I have been saved once again from writing a post by the amazing PF. Here is his latest Pound Foolish Wisdom... this time on a character I don't have a whole lot to say on... Barret. Savor his eloquent musings...
Pound Foolish Wisdom
Where AIO Characters Are Put Beneath the Microscope
When it comes to fiction, the little guys are the big guys.
Side characters leaven a story to perfection. Who do we remember from Macbeth? Not Macbeth, Lady Macbeth. Tintin? The Thompsons. The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe? Tumnus, yet he barely gets any lines.
The reason is we like them, so we want to see more of them. But the key is we’re denied that. We catch only glimpses, and so they become like beautiful sea shells. We can’t have the entire beach in our room, but shells give us crumbs of a much greater beauty.
But if a sibling were to take a box of beach sand into our room to make a sand castle on our floor, we would be… well, displeased. A box of sand would be more of the beach than a shell, but still we would… maybe get a little grumpy. Okay, we’d pull our hair, say some rather nasty things, yell for our parents, and then storm downstairs and write in our diary how horrible our sibling is.
The magic of shells is that they’re only crumbs of the beach.
Therein lies the balance. It can be difficult to turn a side-character into the main character. In general, it’s best not to attempt it. (Remember Cars2, starring Mater? If you’d managed to forget, I apologize for reminding you.)
Barrett is one of those characters who started as a shell. But now he’s grown. Is he beautiful beach, or a bunch of messy sand in your room?
We first met Barrett in album 51, Game for a Mystery. This episode has taken some online abuse. People always find something to complain about in it.
The mystery’s too complicated. The mystery’s too simple. Emily’s voice is too childish. Emily’s voice doesn’t sound enough like a child. Matthew is too uninvolved. Matthew is too involved.
Now, frankly, these arguments are like clean shoes and a mud puddle. They cannot coexist. People may dislike the episode, but reviewers have yet to hit on a concrete problem with it.
You don’t care about Barrett getting his game back.
However, this is only a problem… if Barrett’s the one you’re supposed to latch onto. He’s not. Emily is the star of the episode. What detective with a love of questions wouldn’t be interested in finding something missing? And so, the missing game matters to her. And she matters to us.
Barrett is, after all, a side-character at first.
In, When You’re Right, You’re Right, Barrett, without a great and glorious “Verminoids” fetish to panic over, comes off as more mature. He has a good line or two: “I’m sure she loved it. Make her eat the whole bowl.” In his birthday song for Priscilla, he’s still buffoonish, but on purpose. This, subtly developing him, shows us he can be funny on purpose but still be the same person.
Next stop, Stage Fright. Ah, by now, we’ve come to know Barrett. The charming actor, the remarkable singer, the smooth flirt… wait, what!?
In many ways, Barrett acts not at all like himself in this episode. Barrett was none of these things until now. Yes, we heard him practicing the trombone a bit, but why is he suddenly so good at singing? Lessons from Selena Gomez?
Also, Priscilla flirts with Barrett in a coquettish voice. Priscilla is either “Knee Deep in Love” or her “Wells Fargo Wagon” has gone around the bend. And one can almost see Barrett’s romantic smile when he says, “Charm is locked and loaded, Miss Adelaide.” It’s a wonder our romantic Emily didn’t put on a cheerleader outfit and hop and down yelling, “Yay, Barrett, make ’er swoon!”
But all that rather throws out the buildup we’ve had till now of Barrett the Bumbling Blunderbuss. But not entirely. Barrett, after-all, is a scaredy cat in this episode. He’s still a buffoon, just a buffoon with talent and a girl who adores him. So, Barrett is developed in this episode into someone more relatable and rounded. Well played, Kirby Atkins, McCusker and Dave Arnold.
Barrett is back to his silly self in the thought-provoking slice-of-life episode Opposite Day and the entertaining, The Malted Milkball Falcon, with amusing results.
But then trumpets, The Amazing Loser. Emily is apparently off spying on people with binoculars in a tree or something, Barrett is now a full-fledged protagonist on his own. But do we care? The show tries to make us focus on his rivalry with Jay, but since Matthew’s the one who solves all the clues, Barrett’s really competing against Matthew. And what would be so bad about Matthew beating Barrett?
Then comes, Unbecoming Jay. This well written episode feels like a black-and-white movie classic rewritten to star kids. It has all the subtlety and emotion, and lack thereof, of a Cary Grant film, and for that, it earned an impressive, “91.4” Odyssey Wiki fan-rating. At the center of it all is Barrett, the witty Barrett, the pleasant Barrett, the… huh? Now, where did this come from? In this episode, Barrett gently cracks a number of quick little jokes, making Jay’s cousin Cindy, and the listener, laugh.
Who are you, and what’ve you done with Barrett?
Are you the same guy who yelled, “I’m proud of you for admitting that you have a problem!”? Are you the same person who said, “Your flute playing was very… flute like.”? Since when do you easily know what to say?
We all like this episode, but what’s up with Barrett?
Then comes his latest appearance, his first three-parter, For Three Dollars More. And his metamorphosis is complete. Now, the tables have turned! Now we can see Matthew be absurd, with his rat-disease inflicted Katrina! Come see Connie spontaneously program the ROC (how exactly did she do that?) to absurdly make a bank explode. But is Barrett absurd? Oh heck no.
Barrett? Absurd? Never.
Instead, he’s frustrated how absurd everyone else is. And where is all the humor he had in his last episode? Does he see any of the hilarity in his situation? Does he try to make even one joke? Oh no, he’s just mad. And don’t forget, there’s more! Whoopy! Whit teaches Barrett a lesson by making us listen to him as a grouchy, stingy miser for ten minutes. Oh joy.
Some months ago, a commenter on the AIO podcast said something like, “Does Barrett have a personality? He seems to have a different one with every episode.” I chuckled, ignored it and forgot it. I can’t even remember who said it. Now, we can see the commenter was right.
This isn’t to say Barrett is a bad character. Barrett is a fairly good character. All his appearances, even Three Dollars, are enjoyable on their own. Some are unforgettable.
But put together, they’re problematic. Barrett is glaringly inconsistent. First he’s just plain nuts. Then he’s a talented musician with a girl who adores him. Then he’s a clever joke-making gentleman. Then he’s mature but grouchy and never makes a single joke.
Those are facts.
And Barrett will have to deal with them if he’s to endure.
It’s shape up time, Barrett. Or else, get back in your sister’s shadow, and be a side-character again. You must either be a lovely shell or a beach. But if you’re going to be messy sand in our room, hit the road. We hate vacuuming.
Bravo! Bravo, Mr. Foolish! I do hope you enjoyed that. It's certainly longer and more complete than anything I could do. (Unless I spent more time on my articles. Hey! that's an idea. I'll make a note of it.)
Thanks for reading!
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Alex Jefferson, creator and operator of Just Another AIO Blog
Alex Jefferson, creator and operator of Just Another AIO Blog