Tales of a Small-Town Thug
Behind the counter at Whit's End, Eugene is in the middle of a lecture to Liz Horton about the obesity that has broken out in America and its connection to cardiovascular disease. Liz can't remember her initial question, but then it comes to her—she wanted a milkshake (though in light of Eugene's rant, she decides to skip it). Connie then bursts into the soda shop in a towering temper—the Electric Palace is selling a book in which Rusty Gordon, former member of the Bones of Rath, has written a chapter—and unfortunately, it's about Odyssey residents! The stories he shares are not the most flattering to Odyssey’s residents—Whit wears pants from the 1950s, Connie still with no boyfriend, is most likely to be serving ice cream at age 85, Liz only likes people she can boss around, and Eugene is an "intellectual sauna!" Connie immediately declares the book as garbage and makes to discard it, but Liz and Eugene are interested in perusing a few more pages.
While searching for jobs for Hand Up, Eugene consults Whit to determine if he really is a show-off, and takes drastic action to stop being the center of attention—he takes a job as janitor at Odyssey Middle School.
Meanwhile, Liz worries that she was too pushy in her decision to take leadership of the debate team, which consists of herself, Trent DeWhite, and Mandy Straussberg. They've been assigned the topic of space exploration, and Mandy is assigned to research its benefits. Liz remarks that the space program doesn't really provide many benefits to the United States...within the earshot of a flabbergasted Eugene, who is cleaning the room. At the urging of the kids, Eugene speaks passionately of the benefits of space exploration, even inspiring applause—but unfortunately, this is precisely the sort of thing he was trying to avoid, and he leaves the room feeling worse than ever.
The next day, Liz and Trent meet for the debate team, and Trent tells Liz that Mandy won't be able to do the research. He apologizes that he can't contribute more due to his busy schedule, but Liz waves off the fact that she has to do everything. Eugene, who has decided to change rooms, runs into Trent and Liz, who plead for his help—they haven't been able to justify the use of tax dollars for the space program instead of the eradication of poverty! Eugene comes back to the room, explains why the underwriting of the space program would not significantly aid government welfare programs, then runs from the furthered admiration of the team.
At Whit's End, Liz calls Mandy, who blows off her sudden quitting. Liz expresses her frustration to Whit, who quickly deduces that Liz doesn't want to push the team because of what Rusty said, and tells her that there are two things to do with criticism from people you don't respect—look for a grain of truth and examine yourself, or consider the source and ask people you trust. What you should never do, Whit says, is to simply accept the criticism at face value and change your life based on it. He tells Liz that she is a gifted leader, and that sometimes means telling people what they need to do—including Mandy.
That night, Eugene decides to work in the basement to ensure that he does not encounter the debate team, but in the process discovers a gas leak. A reporter for the Odyssey Times interviews him, asking him how it feels to have saved hundreds of lives. "Great," Eugene mumbles. "Just great."
Liz goes to Mandy's house and asks her why she seems so tired and distant. Mandy is evasive at first until Liz tells her something she never thought she'd say—that Mandy was being selfish. Mandy did promise to do the research, Liz reminds her, and now that she's talked to him, Trent has enough to do without worrying about taking on Mandy's workload. Mandy admits that she did promise to do the work, and agrees to do the research. Liz wonders if Mandy is really okay, but Mandy assures her that she's fine—even though she sounds anything but.
A few days later, Liz talks to Connie and Whit, overjoyed at the A that the group got on their project—Mandy's research and Trent's visual aid were top-notch, and the team came together and made it work. Eugene walks in declaring his janitorial work a failure and resigning himself to his addiction to the spotlight, but Connie interrupts him, asking about the gas leak that was reported by the alleged Gene Malsten. Eugene almost corrects the misprint before catching himself, declaring Gene Malsten to be a fine man and a true hero. Connie declares Odyssey to be full of heroes, and decides to do something about their poor representation. She won't tell Eugene or Whit what she's up to, but instead goes to the back and pulls out a piece of paper to begin writing a book of her own—Tales of a Small-Town Soda Jerk.
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Heard in episode
|Connie Kendall||Katie Leigh|
|Eugene Meltsner||Will Ryan|
|John Whittaker||Paul Herlinger|
|Liz Horton||Lauren Schaffel|
|Mandy Straussberg||Aria Curzon|
|Trent DeWhite||Corey Padnos|
- This episode starts the story arc involving Mandy Straussberg's parents and their separation.
- Rusty's comment in this episode about Whit's pants being from the 1950's may be a reference to one of the negative letters about the Family Portraits.
- In this episode's first debate team scene, Trent frets over his public speaking skills — a topic introduced in #539: “Called On in Class”.
- Connie references Scooby-Doo in this episode.
- Given the passage of time between Rusty's final episode in which he was apparently a teenager and this episode nearly a decade later, it strains credulity that he and Liz, who is at this point in middle school, would be familiar enough with each other for Rusty to satirize her. The only logical explanations would be either that Rusty was held back in school for years on end or that he, along with Rodney Rathbone and Connie Kendall, is eternally youthful.
- While in the episode #553: “Potential Possibilities” Trent is an avid fan of all things space-related, in this episode he claims to know very little about the space program. Perhaps his claim to be "getting dumber" in that episode has been coming true.
- Trent is written rather out of character in this episode. Liz's claims that Mandy is the best researcher among the three of them and that both herself and Trent need extra credit both seem highly unlikely given Trent's previous portrayal as a very intelligent/gifted student.
John Whittaker: I like my pants. They're comfortable. Is there something wrong with them?
Liz Horton: I'm the Mozart of chewing people out.
Liz Horton: We don’t have the hard information to justify the use of tax money for the space program when it could be used to end poverty in America as we know it!
Eugene Meltsner: It’s simple, Miss Horton. Less than 1% is spent on space while over 30% is spent on government welfare programs for the poor. Even if you eliminated the space program altogether, the poor would only receive 3 cents on the dollar per person of that money. This is hardly going to end poverty as we know it. And, economically speaking, the underwriting of the space program is a long-term answer instead of a short-term fix. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got urinals to scrub!