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Thursday, January 27, 2005

I'm On A Christian Radio, Whoa-Oh

I drive an hour to and from work, so I have a lot of time to listen to things in the car. Usually it's gangsta rap, books on tape, stand-up comedy, or whatever, but sometimes I like to flip on the radio. That's a pretty dangerous undertaking, since most radio sucks, but I do get to listen to This American Life and Prarie Home Companion on the weekends. But then last year, I lucked into finding the most awesome radio show ever.

It's called Adventures in Odyssey, and it has to be heard to be believed. If you're in the Greater Columbia Area, you can catch it on 88.7 at 7:30 every day. It's a Christian show that illustrates lessons from the Bible against the backdrop of a small town (Odyssey), centered on an ice cream shop, and it's exactly as bizarre as it sounds. I'm not what you'd call religious at all, but I swear, I can't stop listening to it. Ever since Tavis Smiley left NPR, it's the most entertaining half hour on the airwaves.

Heck, if it wasn't for this picture, it might be the best thing ever--although not for the reasons its creators intended.

Here's a quick rundown on our principal characters.

John Avery "Whit" Whitaker: The wise proprietor of Whit's End, the ice cream shop, and dispenser of wisdom. Also an archaeologist, Biblical scholor, and accidentally caused his stepmother's blindness.

Eugene Meltzner: "Genius" employee of Whit's End. We can tell he's a genius because he likes computers and says things like "Greetings!" and "To use the colloquial vernacular..." Formerly agnostic.

Connie Kendall: Whit's other employee. Perky girl.

Jason Whitaker: Whit's son, who's a Secret Agent. Retires to become a missionary.

Tom Riley: Local farmer and former mayor.

Bernard: Local janitor and oddball.

The Rathbones: Occasional villains for the show. Bart Rathbone owns an electronics store and is usually involved in shady deals, his wife is a shrew, and their son, Rodney, has a gang-slash-band called the Bones of Wrath.

Regis Blackgaard: Whit's opposite number. Genius and computer programmer who attempts and succeeds at murder at various times on the show. Has a twin brother who's a good guy.

There's a ton of other characters, but those are the most important ones for the story I want to talk about.

See, it's usually just a way for me to pass a half hour without listening to shitty pop music, and it's usually pretty awful. When Melanie was with me, we heard one where Whit and Eugene went to Corazon del Diablo to find the Cross of Cortez, which was extremely odd. There's one where they did three stories that it's painfully obvious were just leftover ideas they couldn't stretch an entire half-hour out of, so you get ten minutes of a guy being a poor role model by smoking (gasp!) in front of a kid with athsma (double-gasp!). 90% of the episodes are just flat-out cheesy.

But it actually has pretty tight internal continuity which appeals to me, and, as Warren Ellis would say, it's well-done, of its type. There was an episode where Connie kept bugging Eugene about becoming a Christian, and Whit finally had to sit her down and say: "Look, cool out with that." The message was that heavy-handed and constant pressuring, while done for the right reasons, is the wrong way to help people find Jesus, which is pretty forward-thinking and tolerant compared to most of the stuff on the Bible Broadcast Network. And the fact that they had an agnostic character who was portrayed so positively speaks volumes.

But back to the point, it's pretty goofy most of the time, and the more you listen and the more you find out, the weirder it gets. Whit's End is absolutely crazy. It's a small-town ice cream shop that has insane technological innovations like the Imagination Station--essentially the Christian Holodeck which functions in the stories to let the kids hang out with a computer simulation of Jesus. It's nuts.

But it's also addictive, which is why I found myself not too long ago listening to a storyline I called Crisis on Infinite Odysseys. It took literally months to set up, and the bulk of the story ran in the daily episodes for a couple weeks. Here's what happens.

Tom runs for Mayor, and despite a plot regarding some toxic waste in his orchard, he's elected. Then Whit goes on an archaeological dig to Jerusalem, and his son the SECRET FRIGG'N AGENT comes back to run the shop. So then there's these mysterious acts of vandalism which are perpetrated by the Bones of Wrath under the direction of an unseen force. This causes the town to go into an uproar and recall Tom as mayor. Concurrently, there's a dispute over the ownership of Whit's End. That's when Regis Blackgaard shows up announcing his candidacy for Mayor and seizing ownership of Whit's end.

I'm telling you, it's like Infinity Gauntlet and No Man's Land all rolled into one.

So THEN some more stuff goes down and Eugene, depressed because he's lost his mentor and his raison d'etre, AND because he thinks his girlfriend's going to leave him, puts together a computer program to analyze the data to make sense of it all, and he sees the entirity of his life in Odyssey all at once, and decides to become a Christian because of the patterns! I mean it's like he tapped into the Supercontext, Grant Morrison style! And I know it sounds crazy but, it's exciting when it happens, too. It's Secret Wars #8 as done by religious radio.

