There are ostensibly four different types of AIO episodes that fans can classify: slice-of-life (the most common), action-adventure/mystery (the most consistently praised), drama (the ones everyone in general loves, but sometimes they cause you to shift uncomfortably, wondering whether to laugh or cry), and the Whit's inventions/Kid's Radio/Bible/Historical/Whatever (the ones that everyone skipped over as a young kid, but love now). I call the action-adventure/mystery the most consistently praised because it's the truth. The "dramas" might be the most inspirational or spiritually fulfilling, but, then again, you never really hear about an AIO fan bragging about how they listened to the entire Eugene and Katrina relationship saga in one day like you would with Novacom or Blackgaard. The truth is, the "action-adventure" tag is one of AIO's most profitable. And for good reason, too. All four of the "major" action sagas have been intriguing, suspenseful, deep, though-provoking, well-plotted and well-acted. Though really, in AIO's case, the term "action-adventure" is a bit misleading, because when you think about it, AIO's "action-adventure" is James Bond's "romantic comedy." Because of the constraints of a radio drama as well as the creator's beliefs about violence in entertainment, there's always very, very little genuine action in AIO, even in the episodes that are clearly labeled "action-adventure." Still, AIO's new album "The Ties That Bind" is an all-time low in action quantity, even by AIO standards. Whereas Blackgaard had burnt-down barns and castles, as well as electrical stunners, beat-up kids and blown-up tunnels, and Novacom had dead fathers, human slavery and world domination, and even the usually tame Eugene and His Father Saga had a broken vase here and there (or, in GRC's case, a broken cell phone), "The Ties That Bind" feels lacking in all these things. True, Whit passes out, and true, Wooton's house gets burned down, and true, Buck gets beaten up, but two out of three of these things have nothing to do with "the bad guys" as the action in the other four sagas did. I'd like to emphasize that I don't think this lack of action is a bad thing at all; in fact it's a very good thing. I appreciate that AIO is making an effort to deviate from the "action-adventure" cliches that they're "supposed to" put in. And please don't think that my low rating of this album is due to me being some sort of Hollywood lover who wants more fights and explosions. Perhaps I shouldn't have opened the review up like this at all, but I thought it was an interesting observation that deserved to be made.
I shall officially start off the review with all the positive things I have to say about the album, for it is by no stretch of the imagination a complete failure. To start off, I absolutely love the fact that AIO is addressing the issue of marriage, and what it means in our modern society. They did it very tactfully (since this is AIO, nothing was explicity stated, though it's obviously meant to be a good springboard for parents to talk to their kids about these issues, which it succeeds beautifully at), but it's still probably the gutsiest thing they've done since "Pamela Has A Problem." It's an issue that needs to be addressed, but a lot of children's programs are too scared to address, so bravo to AIO for stepping up. In general, I have to say that the whole Mrs. Adelaide/Let's Get Together Festival is the only storyline on the whole album that I enjoyed all the way through. I have an eensy-teensy problem with the storyline involving her brother, but I'll get to that in the negatives. The last couple scenes with Randall and Whit were probably the best scenes on the whole album, and the only time I ever really felt any sort of emotion while listening to it. Having Jules back is a nice surprise as well, as I didn't expect her to be back until - oh, what am I saying, I didn't expect her to be back ever. She really is one of the greatest post-hiatus characters, because I feel she's the first character AIO has ever made who actually represents what the "stereotypical teenager" at the time would be. And she had some great character development throughout the whole thing. I know that if she ever comes back, the writers will probably turn her into some sort of "new Connie," but even if she does become a Christian and the sweet little girl Connie seems to think she is, I for one hope she never completely loses that teenage edge. It's what makes her character. I also loved hearing from Harlow Doyle again, even if he wasn't quite in top-form comedy wise. Still, not quite top-form Harlow is better than the bottom-form Wooton the writers have been feeding us for the past four years (Darnit, I'm already getting into negatives.). That brings me to Wooton's cousin. I personally liked him, at least for the first several episodes. It's odd. In many ways he's a lot like Wooton, but he's unlike Wooton in just as many. He's actually a bit more complex than what I first gave him credit for, and even if I don't totally like the way they wrapped up his storyline, I still wouldn't mind hearing from him again. It's great to see Olivia and Jay around, even if they played pretty small parts. Olivia is really starting to grow on me, even if she is just another Lucy Her little speech about marriage was surprisingly mature. Jay is his usual self, which is of course great, as no one would want him to be anything else. As for Camilla's new voice, I don't really see what everyone's complaining about. To be perfectly honest, I like it better than the old one. It almost gives her a completely different character, a character I prefer.
