The Odyssey

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In the early-1990s if you were like me, you may have been flipping through channels and stumbled upon a TV show about a teenager in a post – apocalyptic world.

I lived on a farm in Alberta and only had three channels to choose from so when I stumbled onto this surreal world with no adults and where kids seemed to be part of clans under the absolute rule of the oldest boy named Brad.

It stopped me in my tracks.

I literally had no idea what was going on.

As I watched I realized the protagonist was a young man named Jay, who was in a coma in the real world.

Though I didn’t watch much of that show, three decades later, I still think about it.

And I’m not the only one, with only 39 episodes it developed a cult following over the years.

Think of it as Lost before there was Lost.

Oh ya, and without it, we may never have had a true Canadian heartthrob and worldwide superstar because this show offered him one of his first roles.

I’m Craig Baird, and this is Canadian History Ehx!

When I tweeted that I was working on this episode, the most common response from followers was that they thought it was a fever dream, and they weren’t even sure the show was real.

At least as they remembered it.

So, with that in mind, let’s delve into the history of The Odyssey.

(small beat music transition – can we find a music bed similar to this or use a few seconds of this? )

The early 90s there wasn’t much in the way of young adult programing in Canada, beyond the classic show Degrassi, which was a major influence on The Odyssey in many ways.

You either had Mr. Dressup and Fred Penner’s Place, or you had TV shows for adults like ENG, Street Legal and This Hour Has 22 Minutes but not much in between.

Things were slowly changing when the critically acclaimed teen-oriented drama series Degrassi had been around since 1987. Airing on CBC and PBS in the states it would go on to be one of the longest running series in Canadian history.

Then Street Cents debuted on the CBC in 1989. That show targeted young adults and treated them as equals, not talking down to them, about real issues such as money, sexuality and being a teenager.

These were the stepping stones for a new show that would go on to challenge conventions for what a young adult adventure series could be.

I watched all 39 episodes of The Odyssey to prepare for this very episode and I was shocked at how it tackled some very heady philosophical topics including classism, drug abuse, finding a purpose and fascism.

Show creators Paul Vitols and Warren Easton wanted the series to feel like the mythological tale of Jason and the Golden Fleece.

If you’re not familiar with your Greek Mythology, here’s what you need to know.

The story of the Golden Fleece surrounds the hero Jason, a character in Greek mythology who went on a quest with some of the mightiest heroes of his time.

The Greek myth of Jason and the Golden Fleece is one of the oldest myths of a hero’s quest. It is a classic story of betrayal and vengeance.

Now this isn’t Game of Thrones but it’s familiar, a king is murdered, a throne stolen, and Jason is hidden away and raised by a centaur.

As a young man he returns to reclaim his rightful place on the throne. King Pelias, the usurper, replies that Jason first needs to accomplish a difficult task to prove his worth.

The task is for Jason to retrieve the Golden Fleece, kept beyond the edge of the known world in a land called Colchis.

Now the Golden Fleece has its own interesting story.

It involves Zeus, the King of the Gods, a golden ram given to Jason’s ancestor which was sacrificed by Aietes, the son of the Sun God who hung the fleece in a sacred grove guarded by a dragon, because an oracle foretold Aietes would lose his kingdom if he lost the fleece.

That’s what Jason stole with his buddies The Argonauts in the myth.

The fleece was the symbol of authority and kingship, and Jason stole it so he could take his rightful place on the throne.

Now you might be wondering… how does this connect with the CBC cult classic from the 90s?

In the pilot, the protagonist, Jason, attempts to join a tree-fort club, led by Keith, a tough kid in the neighbourhood.

To join the club, he had to bring something of value, and he chooses to bring a telescope given to him by his father, who has been missing for years.

His father fell overboard while on fishing with Jay and was never seen again.

Instead of allowing him into the club, Keith refuses him entry to the tree fort, and he steals the telescope from him.

To get his telescope back, Jay goes back to the tree fort with his friend Donna, he climbs up while she distracts the guards, but falls and hits his head on a rock.

There may not be dragons, Gods or a fleece but you can see the cross over in the hero’s quest.

Show creator Paul Vitol said,

“What we wanted to do was find a show where it was always about kids without having any adults in it. One of the things we liked was Peanuts. It had just kids and you never saw an adult in it ever. We liked that idea, but we weren’t sure how to bring it about.”

The goal for Vitol and Warren Easton was to create a show that was edgy and dramatic, while telling a deep and involved story that would appeal to young adults watching CBC in the afternoon.

Easton said,

“We were interested in series television and its potential to tell a story in a more developed, drawn-out way, but still maintaining overarching plot.”

While they had a story idea, they didn’t pitch it for five months, believing that it was too bleak for a children’s show.

But they kept coming back to the idea, you could even say they were destined to work on the series.

So, the two men crafted a story of a young man, Jason, later Jay, who falls into a coma after falling from the tree fort and descends into a surreal world only populated by children who had never heard of adults.