After Eugene's big conversion, the tide starts to turn and they find out that Blackgaard has been running his takeover of the city from a secret cave system underneath Whit's End itself (!) and when the heroes go to confront him, there's a massive explosion and a cave-in, which we assume kills Blackgaard (!!), although he later comes back as a self-replicating sentient computer program who takes over a child's mind (!!!).

Seriously, some of the plots they were coming up with were mind-blowing. I was trying to explain them to Tug, and he said it sounded like they'd found their own version of Geoff Johns to come in and tie all the continuity together in a massive story.

Unfortunately, Post-Crisis Odyssey has gone back to the way it was before. Tonight's, for instance, featured some gangs from nearby Connellsville called the Ravens and the Brothers. I mean, relly, "The Brothers?" "The Jets" is a more intimidating name than that.

Still, if you get a chance, listen. You might get a story where Connie and Eugene use the Imagination Station to go back in time and help St. Patrick drive the snakes out of Ireland. But then again, you might get something crazy.

16 Comments:

Blogger J. Kern said...

Of course, you realize where we've seen the Imagination Station before...

http://www.insidepulse.com/article.php?contentid=29589

That's some pretty distinguished company this thing's walking with...

1/28/2005 1:22 AM

 
Blogger Mark Hale said...

"Bones of Wrath"!?

FUCK YES.

I had no idea people were still doing radio shows like that. Amazing.

I also have a terribly soft spot for Prairie Home Companion.

1/28/2005 11:33 AM

 
Blogger Rick said...

i've got my own nasty long commute in columbia, and i've got an xm radio to save me from the fluff and crap. but we did the same thing - discovered that adventures in odyssey comes on the christian channel on satellite each weeknight. not as addicted as you appear to be - need help with that? - but we've loved it even before from hearing on the 'net.

good stuff.

1/29/2005 1:29 PM

 
Anonymous JJS said...

I actually found your blog searching for Odyssey stuff on Google. For someone who's not religious, you sure know a lot about the show. Just for the record, I'm a huge fan of the show and am glad you found it.

8/06/2005 8:51 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm in the same boat with "jjs" - big fan of Odyssey. As you might guess, there's a big online community for "AIO". The sites are:

The biggest message board-
www.thetoo.com/index.php?f=8

The official site-
www.WhitsEnd.org

Most popular fan site-
www.aiosf.com

EugeneFan.com - need I say more?-
www.EugeneFan.com

Nice post!

3/31/2006 4:04 PM

 
Blogger Talk of the Town said...

HA! Finally! Another person who is as interested in the strange yet totally addicting Adentures in Odyssey. My husband thinks I'm nutso, and I can hardly admit it to my friends. Don't you see some paralells with 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy'? Even down to character's names. AIO is just too cool to stop listening to. I can't.

7/05/2006 11:58 PM

 
Anonymous Haerandir said...

I used to work at a children's book store called Imagination Station. That was in Virginia, though.

1/17/2007 7:32 PM

 
Anonymous Commodorejohn said...

Yes. Yes. YES.

I listened to AiO all throughout my adolescence, and it went from being the radio version of The Andy Griffith Show to being an absolutely friggin' nuts mashup of every comic book and sci-fi series ever written at the drop of a hat. I loved it. I still do.

And yeah, Focus On The Family's radio drama efforts are about the only thing on Christian radio that's not preachy and at least semi-rational.

3/11/2007 5:22 PM

 
Anonymous Waluigi Freak 99 said...

I'm a huge fan of Odyssey, especially the "crazy" shows you mentioned; I just love them. I'm glad that you've discovered the series.

If you liked Blackgaard, you're sure to be interested in the Novacom saga, out on the albums "Danger Signals", "Countermoves", and "Battle Lines". (Oh, and the three earliest episodes are in the album "The Big Picture", but I wouldn't recommend rushing out to buy it for those three episodes when the others are pretty weak.) Anyway, the basic plot involves this company called Novacom that shows up in Odyssey doing research on brain waves and radio waves and comes up with this plan to convert brain waves into radio waves to broadcast subliminal signals on their radio station to accomplish mass mind control across the world.

Ah . . . a typical day in Odyssey.

6/02/2007 5:46 PM

 
Blogger Jonathan said...

I listned to Odyssey all throw my childhooh. The show's still going but the little I've heard doens't sound good. Taking a listen to older episodes again I really realize what excellent and clever writing the show had in its prime. There hasn't really been anything strong since the Novacom series (which, at the time, I remember being as thrilling as any TV show).

4/29/2008 6:36 PM

 
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Anonymous linnea said...

ok, first i would like to say that i am posting in 2010, you wrote this in 2005!!!! neway, i LIVE for aio, i am glad u like it!11 except....i dont think that 90percent of the episodes are bad, i like most of them. well, all i wanted to say.

2/03/2010 8:35 PM

 
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11/08/2011 9:31 AM

 
Blogger Ameraka said...

Yeah, found this while researching Odyssey for a fanfiction I'm writing. About Odyssey. Actually, about Jason, Whit's son, the secret agent.

http://www.fanfiction.net/s/8758487/1/Fallout

1/06/2013 3:05 PM

 

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