Alright, now on to the negatives. Sorry the positive paragraph was short and mostly involving the characters that I like, but this album wasn't really my favorite. I'd like to start off the negatives by copying a Soda Shop post from Arkan Dreamwalker (with all due respect).
My MIND is BLOWN!!!
Jules came back! Eugene & Katrina adopting Buck! The Jones & Parker Detective agency with Harlow! Wooton proposing edto Penny!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
As you can see, the usually reserved and decorous Arkán is "fanning out".
Mr. Dreamwalker's post summarizes how a lot of AIO fans (who have heard the whole thing) feel about the new album. And I don't disagree with them at all. It's amazing to see Eugene and Katrina adopt Buck or to see Wooton propose to Penny. But I guess I just feel like this is all the stuff that the fans wrote to the producers about on the Official Podcast, all the letters that we never expected Paul McCusker would listen to when we wrote them. It feels like AIO are going out of their way to give the fans "exactly what they want" after they gave them "exactly what they didn't want" in Album 55, what with Mitch getting married and Eugene and Katrina not being able to have children. So I guess you could call this AIO's "apology" for Album 55. But the thing is, AIO didn't need to apologize for arguably their greatest album in a long time. Of course that's just my opinion, but I always thought it was the producers' opinion too, what with all the schtick about "having children would change Eugene's character too much." In fact, as a semi-new SS user called TigerShadow pointed out in the Album 58 discussion topic, the writers mock themselves through Wooton's fan Q & A at Comic Connellsville by having him say that Captain Absolutely having a love interest would "change his character too much." So perhaps this means that the writers have changed their minds about Wooton and Penny and/or Eugene and Katrina and now want to throw at their fans everything they've asked for. But maybe the writers were right. Because while I don't believe that Buck's constant presence would have anything but positive effects on a character like Katrina, I'm wondering what kind of effects being a dad will have on Eugene. It could be great, sure, but it could also be the straw that broke the camel's back for his beloved intellectualism. This may seem like an odd opinion, but if you think about it, Eugene has become less and less like his old self wih each new album. The big words and scientific thinking show up occasionally - but they usually feel forced, as if it's what Eugene is supposed to say, as opposed to the classically genuine intellectual rants of albums gone by. I personally liked it when Eugene would rant for hours about the life cycle of the gnat. Like it or not, that's his distinguishing feature as a character. It's obviously not his only feature, but without it, he becomes almost like a younger version of Whit or Jason. I feel similarly about Wooton and Penny, though that probably won't be quite so bad. However, it would be much, much worse for the writers to simply tease the fans by promising a marriage out of nowhere at the end of a saga and then not fulfilling that promise in the the next album. So *heavy sigh* it seems Wooton and Penny will just have to get married. Oh, well. As long as AIO handles it right. I mean, as cool as the idea of a bunch of mini-Wootons bouncing around Odyssey is, I feel like it would get exhausting after a while. But really, none of this has happened yet, and I'm basically just complaining about hypothetical situations, so I won't consider this paragraph a "negative" one. Just some of my thoughts on the potentials for negative character development that this saga brought with it. Or perhaps think of it as a plea to the producers of AIO: PLEASE DON'T COMPLETELY CHANGE EUGENE'S CHARACTER LIKE YOU SAID YOU WOULDN'T!!
Anyway... *ahem* on to the official negatives, which actually starts with a positive, that positive being that, like most fans, I really liked the first episode. It set the whole story up rather nicely, and I was curious to see where it would meander off to from there. It was what prompted me to blow 15 bucks on the digital download, so it was obviously pretty intriguing. I expected things to unfold at a pretty quick pace from there, but was surprised to find the story moving as slow as an inchworm. Every single darn scene was just another conversation about something or other, and though most of the conversations were interesting at first, it got extremely tiresome when very little seemed to be actually happening. In fact, this may sound completely crazy (it probably is), I believe that you might be able to listen to just the first two parts of the saga and the last two parts of the saga in that order without really missing that much of the meat of the story. I don't recommend doing this, but I don't think anyone would be super confused by the end, assuming that they had someone condense the 10 parts in between into a 30-second synopsis. I would like to clarify that I am not at all against Odyssey doing long story archs. I think it's a fantastic idea, one that they should try again soon. But whereas GRC was constantly moving, that is, it felt like each part was leading up to a big finish, The Ties That Bind kind of plateaus after the first two parts and never really picks up steam again until Mrs. Adelaide's brother dies, the only event that is an exception to my complaints in this paragraph. And the events that are meant to be dramatic and story saving feel, unlike GRC's earth-shattering events, forced and unnecessary. These include: Whit passing out, Wooton's house getting burned down and/or broken into. I'm almost tempted to add "Wooton proposing to Penny," but that is somewhat exciting and doesn't really deserve to be criticized, even if it was a completely random way to end the album. I was especially disappointed at the ridiculously anti-climatic "who burned down Wooton's house" scene at the end. Hadley is a pretty good character, to be sure, but it's just insulting to the fans to explain a pretty monumental moment in the saga as a stupid accident by Wooton's cousin. I don't think AIO has ever done anything like that before, and, though it was certainly a bit of a surprise, it wasn't a nice surprise.
