"Grandma's Christmas Visit" embodies a lot of what was wrong this past season. Browsing through my past reviews, I noticed I used the word "chaotic" quite often, particularly when describing the preposterousness of "Wooton's Broken Pencil Show", the childishness of "Fast as I Can", the hectic "Thankstaking Story", and the hyperness of "An Agreeable Nanny". Part of me was yearning for a slower, smoother, and more thoughtful episode. Those episodes lacked the heart and emotional punch a more pensive, and more delicately crafted one could have brought about. As an older fan responding to the changes of his favorite radio show, I will not rashly state that "this is becoming more and more common", but I will accuse the show of poorly structuring its seasons, failing to find a comfortable balance between the number of heavy and light episodes it chooses to put into an album.
After all, isn't this the main problem with the weaker albums? "Album 34: In Your Wildest Dreams" would not have been so universally despised had it included heavier, hard hitting episodes similar to "Someone to Watch Over Me", "Castles and Cauldrons", or "The Mortal Coil" amidst its absurd episodes. With a few exceptions, like sagas, I believe sillier shows should be followed by ones which call for a different emotional response. The result would be a more emotionally engaging album, with each episode standing out from the rest. Consider how the heavy episode "The Mortal Coil" was followed by the light "Best Intentions". If both had been made to be serious or silly, the power of either one would have been diminished, correct? By being drastically different in tone, they both end up complimenting the other. Other successful pairings include "Buried Sin" and "Gloobers", "Home Sweet Home" and "Clara", and any episode before or after a BTV episode. Many of us falsely believe the strength of an album depends on the strength of the episodes themselves; we rarely pause to consider how well these episodes fit together. While "Album 52: Cause and Effect" is an improvement on "Album 51: Take it from the Top", both are made up of episodes that blend together far too much, use a similar tone, style, characters, humor. Consider, in comparison, how different the episodes in "Album 32: Hidden Treasures" are from one another. Every show in it has its own distinct personality.
I will avoid giving the stereotypical criticism of the show, accusing Adventures in Odyssey of catering to the modern ADD child who needs faster scripts, with a joke uttered every two seconds, and irritating voices. Part of me believes this to be true, but I am also tired of bringing this point up. In the case of "Grandma's Christmas Visit", the show's unfocused and disorientating feel was probably deliberate. In the same way "Wooton's Broken Point" provided the listener 25 minutes of "chaos" to prove a prove a point about, uh, "points", the chaotic aspect of "Grandma's Christmas Visit" was used to make a point about "peace". Unfortunately, the way the theme was executed ultimately became the show's downfall because I didn't remotely care for the events occurring within the chaos. As it is, "Grandma's Christmas Visit" merely consists of one uninteresting thing after another.
As "Unto Us a Child is Born" has shown to us, it isn't impossible to care about the "chaos" that is often connected with Christmas. In that episode, Jimmy Barclay, much like characters in "Grandma's Christmas Visit" did, proposed a new way to celebrate the birth of Christ. What follows are a lot of crazy things: Mary Barclay goes into labor on air, forcing Jimmy to re-cast the parts of Mary and Joseph--in addition to figuring out sound-effects for the show. Then, Eugene and Katrina, who have been wrestling with their relationship, are cast as Mary and Joseph, and must act out some romantic dialogue; awkward, considering the then current state of their relationship. Now, this is all chaotic...but it is also very interesting, isn't it? There's conflict, but more importantly, there's drama. All of this crazy silly buffoonery couldn't possibly be irritating because the scene also acts as a defining moment for two major story lines in the show: Mary's pregnancy, and Eugene's relationship with Katrina. This is how you make seemingly mindless chaos interesting, folks.
If the story is meant to be humorous, then make it important, or relevant to us. [But not too important, or else you risk undervaluing an important event, which is what happened to Eugene and Katrina's wedding in the terrible "For Better Or Worst.] Give me a reason to care. Give me drama. I enjoyed "A Thankstaking Story", "Wooton's Broken Pencil Show", among others, this season. However, when a season is constantly churning out these sorts of episodes, you begin to feel a little like Mrs. Parker in today's episode...
...you start longing for the silence.
Hoping to write a more positive review, I decided to listen to the shortened-for-radio version. As with "A Thankstaking Story", I was prepared to declare the radio version the better one, assuming it would trim all of original version's unnecessary fat. Needless to say, I was SHOCKED. The radio version is, frankly, terrible. In it, a couple of scenes with Mrs. Parker have been cut, and her storyline awkwardly begins halfway through the show. I'll admit there is too much going on in this episode, but why cut out the most interesting part?
