Bernard Walton the window washer is introduced in this episode and he even gets the first line of dialogue. And within a few seconds it’s already obvious he’s a curmudgeon. He undercuts his own satisfaction about the windows being clean by predicting that the kids at Whit’s End will soon put their dirty fingers all over the glass and he laments the depressing times he lives in when parents don’t discipline their children properly. With that negative outlook it makes sense that he might believe some of the things the Chicago marketing expert says about Odyssey’s small businesses being trouble. But why would he be so enthusiastic about jumping on this bandwagon? Naivety isn’t usually something I associate with Bernard’s personality. But while he is a bit of a pessimist, he’s not quite the hardened cynic or skeptic he can portray himself as. Naivety does actually show up in his character from time to time, which goes hand in hand with him trying new things. In the episode My Fair Bernard he volunteers to be mentored by Edwin Blackgaard of all people because he gets it into his head that will bring him new customers, and in Third Degree he refuses to pay his traffic fine because he falls prey to the manipulation of his fellow cellmate who feeds him feelings of self-aggrandizement. So this storyline does in fact fit into Bernard’s character and he makes a strong performance during his limited airtime.
Curt Stevens makes his second appearance in this show, and it’s noticeably better than Front Page News while at the same time being similar to it. This time he has another brilliant idea to get out of doing school work. Last time it was to get out of gym class and now it’s social studies. He had little success becoming a reporter, but he actually does a lot better as a politician. Just as Curt persuaded Oscar to join him before, now he persuades Lucy to help him with his campaign. But unlike the miserable Front Page News, this episode is upbeat and fun. Oscar for one didn’t add much and his tired, gloomy attitude took away from Curt’s enthusiasm. But Lucy is different. She takes an active role in show, first as a vocal cheerleader for Curt’s cause and then a vocal opponent of his deception. She takes the stand against Curt that Oscar never had the courage to do. And overall Curt’s campaign has an energy and a momentum to it which the previous story lacked. He takes his leadership skills to the next level as he gets up in front of the school and makes charismatic speeches, declaring himself to be “Can-Do Curt.”
Phil Phillips is a funny character, but he’s also a little confusing. If he’s a con artist running from the law, why would he give out his real name? Since his whole marketing strategy is to change names to make things seem new and different, you would think he would have taken his own advice and changed his own name. He’s particularly funny because for a guy who’s all about names, he can never remember Mr. Whittaker’s name. And Whit is so nice about it. Phillips asks if he can call him Jim and Whit says, “You may, but my name is John.” Phillips obviously has no idea who Whit is. If he had done any research at all on Mr. Whittaker he probably would have stayed far away from Odyssey. It’s hard to believe so many businesses were fooled by Phillips’ scheme. It’s also surprising that Whit was absent from the recent city hall meeting. He could have prevented this whole thing if he had attended. It took Blackgaard burning down Tom’s barn to keep Whit away from the meeting last time around, but it seems he’s lost interest now that the big-name villains aren’t around anymore.
For some reason Mr. Whittaker is confused that Curt would want to campaign in his shop. Whit tells him that he doesn’t allow people to hang up political posters at Whit’s End. But during the last student election in the episode A Single Vote, Whit let the kids hold a political rally at Whit’s End. Whit even handed out free ice cream samples to entice people to attend. In his defense, Whit said, “Doesn’t hurt to give them a little push in the right direction, does it?” I have no doubt that attitude had an impact on Curt and inspired him to make his own promises about providing free ice cream to his supporters. But while Whit is slightly inconsistent on that front, he makes up for it in his showdown against Phil Phillips. He takes a few moments to humor Phillips, allowing him to explain his plans to change the names of every invention in Whit’s End, but then he goes to town on him, calling him out as a con artist in front of everybody. And then, as if perfectly timed, the police arrive to stop Phillips from escaping. It’s definitely the best part of this episode.
Another strong point of this story is the lesson Whit teaches about honesty. He brings together the two plots of political rhetoric and of deceptive marketing perfectly and calls out the name game for what it really is. He even shows a bit of his own rhetorical skill when he urges Curt to “amend your promises.” It’s a nice way of telling him to admit he lied and finally tell the truth. The episode also shows itself as an improvement over Front Page News in its ending. Unlike that early show, By Any Other Name doesn’t finish where it began. It makes progress, particularly in Curt’s political career. He wins the school election, which would have been the equivalent of Miss Medloff deciding to publish his piece for the newspaper (which didn’t happen), and takes control despite intense opposition from his classmates over his lies. And this all contributes to Curt’s future in politics. If Curt had pursued reporting, maybe Front Page News would have been significant. But Curt’s career as a politician defines a large chunk of his character over the course of the show, making By Any Other Name his true debut. Phil Phillips isn’t exactly realistic, but all in all this episode is a great blend of humor and more serious themes. It gets 4 out of 5 stars.