Episode Reviewed: The Inspiration Station I & II (655-656)
Writers: Paul McCusker, Bob Hoose

Director: Paul McCusker
Sound Designer: GAP Digital
Music: John Campbell
Theme: Inspiration
Original Airdate: 3/06/10, 3/13/10

Rating (out of 5):


 

Episode Summary

Connie loves spending time in Whit's newest invention, the Inspiration Station. But when a glitch shuts down the machine, her obsession may go too far. Meanwhile, Eugene traces the source of the malfunction to Matthew Parker, who apparently has been "fixing" everyone's electronics, with disastrous results.
 

 

The Review: Part One
I'm sure many of you would be willing to admit that you went into the re-launch of Adventures in Odyssey with pre-conceived notions. I did. From my experiences with the past, I had become disappointed with the watered-down, fast-paced, and often childish episodes which were hitting the airwaves, as heard in Albums 44-49. As fans, we had become accustomed to the characters being placed in certain scenes to deliver a punch line instead of a realistic personality to the show. I was waiting for real characters to show up again. Not only that, I was waiting for individual scenes to slow down and the volume on the music meter to plummet. In fact, many of the episode scenes were only a few seconds in length (that can become annoying if you want character development and you have to sit through a lot of them) and featured transition music that often overwhelmed the show. Actually, there was so much music that I actually thought about the music rather than the show at times. Too much of a good thing can become a bad thing. With the music, it should go unnoticed and blend right with the show, not detract from it. Let's just say that I had reached a level of frustration while listening to some of the newer episodes and wanted to pull my hair out. Fortunately I won't have to because Eugene is getting his hair cut in a later episode (or "hairs cut," as Eugene would suggest).

 

Instead of being forced to reach up to pluck hairs from my head, I was pleasantly surprised that the new season had toned down everything: the infamous comedy punch lines, the short scenes, the overbearing musical score, and the unrealistic-ness of the child roles. It looks like putting the show on hold gave the team the necessary time to step back and re-group. Or at least it appears that way, which I'm really liking.

 

After hearing Passages: Darien's Rise in late Summer 2009, I wasn't expecting the long-awaited season of Adventures in Odyssey to be up-to-par in terms of acting. Come on, people... let's get real here. Shane Baumel and Rachel Fox didn't exactly pull their weight or set a bar for the kid actors in those particular shows. Their performances seemed rather rushed, and many times it sounded as if they were reading their lines. When you mix the kids with the other actors, you get a blend of great and bad acting at the same time. But that's a whole other review, located here.

 

I'm sure you can imagine my shock when I finally got to hear the 2010 spring season premiere, The Inspiration Station. The episode reveals that the actors didn't seem rushed at all. In fact, the whole show was more relaxed all together. It sounds as though the actors had time to get through their lines (I'm speaking mainly of Matthew and Camilla Parker). The only downside is that one new Odyssey character is hitting nerves with me: Olivia Parker. I've shared my perspective on bringing in adult actors to play kid roles in the past. Certainly, it has to be done right or it's unbelievable to listeners. With Olivia, I don't personally think that the voice sounds young enough to begin with. We've got Matthew and Camilla, played by real kids who sound very much like kids. Then you throw in an adult who sounds like she's forcing her voice to sound like a kid's. Here I see a recipe for poor continuity. It's almost like those movies you see starring high schoolers, except all the actors are college age and older. There's a factor of less believability because you can see with your own eyes that the actors don't look like high school kids. In The Inspiration Station, I'm hearing (with my own ears) an adult voice overriding the scene. In this case, it is an actress who is changing her voice a lot to make the part work. And it doesn't. Why would two kids be talking to an adult who is trying to sound like a kid, and is a kid?

 

But if bringing in an adult is so bad, why did we have Connie all those years? I'd say because Katie Leigh, voice of Connie, just speaks in her real voice from episode to episode. She was blessed with a voice that naturally sounds like a teenager. And from what we've heard from the past 20 years, Connie's voice ages slowly with the actress who plays her. This creates a wonderful level of believability and continuity.

 

That being said, I don't like Olivia. And that's that. The other Parker family members make a nice blend, however.

 

I have seen some conversations popping up about whether or not Whit likes coffee. If you recall, the episode A Christmas Conundrum reveals that Whit does drink coffee and prefers Half-N-Half in it. Others might argue that Whit doesn't like coffee, as stated in Hold-Up! I am inclined to believe that Connie's line, "You know how much Whit hates coffee," stands as a danger signal to the Odyssey police, not necessarily a statement of fact. The police officers are probably used to dropping by Whit's End for a cup of coffee and know Whit likes it too. That is why it was probably decided (by Whit) that a "coffee line" would be used to alert the police if trouble was brewing... and the police knew about this special emergency plan.

