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Series / The Odyssey

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"We're all Wreckers. We dream, we wreck what's real; we wake, and we wreck our dreams. It's very complex."
Brad Ziegler to his son, Jay

No, not the Greek epic about the Trojan War or the show with Anna Friel in.

This Odyssey, originally named The Jellybean Odyssey, was a Canadian kids' TV show that ran in the early 90s. While it shared many production traits (and even occasional cast members) with such other Canadian-produced shows as Are You Afraid of the Dark?, what set this show apart was its unusually sophisticated premise.

The story follows Jay Ziegler, an 11-year-old kid who lives with his widowed mom. In the pilot episode, Jay wants to join a tree-house club run by local tough kid Keith and is prepared to do anything to get in - including snubbing his only friend, the bookish and leg-braced Donna, and showing Keith his dad's precious telescope. Keith tricks Jay and steals the telescope; while trying to get it back, Jay falls from the tree-house, hits his head, and goes into a coma.

And here's where it got interesting.

While comatose, Jay finds himself in a fantasy world where no one ever reaches the age 16. Without adults, the kids have formed their own society, comprising exclusive clubs that shun outsiders. Their leader is Brad, a 15-year-old who "knows everything" and is apparently the centre of a personality cult / police state enforced by the oldest kids, who live in opulent luxury in the Tower. Jay sets out on a journey to return home, accompanied by Flash and Alpha (fantasy-world parallels of Keith and Donna). In doing so he becomes a fugitive, pursued by the Tower kids who fear he is 'the Wrecker' who will bring back the adults and end their reign of power.

Meanwhile, in the real world, Jay's mother and a coma therapist try to get Jay to regain consciousness, with Keith and Donna's help.

As the series progressed, it became clear that Brad is actually a memory of Jay's father at a younger age. Over seasons 1 and 2, Jay's journey evolved into a quest to find his dad and come to terms with the mysterious circumstances of the father-son fishing trip that lead to his father's death.

Season 3 had Jay out of his coma and physically recovered, though still dealing with issues in the world of his subconscious; this shift in tone and content for the series met with mixed success and the show was cancelled on a cliffhanger.

Essentially Life On Mars meets Lord of the Flies, the show combined the typical action and comedy of a kids' adventure serial with some thoughtful philosophy and symbolism, a big dose of meaningful drama and some surprisingly strong acting. Though never a runaway smash, the sheer originality of the series made it a favourite with its fans.

After being off the air for more than ten years, in 2009 the show was given a limited release on DVD (albeit at a rather high price), specifically as a collectors' item for real die-hard fans.

This Show Provides Examples Of:

  • Adventures In Coma Land: the central premise of the series.
  • Affably Evil: Macro, who always comes across as charming and laid-back, even though he deposed Brad and secretly took over the Tower as supreme ruler.
  • Alternate Self: see But You Were There, and You, and You below.
  • All There in the Manual: according to promotional material for the show, Jay's fantasy world was called Downworld, whilst the real world was referred to as Upworld. Neither name was ever used in the TV show.
  • The Atoner: of all people, Keith / Flash. He feels responsible for causing Jay's accident.
  • But You Were There, and You, and You: to begin with, Flash (Keith) and Alpha (Donna); as the series wears on, characters who originally appeared in Downworld are also revealed to have doubles in the real world (most notably Medea / Sierra Jones). It's ambiguous as to what extent they are just figments of Jay's imagination.
    • There seems to be some overlap between the worlds: Sierra Jones first appears as a fellow coma patient moments after Medea obtains the Vest of Power (supposedly an artifact that lets you move between worlds). In the third season, Jay meets Nikki in the real world at almost the exact time Baz reappears as an assassin in Downworld.
  • Convenient Coma: Solidly in the middle of a sliding scale if this trope had one. In the early post-awakening episodes Jay's in a wheelchair and slowly regains his physical independence, but completely escapes lasting brain damage and it seems the most durable effect of the coma is having to catch up on two years of missed school.
  • Disappeared Dad: Jay's father. It turns out he faked his own death.
  • Doom Magnet: Jay. His attempts to return home cause nothing but trouble for him, Flash and Alpha.
  • Evil Chancellor: Macro. It's mentioned in passing that he used to be Brad's head Monitor, until Brad spent too long away from his throne and Macro took over.
    • And later, Finger. He starts off as an ambitious Monitor in season 1, becomes Macro's right-hand man in season 2 and openly covets supreme power in season 3.
  • Face–Heel Turn: Alpha in season 2, when she fears that Jay's merging of the two worlds will result in her becoming crippled.
  • Freudian Trio:
  • High-Heel–Face Turn: Medea in season 2. She eventually realises that Jay honestly doesn't want to destroy her world, becomes sympathetic of his quest to find his father, and even becomes attracted to him.
  • Hollow World: Fractal proposes this theory, along with the idea that there could be worlds within worlds. Makes a neat metaphor for Jay's different levels of consciousness.
  • MacGuffin: The telescope. A constant thread throughout season 1 is Jay's pressing objective to return the telescope to Brad. Several episodes involve him wagering it, breaking it or in some way putting it at risk. After he does return it, the telescope is never mentioned again.
  • Meaningful Name: Several.
    • Flash, the heroic fighter.
    • Alpha, the book-smart librarian.
    • Medea, who dabbles in witchcraft and is manipulative.
    • Fractal, the resident scientist.
    • Finger, who hunts down and arrests people.
  • Mike Nelson, Destroyer of Worlds: Jay. In season 2 we learn why Jay is the Wrecker: every time Jay starts to wake up from his coma, Downworld starts to disintegrate and merge with our world.
    • This seems to get disregarded in season 3. However, though Jay is awake in season 3, it's strongly implied that part of his mind (or at the very least his subconscious) is still in Downworld: When Jay experiences an event or develops a relationship in the real world, it tends to trickle down to his "other self" as well.
  • Mind Screw:
    • As the series wears on, the line between 'Jay's subconscious' and 'parallel dimension' starts to blur, particularly as Jay is evidently not the only real world kid to experience Downworld.
    • Some of the symbolism starts to get quite weird, too - such as the circus trick in which Jay has to shoot his father who is dressed in Brad's uniform ...
  • Mooks: The Monitors, the Tower's police force.
  • Omnidisciplinary Scientist: Fractal, the Tower's go-to guy for anything scientific.
  • Plot Coupon: The checkpoint tokens in season 1.
  • Police State: No one dares disobey the Monitors, and they don't need a reason to arrest you or beat you up.
  • The Starscream: Finger never openly deposes Macro, but by the third season he has so thoroughly eroded Macro's authority that the latter pretty much disappears. A rather fitting fate, given that Macro usurped the child version of Brad, who originally ruled Downworld.
  • Trauma-Induced Amnesia:
    • When Jay first arrives in Downworld after his injury, he can't remember how he got there; nor can he remember much about home, except that he has to get there.
    • Also a possible case of Laser-Guided Amnesia: he remembers his mother, but doesn't recognise Flash (Keith) or Alpha (Donna). As his journey progresses, he finds items that help him reclaim his memories.
  • World of Symbolism: all kinds of weird stuff happens in Downworld, which can be explained by the fact that it's Jay's subconscious.