"Eugene's merge program for Whit's End had bizarre consequences for Connie and Penny in the Imagination Station, and for Wooton in the Kids' Radio studio." -AIO
At the end of the day, "Push the Red Button" is a difficult episode to review primarily because I know fans will have vastly different opinions of it. There are those who were familiar with, and entertained by, the "25th Anniversary Birthday Bash" show in Texas that will enjoy owning this professionally recorded, abridged version. And then there are fans who will listen to it without ever knowing that a live show version ever existed. They're the ones I think will be confused and, ultimately, disappointed.
The episode starts off with Eugene trying to unite all programs under one system―even though he's already learned the consequences of doing such a thing back in "A Bite of Applesauce". Meanwhile, Penny ventures off to find inspiration watching Michelangelo paint the Sistine chapel, and Wooton Bassett sets up a Captain Absolutely KYDS Radio adventure. At this point in the episode―although there may have been too many story-lines for my liking―I'm still involved and listening.
What happens next, I never would have imagined. You can imagine my surprise when the programs start to merge together in completely illogical ways. How on earth can KYDS Radio merge with the Imagination Station? Why is it that this merging affects Wooton Bassett's voice? And why is it that Imagination Station was affecting real-life historical events? The more I listened to the episode, the more my heart began to sank and the angrier I became. They ruined Odyssey...I started to think. They completely ruined it...
You see, I hadn't seen the live show or heard much about it before listening to "Push the Red Button
. I didn't know what to expect at all. I should have been smart enough to think, This is a dream. I did hope it was a dream; however, there were simply no real clues to tell one way or another. After all, this is the same show that once let a goldfish narrate its own episode ("Sunset Bowlawater") so it was always in the realm of possibility that it would someday double dip into the bowl of ludicrousness again.
While Adventures in Odyssey is certainly allowed to have mindless fun every so often, the reason I believe Push the Red Button fails as an Adventures in Odyssey episode, is that it didn't properly frame its story. As some of you may know, framing is a literary technique used to set up a story-within-a story. It can be a useful tool in both literature and, in this case, audio drama.
Adventures in Odyssey episodes that have border-lined on ridiculousness have succeeded through properly framing their story. "Mandy's Debut", for instance, was able to get away with having Whit slide across a waxed floor and Eugene getting electrocuted by placing those stories inside a stage-play setting. We weren't bothered by the moments of unrealism and preposterousness because we knew that those events weren't happening in real-life Odyssey.
Likewise, in I Slap Floor, we could take comfort that Eugene probably hadn't really married Connie, or that Edwin Blackgaard hadn't really become engaged Margaret Faye, because facts were given second-handedly, through story form, which allowed us to automatically doubt the validity of Bernard's claims throughout the entire episode. Storytelling also worked wonders in episodes such as "Snow Day" and "Called On in Class", because, even though these moments are dramatized for us, we can automatically choose to dismiss the episode's unrealistic moments and, at the end of the day, attribute them as products of Alex Jefferson and Trent DeWhite's imaginations.
Because "Push the Red Button" holds off until the end of the episode to tell us these events were part of Wooton's dream, it never allows us the pleasure of enjoying the ridiculous moments and the wonderful voice acting as they happen. Instead, I was all too busy worrying about whether these events are real or not. Like those other sillier Adventures in Odyssey episodes, I would have preferred it if the story was told through someone's narration, or that the listener knew that it was a dream from the beginning.
Wouldn't that have taken away from the ending? Of course. However, as it is, "Push the Red Button" is like when your family decides to pretend to forget your birthday all day long until 11pm when they jump out and surprise you. You've spent the entire day moping around, feeling miserable, and thinking nobody love you for only a few minutes of redemption at the end. Likewise, the surprise ending in "Push the Red Button" is more of a sigh of relief.
I would have preferred it if they'd recorded the episode Live during the "25th Birthday Bash", along with the laughing audience, distancing this show completely from the show's cannon and providing it as more like a "500" or "Inside the Studio" or "Live at the 25" sort of episode. Not even Chris explains the context of the episode in the wrap-up, which would have been nice.
As a re-creation of the live show, "Push the Red Button" also inadvertently strips away a lot of what made the live show work so well. Some of the original script's best gags were the visual ones―watching the sound designers making sound effects out of simple items, seeing the actors interacting and laughing with each other, and watching their facial expressions as they'd disappear behind each ridiculous character. The story actually works wonders for a live audience, giving actors various situations to flex their vocal muscles. There's also a lot of great lines in there, too ("She's like melted butter on the croissant of life").
As an actual Adventures in Odyssey episode, I thought the story works only mildly well. Because I'm not watching it as a performance, I'm more focused on the story. I liked the overall message―that inspiration can be found through prayer to God, but I was bothered by how Truth, Goodness, and Beauty was described using paintings, architecture, and good-looks. It never really discussed the meaning of those words in any real depth.
Again, someone not knowing about the live show will have a totally different experience from someone who does. In my opinion, there are more better, more entertaining ridiculous episodes out there―such as "Wooton's Broken Pencil Show" and "A Thankstaking Story", more recently―that both show off the voice actors' talents and provide us with a more suitable-for-radio story. Although, I wonder, how many of these kinds of episodes do we really need?
"Push the Red Button" will be enjoyed by younger listeners who enjoy hearing pure, mindless chaos featuring their favorite actors. There's certainly a group out there that likes that sort of thing. As a listener who enjoys hearing from the grounded, believable, and relatable town of Odyssey, this episode isn't my cup of tea. But, I'll be the first to admit, once you know the surprise of the end, the second and third listens are more, well...relaxing, than the first.
Writer: Paul McCusker
Director: Paul McCusker
Sound Designer: Rob Jorgensen
Music: John Campbell
Theme: Beauty, Truth, and Goodness
Scripture: Philippians 4: 8-9
Original Airdate: 12/22/12