"Grandma's Christmas Visit" is made up of three awkwardly pieced together sections. One could easily assume three different heads went into this script. And there were. It was collaboratively written by Kirby Atkins, David Arnold, and Paul McCusker. The episode feels slightly disjointed, reminding me of "Peace on Earth" and how it was created. Phil Lollar writes in "The Official Guide": "The original concept for this episode dealt solely with Whit being too busy to enjoy Christmas. Chuck Bolte came up with the idea of the Barclays getting robbed, and Paul McCusker blended the two stories". I always enjoyed "Peace on Earth" because it provided two perfectly written stories with one smoothly transitioning into the other. "Grandma's Christmas Visit" doesn't feel like a complete story, but merely "moments" that don't go anywhere.
Adventures in Odyssey has always been great at creating excellent Christmas shows. Older fans I've spoken to, who no longer listen to the show, often cite "Back to Bethlehem" as their favorite for its cleverness in delivering the Christmas message. But no listener can forget Barclay Christmas episodes; "Pokenberry Christmas" as a clever parody of the classic film; "The Visitors" for its poignant and somewhat conflicting message on sacrifice ; "Peace on Earth" for a pertinent story capped off with a wonderfully heartwarming final scene. Even the show's lesser-praised concoctions, "A Popsicle Kid" and "The Day After Christmas", though occasionally cringe-worthy, tug at heart strings. I'll even admit "Grandma's Christmas Visit" did too, once or twice. The last scene of today's show with Whit and Grandma is wonderful, and it is one of the best moments the season had to offer. Stojka's piece of dialogue, "The calm after the chaos. It's a particular kind of beautiful" is well delivered--a terrific line to end the season with. Unfortunately, this nice scene is not good enough to forgive the journey preceding it.
I have concluded that "Grandma's Christmas Visit" came out at the wrong time. I wonder whether I needed an episode to focus on the contemplative side of the season; one which didn't force me to hear about season's chaos. It is for this reason that I immensely enjoyed "Silent Night", the last great Christmas episode the show has produced, which had a refreshingly different feel from hubbub depicted in "The Christmas Conundrum". "Grandma's Christmas Visit" could have even gone the route of "A Lamb's Tale", providing an emotional roller coaster, going back and forth between silly and peaceful moments. That episode is, I believe, Odyssey's equivalent to Academy Award Winning film "Crash"- a chaotic combination of beautiful, but starkly different, moments.
So far, I have only made sweeping generalizations; I could have gone crazy providing specific examples from the show. I will, however, comment specifically on two characters: Connie and Eugene. They, once again, lack depth playing Whit's "henchmen". I never imagined that it would come to this. These characters have been reduced to filler. I know...I suppose these two can't always have something interesting going on in their lives. And realistically, focusing on Eugene's father, romantic life, or faith issues for 700 episodes gets tiring, right? But, it'd be nice to hear them do something that doesn't involve participating in childish activities, or even spiritual challenges. As it is, there is no reason to find these two characters interesting. I do not want Will Ryan and Katie Leigh to lend us their voices, but their characters. Perhaps the show has gotten a little overcrowded with the attempt to develop its newest characters. Considering how much air time characters such as Matthew Parker and Emily Jones are taking up, it isn't so hard to see why this is the case. Or, maybe, Connie and Eugene simply don't have enough interesting characters to play off of. Bernard and Tom were always around to keep Eugene's character entertaining. Mitch and Nick, more recently, created some interesting dialogue for Connie's character. And, of course, there was a time when Eugene and Connie could play off one another brilliantly and be entertaining. Unless I'm mistaken, these moments are long gone...but thank goodness, right? After all, no one really wants to hear Connie and Eugene bicker anymore.
"Grandma's Christmas Visit" ends a satisfactory season with a less-than-satisfying episode. If you finished listening to the show with ringing in your ears, and attributed it to the ringing of Christmas bells, it was more likely due to Connie's screaming. This episode could have been so much better. I was really disappointed.
|"Album 53: The Green Ring Conspiracy" is apparently|
about ferris wheel, a lotta money, a cell-phone, and Whit's
awesome fashion sense.
Who else is excited to see what the new year has in store for us? All things considered, it has been a good season, but now we wait for a great one.
RATING: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