Concepts such as home and parents were unheard of to them.

To build a complex story inside the head of a coma patient, the two creators went to Michael Chechik, an independent producer and TV director who had been working in mostly made documentary films since 1975.

They gave him a verbal pitch, because they hadn’t written any scripts. Chechik liked the idea, and he took it to Angela Bruce, the head of children’s programming at the CBC.

In what seems like something out of a myth foretold, it turns out, Bruce had gone through a coma at one point in her life and immediately loved the idea.

She told the three men to get something to her desk as soon as possible.

Positive word of mouth for this new series began to spread, and while development took over a year, the pilot was approved for production in the spring of 1991.

I already shared how Jay falls into a coma, aka the real world or Upworld, but most of the show takes place in his unconscious mind as he descends into the dark in a freight elevator that opens into a bizarre and mostly empty world, known as Downworld.

In this world, no one is over the age of 15.

The leader is someone named Brad, who is seen in posters throughout the episodes as a mythological figure.

Brad looks like Jay’s father when he was younger.

From there, the show explores the loss that Jay feels over his father’s disappearance, and his reluctance to deal with it as he avoids life in the Upworld to be in the Downworld where he has more control.

Essentially, his entire journey through the Downworld is his subconscious mind helping him come to terms with the loss of his father.

As soon as they submitted their pilot, executives at CBC gave notes that lead to several major changes.

Originally, the plan was to film the Downworld only in black and white, but CBC said it had to be in colour.

Then the plan was to have the Downworld look just like ours, but more post-apocalyptic with no adults.

This would have meant no sprawling vistas of giant mountains, no imaginative architecture, or Mad Max-esque bicycles.

CBC wanted the show to be a rea fantasy adventure, and that is what it became.

Then came the biggest change of all.

CBC executive David Pears said the network needed some family drama and realism, and that led to the creation of what was called the Upworld, where Jay was in a coma, rather than just having the entire series take place in the Downworld.

Of the many changes, this likely helped the show greatly as it created the dual nature of the show that was linked together in various ways.

For me, the mirroring between the Upworld and Downworld was something I enjoyed a lot. I enjoyed that while the Upworld was external to Jay, it was directly linked to the internal Downworld of his mind.

In an episode when, the doctor overseeing his care and Jay’s mother take him to the forest where he fell from the treehouse. As he is taken there in a wheelchair in the Upworld, in the Downworld, he is under arrest in a rebel camp, tied with ropes and moved in a wheelbarrow.

In another episode when he has a seizure in his hospital bed, Jay is tortured by water as he is dunked into a pool in the Downworld.

In another example, Keith in the Upworld, who has turned over a new leaf and is now taking care of Jay’s dog, is holding the telescope by Jay’s bedside when he drops it, causing the telescope to break. At the same time in the Downworld, Flash, the Downworld version of Keith, drops the telescope, breaking it as well.

Often these parallels between the two worlds were quite subtle, but they existed to show that things happening in both worlds affect one person.

Creative producer Chuck Lazer said,

“The challenge is to take a show about a kid in a coma and give it legs. I think it is the most interesting show on television to be working on right now because of the premise. It frees you up so much. It is not a cop show, it is not a lawyer show, we can do just about anything we want in terms of story.”

With the story planned out and the changes made, the next task for producers was casting the lead.

For that they turned to Vancouver casting director Sid Kozak, one of the founding members and a force in television and film on the West Coast.

He had to find the perfect actor for Jay and other major roles.

After looking throughout Vancouver, the creators offered Ilya Woloshyn the role of Jay.

Born in 1979, he got his start on shows such as Night Heat and The Twilight Zone, as well as an episode of The Kids in the Hall, before he was cast in The Odyssey.

By then, he had appeared in 15 TV shows and 40 TV commercials.

The next role to cast was Donna, Jay’s best friend. Although she crutches because of a disability in the Upworld, she’s a smart sidekick in the Downworld named Alpha.

For the role they turned to Ashley Moore.

Born in Sunnyvale, California in 1981, she appeared in several commercials before landing on The Odyssey.

The character of Keith, the bully who becomes a friend to Jay and Donna in the Upworld, and as Flash, the faithful friend to Jay in the Downworld, was to be played by Tony Sampson.

Born in Vancouver in 1977, he had little acting experience before taking on the role. Despite that lack of experience, he impressed the creators and easily won the role.

Playing Jay’s mother Valerie was Janet Hodgkinson. She had previously acted in bit parts on shows such as 21 Jump Street, The Beachcombers and MacGyver.

With their leads cast, producers and creators were ready to film the first episode.

That first episode set the tone for the rest of the series.

With no adults, the children of the Downworld shaped their lives in their own ways, like in Lord of the Flies.

They formed tribal clans, with names such as The Pool Club and Library Club.

The most powerful club in the land is The Tower, led by the oldest kids.

The leader of The Tower is Brad, and he has created a police state in the Downworld.

