I have a small confession. I was among the fans who wrongly believed Penny wasn't saved prior to ''A Penny Saved''. And if ''A Penny Saved'' was her salvation episode then ''A Penny Earned'' taught that salvation was a gift and didn't need to be earned.
I wonder why so many of us initially thought this, however. After all, Penny herself admits she's a believer in ''The Green Ring Conspiracy''. Could it be that, given the nature of the album, we automatically disbelieved everything each character said? Could it be that we usually associate Christian fictional characters as being wise and sensible? Could it be that, compared to most characters on the show, she is less outspoken about her faith? Maybe all of the above.
Although in my previous review I accused her of not being different enough from other characters, I'm starting to see her usefulness. She settles in nicely in ''A Penny Earned''. It helps that McCusker reveals a little more about her background, including some interesting information about her personal life (being named after Pennsylvania, for instance). When she isn't sounding intoxicated from the back of her car and eases up on her performance, I don't mind her at all. She is simply a naive child stuck inside an adult's body, and it seems to work because the rest of the characters make it work. In other words, it's not Penny's storyline I find particularly interesting; I care mostly about the characters emotionally invested in her.
And in a period where Connie and Eugene seem purposeless, this is very much appreciated. I may have been entertained by their storyline in last week's ''You're Two Kind'', but they seemed much more developed and realistic here. That said, I'm a little curious to know what both Eugene and Connie are doing in their lives. Apparently Eugene is teaching at the college again. That's fine with me. I just don't know how he manages to split his duties there, Whit's End, and Hand Up. Maybe someone can remind me when exactly he began working at the college since last getting let go ''Back to Abnormal''. Regardless, Eugene is teaching, and Connie is a student. I wonder whether this all being set up to have Eugene become Connie's teacher in future episode. It seems like too good of an opportunity to pass up.
''A Penny Earned'' reminded me, loosely, of older Adventures in Odyssey episodes. Not following me? I feel like their was something awfully familiar about this episode; dare I say it, there was something awfully ''classic''. Did the episode remind anyone of Eugene and Katrina's earlier relationship? Both Penny and Katrina have to make a choice on whether to stay in Odyssey; both Penny and Katrina spent an episode looking for a job; and both end up getting hired by a colourful, foreign shop owners. Meanwhile, Wooton and Eugene--their love interests--are devastated by the potential move. That moment between Wooton and Connie in Connie's apartment was particularly moving (no pun intended). I always like it when Wooton is a little sad. It shows that he's not completely inhuman.
Even John Whittaker sounded perfectly ''classic'' again. He was both involved in the action, moving in and out from behind the counter, while being a source of help and the show's moral Deus ex machina. Eugene's line ''I need to consult with Mr. Whittaker on how to deal with Douglas Helm'' may have be small and inconsequential, but the particular moment took me back to a time when characters never saw Whit as their equal (even though he was), but as a spiritual guide and someone to seek advice from. He even left his shop duties and helped Penny in her job search by introducing her to a friend. I may occasionally accuse this new Whit of being a little passive, but he is certainly the same old lovable Whit in every other way.
I'd be lying if I said I looked forward to writing this review for any other reason than being able to talk about Jacques Henri. The actor does an incredible job in his brief time, and thankfully, we get to see him flex his acting abilities later this season. I wonder whether he was modelled after Bruce Campbell's role in Spiderman 3 or Lumière in Beauty in the Beast, or ''insert famous French stereotype here''. Of course, Jacques Henri is the very definition of a French stereotype, but he's hilarious regardless. When the customer asked whether she could purchase the bathroom sign, his response, ''I can work out a price for that'' or, later on, ''Am I not speaking Haangleesh?'' were definitely two of the most hilarious moments of the show. I hope to hear more of him next season.
Overall, nicely paced and well acted, ''A Penny Earned'' incorporates ancient, time-tested story threads. It follows ''A Penny Saved'' nicely and utilizes our favourite characters well, bringing all of them together again for a common purpose. Like last week's ''You're Two Kind'', these are the episodes where I can sit back, comfortable and reassured, knowing that all is well and everything is as it should be on my favourite radio drama.