They should rename the show "Mysteries in Odyssey".
Boring. Uneventful. Ridiculous. These are the words I would have used to describe last week's episode, "A Disagreeable Nanny", but not this one. "The Malted Milkball Falcon" is, as Jacob Isom described it, "unique". Kirby Atkins finds his groove and concocts a mystery which not only avoids several weaknesses plaguing "Game for a Mystery" or "Stage Fright", but one that is significantly more intriguing than the majority of episodes this past season.
Before I begin, let me make something clear. It's hard to write objectively about a well written episode when half the voices in it either aggravate me or cause me to think about something else. Odyssey has a long history of memorable brag-worthy cast of characters. It's been the escapades of those such as Bernard, Tom, Bart, Jack, Edwin, Nick, the Barclays which made me tune in each week. But which characters make the older generation tune in now? I watch what's happening at the fan forums, and I read comments submitted by fans at the official site. There is an uprising...fans are frustrated. And their frustration is spreading like wildfire. It's difficult to know whether these are simply newer fans unprepared and uncomfortable with change, or whether the show is truly being a tad shaky nowadays. Trust me, I've witnessed a lot of change in this show. I've been listening to this show for so long that I have absolutely no memory of ever not listening to it. I have grown to like some characters, while there are others I hold no delusions that they were ever any good. I've spent 10 years outside the target audience, seeing kids come and go. I doubt my inability to warm up to these characters is a sign that I'm simply too old to be listening. I doubt I'm outgrowing this stuff now. The facts are plain; a lot these newer folks just don't cut it. They don't adhere to the standard placed by characters of the past--which makes perfect sense if you think about it. It took a few years for the show to get Bernard, and much longer to get Jason and Jack. It will take a while again, with trial and error, for the show to get more memorable/classic characters. Thankfully, of those who are now decent, there is great potential for them to become better. This episode explores that potential a bit more.
As for specific criticisms of each character, I'll keep them short and sweet. Jay sounds like Daffy Duck without the lisp; I preferred the sullen and humbled Emily Jones I heard in "Square One"; Stojka continues to impress as the show goes on; Priscilla spoke and I thought someone was blowing a whistle in my ear; Matthew Parker was the show's most relatable character since we both seemed bored to tears following Emily around; Barrett's voice is changing for the better but his presence goes unnoticed in scenes; Nelson's distinct voice and likable personality makes him the show's newest treasure.
Should you care that the outcome of "Broken Window" is similar to this one? Personally, I don't, despite the fact "Broken Window" has one the greatest Adventures in Odyssey endings and, for that reason, is a personal favorite of mine. After all, what was more surprising than finding out Whit was the "culprit" when all he normally does is give wise counsel and sage advise? That said, this episode could have been substantially better if "Broken Window" never aired. As a result, while this week's episode's "reveal" did end up fooling me, it didn't surprise me. The result is an episode which merely entertained but didn't impress.
I'm also slightly (very slightly) concerned that Whit was tad more deceptive here than he was in "Broken Window". Maybe it's just me, but in that one, he lets the events play out instead of interfering. In "The Malted Milkball Falcon", Whit seems to be encouraging suspicions a little more. Aside from that sense of slight uneasiness, I will say that Atkins handled Whit's role well enough, making sure Whit never overstepped his boundaries. Still, while re-listening to the episode, I kept wondering how manipulative was too manipulative for Mr. Whittaker. In "Broken Window", he let things play out a little more without interfering or purposefully shifting suspicions, merely asking "So you think you know who broke the window..." A Whit's End commenter said: "[Whit] has a tendency for doing stuff like that. [Re]member the broken window episode?" Glad to know that Whit is getting a reputation for being a sneaky, deceptive man.
I'm noticing more and more fans quibbling about the "message" in episodes. Many are arguing that episodes are becoming less spiritual and would do better to mention the name of Jesus more often. That said, I certainly like it when Adventures in Odyssey covers all the bases with certain themes (I myself will be quick to point out that "Fast as you Can" failed in this area; its desire to entertain, rather than teach, was its downfall). When it came to "The Malted Milkball Falcon, however, I'm surprised by how some criticized its message. I'm not quite sure what type of show would make some of these fans happy. Adventures in Odyssey has never been solely about preaching, but about entertaining as well. I thought this episode was the perfect example of a show which knew how to slowly and carefully unveil the message as time went by; the theme of the show became as much of a mystery as the thief of the malted milk-ball falcon was.
Recently, I've began reading the weekly devotionals at the official website. If you haven't already, then I'd suggest you check them out. They reinforce the lessons in the show and encourage listeners to apply those lessons to their own lives. The theme of today's show, I think, speaks volumes. Why do we do what we do in the name of God? Do we go to church to meet our friends or to praise God? Do we help the poor in order to feel good about ourselves or because we love Him? In a time where "hipster faith" is growing, where following God can be "cool" in social circles, one must wonder how much of what we do "for Christ" is really for Christ. In other words, our motivation matters.
For the first time, I enjoyed this Kirby Atkins episode. He wrote a script with more layers, with more twists and turns, than the average episode has. This is how a proper mystery is done; it not only made me question "whodunit" but "howdunit" too. I think those qualities are strong enough reasons to rate this episode on the positive side, despite its flaws.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½