It’s hard to describe the feel of this episode. It has a lot of comedy, but it also feels a bit frustrating and depressing. Curt and Oscar are trapped running around in circles in a horrible gym class with a horrible teacher who yells abuse at them. It’s almost like we’ve stepped back into the warped imagination of Leslie from the episode Back to School in Album 3. Leslie told so many stories about how crazy her teacher was, but it turned out to be a big exaggeration. Well, if her teacher had been Coach Stubbs then I probably would have believed her story. You could argue the coach is only acting so callous because Curt has tried to pull so many tricks on him in the past. And while that does make sense, it doesn’t make his mean-spirited attitude any less draining to listen to. If I wanted to hear a teacher shouting at his students, I wouldn’t turn to Odyssey for it. And it’s somehow meant to be entertaining to listen to. The episode Ice Fishing could also have been depressing because the main character of Monty feels sad and disheartened. And yet Ice Fishing manages to be a lot more uplifting compared to Front Page News. It doesn’t help that the first words out of Curt’s mouth are “I hate this, Oscar, I really hate this.” You’d think it couldn’t get any worse after that, but unfortunately this episode manages to end on an even lower note.
What saves this episode from getting too miserable is the introduction of Curt Stevens. Unlike Oscar, who wants to stay in gym class under the iron grip of Coach Stubbs, Curt wants the plot to move forward. Even as Oscar tries to drag him down, Curt takes charge and starts to shake things up. His spirit to escape to freedom is inspiring, even though it is misdirected. And did I mention Curt also has a great sense of humor? While everyone else is all serious and stiff, Curt is cracking jokes and trying to have a good time. First of all, he gets a funny and insightful backstory. Apparently he’s tried to get out of PE class before, once saying he was “boycotting the fascist left-wing competitions.” The best part is that even he admits he didn’t know what he was saying, only that it sounded good to him. While talking to Lucy, Curt says, “You’ll need a scoop for that litter. Especially since most of it is the school newspaper.” Then without missing a beat, he asks, “When did you become a newspaper woman?” Somehow Lucy doesn’t seem to notice his joke and moves on. But she does notice when Curt leaves saying “Have fun with your trash journalism!” It’s a wonder Curt can have so much fun in the midst of a hopeless situation, and it’s too bad no one else joins him.
One of the things that makes Curt great is that he’s an ideas guy. He’s a leader who takes the story where he wants to go, while his companion Oscar is only a follower. Curt likes to think about things, often out loud, leading to some hilarious conversations. He first goes on a rant about how mundane working for a newspaper would be, and then suddenly changes his mind and all he can do is sing The Odyssey Owl’s praises. His flip-flopping foreshadows his later involvement in politics. He then goes on another rant while talking to the newspaper editor Miss Medloff, this time performing a dramatic monologue as a desperate plea to her to allow him to join the team of reporters. Writing Curt’s lines must have been a lot of fun, especially when he tries to quote Shakespeare. He says, “Romeo, Romeo, let down your hair!” Oscar of course corrects him, probably because Oscar performed a scene from the play Romeo and Juliet a few episodes ago in The Very Best of Friends. It’s never explained how Curt got the school councillor to switch him and Oscar out of PE to the newspaper, but you can assume that probably would have been a very entertaining scene to hear as well.
Something that bothers me about this episode is just how close Curt and Oscar get to actually succeeding as reporters before being sabotaged by the AIO writers. There are numerous points in the story where one small insignificant change would have made everything turn out alright in the end. First of all, Curt and Oscar are given the worst assignment ever. They have to interview their gym teacher, Coach Stubbs. If they had been given anything else things could very well have turned out differently. Secondly, for some reason Miss Medloff pairs Curt and Oscar up together instead of splitting them up and pairing them up with a more experienced reporter. She was basically setting them up for failure. Thirdly, Oscar bungles the tape recording of the interview by failing to press a button. Fourthly, Curt is ruined by his own dishonest nature. Instead of telling Miss Medloff about the mistake, who probably would have given him a second change, he lies and writes a completely fake article. And fifthly, the minor point that sinks Curt and Oscar’s article is their inclusion of the only thing that Coach Stubbs actually told them. Miss Medloff says, “You know, Curt, the article was almost believable, until you got to the part about his collection of sweat socks and his duck noises. Then I knew you were making it up.” It’s a funny line, but it’s also ridiculously unrealistic and makes this story pretty frustrating to listen to.
Curt’s debut isn’t without precedent. Interestingly, Isaac Morton’s first episode was also pretty average, despite Isaac already showing signs of being a great character. It’s the same thing here. Curt Stevens carries this episode while the rest of the characters don’t add very much. His great performance in the midst of an unhappy and unsatisfying story proves his strength as a character. This average episode gets 3 out of 5 stars.