Saturday, July 14, 2012

FP 1: Whit's Visitor

Well, howdy everyone. So glad you could join us today for another Adventure in Odyssey!

Oh wait. It's not. WHATTT? That's right; today we're listening to Whit's Visitor, the pilot episode of Family Portraits, pilot series to AIO. It first aired January 5, 1987 on the flagship show Focus on the Family with Dr. James Dobson himself! And now to our adventure...

(NOTE: Notes on episodes are split into two parts: The Odyssey Times and Episode Review. For more on how reviews work, see this post.) 

THE ODYSSEY TIMES (Notes on the episode):
-Haha, I'm enjoying this groovy synthesized 80s sound for the Focus on the Family theme. -The opening theme for Family Portraits is obviously different than Odyssey since it wasn't composed yet, and the announcer was Mike Trout from FOTF, but I really enjoyed the opening.
-And the narrator welcomes us to the town of Odyssey, Ohio. WHATTTT? So what that they never mention it again...Odyssey could be in Ohio! How do I know this? Well, Mike Trout says that Odyssey's a "small midwestern town in Ohio" and the Odyssey Scoop clearly states that Odyssey could be in Ohio. Ethan Daniels, I didn't have to make a cross-country road trip to discover Odyssey (although you did have to for your McAlister Park, and we thank you).
-The narrator calls Family Portraits  a place where people "face the same experiences that you and I do, and through their reactions, maybe we can learn to cope a little bit better." Odyssey slice-of-life in a nutshell.
-Jimmy, you sly dog. According to AIO Wiki, he returns in a later Family Portraits called Bob and then returns in A Member of the Family as Jimmy. We can call him the Chad Ochocinco of 1987.
-Whit doesn't pay Jimmy that much? My goodness, I believed Whit was a little generous, but he doesn't seem to be the powerful, wealthy, but still lovable and Godly Whit we know today.  So maybe this isn't Odyssey canon.
-Whit moved to Odyssey in 1971.
-Doc McAlister owned a drug store even though he wasn't a doctor, and it was he who came up with the town name (see it dramatized in A Class Reenactment, Album 50)
-Jenny made great coffee and apple pie.
-When Whit mentions that he came to Odyssey and didn't know what to do, so he created a bookshop/coffee shop/conversation place...called Whit's End, this makes me realize that this is not Odyssey canon. AIO Wiki says it best: "These episodes were an experiment so no clear long term mythos was planned out. While many facts of Odyssey that started in Family Portraits remain true, there were some points that were re-written or dropped."
-Tom has a cat named Rosie...and she's had triplets three times.
-Elements of the Robert Louis Stevenson chat between Whit and Tom were incorporated in the first part of Promises, Promises (The Adventure Begins, Album 1)
-Davey Morrison - first kid we meet in Odyssey
-Whit's doggy door - Sherman, you sly dog. You disappeared and hid out until 1991 when a lucky boy named Dylan Taylor found him in The Knight Travelers. (Video Series #1, 1991)
-Whit mentions that he's watching the kids at the playground at the school. There's definitely not a school across the street, unless it was torn down.
-Whit was married 33 years with Jenny.


The first thing I notice about the intro to Odyssey is that it already feels like a place we know. In fact, this episode has a Welcome to Whit's End kind of feel. In that episode, Chris hosted, and in this one, Whit hosts. The episode begins with a monologue from Whit as he introduces himself and the town. It's a combination of conversation (a la Dora the Explorer and Sesame Street) and monologue (a la Aaron Sorkin). Most of the times, it would not work and be a snoozefest, but Hal Smith manages to pull it off, captivating us and pulling us into a small town called Odyssey. I love it when he introduces himself by saying, "I'm John. John Avery Whittaker. But most of my friends call me Whit." So that's where they get it from! Although I've owned Album 9 for a while (the album this episode is on, as a bonus feature), this is the first time I've ever listened to it, and it feels like a treat.

The episode, however, is not meant to feel like one. It tackles a difficult topic for its first show-divorce. The brave thing about this is that no other children's show on TV was tackling issues like this, and it took a Christian radio show to do the groundbreaking. While the episode is mostly Davey Morrison (a kid who lives across from Whit whose parents may get a divorce) talking to Whit, Steve Harris's writing makes the characters feel genuine and real. The acting was also top-notch. I loved what Whit ended with as he sent Davey home:

"I wish I could tell you that there's gonna be sunshine and birds singing and everything was just going to be the way it should be, but I can tell you two things. First. whatever happens, your dad's always gonna be your dad. Even if he does goes away, you'll still be his sonAnd he'll still love you. And your mom's always gonna be your mom. And they'll be there for you no matter what. And the second thing's even more important. God's gonna be there for you. We don't always get everything we ask for from God. Sometimes people we care about go away even if we ask God to make them stay. But God's real good at taking the situations that look just terrible to us and turning them into good. I don't know how he does it, but he does. What you gotta do is trust him no matter what."

This is the first time we see Whit share wisdom with the children of Odyssey, and it's a real nice moment. In fact, there are many "real nice" moments throughout the show, and the first appearance of Tom Riley is one of them. It's interesting that Tom is played off a little less intelligent in this episode, but maybe that was to express a different view about divorce. Surprisingly, the episode ends with Whit commenting on how sad he is about the state of marriage, with "half of these school kids coming from broken families."  Today, this is still a real issue, and half of all marriages end in divorce. This episode was groundbreaking 25 years ago, and it remains that way today. The ending is powerful, especially since I'm sure much of the audience was not expecting a melancholic ending to the pilot episode of a kids show. But the ending helps the episode make its point; it's the "period of the sentence."

While I loved this episode, some people might be put off by the slow pace of the episode, so it will receive a 90/100, and a


NOTE: Dental Dilemma is FP#2, but since it's also an Odyssey episode, we'll come back to it. The next review will be FP#3: The New Kid in Town. Please comment and let us know how our first review went and what can be improved! Thanks!

Get a copy of this episode as a bonus feature when you buy Album 9: Just in Time


  1. You guys did an amazing job. Your review was anazing, but I especially loved "The Odyssey Times". Keep up the good work!

    1. Thanks! Hey, congrats on your Webster nominations and meeting Mr. Simon Jones, esteemed judge much like yourself!