Episode Reviewed: Fast As I Can (671)
Writers: Marshal Younger, Paul McCusker

Director: Dave Arnold
Sound Designer: Christopher Diehl
Music: John Campbell
Theme: Fasting
Original Airdate: 10/30/10

Review Written by: Ben Warren, Staff Writer

Rating (out of 5):


 

Episode Summary

Wooton, Eugene, Connie, and Matthew try to apply the discipline of fasting and, through their comedic antics, realize that it's far more difficult than they imagined.
 

 

The Review

Think the "split-episode" format is dead? Nope. Fast As I Can is a split-episode "on steroids". How so? It refuses to create a single storyline with a handful of characters but chooses quantity over quality instead. Is it just me, or did today's episode feel a little bit too cluttered? Each individual's fast felt like it was fighting for time, and in the end, none were developed to their full potential. "The more" often isn't "the merrier". Sometimes large amounts of characters and plots can be weaved together well, and have even become classics as a result (Do Or Diet, A Lamb's Tale) but it doesn't always work. For instance, episodes such as Buddy Guard, Wooing Wooton, Potential Possibilities could have been much better if they hadn't had two competing storylines. Thankfully, most of these post-hiatus episodes have concentrated on carefully developing only one storyline per episode, with the occasional sub-plot that compliments, instead of takes away from, the larger story.

I felt
Fast As I Can was the result of Marshal Younger not being able to decide between a number of good ideas brought up in a writer's brainstorming session. It was as if the writers compiled several different fasting scenarios with different characters and, in the end, Marshall simply decided to combine every idea into one episode, giving time for only one or two scenes per character. It's a shame, since some of the different fasts the character's attempt could have been good ideas for full length episodes simply on their own; after all, both Connie's obsession with makeup and Matthew's obsession with computers reflect two of the biggest problems with North American youth. Would it have been better if the episode had focused on fewer characters? I honestly don't know, but the episode struck me as a tad bit too messy. You'll find out why...

Because of the need to "cram" so much into 25 minutes, the main message or theme was negatively affected. Essentially, this episode wasted away so many opportunities to say something meaningful and was obviously trying to be a light-hearted and entertaining episode instead. First, Whit begins and ends the episode referencing John the Baptist, Jesus, and Moses, who all fasted in order to deny the body "something it enjoys so that it can concentrate on something spiritual, like our relationship with God". Now, how on earth did we go from Mr. Whittaker's clear definition of fasting to the whole mess that ensued? The characters in today's show spent remarkably little time focusing on spending time with God but only seemed focused on overcoming their temptations. Now, I'm not quite sure whether the writers were presenting the character's "fasts" themselves as the model for good fasting or whether they were deliberately presenting their experiences as a guide to "how not to fast". I'm assuming the answer is...partially both. Some of you may say, "Well, that was the point of their individual journeys--for Wooton, Connie, Eugene and Matthew to learn from their fasts". And, yes, that's true. But what lessons did they learn?

Although Whit makes it clear that he is fasting from newspapers in order to raise "awareness" and to "have the conversations like this with the kids", "fasting" didn't seem like the topic for this show. If everyone is fasting to raise awareness, then fasting doesn't strike me as very important, does it? Rather, aside from a few scattered references, the episode had very little to do with the showing the need for prayer and spending time with God. That, I thought, was the point that the episode was wanting to get across...but didn't. While Whit and Chris (and Wooton at one point) mention what the Bible has to say about the importance of fasting throughout the show (Chris explains to be the purpose of fasting: "getting rid of the chaos and clutter"), there was scarcely enough shown in the story lines themselves that recognized the second half of this particular theme: "for prayer and bible study [...] [to] focus on Him alone".

