I have been fortunate in my time as Jimmy Barclay to get to perform some epic storylines and episodes. And as we journey through my personal list of the dozen or so episodes that I find to be worthy of study we come to an episode that I would simply define as: The. Episode.
As I was wracking my brains procrastinating the completion of this, I kept finding myself at a loss for a descriptive word that fully encompasses the totality of the impact this episode has had in my life.
Other episodes are my favorite. Or best performance. Or best ensemble moment. Cringiest episode. Last post was about my most racist episode.
So, lotta chart toppers of varying lists of noteworthiness.
But if there is one and only one episode that I ever did that had the greatest worldwide impact on the audience as well as on me… this is THE Episode.
Before we get to that, though… let’s run off some others of lesser renown.
Adventures in Odyssey: Episode 95- The Very Best of Friends
No memory of this one.
Adventures in Odyssey: Episode 98- The Visitors
I have not much memory of this one either.
But, it’s a christmas story where Jimmy’s family finds a homeless family in their garage. They eventually run the family off and then feel guilty about it later and decide that now they will be charitable and go try to find the family who has now disappeared and another family is found in their place. Magical!
And the only thing I’ll say about this is: Remember the Fucking Evangelicals™ relationship to charity. They talk a big game on this issue… but as we’ll see later…
Adventures in Odyssey: Episode 99- Barclay Family Ski Vacation
This family sure does go on a lot of vacations.
Wish my family could afford to do that.
No memory of this episode.
BUT… I do have a memory of hearing a snippet of this in the wild!
Twice in my life, I have been in a situation where the radio was randomly turned on in a car and as someone was channel surfing the radio, suddenly the dulcet tones of my own voice greet my ears in sensory and cognitive confusion.
It’s a WEIRD FUCKING THING to be enjoying my day just fine and not thinking at all about my career ambitions and then suddenly in the middle of Main Street U.S.A. to have your voice propelled at you by the very vehicle that was not yelling at you in your own voice moments before– LOOK. BEING AN ACTOR IS WEIRD OKAY?!?
In this case, I was 17? We were coming back from a wedding and were in Bristol, Tennessee/Virginia, where my dad was born and raised. And we get into the car. And dad starts flipping the radio dial to try and find an old station he used to listen to as a kid to see if it was still on air.
And suddenly our vehicle was engulfed in the sounds of The Barclay Ski Vacation. That is my only memory of this episode.
Randomly hearing part of it once as half our car was in Tennessee and half the car was in Virginia.
So… we’re 100 episodes into this thing.
2 years of recording non stop.
I’ve logged 25 episodes which would be… *checks notes*… 25% of the series.
Dear Reader, do you have any idea how rare it is for an actor to ever be on a show that goes 100 episodes?
And we managed 100 episodes in two years!!
That is not an insignificant feat.
There wasn’t one. Ever. Really.
In the first year, it felt like the process was largely in a constant rush. Year 1 stretched into year 2 and by year 2 things are really running smooth. The production is hitting it’s stride and feels like a well-oiled machine. Clearly, things are going well.
Not, that they would tell me anything or that I would see any sign of that or that any information or data or ratings numbers or units sold would ever be provided to me.
But, it seemed to me that as we entered year 3 that more creative storylines were being created and more chances were being taken on the storytelling/production side of things.
The first years the stories were really character based and simple sound design concepts. It’s mostly contemporary people in contemporary settings.
Mission for Jimmy was really my first experience where the boundaries of storytelling started shifting in the sense that was a dream episode and suddenly Jimmy is in Nicaragua.
One of these newer storytelling devices was a storyline feature/prop/vehicle called The Imagination Station.
The Imagination Station was a clever in-world device that acts much like Virtual Reality. A person steps into? Sits? Lies down in? I never fully had an image of how it worked in my brain.
Anyway, a character enters the Imagination Station and can be transported to any time, place, scenario and get to experience living in that time period.
And it seems like it would be an inevitable and obvious fit for the character of Jimmy to find himself getting his fix in the Virtual Matrix.
