Remember Leslie, the girl who exaggerates everything? In Back to School she tells a very dark story which is tedious to listen to and in It Sure Seems Like It to Me she tells a bizarre story about a fireman demanding she give him her umbrella, which somehow turns out to be a true story but still doesn’t make any sense. Neither episode is very strong. They have little entertainment value and demonstrate the wrong way to use exaggeration in a story. They are too far from reality to be believable and too shallow to stay engaging. Interestingly, Leslie is played by the same actor as Donna Barclay. And yet Two Sides to Every Story turns out much better because it remembers that when telling an exaggerated story the exaggerations should be used to add to the audience’s enjoyment. This episode is fun and full of comedy. Its exaggerations don’t stray too far from reality that they become off-putting. You can actually imagine kids telling stories similar to the ones Donna and Jimmy tell. The show is light-hearted, well-crafted, and a very innovative episode. It tells the same story three times but from different perspectives, a risk if you’re trying not to be repetitive. But this episode takes that risk and, relying on the strength of the characters of the Barclay kids, turns out to be a success.
The Barclay parents are out for a peaceful, romantic dinner, a vacation away from home. But that soon comes to an end because, as with all Barclay vacations, there can never be a lack of drama. This episode in particular is full of great quotes from the Barclay family, which get even funnier when you realize most of them as made-up by either Donna or Jimmy after the fact. In Donna’s story she calls her parents “mother and father” and calls Jimmy “James.” The creativity she uses to make herself sound more mature is fun to hear. When talking on the phone to her friend Katie, Donna says, “You have so much to live for. Consider the lilies of the field, the sparrows of the air. You must have faith to see you through this crisis.” She portrays herself as the mature, faithful daughter and friend, throwing in some poetic language for good measure. Meanwhile, she presents Jimmy as an irritable and disrespectful brat. She even gives him a sneaky laugh as he promises to get the bathwater running. But the significant moment in each story is the dousing of the TV with water, which Donna blames entirely on Jimmy. Donna is apparently totally level-headed and gives her best impression of Eugene Meltsner, saying, “Let me investigate the extent of the problem and we’ll determine a course of action.” Donna then tells Jimmy not to pour water on the TV, but he does it anyways. Donna’s anti-Jimmy bias is obvious but she doesn’t go overboard in changing the facts. Her main issue is leaving out the facts which incriminate herself.
For Jimmy’s story, he casts Donna as the Wicked Witch of the West and gives her some fitting lines. Donna says, “Were you born without a brain or did it fall out of your ear one day? Get a bucket and mop and clean this up before mom and dad get home!” Jimmy, the suffering servant, responds, “Yes, Donna, my beloved sister. I’m sorry. I’ll do it right away.” Incidentally, this isn’t the first time we’ve heard Jimmy tell a story. His first episode, Family Vacation, is entirely narrated from Jimmy’s point of view. Donna doesn’t come off very well for most of the story, complaining about having to leave Odyssey on the road trip. If there is any bias on Jimmy’s part it’s minimal. But of course in that show he’s talking to the audience, not his parents. Plus there’s nothing big he needs to pass off the blame for. Two Sides to Every Story, however, raises the stakes and places Donna and Jimmy in a corner. And the only way they can see getting out of it is to blame the other. Speaking of which, the climactic scene of Jimmy’s story is pretty much the opposite of Donna’s. This time Jimmy is the calm one and says, “Don’t worry, Donna. I’ll take care of everything. Go out front until I make sure everything is safe.” But Donna insists that Jimmy dump a bucket of water on the TV. And then comes a fantastic line. Jimmy actually says, “I want to go on record to say I think it’s a bad idea.” It’s a perfect summing up of both Donna and Jimmy’s stories.
The title of Two Sides to Every Story makes it sound like Donna’s perspective is on equal footing with Jimmy’s. But when you think about it Donna only breaks one rule, talking on the phone, but Jimmy breaks three. He doesn’t take his bath, he lets his friend Oscar inside, and he doesn’t keep Oscar away from the TV, even going so far as to encourage Oscar to try to fix it by hitting it on the top. On the other hand, Donna does rack up more penalties because she doesn’t talk on the phone just once, but does it multiple times. And there’s probably an unwritten rule about not beating up your brother. Despite their opposite viewpoints, George Barclay does a masterful job integrating both their perspectives into his story, which he dubs “what really happened.” Besides adding new information about Donna expecting a call from a guy named Greg, which explains why she gets so angry when Jimmy answers the phone, the episode keeps from getting boring through George’s unique commentary, in which he analyzes the way his children think. He says, “Knowing the occasionally stubborn and mischievous nature of our son, he went in and started to run the bathwater. Not to take a bath mind you, just to let his sister hear it running.” And when Oscar comes over, George theorizes that “something in Jimmy’s mind clicked at this moment. He figured, ‘Wait a minute, Donna’s gabbing on the phone, why can’t I have a friend in?’”
Each of the three stories we hear bring their own moments of comedy. The show uses a simple concept and doesn’t try to tell an overly complicated story, but manages to be thoroughly entertaining from beginning to end. And its message is deeper than its hilarity might suggest. George ends the episode by saying, “Everybody sees things their own way. Guess the trick is learning how to see things as they are.” That’s a really great lesson to learn. And the story accomplishes even more than that. It also teaches the importance of empathy, or seeing things from another person’s point of view. Unlike Leslie, for the most part Jimmy and Donna aren’t being intentionally dishonest. In their retellings they put emphasis on different aspects of the story, each casting his or herself as its main character, and in the end their memories of the same events simply don’t match up. The Barclay parents do well in piecing the puzzle together, demonstrating their own abilities to see things from another person’s perspective. This show does a great job captivating its listeners as we get closer to solving the mystery of what really happened. And the endless stream of funny quotes doesn’t hurt. This episode gets 5 out of 5 stars.