At the very end of the episode, when Whit brings the gang upstairs to view the new displays, I was hoping that he would clear everything up and explain what fasting is really about. As shown through Connie, is it about spending less time focused on oneself? And as shown through Wooton and Matthew, is it about spending more time focusing on others? As an eight year old (I'm not one, but let's pretend I am for a minute), I'm not sure what fasting is about! Why? Because Wooton's DUCK needlessly interrupted the chance to bring the episode to a nice, smooth and thought-provoking ending. By no means did I want to have a
Hallowed Be Thy Name type of episode, where Whit and Connie sit together at in front of the "BEAVERS" program and provide listeners with a 25 minute scholarly lecture about biblical interpretations of fasting--until our our brains melted. But for a show whose main intention was to explain how fasting worked, it seemed like it needed some character saying one or two extra sentences at the end to explain the full message. Essentially, this episode reminded me of a bad essay, where the student ends up proving half his main thesis. Marshall Younger made up a clear thesis at the beginning (Whit's opening talk about fasting) and even had a nice conclusion at the end (Chris's wrap-up), but the argument in between didn't seem to show enough evidence of either the thesis or the conclusion.

I was pleasantly surprised to see how many fans have been concerned about this same issue. It reassures me to know that it isn't just me thinking these things. Mind you, I'm not totally convinced myself whether this episode does a good job or not at showing the true meaning of "fasting". But, for one reason or another, other people have had similar reactions and opinions, and they've provided better examples over at The Town of Odyssey. That means there must be some truth to it, right? Check out what they have to say!

Moving on...(finally)

Ignoring the fact that they are still dishing out ice-cream and haven't progressed beyond the walls of Whit's End in over twenty-years, for the first time in a long while, I thought Connie and Eugene had the show's most memorable moments. Specifically, I thought Eugene's fast from more than two-syllable words to be the most entertaining storyline; it ranks up there with other humorous Eugene-related moments: his over-competitiveness with Bernard in
Poor Loser, or his hidden shame for not being a valedictorian in The Graduate. Those older episodes portrayed Eugene's intelligence as less of a gift but a curse...to himself and those around him. On the other hand, newer episodes, thankfully, show a much more adjusted Eugene who uses his intelligence for more positive results. For instance, more recently, Eugene helped solve mysteries in The Mystery of the Clock Tower, helped explain abstract concepts in Wooton's Broken Pencil Show, or teach guitar in Finish What You... This change to his character makes sense; after having been around for so long, placing Eugene into situations that would perpetuate the portrayal of his intelligence as a burden or for solely humorous purposes would be counterproductive to his character...and boring too. In other words, while I'm glad Eugene has been humanized in recent years, it is nice to occasionally hear him run into new situations that challenge the very part of his character that made him so endearing to us.

I mentioned Connie, earlier. She too was a highlight of the show. And while I don't usually enjoy "ditsy" Connie, I did find her fast from "makeup" very amusing and thought Katie Leigh performed well with the supporting role she was was given.

In comparison, Wooton and Matthew story lines were much less interesting. Wooton's personal fast felt rehashed from
Do Or Diet and therefore, did not seem as original as the other story lines did. And while Matthew's scene in the imagination station was a brilliant one, I felt Marshall Younger did not know what else to do to with Matthew's storyline, simply shrugged his shoulders and said to himself "Yup, that's all I got". Matthew's obsession with technology and his desire to abstain from it, might have made a great episode all by itself. And if you count My Girl Hallie, Idol Minds, Gloobers or Barrett's subplot in next week's Opposite Day as episodes that remind listeners to abstain from becoming too involved with technology, then Matthew's own storyline, I suppose, could be considered "rehashed" too.

Was this episode especially insightful? Not really. Was it inspirational? Sure. After listening to this episode, I was inspired to abstain from logging into Facebook for a week. Yes, I failed. In my defense, I realized I needed to reply to a few messages. Regardless, I both admire and appreciate this episode for focusing on characters who would follow through with their "fasts" at all costs, and in Eugene's case, no matter how ridiculous the results may be. And though the episode didn't do a very great job teaching kids about the need to strive for tranquility, peace, and prayer, it does a terrific job portraying the other side of fasting: perseverance.
Fast As I Can is a fun and entertaining theme-focused episode, albeit an uneven one, that contains enough "highs" than "lows" to keep listeners pleased with yet another entry in this season.
 

 

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