 

I am concerned, however, about Whit's reference to an earlier episode. He happens to mention that Eugene didn't ask for permission to re-program the displays at Whit's End when he first began work there, as played out in Connie. Yet, I went back to listen and discovered that Eugene did ask for permission, though he didn't acquire permission to change every nook and cranny of Whit's End. Whit didn't necessarily say "yes," but he didn't say "no" either. Perhaps Whit has poor memory of what actually happened?

 

All in all, the first part of The Inspiration Station proves to be a promising re-beginning for Adventures in Odyssey. The episode is reminiscent of the older days of Odyssey with the slower-going, slice-of-real-life shows in which Whit stood with listening ears and ready lips behind a timeless soda shop counter. I am positively impressed that AIO is attempting to re-kindle the "good old days" that laid a great foundation for the show. As they say, we must learn from the past or we're doomed to repeat it. Also, the Odyssey creators have strived to learn with Adventures in Odyssey. It is a journey from day one, finding out which episodes and formats work best, maintaining what makes the show popular, etc. After all, AIO exists to provide an alternative Christian entertainment in a media-saturated world. And I think they've always reacted well to the challenge.

 

 

The Review: Part Two

The concluding episode of The Inspiration Station tied up all the loose ends that had been cleverly developed in part one. If you listen to Adventures in Odyssey long enough, you have a pretty good ear for how things are going to conclude in many of the episodes. Connie makes poor decisions and spends all night in the Inspiration Station. Whit intervenes and sets her straight. Everyone holds hands and sings "Kumbaya" and the show fade to Chris's wrap-up segment. Okay, so maybe it's not exactly that way, but The Inspiration Station makes me want to sing "Kumbaya", too.

 

Andre Stojka, voice of John Avery Whittaker III, played the role of Whit wonderfully in the second episode, too. I will admit, he does sound distinctly different from Paul Herlinger and Hal Smith's renditions of Whit. In a way, I have to think about it just a little bit more as the voice isn't strikingly like either of them. Also the way he gets through some of his sentences is completely different from Hal and Paul's Whit interpretations. With Andre, there's a lot of mid-sentence pausing that needs polished, even stuttering. While it can be good every now and then to add personality, it comes across as too frequent and slightly distracting. And the Whit laugh needs work. Andre's laugh is very abrupt and somewhat sterile. It's missing the low, gravelly, warm sound to it.

 

With that said, I'd like to direct your attention to my main concern with part two: the discontinuation of musical continuity from part one. The first part of The Inspiration Station featured a moderate amount of music, longer scenes, making it reminiscent of the older days of Odyssey. Yet, diving into part two, the music is suddenly dished out to the listener very generously... in heaping amounts in fact. Perhaps I spoke too soon in my review of part one? I'm one who likes to see consistency. It's a two-part episode and it needs to feel as if both parts belong and compliment each other. The overuse of music in the second episode makes it feel top-heavy in relation to the first. Music should aid the episode in telling the story, not distract the listener from the drama unfolding.

 

Mortimor, on the other hand, looks to be a promising new addition to the show. Having listened to Lamplighter Theatre by Lamplighter Publishing, I immediately noticed the almost exact similarities between Mortimor on Adventures in Odyssey and Finnian Jones in the other series... even down to the very same actor. I assure you that neither drama had intended to "copycat" one another's characters. In fact, if coincidences existed, this would be a prime opportunity to to say it is a major one. Ironically, both The Inspiration Station and Lamplighter Theatre were recorded around the same time. But no worries there. The copycat bug, nor a cross-promotion were ever the original intent of the writers. The irony of all of it is so strong that it's difficult to believe. But believe it.

 

Knowing this, it may be a good idea for the team to polish the character of Mortimor a little bit. He tends to run off on little tangents, go off-topic, and use the whole scale of notes to communicate his message. This can become annoying very quickly. Due to the striking similarities between the non-affiliated radio dramas, I would recommend that they scratch Mortimor altogether and produce an episode in which Whit has altered the machine and users see a different setting or character every time they go in. Or re-think the machine's setup. Maybe some inspiration is in order for the writers?

 

I will say that the Connie "inspiration" segment at the end made a nice conclusion to the show. I believe this may be the first episode dealing with inspiration in depth, and with 50 albums and counting, it sure isn't easy to cover new tracks. I especially like the tip-of-the-hat back to Whit's Flop with the abbreviated re-telling of Thomas Edison's story. The new detail about Whit's former fiasco with the Odyssey clocktower will come into play in future episodes, I'm sure.

 

 

Rating


In conclusion, a very good episode for a fresh start to Adventures in Odyssey. It's a little rough in some parts with the new characters and getting used to things, but definitely a keeper. I give both episodes of The Inspiration Station 3 and 1/2 out of five cones.

 


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