Greetings and salutations! This is Polehaus53 from the Odyssey Obsessors blog. Jay contacted us a while ago and offered that we join forces. It is an honor to be part of such a reputable site.
Today I shall be reviewing the split episode “The Eternal Birthday”, which is paired with “Bethany’s Imaginary Friend”. Before I start, let’s talk about the Split Episodes.
Yeah, I know, split episodes are a very controversial topic. What a great subject to start my first post with. A lot of fans dislike them. They were first created when Albums 33 and 34 were releasing. The Official Guide also states the response:
Virtual Realities was the first album to feature split episodes. These shows had two short miniepisodes in one. Many of them also had a two-minute skit between the short stories. We tried this idea as an experiment, partially to train new writers-the shorter form was easier to write-and partially to appeal to a younger audience. Though we ultimately decided that the splits didn’t work well, I’m glad that we tried something new.Marshal Younger, the Official Guide: 25th Birthday Edition, page 353
There was also lot of negativity and disapproval within the AIO Online community at the time because of the split episodes. If you visited some of the websites at the time, you would see that the split episodes received negative reviews. Soon the AIO Team halted production of split episodes. Whenever I hear someone mention the split episodes, it is very rare when I hear praise for them.
Where do I stand? Personally, I don’t mind the split episodes too much. Yes, an unpopular opinion. You see, I am generally a fan of lighthearted humorous episodes, and the split episodes definitely meet that criteria. There are some good ones in there. There are also some kid characters who mainly appeared in split episodes. For example, 6 out of David Straussberg’s 15 appearances on AIO were in split episodes. Aubrey Shepherd and Alex Jefferson also appeared in quite a few split episodes. Their development as characters take place in the split episodes, particularly Aubrey. So, while some may dismiss the split episodes as unspeakable, poor-quality stories that ought to be deleted, I say that it is in the split episodes where the characters receive their establishment and as individuals contributing to major storylines in Odyssey.
Also, as someone whose busy schedule occasionally does not allow time to listen to whole Odyssey episodes, the split episodes work well for me because they are short, and I can choose a single one to listen to. I also very rarely see anyone talking about them, so I would like to change that.
[NOTE: The above comment about there not being much talk about split episodes is now invalid. It may seem like I’m copying the WODFAMCHOCPOD who recently reviewed the split episodes, but this is not the case. I started this post much earlier last year; many months before they began their review series. I have not listened to their episodes, so hopefully I will be giving fresh ideas and not repeating what has already been said.]
Alright, enough background and opinion, let’s get on to the review of “The Eternal Birthday”, the very first split episode, written by Kathy Buchanan.
In The Beginning: Reality
The first thing we hear is someone, presumably Mr. Horton (who sounds like he was voiced by Jerry Houser), singing in the shower, an odd way to start off the episode. But I suppose it also helps establish the first thing of the day: waking up to your birthday and getting your favorite breakfast (for Liz it is of Belgian waffles). The first in a series of great events that happen throughout the day. Perhaps I’m reading into her lines too much, but Liz sounds bewildered when she is awoken. Her line, “It’s my birthday?” sounds strange. Did she forget? I don’t know about everyone else, but I find it very difficult to believe that Liz forgot it was her birthday. I usually know the day my birthday is. Or maybe I’m overthinking it. But hey, Belgian waffles sound good and are making me hungry. Like I said, it all establishes the main basic plot: it is Liz’s birthday, and it promises to be a great day.
And it does turn out that way, evident in the next scene. Let me say, having a math lesson cut short to serve cake in honor of someone’s birthday sounds pretty good to me. Liz definitely appreciated it, although Alex ruined the moment with his crabby joke. Liz’s teacher thought it was funny, though. I wonder what exactly Choca-Mocha-Chocolate Fudge cake with Chocolate-Chocolate Chunk Ice Cream is made of. Judging from the name it, sounds like it is chocolate cake, coffee, and ice cream cake all combined into one.
Next scene, we have Liz’s birthday party. She unwraps the usual party jazz. Including a turtle sweater from Alex. And then the guests are served more cake. And another present is promised to her by Eugene. Liz’s birthday is so great that she wishes that every day was her birthday. Whit warns her to be careful what she wishes for.
