Not only is "A Thankstaking Story" the series' lengthiest episode, it also took me the longest time to complete. Well, duh, right? Well, actually, the show took me nearly a month to listen to. Why? I must confess that I made three attempts and each time pressed "stop" around a third of the way into the episode. Something bothered me. My mind wandered. At first I loved it, then I hated it, and then loved it again. And then I got annoyed and turned it off. The episode is both infuriating and satisfying, impressive and disappointing, all at the same time. It will please many fans while enrage others, much like other divisive episodes such as "Snow Day", "Do Or Diet", or "Wooton's Broken Pencil Show" have in the past.
Essentially, I found several lines and scenes too random or distracting to be considered funny: "Oh yea, and I freelance as a rock singer in the summer months", "... I need a new press agent", "light the lamp, not the turkey! Light the lamp, not the turkey!"...etc. I know what they trying to do. I appreciate what they were trying to do. But the jokes didn't work each time. This isn't to say that the jokes aren't funny on their own--they certainly are--but they shouldn't be taking away from the larger story.
I think "A Thankstaking Story" needed trimming here and there, and could have benefited from an additional draft for some necessary polishing. As I mentioned earlier, the radio version is better for several reasons, cutting the unnecessary fat that disrupted the show's flow. My advice would be to listen to the radio version first, if you can, and then go purchase the extended version to hear the bonus scenes. For my own curiosity, I have compiled a list of what was omitted from the radio version:
1) Originally, Connie's search for her cellphone goes on for much longer; Eugene makes fun of her for using it in the restroom. I found no reason for this scene to be here aside from further emphasizing how whiny and discontent these characters were before becoming thankful in the end.
2) Jay and his Uncle are very disappointed when they find out Whit doesn't own a TV. We also find out that that Whit's End doesn't have any fresh food around. This bit may have helped to explain how miserable these characters are, but again, it only prevents us from getting to the main story sooner.
3) Connie and Wooton have one or two additional lines pointing out that the whole "world has frozen over". The cut version, however, shows that we do not need these extra lines to emphasize how bad the weather is.
4) Wooton's hilarious Elvis song is left out. It is completely unnecessary in advancing the story, not to mention a little difficult to understand, but it is still a great Elvis impersonation. Be sure to hear it.
5) Near the end of the episode, the villains answer a cell phone. This pokes fun at Eugene's earlier comment about Connie using her cellphone in the washroom. It only made sense to cut this one out since that earlier scene was cut out too.
6) There's an additional scene where "scrunch and his bunch steal every McGloo lunch". While this scene ties in well with the original Dr. Seuss story, I think that simply "freezing the world over" and banning "prayer" is enough to ruin Thanksgiving.
7) Katie Poo-Magloo explains the significance of the pilgrims and the five kernels. It's a nice scene, however, there are already better moments before and after that explain the significance of Thanksgiving .
8) Near the end, the scrunch and his bunch have about ten random lines that are neither important or kneeslappers.
9) Finally, Chris's wrap-up is slightly different in the original version, and includes a hilarious sound bite: "Nathan Joooooones!"There you go. As you can see, most of these scenes were unnecessary.
What about the actors? For the most part, everyone did a great job. In fact, it would be quicker and easier to say who didn't do a great job. Today's winner is Katie Leigh for her performance as Connie Kendall, who seemed to be losing her marbles. Seriously. Her temper tantrum over the lost cellphone ("Hot Chocolate! How can anyone think of hot chocolate at a time like this?") was probably one of the most uncharacteristically ridiculous things that has ever left Connie's mouth. Yes, I expect many fans to disagree and point out other instances where Connie Kendall has overreacted. But this was too much. Why is it that Connie sounds more and more like a young child with every episode that passes? Thankfully, though Katie Leigh may have failed playing Connie, she did an absolutely brilliant job as Katie Poo-Magloo.
In addition to Katie Leigh, Andre Stojka, Jess Harnell, and Will Ryan all wonderfully flaunt their voice talents in today's episode; however, the real stars were Nathan Jones and John Campbell who kept listeners involved when the script and nutty dialogue could not. Campbell, who supposedly teamed up with Will Ryan, provided four wonderful tunes ("Good News", "We are the Bad-guys", "Maglooville was a tiny Village" and "Everyday is Thanksgiving Day".) I also particularly enjoyed the sound effects Nathan Jones used including the "pop" sounds given to citizens of Maglooville.
And yet, amidst the cringe inducing chaos, there is something very brilliant, daring, and wonderfully original about today's show. Sure, it loses you. But then, right when you're lost, it brings you back with humorous lines and moments that are downright perfect. A lot of hard work went into this. Dave Arnold is a great writer, and there is a lot of detail in today's show, including references only 10% of the audience probably understood. I dare say that this is the best Christmas show we've heard in a long while, even though, ironically, this isn't one. But there were moments throughout that brought me back to the heartwarming Christmas shows like "Silent Night"; so much so that Harlow's "Merry Christmas!" seemed appropriate. If you listen to this episode while getting ready for school or cleaning your room, you won't get the full effect. Instead, when the snow begins to fall on a cold winter night, make some hot chocolate, dim the lights, lie down either on your bed or by a toasty fireplace, and lose yourself in the soft strumming of the ukulele, the wonderful Thanksgiving Day ditties, Whit's spellbinding delivery, Harlow's surprising last minute entry, and Katy Poo-Magloo played by Katie Leigh. These last 5 minutes, especially, feel warm and wonderful.
One must have a "willing suspension of disbelief", which challenges typical Odyssey reality, in order to fully enjoy "A Thankstaking Story". These types of shows include the weaker and sillier "Sunset Bowlawater" and "Called on in Class", as well as the classic "Someone to Watch Over Me"-- my personal favorite. So how did this one do? If you disliked this episode because you thought it was too silly or fantastical for your liking, then I'm afraid you don't know Odyssey very well. Whit has been combining imagination and silliness ever since everyone huddled together in Whit's End to hear "Gifts for Madge and Guy". This one never feels over-the-top because they keep everything in story-form. The only quibble I have is that this episode aired too soon after "Wooton's Broken Pencil Show", which also features a chaotic script.
"A Thankstaking Story" verges on greatness but is brought down by the occasional incomprehensible digressions in its narrative. It is a beautiful, sometimes headache-inducing, mess. It is like watching a great TV movie with distracting and poorly timed commercials. Don't get me wrong, "A Thankstaking Story" certainly deserves its four stars, but depending on the version, time of the year, the mood you're in, or your age, it may deserve something completely different. Yes, this episode sadly exposes the fallibility of my rating system. Today it gets four. Tomorrow it may only get one, and the following day perhaps five. I suppose it all depends on how thankful the listener feels. And there are definitely terrific moments in this one to be thankful for.
RATING: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