Adventures in Odyssey: Episode 104- Lincoln Pt 1
Adventures in Odyssey: Episode 105- Lincoln Pt 2
The basic plot line is that Jimmy sucks at history. Can’t stand it. And Mr Whitaker has created a new story for the Imagination Station and would Jimmy like to give it a shot? Or maybe Whit knows that Jimmy hates history and so he creates– WHATEVER. I barely remember any of this shit.
Jimmy goes into the Imagination Station and emerges in the woods hunting squirrels with Abraham Lincoln!
And Jimmy gets to know Ole Honest Abe.
Being played by Walker, ya know, one moment he’s Tom Riley, then he’s a Rathbone, and then he’s my grandpa… and now Abe Lincoln? The man could do anything. Fascinating to study and learn from.
Eventually… SPOILERS… Lincoln is assassinated and Jimmy can’t stop it from happening and it’s very sad and epic and a good example of why learning your history is important because reasons.
This was the kind of episode I was born to play.
Unlike Jimmy, I love history! My favorite book at this age– I was 12 here– was Johnny Tremain. Loved that book. Hoped that one day I’d get to turn it into an audio project and play the main character. This was the closest I ever got to that dream.
But, I’d have to think that my enthusiasm for the material certainly helped breathe some life into the believability of it.
This episode would mark an important milestone in my understanding of the art form.
It would be the first time that I had experienced the flexibility of the medium. That you could tell any story. It didn’t have to be modern relationship stuff with brothers and sisters– which got a little tiresome for me over the years. I always felt Jimmy was better off in episodes like this where my imagination as an actor was tested.
I have the kind of imagination that I can actually get lost in. People who know me will probably tell you I am the most imaginative person they know. I could stare at a wall and create stories and worlds for hours. I loved taking long car rides and staring out the window during cross country trips… my mind flooded with characters and situations and relationships and obstacles to be overcome… I’m just wired this way. I don’t know how to shut it off actually.
And so when I’m handed a script like this… and it’s 9 am… and the 2.4 packets of hot chocolate are working their way into the bloodstream… and there’s Hal and Will and Walker… and you know that this day is about to be EPIC.
And we get to play around all day doing historical fiction with battles and assassination plots and CAN I PLEASE JUST DO THIS FOREVER?!?
THIS is what Acting is about. To get to do the fun stuff that you never ever get to actually do in most careers.
THIS is what I live for as an artist.
Do some deep dive Imagination work? CHALLENGE ACCEPTED.
There was also a part of this story that I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned before.
I have a family connection to the assassination of Lincoln.
Or the aftermath, technically.
I’m a descendent of Lafayette C. Baker, one of the investigators who hunted down Booth. And it’s probably his reward money that set up the next 7 generations of the bougie privileged side of my family.
Anyway, I had just done a report on this for school on my ancestors and was already deeply intrigued by the history of the Lincoln assassination and had already done research that had flooded my memory with photos and stories I’d read. And I remember vividly being in studio and imagining my grandmother’s great, great, great, great whatever interacting with these characters. Nothing like some character prep and back story already pre-loaded in your 12 year old actor kid. How lucky this production team got with me over the years.
Was it luck? Or something Greater? Hmm.
Small world, eh? What are the odds that the guy that caught John Wilkes Booth would have a descendent a century later geeking out on a family history experience while recording a fictionalized version of those very same events?
Perhaps that affected the quality of the performance?
In fact, I’m certain it did. That was one of my favorite days in studio. I was sooooo exhausted after that day. Left every ounce of my energy in that sound proofed room. Gave it everything I had. I mean… I don’t think I ever mailed in a performance, but some material excites you more than others. And when it was stuff like this my imagination would light up and I’d dive in harder to the mental side of the process.
This episode would also really inspire me in a way that’s hard to calculate.