Okay, so that’s the basic outline of the day. Then comes the main plot: repeating those three scenes in the episode four times. I know that this is probably what might turn people off. A lot of repeating line can understandably get annoying to hear. However, I do like how we see Liz’s reaction in each repeating scene. I’m now going to go through each repeat that Liz goes through and give my comments.
Cycle 1: “Woo-Hoo! (And I Can Do Mind Reading!)”
Without any transition music from the previous scene of Liz talking to Whit, we go straight to the next morning. This is the first cycle in the program. Liz awakes to her mother awakening her again to Belgian waffles and realizes that her wish has come true, it’s her birthday again! This scene is pretty short, just slightly over thirty seconds, but it does help establish that dreams really can come true, therefore it is Liz’s birthday again.
We go straight to the next scene, math class. Liz kind of comes off as a mind reader here, which I think is pretty funny. She’s remembering the events from yesterday, so she knows what’s coming. She finishes her teacher’s sentence about the kind of cake they’ll be eating. She then finishes Alex’s crab joke, which he is shocked by because he had just made it up. Her excuse, “Well, you know how fast these things spread” doesn’t quite make sense, but she quickly distracts everyone with cake and the scene concludes with the teacher crediting Liz for the joke.
Next, we have the party scene. It can be heard that Liz is slightly disappointed, since she probably didn’t expect to get the same presents as yesterday. And she finishes one of Alex’s sentences again, the one about turtle sweaters being hard to find. Once again it’s like she can sense what someone is going to say next. Seriously, that would freak me out. This can also be taken as foreshadowing for a future Room of Consequence adventure Liz would go on about mind reading in “What Do You Think?”. Liz shows a little bit of doubt when she says “at least I hope so” when promising to come to Whit’s End the next day. Almost as though in the back of her mind she’s already starting to wonder if her wish may have some downsides. It’s this scene where things start going downhill for Liz.
Cycle 2: “Eh, Okay.”
Now begins the second cycle of the program. We once again have Liz waking up to Mrs. Horton awakening her and saying Happy Birthday. “Again? You sure?” Liz asks. Although she isn’t quite annoyed yet, she seems to have an attitude of not very satisfied but still fine with accepting it. Maybe a little more disappointed than yesterday because she knows what’s coming. She tells her mother to go get the Belgium waffles. She knows they’re having them because it’s her birthday.
Next scene we once again have the math lesson being cut short in honor of Liz’s birthday. However, this time Liz is like, “oh, you don’t have to do it for me.”, putting up slight resistance. I love the teacher’s response “of course we do Liz. Policy.” First off, that sounds like a cool policy. But I also like to imagine that the teacher is inwardly annoyed that he has to lose time every single day it is a student’s birthday. Liz unenthusiastically says, “oh, yay” when he says there’s Choca-Mocha-Chocolate Fudge cake with Chocolate-Chocolate Chunk Ice Cream (again!). She’s clearly getting even more disappointed. And then Alex approaches her with his joke he made up and Liz is able to answer with an alternate punchline. “I’ve had a lot of time to think about it” she says almost resignedly.
Then we have the party scene again. Liz’s annoyance is starting to show a little bit more. However, she does keep her temper contained as she says, “Oh, joy.” And “thanks everyone” in a very unenthusiastic tone. But it is noticeable that she doesn’t even bother opening Alex’s present and immediately thanks him for it. Then she groans in disgust as she directs the guests to have some Choca-Mocha-Chocolate Fudge cake with Chocolate-Chocolate Chunk Ice Cream. Which is understandable. This would make it the sixth time in this episode that the characters are eating it. Too much cake, or any food for that matter, is not good for you. The consumption of sugary food should be done in moderation. Liz’s disappointment is clearly starting to show more as Whit and Eugene observe that she doesn’t seem to be enjoying herself. “No, no, it’s great.” She says wearily. She does, however, show interest and even excitement in Whit and Eugene’s present which is at Whit’s End. Probably because it something that she doesn’t know what it is. “Okay.” Liz sighs. “If there is a tomorrow.”
This second cycle, overall, is done well, I think. Liz is bored as a whole because she already knows what’s going to happen. She’s expecting them, which thus takes away their pleasure. Her regret is starting to show a bit more here. It continues to show as we progress, but in a greater way.
Cycle 3: “AAAUUUGGGHHHH!”
