Episode Reviewed: Groundhog Jay (723)
Writers: Bob Hoose, Dave Arnold
Director: Dave Arnold
Sound Designer: GAP Digital
Music: John Campbell
Scripture: Proverbs 20:11
Original Airdate: 12/01/12

Review Written by: Ben Warren, Staff Writer

Rating (out of 5):


Episode Summary

After Jay pushes Priscilla into an unexpected trip in the Room of Consequence, the two of them experience the same event over and over again.


The Review

The kids have carried this season. Although last season we mostly followed the escapades of Jason, Eugene, Katrina and Sergeant York, this season's most interesting characters have been Matthew Parker (The Perfect Church), Emily Jones, (Great Expectations) and Barrett Jones (For Three Dollars More). Once again these kids have been given smart, relatable issues to deal withnot the sort of insignificant problems they had back in Take it from the Top. With Jay Smouse now at the helm, Groundhog Jay concludes the season's run of leading, full-fledged child protagonists.

Thinking back, a more appropriate title for this episode would have been "Smouse Code". If
The Eternal Birthday was a knock-off of the 1993 film "Groundhog Day", then I'd say Groundhog Jay more closely resembles the 2011 film "Source Code". Much like today's episode, "Source Code" tells the story of a man forced to relive the same period of time over and over again while solving a mystery. Jay steps into Jake Gyllenhaal's shoes, wondering what this time-loop means for him. If I hadn't seen that movie before, I might have thought the idea of turning the "Groundhog Day" concept into a mystery was absolute genius. That said, seeing "Source Code" beforehand did not prevent me from appreciating the episode's strengths.

One of the things that made Groundhog Jay feel fresh was finding out that the mystery Jay Smouse had to solve was one in which he initially caused. If you think about it, there's plenty of logistical issues the writers had to figure out to make that work; for instance: how much of the action should take place before the actual episode, and how much should the listener know before Jay enters the Room of Consequence? How on earth do we get Priscillaa character solely needed for Jay to communicate his thoughts toto enter the Room of Consequence with him? What sort of "crime" does Jay commit, and how do we prevent characters like Harry from coming out and telling Jay outright what he did? From deciding that Harry thinks that Jay is Barrett the whole time, to deciding Jay that believes Barrett programmed the show for himself, there were so many details that they had to get right during the script-writing process. Though, in the end, the entire set-up and overall structure was very well done.

That said, I sometimes wish these high-concept episodes had matching high-concept stories. It wasn't until a few hours later that I wondered whether they could have created a larger pay-off than simply Jay stealing a bike. Don't get me wrong, I liked the ending, and I enjoyed it when Jay decided to set things straight with Harry; however, in same way the neat concept in
Someone to Watch Over Me matched the severity of Jimmy Barclay's situation, I wondered if the crime committed by the protagonist in Groundhog Jay should have felt bigger. I feel like complex, high-concept projects like this one automatically warrant a story with greater importance and/or significance.

The greedy overly-critical side of me felt like the writers were practicing restraint. For one thing, I wondered whether they could have made this episode into a two-parter. The fun of the "Groundhog Day" and "Source Code" concept lies in witnessing the character reliving the same event over again, making different decisions, and interacting with people differently, either changing or repeating the outcome each time. Here, the only experience that Barrett was re-living was the birthday partya nod to
The Eternal Birthday, it seemsand the arrival of the bully. That was it. For an episode which claims such strong ties to "Groundhog Day", the concept is used preciously little. In fact, it's almost abandoned at the halfway mark. A two-parter might have allowed the episode to have more fun with it.

Another concernand one I discussed in my review of For Three Dollars Moreis how Barrett Jones was able to orchestrate this whole mess. In other high-concept episodes such as
Gloobers, Hindsight, and Another Man's Shoes, I bought that Whit and Eugene took the time to program complex adventures in order to help kids learn valuable lessons. Can I really buy that Barrett was even partially behind the idea of creating this elaborate Room of Consequence adventure? Not really. Furthermore, I think there's also a danger in taking away "powers" of characters such as Whit and Eugene. Is Bruce Wayne really needed to save Gotham if all his tools/weapons are given to the boy wonder, Robin? Likewise, aren't we taking something taken away from the roles of Whit and Eugene if some 12 year old kid can suddenly program machines and teach other kids lessons? Yeah, I think so.

It's much easier to point out an episode's flaws, but what's certain to me is that Groundhog Jay is a courageous effort. This is a fun and engaging little episode. And while it doesn't quite embrace its concept as much as it could have, I found myself pulled in by its inventive story and humor.





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