First things first, though. The biggest piece of news is that Album 54 revealed its full album title: "Clanging Cymbals, and the true meaning of Love". I don't know about the rest of you, but I like the new title, and I think the overall theme sounds promising. In case no one noticed, Daniel Sheets correctly guessed the album's theme a few months ago. You can see the proof here. Nice job, Daniel.
About halfway through the podcast, the lighthearted question/answer period came to a sudden halt; there was a change in tone, and Paul and David began a (almost) melancholic plea to us fans:
"When 51 came out, it was our intention to use that album to introduce these new characters; not that we'd revisit these characters, but we felt that for the audience to attach to these characters we needed to hear from them [...] I don't want people to think that we'll never see some of those friends again."And Paul later admits:
"Yeah, we've neglected some of our characters..."However, Paul defends this admission, clarifying that seasons only have so much time. That's fair. While I don't necessarily believe it was the best choice for the series, I do understand the reasoning behind it. After all, the quicker we can learn about these characters, the sooner we can love these characters, and then the faster the show can move on towards stronger story lines.
I imagined that several older fans, including myself, became quite concerned the moment Paul confessed that Album 53 wouldn't have the same intensity as previous sagas, describing it as "more fun". Hold on, I thought. What does McCusker mean by "more fun"? "More fun" in the same way "The Top Floor" was more fun? "More fun" in the same way "Accidental Dilemma" or "The Other Side of the Glass" were more fun? In case you haven't guessed already, I wasn't the biggest fan of those episodes. They took what could have been intense and exciting stories and lightened them; their villains became weak caricatures, and there was never sense that the characters were in danger. Of course, to be fair, not every "more fun" adventure-type episode has been a bad one. Just take a look at "The Last Great Adventure of the Summer" or "The Search for Whit" which were unapologetically ridiculous and still managed to retain a sense of urgency.
However, I think what Paul was trying to get across is that the world within Album 53 will still feel serious, but it won't ever push boundaries to the extent "Novacom" did. It likely won't have a parental warning attached to any of its episodes and, you know what, I'm okay with that. After all, why create a saga for kids if you're just going to tell them halfway "this episode isn't suitable for you"? It was smart to tackle this question on the podcast. They gave an answer that would reduce fan's expectations and, furthermore, show some sensitivity towards the recent events in Tuscon, Arizona. Wait, hold on, what? A few weeks back the official site posted a preview of "Green Ring Conspiracy", which featured a villainous character waving a gun around, only a few days after the tragedy of Tuscon occurred. The "gun question" in the U.S quickly became a sensitive issue. I could be wrong, but it felt like Paul McCusker decided to answer that question partly for those who were shaken up by what happened. It was as if Paul was trying to say, "Yes, there are guns, but they won't be used in the same way or with the same results".
How else to convince fans to return to the show, or to convince fans who have gradually grown pessimistic of its future, than to utter the name "Richard Maxwell" in a podcast? His return is either the show's worst kept secret or its best weapon in luring displeased fans back to the show. At long last, it seems that the return of Richard Maxwell, who has grown to mythological status among fans, is becoming a reality. And while I've never been a Richard Maxwell aficionado, his habit of simply disappearing from Odyssey time and time again have always left me wondering what he's been up to. Just think, this is a character that we haven't heard anything about since "Darkness Before Dawn". That's an awfully long time. Where has he been? What will he be doing? And more importantly, what will he do next? Could he possibly stick around town and become a love interest for Connie (Album 54 is about love, remember?)? And since there might also be a new employee of Whit's End, could Richard Maxwell eventually be that employee? Richard Maxwell has, in some form or another, saved Lucy, Tom Riley and Connie Kendall, and now could also play the hero who saves, well, the show. Undoubtedly, his return would be the best thing that has happened on the show in a long while. The only thing that could mess this up is if the producers "pull a Tasha" and return Richard with a different voice, confessing later that the original actor was "unavailable". If this were the case, fans would likely become so angry they'd probably light a barn on fire....in honor of Richard.
The truly interesting moment of the podcast was when Paul and Dave's confirmed the truth behind one of Nathan Hoobler's statements in an earlier interview. In a chatroom interview with fans, Nathan Hoobler said that "the TOO feedback effects our writing [...] And actually, we made some changes to album 53 and 54 in part to fan feedback". In last week's podcast, Dave confirms, "after we recorded the first six episodes, [Paul] changed the ending the series." Paul McCusker responds "that's true [...] Because of some things that happened in the studio with some of the characters--I won't say who--but because of some things, we actually decided to change the ending so that some of the characters could continue on in some form. [...] Sometime we just like to wing it".
This was undoubtedly the most interesting part of the podcast. First of all, what did they change? And more importantly, why did they change it? This mystery, to me, is more intriguing than the actual mystery of the "Green Ring Conspiracy". McCusker says "I won't say who", but most fans probably missed Dave Arnold uttering "yet" right after. That means the "change" is no a related to an actor's personal problem, but to a major plot point that . Given the clues, it's difficult to figure out which character it has to do with. My earlier theory, after first hearing the rumor from Nathan Hoobler, was this one:
"Most of the complaints I've read this past year tended to be about irreversible things; for instance, many disliked the new theme, or the new artwork, or Whit's voice, but I doubt any of those will be changed. So what's left? The kid-characters of course. I think a lot of fans have probably been very vocal about which ones they really like and which ones they don't. Perhaps that's why Nathan's one question during the chat was about characters that should stick around. But perhaps the changes they've made have been small; perhaps they have decided to downplay Emily Jones and Matthew Parker's roles or taken out cheesy lines that had anyone saying anything similar to "'the Jones and Parker detective Agency' is on the case!" [From: "A Quick Response" Nathan Hoobler TOO Chat Highlights].
If I tried to insert this earlier theory ("they have decided to downplay Emily Jones"), it almost works, but not quite. If it were the case, they would not have used the words "some things happened in the studio" or "so that some of the characters could continue on in some form". At first, this last sentence makes it sound like they initially killed off a character but changed their mind because a personal issue with one of the actors. But, if this were the case, what does this have to do the fan's opinions? The clues given by McCusker and Hoobler point to many scenarios, but these scenarios don't fit well with the cryptic sentences in the podcast.
Finally, fans were treated to a third, and significantly improved promo of "The Green Ring Conspiracy". The last promo arrived with much criticism from fans, as they noted the lack of familiar-sounding voices. Thankfully, this time around, fans got to hear from Whit, Connie, and Eugene, who spoke in spectacularly dramatic, albeit nearly melodramatic, phrases. What stood out the most was Katie Leigh, who, as I've mentioned previously, doesn't seem to toning down her performance. Other eyebrow raising moments included the line "who was that masked man?" or Whit's "aren't you in danger of getting lost in this labyrinth of lies?". Maybe these sound bites will make more sense to me when we hear them in their respective scenes but I must confess that some bits of dialogue, or perhaps how they were put together, felt a tad corny. Regardless, the teaser did just that, teased, and many of us will undoubtedly be tuning in to find out what the big deal is.
One thing is for certain, "The Green Ring Conspiracy" has the chance to return the show to its apex of quality writing. Even if it doesn't, Paul McCusker rarely disappoints, and will likely give fans an season worthy of the show's previous ones. I'm ready to enjoy the ride, accepting it for what it is, and leaving my cynicism behind. This podcast has convinced me; this will be fun.
What did you think of the latest podcast? Did your questions get answered? Tell me in the comment section below.
UPDATE: Pretty much the moment I posted this, "The Green Ring Conspiracy" became available for download at the official site.