We now have the third cycle of the program. Here we see that Liz has now had enough. She absolutely refuses to celebrate her birthday and resolves to eat granola and celery, much to her mother’s surprise. She gives a scream of frustration and says she can’t handle it anymore. This is quite a change from the previous day with her simply resigning to the will of those around her to celebrate her birthday. Now she must take drastic action.
Next scene, instead of at school, Liz is found hiding at the park. A confused pigeon-loving homeless guy proceeds to move far away from her when she says she’s trying to miss her birthday. This was a great moment and an excellent performance by Will Ryan. Next thing Liz knows, her entire class has come to the park. I thought it was pretty funny how Alex says that they let them out of school to find Liz. Liz is in disbelief. It’s like the world is revolving around her birthday. And we find out that Liz is wearing a wig, which Alex likes and wishes he had been told Liz was having a costume party. With Liz hiding at the park bench (I imagine that she was hiding under it) and wearing a wig all for the sake of missing her birthday, it makes sense that the homeless guy was a bit weirded out.
Next scene, Liz is back at her house and once again opening presents. This time, she’s not holding anything back and gives rude comments as she opens the presents—the same ones she has opened for now the fourth time. Her mother disapproves, to which Liz informs her that they won’t remember by tomorrow. Mrs. Horton is like, “uh, alright…” and quickly sends the guests (who don’t seem to have minded Liz’s attitude) to the kitchen for Choca-Mocha-Chocolate Fudge cake with Chocolate-Chocolate Chunk Ice Cream. Liz tells them to set up a bucket for Alex; giving us even more information that Alex not only got sick but regurgitated said dessert. Quite gross, but at least Liz knows to expect and prepare for it now. Eugene approaches Liz asking how the birthday goes to which Liz says that has been, “the single most incredibly awful birthday known to mankind in all human existence”. “Oh.” Eugene says. “Well, there’s always Christmas.” I am slightly confused what he meant by that line. Maybe he saw Liz’s reaction to the gifts and thinks that Liz didn’t get the presents she wanted? Either way, Liz reveals her true feelings: She wishes that she never has another birthday ever. That’s a pretty big statement. It goes to show how truly sick she is of the birthday festivities. Eugene warns her: in the words of Mr. Whittaker, be careful what you wish for. Now that I think of it, I’m wondering why Whit does not appear here as he did in the previous cycles. I’m guess that they excluded Whit from the scene because lines from him would’ve made the half episode overrun its allotted time. Liz’s response to Eugene’s statement, “That’s it! That wish I’ve made! It’s come true!” can be confusing. Is she only now realizing that her wish had come true? I thought she had come to that realization in the first cycle. However, I think that what she meant by that line is that she is now realizing the negative effects of wishing for every day to be her birthday. We now see that Liz has understood the consequences of making such a wish and she wants out. She begs Eugene for help. But Eugene (as he is programmed to reply) says he only wants to let Liz know that he has a present for her at Whit’s End. His voice then starts breaking up as the program ends.
I have thoughts on this third cycle before I move on:
This 3rd cycle which Liz goes through makes it the fourth time in this episode that the listeners have to hear the same things happen over and over again. Which can be annoying, I completely understand that. However, I think that it is Liz’s reactions that make all the repeats worth hearing. We see in the first cycle that she is happy about reliving the birthday again. In the second cycle we hear her less enthusiastic and getting weary of it. In the final cycle, she has had enough, and we see this through her actions and words. I think the third cycle is done well overall.
Back to Reality
Liz, slightly bewildered as she comes out of the Room of Consequence (interestingly enough, when Whit says the name of the machine, he says “consequence” plurally: “The Room of Consequences”. I wonder if this was a mistake.), is reminded that this adventure was Eugene’s present to her. It is interesting that this episode didn’t show this Room of Consequence gift presentation happening. It just goes from the last scene where Liz wishes it was her birthday every day to the scene where she wakes up and realizes her wish has come true. Whit gets impression that her wish for every day to be her birthday didn’t go as planned. Liz agrees, saying that she never wants to eat Choca-Mocha-Chocolate Fudge cake with Chocolate-Chocolate Chunk Ice Cream ever again. Which makes me wonder; was Liz eating the cake in the adventure every time it was served? If so, we didn’t hear it, but she might have when the listeners didn’t hear her. I can imagine that she would be sick of it. If I’m not mistaken, we hear the characters eating this cake eight times in this episode. That’s quite a lot. Whit then has her step outside to be greeted by everyone once again, all saying Happy Birthday and Eugene is about to serve Liz more Choca-Mocha-Chocolate Fudge cake with Chocolate-Chocolate Chunk Ice Cream. Liz cries out in despair as Whit reveals that it was still just part of the program and isn’t real. I would say that at that point, Whit was traumatizing her by showing her the exact desert she doesn’t want to eat. But he justifies himself, says that he was just making sure. Liz is relieved, and the episode ends.
