Odd Man Out makes a few crucial mistakes: For one, it never really gives a good reason for Kevin to break off his friendship with Paul. Second, it never adequately shows us Paul’s perspective. Lastly, it paints Kevin to be a pretty big asshole the entire time. Those three flaws prevented an episode with a compelling premise and a handful of nice moments from ever gelling into a good episode.
Let’s look at each one of these issues. First the “break-up” between Paul and Kevin. I understand the feeling that you just get tired spending time with someone. But the way these characters separate wasn’t particularly convincing. Kevin is impatient and Paul is a bit neurotic, but there’s no reason Kevin should have snapped. This made every event that followed feel a little bit pointless.
Next, the episode could have worked a lot better if it had given us a chance to see what Paul was thinking during all of this. In Loosiers and other episodes, we’ve had Kevin detail some of the reasons he and Paul became such close friends, but we rarely see what Paul gets out of the friendship. We got a snippet through Winnie, but that’s about it. Even at the end when the two confronted each other briefly on their bikes after both were the “odd men out,” and the show had a chance to give us Paul’s side of the story, it didn’t. (The Wonder Years has had some really effective “unspoken bond” type moments, but I didn’t think this was one of them.)
Lastly, Kevin being a dick. Paul tells Winnie that Kevin’s changed, and it’s hard to disagree with him. Kevin says some mildly hurtful things (did “four-eyes” ever count as an insult?) and proceeds to latch onto the perfectly decent Doug Porter. I consulted IMDb, and it says Doug had appeared in three episodes prior to this one, but his only appearance that I remember was one of my favorite scenes from one of my favorite episodes to date, Coda, where he played blocker to Kevin’s imaginary Joe Namath.
Except Kevin never really attempts to become friends with Doug, who he admits from the beginning he takes no joy spending extended time with. Instead, he milks Doug for his delicious food, nice mom, and cool model airplane — which he proceeds to crash into a tree. Then, Kevin won’t even rescue it himself; he makes Doug do it, who breaks his arm in the process. And then, when Doug tells Kevin that he thinks they’re best friends and asks him to help carry his books, Kevin shoots him down and tells him to “carry your own stupid books.”
It’s little surprise at that point that Doug realizes it’s not worth the effort to try and reach out to Kevin, so he hits it off instead with (the awesomely named) Brady Ryland, Paul’s rebound.
There were some nice touches — Paul and Kevin hanging out during a tent in a sleepover had a contrived feel to it, but it’s nice to see these characters we love just hanging out together every now and then. I also heartily enjoyed Brandon Crane as the congenial Doug. I hope we get to see some more of him. And Future Kevin’s words about how meaningful a best friend can be were pretty moving.
Still, Odd Man Out left me a little bit disappointed that the writers couldn’t do something more with a compelling concept for an episode.
Some other thoughts:
- We knew from the start that Kevin and Paul would end up best friends again, not just because that fits the formula for this type of episode, but because Kevin confirmed they stayed best friends for decades to come. We’ve already seen flash-forwards of the two being best friends as adults.
- Minor annoyance: The claim that Doug, Kevin, and Paul had played three games of Monopoly in one sitting. Yeah right.
- Anybody have any idea if the trades Kevin proposed to Paul that sparked their rift were good trade offers?
- Another nice moment: Kevin giving Doug the card that he wanted.
- Another episode with Winnie appearing in some role other than romantic interest! Glad to see it!