"The Prodigal, Jim"
Written By: Shadowpaw
9 years, 18 albums, and 241 episodes later, Connie Kendall is finally reunited with Jimmy Barclay in Washington DC. It's hard to believe that the last episode Jimmy and Connie shared a scene together was way back in "Unto Us a Child is Born"... the show has nearly doubled in episode totals since that day! In fact, to put things into perspective, B-TV hadn't even started yet! Now that's long ago... I guess when you can listen to episodes whenever you feel like, timelines just don't have any meaning.
So where do we start? Well, the beginning is usually the best place. How great is it to hear Chuck Bolte as George again? There's something magic in that man's voice. I don't know if it's the quiet chuckle between his lines, the timber of his vocal chords, or just the realism Chuck brings to the script... but everytime I hear George, I can't help but feel in awe of his abilities. Now some people might not share the same views as I do, but I listened to dozens upon dozens of auditions for Adventures in Odyssey with highly trained professionals asked to act out a scene between Mary and George in "Treasures of the Heart" where the two are cleaning out the attic. Not one of those actors came close to the performance Chuck Bolte gave, nor close to the performances Chuck has given time and time again on Odyssey. What makes the feat more amazing is that Chuck isn't an actor. When he first started out, he was simply the Executive Producer of Odyssey and has since moved onto other projects... but he certainly has a talent that he's used for the show, and because of it, any show with George Barclay is a good show. He brings something to his performance that really reaches out and grabs you as a listener... it's just a shame we don't hear more of him.
But what about Jimmy? David Griffin was a great actor. In fact, few child actors could really compare to the talent he had growing up. When he hit puberty, things changed a little... what was natural before became harder and harder to pull off as "real". Jimmy was still someone we loved and cared for, but there was something different about him. To put it simply: David struggled at times and just wasn't as good as he was in the past. Through no fault of his own really, but the range in his voice changed which makes it harder to convey different emotions (especially when all you have to use is your voice). However, I'd prefer to have Jimmy on the show in any form that to have no Jimmy at all. But what I didn't expect was to have Jimmy back in "Living in the Gray I & II" and actually be impressed with him. He was great! His emotional scene when telling Connie about his life was really touching and David's come a long way since he hit that voice milestone many years ago. I think I speak for all fans when I say I hope we can hear more from him in the future!
Now, we've watched Jimmy grow up on Adventures in Odyssey from little bratty brother, to awkward adolescent, to well... we didn't know what he became until now. What long time fan of Adventures in Odyssey couldn't tell you that they feel like they knew Jimmy Barclay like the back of their hand? If polled before this episode, I'm sure most fans would have said that he was a successful pastor, paramedic, or teacher spreading his infectious charm and fun loving personality to those around him. But what a boring episode that would have made... so the writers ripped out everything we would have expected from Jimmy's new life and turned his world upside down! A crummy job, a terrible girlfriend, no more church, no more God, no more home, and a life based on a thousand lies. What a shocker... but a very sad one at that. Who wants to listen to Jimmy in such dire circumstances? Well, we don't...
But that's something Odyssey does so well. You feel for these characters. Odyssey isn't about great epic story arcs, crazy Imagination Station adventures, or fun twists on bible stories. Sure these things make Odyssey a better show, but at the heart it's the characters who drive it. We tune in to find out what's going on with our favorite characters and watch them grow in their faith and as people. And when they leave the show, we miss them... like we do the Barclays. Though, just like in the real world, things aren't always perfect... we'd like to think the Barclay's lived happily ever after in Pokenberry Falls but things don't always turn out that way. Now that Jimmy's returned for a brief two parter, we finally know what became of him!
I felt like I was listening to an extended version of "The Prodigal, Jimmy", and in fact, "Living in the Gray II" references that fact not once, but twice. Though fortunately that episode didn't stick Jimmy with an awful girlfriend. I mean, a bad girlfriend is one thing, but Felicia was a little over the top even for Odyssey. She was really annoying in her first scene, irritating in her second scene, and by an act of God was subdued with alcohol in her final scene... hopefully we'll never hear from her again. Thankfully she was but one of only a couple drawbacks in an otherwise very enjoyable episode.
One nice little touch I noticed was that Jimmy refers to the streets of Washington having more stop lights than Pokenberry Falls. It subtly reminds the listener that the Barclay's lives don't revolve around their past in Odyssey. Pokenberry was just as much their home as Odyssey was and that gives some fairly deep characters even more depth. It would have been nice to hear what other stuff happened in Pokenberry which lead Jimmy down the path he took, but a little mystery is always nice too.
And what's more? Jimmy finally put Connie in her place. I mean, I like her and everything, but she's been getting on my nerves ever since her and Mitch started seeing each other. Now that Mitch and her are finished, Connie can finally get back to the way she was... and Jimmy pushed her in the right direction with his stern lecture by sending her back to Odyssey to face her problems. On a side note, that song Connie sang on her stakeout was sure great... wasn't it?
I mentioned that Felicia was only one of a couple drawbacks... the other drawback would be the ending. And it's not so much a drawback as it is a personal preference. Considering how similar this episode was to "The Prodigal, Jimmy", it would have been nice to have a parallel scene here with George and his son having a heart to heart talk. That scene is still one of the greatest moments in Odyssey history based on the performances of the two actors and just the wonderful moment that it was. Now, I understand you don't want a repeat of the same scene... that wouldn't do at all. But the episode could have been that much better with a more emotional ending. One where Jimmy breaks down and tells his father that he's been lying to him, have George hug him and then say they'll talk about it. As it is, we're left with a sense of only semi-closure. We know George and Jimmy are going to talk about it, but we don't know how George will react, nor what Jimmy will do afterward. But again, just a personal preference and perhaps had it been written that way, I would be complaining in this review that they replicated the same scene!
On a final note, the last thing that bugged me is the absence of Stewart Reed. George and Jimmy are in the episode, Mary and Donna are both mentioned, but Stewart seems to be ignored. Now, I often forget myself that Stewart is part of the family as he was only introduced at the end of the Barclay's storyline, but I'm sure Jimmy would at least ask George to say "hi" to his brother for him when they were saying goodbye at the airport.
But I digress. The episodes were really terrific and it's nice to be able to check in on the Barclays. Sure, Jimmy might not be in the best of circumstances... but it's an interesting story nonetheless with Jimmy getting his life back on track by the end.