The Barclay family’s first episode was a vacation story and the latest one where they were all together was about getting a budget. Put those two things together and you get this episode, Our Best Vacation Ever: a vacation on a budget. Is that slightly unoriginal if they’re just combining previously used themes? Yes it is, but it works as a continuity reference so it’s not necessarily a bad thing. You wouldn’t want the Barclays to suddenly book a cruise ship tour to the Caribbean after getting a family budget was just recently a major plot point. So it’s not completely original, but this episode is also different enough because it goes deeper to examine what a vacation actually is. It puts forward the idea that a vacation is more about getting a break from work and spending time together as a family than it is about travelling the world. But while the Barclays were asking philosophical questions about the nature of vacationing, no one asked the question why this episode was stuck smack dab in the middle of this album’s portion of the Blackgaard saga, right between The Nemesis and The Battle. That seems like an odd placement. In the midst of Blackgaard’s reign of terror, the Barclays are just enjoying themselves.
And apparently the events of The Nemesis weren’t exciting enough for Donna because she can’t wait to take a trip away from Odyssey for a vacation. She even calls the budget “stupid,” which is a reversal from the episode A Good and Faithful Servant in which she unexpectedly donates her spending money to a missionary fund. If Donna wanted to leave Odyssey so badly, maybe she should have become a missionary herself. But, alas, it was not yet time for the Barclays to receive their calling to go into ministry. Don’t worry, Donna, you’ll get your chance eventually. The Barclays list off quite a few people they know who are going on vacation this year. Brenda is going to Disneyworld, Robyn to New York City, Jack to Washington D.C., Oscar to somewhere in Canada (which isn’t very specific considering how large the country is), the Collins to Mexico, the Franks to England, the pastor to New Zealand, and Lucy’s family just won a trip to Hawaii. That’s like eight families, so I guess that means literally everybody in the small town of Odyssey is going away this summer. Maybe that explains why Whit, Tom and Homer are the only other characters mentioned in this episode. And as a side note, am I supposed to believe Lucy really took a break during the Blackgaard saga to go on a vacation to Hawaii? Who knows, maybe Richard Maxwell used his hacking skills and won himself a free plane trip to Hawaii too so he could maintain his influence over her.
George Barclay, what a guy. He can be very cruel sometimes without knowing it. He tells his family they deserve a great vacation and he builds it up and tells them to guess what they’re going to do. And he does it all with a smile on his face. When he reveals that they’ll actually be staying in Odyssey and that it was all Whit’s idea, Jimmy comments that he thinks Mr. Whittaker has been spending too much time in the Imagination Station. And speaking of which, why don’t the Barclays simply enter the Imagination Station and visit a bunch of interesting places from all over the world. That would be fun and educational. Granted, the machine didn’t have the capacity at that time to handle four people at once, but for the purposes of the story I have no doubt Whit would have been smart enough to develop an upgrade just in time for the Barclays to come along. But instead, we are subjected to the Barclay parents trying to impersonate Californian surfers. I cringed both times they said “Like totally go with the flow” and I will not soon forgive them for putting me through that.
And then we have the obligatory montage of fun moments, which add worthwhile humor to the show. A water fight breaks out organically, there’s a trip to the Zoo where everyone is blindfolded (which fits perfectly into audio drama), there’s horseback riding and even water sliding at Trickle Lake. The Barclay parents return with their strange accents, except this time they play cowboys sitting around a fire, which is much more tolerable. Overall their vacation seems to have been a great success, both for them and for the audience. It’s just fun to listen to. Moments like the Barclays trying to guess what the animals are, George having a lot of trouble riding his horse while his family races ahead, and Jimmy pushing his mother down the tall water slide before deciding it’s too high for him to go down himself, each contribute so much to the feel of the show. It’s an entertaining family experience. The theme isn’t very hard to find. The concept of family togetherness is what Focus on the Family is all about. But it’s still good to be reminded that if you have the right attitude you can have fun whether you go somewhere new and exciting or not.
This episode ends with a barn raising at Tom Riley’s farm. Could this be to rebuild the barn that burned down in the previous episode? It must be. It didn’t take long for Tom to bounce back. I’m not sure having a competition to see who can raise their side of the barn the fastest is the safest way to do construction, but at least they had fun. Despite this episode being right in the middle of the Blackgaard saga, Tom’s new barn is the only reference to the chaos Blackgaard is causing and even then it’s a well-hidden reference which is easy to miss. But it seems clear that the reason there are no explicit references is because the AIO team was going for a fun, lighthearted tone, which doesn’t fit well into the Blackgaard saga. Which makes me further question this episode’s placement right after Blackgaard’s arrival and right before his attack on Whit’s End. Now, I know the episodes A Prisoner for Christ, Good Business and Heatwave are technically ordered to go in between this episode and The Battle, but that’s not the way Album 5 is organized. Overall, it may not have been the Barclay’s best vacation ever, but it wasn’t bad. This episode gets 4 out of 5 stars.