Whew, that was a lot of scene-by-scene analysis. I am now going to examine the moral of this episode and give a general overview of what I liked and what I didn’t like. Then I will give my rating.
What We Have Learned
So, what is the moral of this episode? I must say, I don’t see a very deep moral here. There are three things which I can find:
First moral I can find is, be careful what you wish for. Liz made a wish that every day would be her birthday. She got that wish, but it doesn’t turn out to be the way she wanted. This moral is relevant, good material for this episode. But it is one that has been covered more deeply in previous episodes. “Wishful Thinking” and “It’s A Pokenberry Christmas” are two episodes which come to mind.
The second moral which I can find here is moderation. On the page for this episode on the Official Site, the theme it lists is “Too much of a good thing”. We have about two sentences of this at the end when Whit says, “A steady diet of fun is like a steady diet of cake. It may seem desirable, but in the end it just makes you sick.” A lesson which, although pretty basic, I can agree with. It is seen in this episode that Liz gets tired of celebrating her birthday repeatedly. Having fun at all times may seem like it is desirable, but in the end one will get bored of it. It is something that should be done in moderation. I’ve been reading quite a bit of philosophy lately, and I have observed that moderation is a virtue which is highly praised. I could go deeply into examining this, but perhaps in another post at another time. For now, I’ll just say this moral is good as well, and is just as present as the moral of being careful what you wish for.
Finally, let’s look at the Bible verse for this episode, which is listed on the Official Site and AIOWiki.
He makes them listen to correction and commands them to repent of their evil. If they obey and serve him, they will spend the rest of their days in prosperity and their years in contentment. Job 36:10-11
Most interesting verse to use. I haven’t looked at the context, but if I’m honest, I’m having difficulty seeing how this verse can strongly connect to the episode. This verse is saying that those who follow God’s command to listen to correction and repent of their evil will live in prosperity and contentment. How does this relate to “The Eternal Birthday”? Well, I guess we can say Liz repents of her great evil of wishing for never-ending fun and as a result she is relieved to be out of the Room of Consequence and lives contentedly with it not being her birthday every day. That seems like a bit of a stretch, though. Unless there are other ways to interpret this verse to apply to this episode, I’m not seeing a very strong connection nor moral overall.
I’ll say that I liked the theme of moderation better. It is an important factor of life. So, I feel like this episode could have done a better job of grounding that theme of moderation more strongly and biblically. But then again, it’s a half-episode. There’s only a limited amount of time to establish such things.
Final Episode Overview: The Good Things
- Sound design was good. There were a lot of crowd scenes which I think sounded great.
- I thought the basic idea of Liz’s wish coming true and her realizing the consequences was done well.
- There were some good acting moments from the characters here: The math teacher, the homeless guy, and Liz herself. I think the actors did well in this episode.
- The listeners have to hear the same three scenes four times in a row.
- Some of the dialogue comes off as confusing
- The moral could have been stronger.
Overall, I think this was a good episode. The story was entertaining. Although it is annoying that the same thing is heard multiple times, Liz’s reactions and the characters’ reactions to her reactions make them worth hearing. The moral, however, was slightly confusing. I’ll give this episode a 3.8 out of 5 stars.
Whew! This was an extremely long post. A special thanks for those who read all of this! Go and treat yourself to some Choca-Mocha-Chocolate Fudge cake with Chocolate-Chocolate Chunk Ice Cream.
And a very special thanks to Jay for giving this opportunity for Odyssey Obsessors! I hope to do more here in the future. Be on the lookout for more reviews and posts here on Adventures in Opinions, brought to you by the team at Odyssey Obsessors!