There’s 3 episodes from my tenure that I would credit as forming me as a diehard audio theater artist. I mean, obviously the whole experience taught me the art form and gave me the love of it and I learned so much in every session and studied in depth the acting processes and the production processes as much as they would let me. Like…
This is the story of:
How Dave Would Stand in the Doorway of Audio Track Editor’s Rooms While They Cut Tape from the Reel-to-Reel Machine of Dwindling Time3000 With Razor Blades and Moved the Pieces of Tape Around and Tape it Back Together with Actual Tape While Dave Weirdly Hovers in the Background During School Hours Quietly Sipping on 3.35 Packets of Hot Chocolate.
“Watcha doin?” 12 year old Dave with a hot chocolate mustache.
“Marking my edit point with a grease pencil” random editor not expecting to be a babysitter that afternoon.
“Go onnnnnnnnnnn…….”, Dave secretly taking notes and plotting future projects.
It’s a short story.
Where was I? Oh yeah… 3 episodes rattled my brain lobes in such remarkable ways that they would never stop twerking and forever impacted my creativity with the art form.
This is the first of those 3 experiences.
The gift of time travel. To get to experience that as an imaginative kid with adults all buying into it!! WTF?!?
The greatest secret to Acting is this: you’re playing Make Believe like you did when you were a kid… but for REAL.
As children, we slowly have our creativity driven out of us by a corporate world that has no interest in art unless they can monetize it, and by religious and conservative assholes who strip funding and education so that people then are afraid of art and have no understanding of it.
Which really sucks for kids who are good at art.
My report cards usually said something along the lines of: spends too much time day dreaming. head in clouds.
But what if my imagination is the best part of me? What if my imagination is second to none? And while every person in my life has tried to kill it… SURELY HERE IS A CASE WHERE IT WAS BENEFICIAL.
This episode was SO successful… it became THE Episode that Focus on the Family would use to introduce audiences to the show. In fairness, there were others… but, this one got more mileage– literally– than any other episode I’d ever do.
THIS episode is the episode where I would meet so many of YOU as the years would progress.
It will come back to me so many times in ways that are both humble and utterly mindblowing.
Is the reason an actual NASA astronaut took a selfie of me once.
I don’t remember during what session the following story plays out, but it fits with the theme of this post and it would have been around this time period, obviously.
My favorite days were when I had a two parter. It meant I got to record the whole day, but it also meant I got to do my second favorite thing in the Industry to do:
Have lunch with the cast and crew.
I love Acting and Production. But I love Actors and Writers and Sound Designers and Engineers even more.
I love getting to talk the business. At that age I didn’t have much to say. But I loved– LOVED– to just sit and listen and let these folk educate the fuck outta me about All The Things.
It was on one sunny Southern California day, in between a double session…
We would walk out the Adventures in Odyssey wing. Down the big staircase where the Giant Map with all the pins– HEY THERE’S MORE PINS– And on past the photo of the Vice President who by then was probably the President and out the glass doors and we would walk along the sidewalk that would take us to the other part of the campus. Where the cafeteria was.
Dear Post Pandemic Children,
There was a time in human history when there was this concept of a roomful of food. And you could wander up to All The Foods and grab them. And then sit with other humans and eat All The Foods in cultural merriment and human bonding.
Next time somebody says a pandemic is a hoax and don’t get vaccinated… remember that what they’ll kill most– besides YOU– are smorgasbords.
A Gen Xer missing eating with other humans because of Fucking Evangelicals™.
It is a memory burned into my brain.
It is the moment I was certain that people were listening to the show and it must be successful.
Keep in mind that for the first 2 years… as I’m recording once a month every month with this team, that ABSOLUTELY NO ONE in my life knows about this show.
Nobody at my church listens to it.
Nobody at any of my friend’s churches listens to it.
I would try to get up early on Saturdays to scan the radio dial to see if I can find it.
Keep in mind this is pre-internet world.
You can’t google for information of any kind.
I remember getting a sheet of stations that they gave me once and still could never sync up with when it was airing.
And so… it was like it didn’t exist.
