We had two winter episodes with the Whittaker family, then two with the Barclays, and now it’s back to the Whittakers again. Except this time the writers shake things up with the triumphant return of Eugene Meltsner after his short and often overlooked hiatus. Eugene last appeared in Album 5 in the episode The Battle and didn’t show up once in Album 6. But with the appearance in Album 7 of Jenny Whittaker, a genius who sounds just like Eugene, the real Eugene was bound to show up so he could finally meet someone who was able to understand him. It’s great to finally get these two characters in the same room together. But although one scene between Eugene and Jenny is indeed comical, this episode makes the smart decision of deciding only to focus on one genius character at a time. Jenny had her time to shine already, so this time she is pushed to the sidelines and Eugene becomes the main source of humor and displays of intelligence. He simply cannot stop talking, which forces Tom to offer his own rebuttals. The episode spends so much time with Eugene and Tom in fact that the main story with Monty seems slightly underdeveloped.
This episode gives us more insight into the Whittaker household. Compared to his sister, Monty is not a very accomplished person. In A Member of the Family he brings movies with him to Whit’s house, complains about Whit not having cable TV, and later steals money so he can go see a movie at the cinema. Meanwhile, Jenny is reading books and learning new and interesting things. She even manages to become great at the piano and violin. In Monty’s first episode he acts like a spoiled kid, but in Jenny’s first episode she acts like a mature adult. The contrast between the two siblings is very clear. Having a prodigy as your younger sister obviously isn’t easy and it’s totally understandable that Monty would feel insecure. If Jenny is a book smart genius, you might think also making her an expert at creating model train cars is a little much. After all, does she have to be the best at everything? But this latest accomplishment of Jenny’s actually fits seamlessly with her character. Given Jenny’s talent playing musical instruments, I’m not very surprised she’s developed the motor skills and hand-eye coordination necessary to craft the perfect train car.
Tom says, “You come from quite a family, Monty. You ought to be proud.” And it’s true, Monty should be proud. But there’s another side to that observation. The audience is well aware that the Whittaker family is as flawed as any other. They frequently disagree and bicker, and even the great advice-giver John Avery Whittaker has a hard time keeping them from tearing each other apart. Speaking of which, that sounds a lot of Connie and Eugene. And when you think about, Whit’s grandchildren do have a lot of similarities with the employees of Whit’s End. Jenny, like Eugene, is a genius with an excellent vocabulary and is derided by others as a result. Monty, like Connie, has scars from his parent’s divorce, when he first arrived in Odyssey he wanted to return to California, and he sometimes feels jealous of his counterpart, Jenny, or in Connie’s case, Eugene. But while Connie’s insecurities are dealt with over years and years’ worth of episodes, Monty has a much more limited time on the show. There is simply too much to accomplish in a single episode, which is why Monty’s journey in Ice Fishing feels less than complete.
Tom and Eugene make a great pair. Tom Riley is an outdoorsman who likes to get into nature and away from technology, and Eugene spends most of his time indoors and basically lives and breathes technology. Once they reach the lake, Tom claims that “It’s just man against the elements!” Eugene replies, “Well, perhaps so, Mr. Riley, but nobody said the elements have to win.” Just like Jenny Whittaker, it turns out Eugene isn’t only book smart. His knowledge extends to surviving in nature as well. After all, we later learn in the Album 45 episode The Champ of the Camp that Eugene spent some time at a summer camp as a child. Tom and Eugene’s interactions are pure comedic gold and definitely remind the audience what we’ve been missing. And all we had to do to have this experience was take a little trip to Summit Lake. By the way, I don’t believe this is the same lake as Trickle Lake. Summit Lake definitely seems farther away, and of course it has a different name. That would mean, contrary to popular belief, that the frozen body of water pictured on the cover of Album 7 is not in fact Trickle Lake. But if that’s the case, why does Monty reference fishing with his grandpa on Trickle Lake in Album 53? Maybe that was from a different occasion we never heard. Or maybe these two names do refer to the same lake.
According to this episode’s behind the scenes information, Phil Lollar and Paul McCusker wrote Ice Fishing and Scattered Seeds separately, but then had trouble finishing them. So they switched scripts because they each had ideas for how to finish the endings of each other’s shows. I may be wrong, but my guess is that the switch to the new writer for Ice Fishing happens right after Whit’s conversation with Monty on the lake. Why? Because the conversation doesn’t feel like it’s going anywhere. It’s like Mr. Whittaker is struggling from writer’s block. Whit tries to explain something to Monty, which results in Monty saying very politely, “Grandpa, I didn’t understand a word you said.” Then Whit gives the cliché advice to “Be the best Monty Whittaker-Dowd you can be.” Monty says, “That sounded pretty corny, grandpa.” Whit replies, “Maybe it did. Funny, it didn’t sound corny when I said it to Connie last week.” (This is more proof that Monty and Connie are somewhat alike). After this odd conversation which doesn’t make any progress, suddenly everything clicks into place. Tom and Eugene arrive on their scene, which prompts Monty to advise Tom to let Eugene be himself. Now Monty doesn’t need to catch Old Grundy because he doesn’t want to compare himself to other people. The turnaround in Monty’s character is a bit too quick for my taste. But I do like the connection made between Tom and Eugene’s competition and Monty and Jenny’s competition. The two plots tie together naturally and make for a great show, even if the ending does come too soon. This episode gets 4 out of 5 stars.