Curt Stevens’ first episode was Front Page News, and now we come to One Bad Apple, in which he also appears. But believe it or not, One Bad Apple is technically Curt’s seventh episode. For some reason it was placed on Album 7 in front of a whole host of other shows that aired before it. (It is even placed in front of Curt’s first episode, Front Page News) The consequence of having Curt’s first episode so close to one which takes place over halfway through his career as a kid character on Odyssey is that you really notice the contrast. It’s clear how the show has changed in order to make better use of a character like Curt. Front Page News had a depressing setting, which involved being trapped in class at school, it had none of the regular adult characters, and the plot ended up right where it started, having gone nowhere. One Bad Apple, however, is an intriguing mystery with an expansive setting, which involves going outside and exploring off the beaten path, it features the characters of Whit and Tom, and the plot actually accomplishes something in the end. Curt himself hasn’t changed very much and was a strong character to begin with. But now he’s given a good story to work with.
A mysterious sickness is spreading across Odyssey which has Mr. Whittaker baffled. Kids who visited Whit’s End reportedly have upset stomachs and no one can figure out why. Could it perhaps have something to do with the fact that the shop serves ice cream and soda? How are these symptoms a surprise to Mr. Whittaker? In the episode The Life of the Party Whit gives away free ice cream and all the kids get sick stomachs as a result. That’s hardly something that needs investigating. But no, this time’s different. It isn’t the sugary ice cream that’s the problem. It’s the apples. That’s right, the healthy fruit that’s famously said to keep the doctor away is literally sending kids to the doctor. It’s a real twist. This episode is about the environment. It was first aired in September 1990, soon after the Exxon Valdez oil spill occurred off the coast of Alaska in March 1989. It was the largest oil spill in U.S. waters ever recorded at the time, having since been surpassed by the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, and I can’t help but think it inspired this episode. In the introduction Chris even mentions “offshore oil spills” as a problem facing the environment. Of course Odyssey doesn’t have a beach on the ocean, but it does have Trickle Lake. And flowing from that lake is a creek which conveniently goes right past Tom Riley’s farm. It’s the perfect place for some contaminated water. And as both Tom’s farm and Whit’s shop are such well-known parts of Odyssey, this helps to emphasize that pollution really is affecting the heart of the town.
Tom is quite an admirable character in this episode. He’s a small town farmer going up against a big chemical company. He says, “I’m gonna find out who’s messing up my creek, and I’m gonna find out now.” You have to admire his determination to get to the bottom of this and protect his land from harm. He gets paired off with Curt who acts as comic relief as the two of them go exploring in the woods. It’s not quite the hilarious dynamic that happens when Tom and Eugene go out into the wilderness together, but it’s still fun to listen to. Bernard was originally slated to play this role and when the actor wasn’t available Curt replaced him at the last minute. So it’s interesting to note that Curt acts a bit more like a curmudgeon than usual. He isn’t the enthusiastic man with a plan like he is in Front Page News, and pretty much every other show he’s in. But then again, Curt doesn’t need to be the leader in this episode. That’s Tom’s role and the two of them work well as a team. Meanwhile, Mr. Whittaker is off running around Odyssey testing every possible body of water in the area. As much as I’m glad the episode follows Tom and Curt and their interaction, it might also have been fun to have a quick scene with Whit as he fiddles with his chemistry set.
Speaking of which, Mr. Whittaker can be pretty sneaky when he wants to be. He insists that he would never be “sneaking around” and so he refers to the nighttime spying trip he organizes as “afterhours checking.” Maybe he was inspired to rebrand the word spying to something more palatable after he met the marketing consultant Phil Phillips in the episode By Any Other Name, which aired months before this one but was pushed back to Album 8. The boss of the chemical company, Jerry Edgebiter, is an interesting character and in a way he acts a little like Phil Phillips as well as he manipulates language to mitigate his mistakes. He explains away not reporting the chemical spill, which he calls “a little mishap,” and says he didn’t want the bad publicity. He explains away the drain leading into the creek as a temporary moneysaving measure which he planned to have blocked up. But no matter what he says, Mr. Whittaker doesn’t back down. You would think Tom would have been a bit more on the attack as well, having served on the city council for years and being experienced dealing with the business world, but he leaves that role for Whit, who holds his own.
Then something really bizarre happens. Edgebiter tries to justify his actions by criticizing Tom, Whit and Curt for not recycling. The accusation comes out of nowhere and it really has little to do with the concerns being discussed. Somehow I don’t think guilt-tripping your accusers out of exposing your company’s negligence and willful violations of the law is a winning strategy. Anyway, this episode’s message is basically that both companies and individuals are responsible for taking care of the environment. Tom even gives some of his own wisdom and says, “My experience is most things that are worthwhile take some effort to maintain.” And that’s great. Odyssey decides to recycle, because for some reason they weren’t doing that before. But recycling is only a small part of respecting the environment. This episode fails to mention any other ways to take care of God’s creation. For instance, there is no mention of cars, composting, or electricity consumption. This was a lost opportunity to list a whole host of ways people can be good stewards of the environment besides just recycling. Nevertheless, this episode gives us a compelling mystery investigation set in the heart of Odyssey and uses its main characters well. It gets 4 out of 5 stars.