The earlier story up top about hearing an episode in the wild… that happened only twice in my life.
And only once in my life was I ever in a church setting where I met someone who listened to tapes of the show. And I remember trying to tell her that I was the character with the red hat and she didn’t believe me BECAUSE MY NAME WASN’T LISTED IN ANY CREDITS.
THE ONE FUCKING TIME I MET AN ACTUAL LISTENER IN REAL LIFE FOR 20 YEARS AND SHE DIDN’T BELIEVE ME BECAUSE… NO CREDIT.
Side note: If you ever work for me or with me… I. never. fail. to. give. credit.
CREDIT. FUCKING. MATTERS.
It was maddening to do something and it’s professional AND it’s high quality and absolutely nobody in your life gives a crap or even acknowledges that it’s real. It’s the most bizarre mindfuck of all time… it’s so hard to explain how crazy it made me.
Like, there was never any sort of validation of what I was doing. You don’t get paid for shit. You get no swag. There’s never any end of season wrap parties for boosting morale. No fan communication is given to you. And then what was harder was as a kid in this environment… I didn’t feel I could ask for any of this stuff. Nobody really advocates for you.
And as a kid… the adults treat you… different.
During the recording years I wanted more than anything to have the acceptance of my adult peer Actors. Except we weren’t peers. But we were? But we weren’t?
It’s hard for adults to have a kid as a colleague. I hate working with kids. I do. But to be a kid in an environment with adult pros, you can sense their discomfort.
They have to stifle their words. So, they talk over you. They speak about you like you’re not there some times. They automatically deduct 100 IQ points when they think you don’t understand things. They add 100 IQ points when they want to assume you already know something they want you to know without explaining.
And as a kid… I was very aware I was not an equal. I’m not being given the kind of in depth conversations that Katie or Hal or Will are getting. It’s clear there’s a whole world of information held back from me. So many times a sentence would be stopped halfway thru as the crew suddenly realized they were talking about That Thing You’re Not Supposed to Tell the kids/actors/whoever.
So, you learn to be invisible in plain sight.
Be silent. Say nothing. Barely move. And then they’ll talk like you’re not there.
And I knew when a conversation was not intended for me.
And this was one of those.
It was exciting. I could sense by the end of year 2 that everyone was standing a little taller. Clearly, the crew were having behind the scenes success that was not being shared with the cast in any discernible way other than that we kept being called in to record. But, you could sense it in the energy of everyone. The writing and ideas were getting more ambitious.
Overhearing snippets of conversations where the phone calls executives were getting with evermore interesting people. Bigger names and more powerful personalities were being dealt with. It was clear the show was a hit for the internal side of things.
That clear, blue sky, sunny day… we walked along the sidewalk heading to the cafeteria.
I’m probably quietly thinking about the story/scenes/wish I could do that moment over again/wonder what the arc of part 2 will be, can I predict the end?…
And while I’m musing to myself I overhear:
“…Chik-Fil-A just signed to start giving away the show in the kids meals…”
Raise your hand if you’re a 12 year old actor who is about to have a tape of your work be disseminated to children all over the country.
Again… this is one of those things… that… like, where’s the support group for kids who go through this stuff?
Also. WHAT THE FUCK IS A CHIK-FIL-A?!?
Never heard of this in 1989. I live in Southern California. I don’t recall seeing one ever. Even when I lived in the South. But, somebody somewhere is being given tapes of this show with their french fries.
It’s absolutely NO ONE I KNOW.
And this would be an odd part of the experience… I know that somebody somewhere is listening to this thing. But I have no proof other than hearing snippets of conversations. And I get a $75 check in the mail once in awhile. Did it finally bump up to $100 by this point?
And they keep asking me to do this.
I remember thinking as we opened the door to the cafeteria… I distinctly recall having the thought process, “I wonder when/if I’ll ever meet someone who gets an episode of mine from Chik-Fil-A?”
Years later… I would.
The episode they heard?
It’s The Episode.