"A Penny Saved" is a lot like "The Benefit of the Doubt" which is a lot like "Welcome Home Mr. Blackguard". All directly reference their preceding sagas, and serve as wrap-ups, of sorts, answering lingering questions in order to return the series to focusing on simpler situations/scenarios. After all, it would be weird if nobody mentioned the events of "The Green Ring Conspiracy", just as it would be weird if no one mentioned the time that everyone was brainwashed, or that time when the mayoral candidate blew himself up underneath Whit's End. For the sake of consistency and continuity, these things must be acknowledged before moving on.
All three episodes I mentioned share a common theme. They each deal with the guilt of their main characters; Penny Wise, like the Cabreras and Mr. Blackgaard, feels responsible for what happened to the citizens of Odyssey. Although, at least in Penny's case, I'm not exactly sure why. The issue I have with "A Penny Saved" is that it assumes that one of the great lingering issues of "The Green Ring Conspiracy" is that Penny would be disturbed by what her professor and mentor Dr. Trask did. Honestly, this wasn't the question on the top of my list. How about you? This isn't to say I'm not impressed that the Odyssey team wrapped up this lingering question, I actually really am; however, at the end of last season, Penny didn't exactly sound devastated by what happened. She sounded annoyed and a little upset, but certainly not devastated. And certainly not devastated enough to warrant her emotional reaction in today's episode.
Luckily, Paul McCusker wrote this, and if he neglected to create sympathy for Penny last season, he creates it here. I'll admit, it's quite easy to feel sorry for Penny. She reminds me of some breed of dog, like a Basset Hound, that you feel sorry for because they act and look so miserable. In the same way, Penny's character simply consists of her feeling insecure about life, and I don't think the best way to make listeners care about Penny is to have us feel sorry her. I would prefer finding new characters cool, funny, or charming. And I find Penny none of those.
It doesn't help that Whit's End is already crowded with so-called misfits. A large number of main characters introduced throughout the years could be labelled as either quirky or abnormal. "A Penny Saved", one of the season's few adult-focused episode, includes few of the normal sounding adults we've grown up with. With the recent introduction of the slightly cartoonish Andre Stoijka, Red Hollard, and now Penny, this new generation needs characters with different personalities and, more importantly, pitches.
Regardless, I like the reason why Penny was introduced to the show, and you see the benefits of her introduction quite clearly in this episode. We always wondered why Connie was such a loner and had no one the same age to really relate to. The same could be said of Wooton. The reality is that Connie shouldn't be hanging around Eugene as intimately as she used to, and likewise, Wooton shouldn't be hanging around children all the time. With Penny around, Connie and Wooton now have a new friend; in turn, they share a similar purpose, to nurture and take care of their new friend. I'm actually also quite entertained by Wooton's infatuation with Penny; it reminds me of Eugene's relationship with Katrina, and I look forward to hearing more about what happens in that area.
However, the problem with Penny's personality, frankly, is that she doesn't strike me as a different enough character for Adventures in Odyssey. She is, at times, a female version of Wooton and/or simply a dumber version of Connie. I wonder what would have happened if they attempted to make her a little more different from any previous personalities we've seen on the show. For instance, I wonder whether I'd care for this Wooton/Penny relationship a little more if she turned out to be the complete opposite from Wooton. Just a thought.
The truth is that Penny Wise has to be heavily scrutinized and dissected because she's the center of attention in "A Penny Saved". If you don't like Penny, then the episode might not impress you too much. If you do, then pretty much everything about this episode works. As it is, enough fans enjoy Penny. In the Spring 2011 Avery Awards, Kimmy Robertson was awarded "Best Actress", while 22.8% fans agreed that she was "The Best New Character". It's not a ridiculously high number, but it is significant enough, I think.
Is the episode any good? Yes, it's a good one. McCusker injects his signature sense of humor and enough quirky lines that adults will appreciate: "I couldn't be happier with the verdict. Well, actually, I could be, but, to do that would involve re-introducing punishments they used in the Middle ages. [Laughs] Good times", or "You seem to leave without anyone watching the counter, I mean, what kind of business is that?" or:
CONNIE: "I'm not attracted to guys with moral angst"
STUDENT: "What about moral ambiguity?"
CONNIE: "What do you mean by that?"
STUDENT: "It depends".
The dialogue is consistently good here. And although I wished Wooton's lines didn't always end with a punchline, enough of those punchlines were clever enough for me to be upset.
Also, Polehaus makes a welcome return as our favorite detective. I wonder, considering all of the members of the Odyssey Police who have come and gone on the show (Harley, Captain Quinn, Burke), he'll be able to last a little longer. I was happy to hear from Ted Humphries, too, whose voice I like quite a bit. I wonder whether both characters can escape their job duties once in a while and become more prominent characters like Dale Jacobs was. Every supporting character in today's show, including Professor Bruce and the student, were excellent, and made the episode all the more special for me.
I'll admit there is nothing blow-your-mind special about "A Penny Saved". It presents its theme only mildly well, and actually quite weakly compared to last week's "Wooton Knows Best". That's fine by me though. "A Penny Saved" is a simple, fun and quirky comedy. It may not reach the levels of "Welcome Home, Mr. Blackgaard", but it is significantly better than "The Benefit of the Doubt", smoothly transitioning from "The Green Ring Conspiracy" into upcoming Adventures in Odyssey episodes and opening doors for more interesting scenarios. And while I have issues with its protagonist, she can still win me over. With no end in sight for Adventures in Odyssey, Penny has plenty of time...