This episode kind of resembles the joke Officer O’Ryan tells at the beginning. It starts off reasonably strong but then can’t follow through. O’Ryan tells a joke about two hunters and a dog but just as we’re about to hear the punchline Mr. Whittaker turns on the blender and interrupts. And for some reason that ruins the moment and no one asks to hear what the punchline was. They laugh it off and it’s all fine. This moment was always really annoying to me as a kid. Who cares if you were interrupted, Officer O’Ryan, just finish the joke! Similarly, Tom downs his favorite drink, a chocolate strawberry banana malt, and that turns out to be a disappointment as well, if not a funnier one from perspective of the audience. Curt pulls off prank after prank, sabotaging Whit’s squeegee bottle and getting Officer O’Ryan to blow bubbles out of his whistle. Then even Mr. Whittaker joins in the fun and, following in the tradition of Eugene Meltsner from Suspicious Minds, he tries to shock Curt with an electric buzzer. This is the strong start I mentioned earlier. This opening scene throws four fun-filled practical jokes out at you in quick succession and is really enjoyable to listen to. And since Curt claims to be the best prankster in town, the episode promises to have many more entertaining pranks in the future. But it doesn’t deliver on that promise.
The next scene starts out well. Lucy is sneaking around, hiding on the floor behind the end of the counter. She doesn’t want Curt to know she’s there and she covertly whispers to Connie. This brings back more good memories from Suspicious Minds. But then Connie reveals that Curt isn’t there. Odyssey’s great prankster has left the building and isn’t looking back. Good luck having a fun episode about pranks without the prank master on the premises. That’s when this episode really starts to slow down and become too predictable. Welcome to the riveting adventures of the party planning committee. Tom chimes in and says, “We got plenty of apples left over from last harvest. You can have all you can eat!” I guess that explains why the Riley farm is such a perfect location for a party. It has apples galore, therefore kids are flocking to it to receive their fill. Unless of course Rodney Rathbone stops by looking for some. Then there’s nothing but unripe apples which Tom insists he’d love to share but only after they’re ready to eat. Maybe all Rodney was doing in An Act of Mercy was trying to join the party. He came a little early, but he caused about the same amount of damage as Curt does.
After that so very interesting meeting, Whit and Tom laugh about the possibility of the paranoid Curt Stevens suspecting the party is actually a practical joke in revenge for the pranks he’s pulled. That actually does sound like it would be funny to listen to. Curt wandering around acting super suspicious of everyone and everything could lead to some hilarious scenes. But this episode only gives us one such encounter in which Connie hands Curt a letter from Lucy and he refuses to open it himself, believing it to be part of prank. When he reads the invitation he gets even more suspicious about a party being held at Tom Riley’s barn of all places. That is indeed an odd location for a kids’ party. Why not host it at Whit’s End? Or McAlister Park? They could have it at the gazebo where the band plays in the summer. But no, the Riley farm is the place for a birthday party. They could have apple pie instead of birthday cake. As long as they test those apples for arsenic first, they should be okay. And to top it all off, this random party is being held the day right before Curt’s actual birthday. Don’t you think he would have noticed that? But apparently Curt is too preoccupied with whatever he’s doing in this episode, which isn’t much, and can’t be troubled to remember that his own birthday is coming up. It’s all a big surprise to him.
But Curt doesn’t have the chance to be scared and paranoid for long. Officer O’Ryan deprives us of that by convincing Curt that “the best defence is a good offence.” Now this didn’t have to be a bad thing. Curt isn’t overly entertaining when he acts suspicious of Connie. Instead he comes across more as rude. So in theory this change in attitude should have made Curt’s role even more interesting as he formulates a strategy to outwit his friends. Curt is always the guy with a plan. What better way than to showcase his character than by going on the offensive? Unfortunately, Curt’s great plan to prank everybody isn’t all that interesting. He rigs up a bucket of molasses in Tom Riley’s barn, and then he sits there for a few hours doing absolutely nothing. If this was supposed to build suspense it failed. When I picture a master prankster going on the offensive I think of something a little more complicated than Curt’s simple trap. He doesn’t even bring anything with him to the farm and simply uses whatever Tom left lying around. That is not the mark of someone with a plan. Curt’s great counterstrike against his foes turns out to be an uneventful waste of time which stretches on for far too long. And when the punchline to this long, overly extended joke finally does come, it doesn’t satisfy. But by then I was just glad it was over.
Although that part is a bit of a disappointment due to it being mostly predictable, one aspect that is unique and quite humorous to think about is the sneakiness of Tom Riley. He warns Curt of retaliation, and then he makes sure it happens. Tom sets up his barn with some “strategically placed odds and ends” and then lets Curt wander inside and walk right into it. Tom is this episode’s true mastermind as he works subtly behind the scenes to get back at Curt. Curt may have ruined Tom’s favorite drink at Whit’s End, but Tom got to enjoy the sweet taste of revenge. When you mess with Tom Riley’s chocolate strawberry banana malt, he shows no mercy. He let Rodney off the hook a few episodes ago for breaking his fence and trying to steal his apples, but Curt doesn’t get a second chance. Not only does Tom tell Curt he’s going to have to clean up the mess, Whit shocks him with the electric buzzer, Whit and Tom taunt him by calling him a chicken and making clucking noises, and then they present him in front of everybody before he’s had a chance to clean himself of molasses and feathers. In short, it’s another one of Curt’s great plans gone awry. Although Curt doesn’t have very much fun, listening to Whit and Tom laugh at his expense is actually a reasonably fun way to bring the show to its conclusion. But that resurgence of entertainment still doesn’t erase the bland stretch of time in the middle of this episode. Overall, it gets 3 out of 5 stars.