Episode Reviewed: Stage Fright (670)
Writer: Kirby Atkins

Director: Dave Arnold
Sound Designer: Nathan Jones
Music: John Campbell
Theme: Fear
Original Airdate: 10/23/10

Review Written by: Ben Warren, Staff Writer

Rating (out of 5):


 

Episode Summary

Barrett couldn't be more excited about getting the lead role in the school play. But when his first practice is interrupted by a mysterious booming voice, Emily Jones must investigate the "phantom of the school play."
 

 

The Review

Stage Fright, the unofficial sequel to Game for a Mystery, is a step up for newcomer Kirby Atkins, but also a step down for the season. Not only does this episode not bother to feature any characters that listeners care about (Atkins hasn't used a character from pre-Album 51 yet) but it re-uses the same irritating and uninteresting characters from his previous episodes. One gets a vague sense they are listening to a show that isn't Adventures in Odyssey but a cheap rip-off. Can the creators of Adventures in Odyssey write a show about anybody, add it to a season lineup, and then call it Adventures in Odyssey?

Although this makes a great start to a very mean and scathing review, don't worry, this isn't one.

At the start of last season, the producers tried to communicate to its fans that the show "will still be Adventures in Odyssey" despite all the change taking place. This makes me wonder how one defines the show. What is Adventures in Odyssey? If most fans were to answer this question, we would be hearing a lot of different responses. If you say "well, it's a show about characters that live in a small town called Odyssey" then that would be the most accurate definition out there. This vague definition excuses the making of an episode like Stage Fright, which can focus on anyone without bothering to find out whether the audience would like to hear from these characters. And there lies the main problem: the reason why I can't bring myself to enjoy Stage Fright is because I don't remotely care for the characters involved.

Stage Fright makes me realize that the producers have gotten themselves into a strange predicament by pushing the reset button last season. By getting rid of so much of what the show had going for itself, they now have the difficult task of creating new characters that can re-attract listeners. Stage Fright is a awfully presumptuous episode that reflects a lot of the mistakes "Take it From the Top" made. Like
Game for a Mystery and When You're Right, You're Right, it takes no time to let the audience "fall in love" with its new characters, but stuffs a lot of "newness" into one episode and hopes for the best. We've seen what such optimism has done to harm the show. The program, for instance, lost a lot of listeners around the album "Signed Sealed and Committed" because of the ridiculous amount of new kid characters replacing the previous ones. Thinking back, I realize that most of these new kids didn't last very long. For instance, Chores No More sticks out like a sore thumb for including so many short-lived characters. Only half the children introduced after the 1997 hiatus stuck around for a considerable length of time. Essentially, episodes that expect its newest characters to become fan-favorites overnight are a little insulting to its listeners; we are often left with the remnants of characters such as Colby Cabrera... and whole lot of adopted Mulligan children, too.

This is all to say that the character of Emily Jones, specifically, does not quite work for me yet. I had no idea until I listened to this episode that she was played by an older actress. And the only reason I know this is because her performance sounded so unnatural that I was forced to go and look up her age; I discovered that my mind wandered during her narration, and I found the "cute" way she finishes her sentences nauseating. Is Odyssey so desperate to collect another Mandy and Lucy--children that never seem to age-- that they've now decided to simply cast adults so that they can stick around for a longer period of time? As the season progresses, fans will notice that most of the kids in Odyssey are currently played by adults. The list includes Adam Wylie as Ryan Cummings, Jason Earles as Vance King, Whit Hertford as Jay, Marcus Toji as Pete, and of course Hope Levy as Olivia Parker.

Honestly, casting older actors to play children is not a completely bad idea... as long as the actors can pull it off. Sometimes it works, especially if the actor, such as Adam Wylie, is supposed to sound like they're on the verge of entering teenage-hood. However, the actress who plays Emily Jones tries too hard and the end result sounds too unnatural, even awkward. The reality is that Adventures in Odyssey isn't a cartoon on TV; here, the audience can't be distracted from knowing an adult is mimicking a child's voice by the image on screen; our attention is wrapped up solely in what we hear. And we need it to sound legitimate. As this season progresses, I think fans will need to make an important decision; they will need to decide whether they want to be able to grow up alongside the kids on the show and risk losing them after four or five years, or whether they want to hear kids that can stick around for the next ten years and never age. What do you think?

Considering how much I tried to defend the faults of
Wooton's Broken Pencil Show for doing exactly what it was meant to do, why am I being so hard on this one? Isn't this episode doing what it wants, and that is, to provide a simple kid-centric mystery? After all, no one expected this episode to be especially brilliant. And that's true; Stage Fright is not a bad episode. Far from it. I'll admit that this show does a well enough job setting up the clues and including an ending that I did not manage to figure out until Emily Jones explained it all. But like any mystery, it's not the final revelation that makes the mystery memorable, but the journey that preceded it. USA's popular television series Monk, is an example of a mystery series of that did not solely entertain its audiences through its ridiculously clever endings, but rather, audiences watched it because they grew to love the quirkiness of its main characters. We rarely remember detective series for their endings, but we remember names such as Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Father Brown, and the Hardy Boys. Only a few mysteries such as "And Then their were None" and "Murder on the Orient Express" are remembered for their original and mind-boggling endings. Stage Fright needed better stuffing between its interesting premise and decent ending; it needed more reasons to make us care, including more interesting characters.

I appreciate this episode's (and this season's) attempt to situate more episodes in a school setting. In High School, Musical Theatre was one of my favorite classes, and I enjoyed hearing the multiple references to Broadway musicals in today's show. For instance, the show Barrett was rehearsing for-- the "Minestrone Man"--was probably alluding to 1957's "The Music Man"; the opening song "Twenty-Two Trombones led the marching band" was likely inspired by the "The Music Man" song that begins with "Seventy-six Trombones led the big parade"; Emily's line, "there's no business like show business" is also the title for the signature tune of "Annie get your Gun" ; Shakespeare famously uses the line "Rue the Day" in one his plays; and the production of "The pirates of penance" is most likely a nod to Gilbert and Sullivan's "Pirates of Penzance". On top of these references, John Campbell does a great job at creating background music that matches the setting; the opening number sung by Barrett was also very memorable. I look forward to seeing Focus on the Family's real-life production of the "Minestrone man" someday!

Unlike recent episodes in this season, there were no standout performances. Not even Jess Harnell as Charlie Stolfitz struck me as a particularly interesting character. At first I thought his character was simply a "red herring"; the writer wanted us to immediately suspect him so would be distracted from the real culprit: the parrot. Though I was wrong, I somewhat wished they left it at that. His involvement in the overall scheme seemed a little random and slightly unnecessary, but not enough to prevent me from accepting it..

In the end, Stage Fright is an interesting mystery with uninteresting characters attempting to solve it. If you've already come to love these kids, then this episode is fairly decent. If you haven't, then perhaps ten years from now we will come to appreciate this episode after growing up and familiarizing ourselves with its characters. But somehow I doubt it. After all, how are listeners supposed to grow up with someone like Emily Jones if she can't naturally grow up with us. I have a feeling Stage Fright will become the new Chores No More; I would have enjoyed it if I could bother to remember who starred in it....

 

 

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