I'll spend this paragraph going over all the smaller aspects of The Ties That Bind that bugged me. Sorry I'm such a pessimist, guys. :) AIO have always been masters at coming up with convincing, unique villains for their sagas. Not so, here, however. I mean, to be perfectly frank, are we expected to get a sinister vibe from a middle school bully playing comic book nerd? I guess it would've been fine if they had played it light, but Vance and Jules seem to take themselves so seriously that it's nearly as laughable as the comics they're stealing. I suppose that from Part 1, I was expecting some big scheme from Vance and Jules, possibly relating to the Let's Get Together Festival. Instead, it relates entirely to Wooton's storyline, which I never found particularly interesting anyway. The Soda Shop was abuzz about who the Perilous Pen was, and the majority (rightly, I might add) said it would be Jules. Someone piped in and said that Jules couldn't be the Perilous Pen, because that would be far too predictable for Odyssey. I forgot who said this, but I believe the AIO writers would be wise to take their advice. Predictability in Odyssey occurs occasionally in minor two-part mysteries and such, but I believe we can all agree it has never really turned up in a major saga like this. And when you consider that the Perilous Pen's identity was really the only mysterious aspect AIO had going, it's a pretty bad move on their part. Even making someone like Hugo Wells or Dee Grant the PP would've been more satisfying, for the sole reason that those are the people you'd expect to be PP. it'd certainly be refreshing for a mystery's culprit to be the one we did expect to have done it. I mean, that'd be unexpected, right? ;) The AIO team tried their best to raise no suspicion for Jules, and, in doing so, they increased suspicion in huge amounts, essentially ruining the mystery aspect of the 14-parter. It was great to see Buck back again of course, but I felt he was almost a little too perfect. He was basically the down-home country nice boy, which is great for him as a person, but makes for an almost obnoxious character. I would've rather seen a character who did his best to do the right thing and ultimately did, but struggled with some inner demons along the way. Also, it's quite obvious that... Um, he didn't really do anything. He was just kind of there just to be there. For this album at least, his purpose was basically to fulfill fan letters. Nevertheless, I hope he sticks around and AIO gives him a bigger role In the future, The pointless storyline with Jay and the movie set was similar, obviously a desperate effort to involve Jay, a very popular character, (and rightly so) in the story. Now, on to the only problem I have with the Let's Get Together storyline. It's actually a pretty small one, but I feel it's worth mentioning. The storyline of Mrs. Adelaide and her brother so closely paralleled that of Duncan Mathis and Monica Stone that it felt less like a nod to the past and more like AIO running out of ideas. It doesn't take away from the power of the story, but it's worth mentioning. Finally, I got a constant feeling of disconnect between the stories. The only two that they actually combined (at least, in the GRC way of intertwining stories) were Jules's storyline and Wooton's. You could say that Camilla's and Buck's were connected too, but I felt that Camilla was more of an extension to Buck's storyline.
I suppose what it boils down to is that I don't understand exactly what genre AIO is marketing The Ties That Bind with. Action-Adventure? No, there's not enough action (or adventure, for that matter) to slap that label on. Comedy? Too much drama and (in a seemingly contradictory statement that actually makes at least a little bit of sense) action. Drama? Maybe some parts, but the overall feel is somewhat light-hearted, and the fact that there's a couple of mystery elements sets it apart from, say, the drama of Eugene and Katrina's dating years. Slice of life? A little too out there (and long) to be considered a reflection of normal life. And it obviously won't fit into historical, inventions, story, or Kid's Radio genres. Thus, it seems that The Ties That Bind has singlehandedly created a new AIO genre. We'll call it: The Action-Adventure Comedy Drama Slice of Life AIO Genre. And while that idea may sound somewhat interesting on paper, it translates to a pretty messy 14-parter. I'm sorry, Paul McCusker, I respect you enormously as a writer and you are obviously the single biggest influence this show has ever had, but this saga has nothing on GRC. It's disappointing, and I know you could have fleshed it out a little more. For that reason and all the others I gave, The Ties That Bind is truly AIO's first saga that was a half-fauilure.
The Ties That Bind Rating: 6/10
Thanks for reading!