Sunday, November 14, 2010

Review: "The Owlnapping"

Adventures in Odyssey repeatedly succeeds in creating excellent sports-related episodes. Not only do these types of shows show the ins and outs of winning, losing, and teamwork but also that what happens on the court/field is equally important as what happens off it. As one sports journalist brilliantly put it, "Sports is Human Life in Microcosm". Last season's "Target of the Week" was a surprise hit and, here, underappreciated and underrated writer Marshall Younger hits another home run; writing a smoothly plotted and enthralling episode that joins the ranks of "The Winning Edge", "The Fundamentals" and "And the Glory". I'll waste no more time and just say it: "The Owlnapping" is a great kid-centric episode.

This episode reminds me of a popular television show I enjoyed watching as a child called "Disney's Recess". Ever heard of it? Each episode took everyday school-related situations but soaked them in melodrama and churned out exaggerated stories. The group of kids involved never acknowledged that the situations are ridiculous and, from the point of view of its audience, took these everyday events much too seriously; a simple class presentation turned into something out of a horror episode, an attempt to get one's class-picture taken turned into something out of an Indiana Jones adventure, and the horror of being sent to detention seemed on par with capital punishment. But although it felt exaggerated, it also felt very real. I remember childhood being an exxagerated experience--just listen to "Back to School"--everything seems grander, or more significant, but in a different way. That's the power of the child's imagination.

The opening scene of "The Owlnapping", likewise, is appropriately exaggerated; it grabs the listener's attention and never lets go. It is set in an ominous concealed location, with eerie music playing, a payoff, and cryptic dialogue, all suggesting something hugely dark and sinister is about to occur. But all for what? The theft of an Owl? As a whole, the episode certainly borderlines on ridiculous once you stop to consider how seriously it takes itself. But it works. And this is the kind of preposterousness I like the best. It's silly up to the point of being unlikely, but it is also never unrealistic. We wish for these events to happen so much that we are very willing to accept that they are happening. It dropped me inside an adventure that would have easily appealed to me when I was younger, and thankfully appeals to me today.

Most of the performances in this kid-centric episode are excellent. I'm pretty sure every boy easily envisioned themselves in Ryan's shoes, frantically running across town while listening to the mysterious voice on the other end of the line. I've always enjoyed Adam Wylie's voice, and his performance here is pitch-perfect despite the fact he is played by an an adult. Should I care this time? Nope. Adam Wylie seems to be that anomaly. The actor could have fooled me completely if I hadn't made the connection that he also sounded at the brink of hitting puberty back in "The Last Chance Detectives", six years ago. Luckily, I've seen him guest star in different television shows here and there and there is very little sign that he alters his voice to sound younger. Actors and actresses who need to force themselves to sound like prepubescent characters shouldn't be on the show. Thankfully it seems Adam Wylie barely needs to try. 

Despite the fact I enjoy Adam Wylie, I'm curious why there was a need to replace Ken Blaylock from "Target of the Week" as the town's athlete. Will Ken simply remain a one hit wonder like Pete Flanagan in "And the Glory"? Adventures in Odyssey has an unusual history of quickly getting rid of characters who are gifted at sports, meanwhile, computer geeks have been flourishing. Must be something in the water. Or perhaps Whit's End should begin to invest in more treadmills. In any case, Alex Polinsky, as Ken, gave a surprisingly well-received performance in "Target of the Week", and I had hoped to see him again in this episode. I realize softball and basketball are two completely different sports, but usually most kids good in one sport turn out to be fairly decent at every other. I look forward to an episode where Ryan and Ken have to face off against one another as the school champion in some other sport; tennis, croquet, or maybe curling. Or maybe not. 

I continue to argue that Coach Chang Fang is one of the best characters introduced post-hiatus. I don't really buy into the talk that he is too "new-agey"; I simply see him as someone who hasn't completely mastered the English language and therefore butchers every metaphor that exits his mouth. The last scene of the episode confirms what many of us have suspected; Chang Fang is at least partially inspired by Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid--who also could be a little too philosophical. I'm not too sure how long the Odyssey team will be able to keep Mr. Fang interesting beyond giving him the occasional goofy proverb to say. Will he strictly be used as the coach for every sports episode? Or will his character branch out and take on a larger role in the show? Time will tell. I'm certainly curious to see what the Odyssey team decides to do with him...

As for the other supporting characters...I wondered why Vance sounded better today and now I know why. Jason Earles was replaced with actor Jason Marsden. I don't know whether the change is permanent. But I like this new voice better. He sounds a little more intimidating than the last one did. As for Pete, I think he was the primary reason why I didn't fully love this episode. His voice sounds too strained, and, well, slightly annoying. But I think there were too many good things going on in today's show to really be bothered by his presence.

Like "Target of the Week", "The Owlnapping" is thematically not just about one thing, but several; woven together quite well. The episode is not only about the dangers of  being bound to a good-luck charm but also about the journey of a team captain attempting to encourage his players to make their own luck--until he too becomes bound to a "power", ironically enough. But as we soon learn through Ryan's efforts, neither the Owl or Vance are omnipotent, but a Greater Power exists. Also, listeners can take away valuable lessons about the importance of leadership, courage, and loyalty too. All in all, I liked how the message never felt overbearing or loosely tact on, like "Opposite Day" or "Stage Fright", respectively. Here is an example of a show where the story and the message complement each other well. 

In conclusion, "The Owlnapping" is a kid-centric episode that returns the word "adventure" back into Adventures in Odyssey. Don't take the episode too seriously, even though it may want you to. Instead, jump in and enjoy the ride. If you do, you'll see that this is not only a season highlight, but time will prove it is also one of the series finest too.

★ ★ ★ ★ ½  (Four and half/ 5 stars) 

2 comments:

  1. I'd like to nominate Jason Earles as Vance King in "The Owlnapping" for "Best Performance by a Male Actor". For the second album in a row, Vance's only episode was probably the best of the season.

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  2. I like Ryan a lot too. funny episode - dina

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