so often and still enjoy these half hour episodes.

The show is set in the fictitious small town of Odyssey. The main character is John Avery Whitaker (Whit to his friends), who runs Whit's End. It's an ice cream shop but oh so much more. The kids in town hang out there because of the train set, the library, the Bible Room, the little theater.... You get the idea. Throughout the 20 years the show has been on the air, the series has gone through tons of kids and families, but all of them have one thing in common, they all trust Whit. With his gentle guidance and good humor, he's everyone's grandfather.

But the show actually started out as a series on Focus on the Family called Family Portraits. These shows were kind of a test run to see how much interest there was. Four of those old shows start out this set. Now, I'll be honest. I remember listening to those shows during their early 1987 run and loving every one of them. Now? Well, let's just say that the series has progressed greatly since then. "My Brother's Keeper" is supposed to make you feel sorry for a horrid younger brother. "A Simple Addition," about a new baby being born into a family, is just preachy. "No Stupid Questions" is okay. The best of the bunch, however, is "Dental Dilemma." In this one, a brother tries to make his sister afraid of the family dentist. The final scene is still funny all these years later. All four of these shows were later aired as part of the Adventures in Odyssey brand, and those are the versions we get here, complete with the newer wrap arounds done at the time.

Then we move onto shows that originated during the run of the show. The producers were never pleased with how "What Are We Gonna Do about Halloween?" turned out. Frankly, I can see why. This show tries to present a Christian alternative for Halloween. But instead, it turns out rather preachy if you happen to disagree with them (which I do). They felt the same way about "Honor Thy Parents," and I can almost see their point. It has convenient storytelling, especially with the ending, but it is still rather entertaining as a girl learns about all her parents do. Also fitting into the category is "It Sure Seems Like it to Me." Well, the producers are dead wrong here. This show about the dangers of always exaggerating is still funny. I'm glad to be able to listen to it again.

The next two episodes have a long and stranger history. They originally aired during the first year of the show and included Officer David Harley. Officer Harley was a police officer who wasn't completely there, if you know what I mean. For example, he once hid in middle of the side walk in uniform to catch jay walkers. And he gave himself a parking ticket for parking his squad car in a red zone. (After all, "Ignorance of the law is no excuse.") Needless to say, parents weren't happy with the character, so he was written off the show. Many of his episodes were reworked a few years later with the current group of kids. Most of those found homes in other collections, but "Isaac the Benevolent" and "The Trouble with Girls" never did. In the first, Isaac tries to apply the Golden Rule to his life, and all his efforts backfire. And the second presents a comical case of puppy love as Jimmy Barclay tries to fend off the sudden interest of his sister's friend Jessie. Both episodes feature good lessons and plenty of laughs.

The next couple episodes were controversial. I can certainly understand the issue with "Pamela Has a Problem." In it, one of the main character's friends shows up from out of state and announces that she is pregnant. While it is handled in a gentle way, it really is too mature a theme for a kid's show. For some reason, I missed this one the only time it aired. (And it's the reason I bought the set.) Listening to it now, I am impressed not only with how well they present the pro-life side of things (really, did you expect anything else?) but with one twist to the plot I didn't expect. The episode does have an introduction by series writer Paul McCusker. Parents will certainly want to listen to this one before turning their kids loose with it.

And they might feel the same way about "Train Ride." This is an exciting mystery in which Whit and college student (and regular character) Eugene Meltsner find themselves on what is supposed to be a quiet ride back to Odyssey from Chicago. Instead, they meet up with Eugene's old nemesis just in time for Eugene to be accused of pushing him off the train. Personally, I have always loved this show. It's got a great plot and a few good laughs. I'm glad to have it again.

Rounding out the set is "Isaac the True Friend." Again, the producers weren't happy with how the show turned out. Again, they're wrong. This story introduces Sam Johnson, who would become a regular kid on the show for a few seasons. And it uses Whit's invention the Imagination Station (basically a time machine, but they never admit to that), to retell the story of David and Jonathan from the Bible. What's not to love?

If you've been keeping track, that's twelve episodes of the show. But we aren't done yet. Disc one of the four disc set features several retrospective shows that they've done over the years. There are five more half hour episodes. They are only playable on your computer CD-Rom drive, however. Finally, disc three includes a photo gallery of some of the voice actors from the show.

Because the collection jumps around some in time, this isn't the best place to start listening. While I do recommend the collection, I recommend it for serious fans only who want a glimpse of the rare.

Not every episode here is a knock out. But there are still enough gems for me to recommend The Lost Episodes to the true fans of Adventures in Odyssey.

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