Jay is joined by Alpha and Flash as he embarks on a journey to meet Brad and return home.

The title at this point in production the show was called The Jellybean Odyssey as creator Paul Vitols felt The Odyssey was too generic.

The issue with the word Jellybean, which seemed for a younger audience, and something else was needed for the edgy new show.

Eventually, Michael Chechik offered a prize to anyone who could come up with a better name.

 In the end, they just dropped Jellybean from the title.

The pilot episode of The Odyssey was filmed in the late summer of 1991, and debuted on CBC on March 9, 1992.

The Edmonton Journal called the show Mad Max meets 1984, with a dash of Lord of the Flies mixed in, quote,

“After a few minutes of The Odyssey, adult viewers will stop counting the literary and pop culture allusions and concentrate on enjoying themselves.”

The rest of the first season was filmed in the summer of 1992, a year after the pilot and in that time puberty hit for the young cast of The Odyssey.  . It is not something you would notice if you watched the pilot in March 1992, however, as someone who watched the pilot episode and then the second episode a few minutes later, the sudden aging of the characters is very noticeable.

Robert McLachlan was brought in as the Director of Photography and was tasked with creating two distinct worlds. To do that the Downworld sequences were filmed  with a super wide-angle lens.

He also used the Dutch angle technique that consists of an angled camera shot where the horizon line isn’t parallel with the bottom of the frame, and the vertical lines are at an angle to the side of the frame.

Nearly every shot in the Downworld is at an angle to give it a surreal and dream-like feel.

CBC wanted to appeal to kids and create a world of fantasy and Keating designed the clubs for maximum appeal.

The Library Girls were dressed in a collegiate way, while the children in the woods looked like scavengers. The rulers of the Downworld had a Gestapo type of uniform.

Production also took advantage of Vancouver landmarks as The Vancouver Art Gallery became the Downworld’s Hall of Justice; the Britannia Heritage Shipyards became a hideout.

For the famous Tower location, production used the Maritime Building.

The writers also expanded on the characters in the Downworld with new antagonists who slowed down Jay’s quest for The Tower throughout the first season.

There was Finger, played by Mark Hildreth, a menacing officer that bullied Jay in the Downworld.

Then there was Medea, played by Andrea Nemeth, who foretells Jay’s destruction of the Down world and uses magic and political tools to prevent Jay from reaching the Tower.

Fractal is a scientist in the Downworld interested in the theories of grown-ups and the Upworld. He was played by Jeremy Radick, who chose to play him as a Robert Oppenheimer type, in reference to the man who developed the atomic bomb.

He said,

“I did some research on him and other Manhattan Project scientists and decided Fractal was someone who got easily swept up in the idea of science for science’s sake.”

One of the most prominent roles on the show was that of Macro, who became the main antagonist and didn’t emerge until near the end of the first season.

For the role it was important that the producers found someone who could create a real villain.

For that they cast a virtually unknown Vancouver-born actor His name?

Ryan Reynolds.

The rest of the first season debuted on Nov. 9, 1992, and it did quite well in its Monday night time slot.

Ratings showed that the audience was split almost down the middle half were children, and the other half adults drawn to its cerebral premise.

One episode that stood out for me features Jay needing to pass through various dreamlike worlds to continue his journey.

Each world has people in it encouraging him to stay in place, whichever one he’s in offers him something he is looking for, such as a dream home for him to spend the rest of his life in.

As he moves through doors, his clothes also change to reflect the new reality.


At the same time, his dog in the Upworld comes to his bedside and begins to bark, leading to the dog’s appearance as a companion in the Downworld.

Not surprisingly, this episode was nominated for two Gemini Awards for Best Writing in a Dramatic Program and Best Direction in a Dramatic Series of Comedy Series.

As soon as the show finished its first season, viewers clamored for a second.

The phones at CBC also wouldn’t stop ringing, as people called to ask if Jay would wake up from his coma in the next season.

The show ended the season on a cliffhanger, which was highly unusual for a children’s show, and some viewers were angry.

Michael Chechik said,

“We were all pretty shocked. The message came back to us. How can you do that to the children of Canada?”

With that, CBC commissioned a second season.

The show also picked up seven awards, including a Gemini for best youth series, just prior to the launch of the second season.

Chechik said,

“I’m happy for the CBC because they took a chance with a show that was unusual and imaginative.”

Television critic Greg Kennedy said of the show],

“Unlike its unfortunate child hero, The Odyssey won’t put you in a coma.”

Bob Remington, a critic with the Edmonton Journal, also praised the innovative new show stating,

“It is a refreshingly original concept that is neither as boring nor as dark as its premise would suggest.”

By this point, the show was syndicated in 41 countries around the world including Turkey, Iceland and Portugal.

Unfortunately, competing visions between CBC and the creators would lead to changes as the show entered its third season.


The first and second seasons of The Odyssey were highly innovative in their exploration of a young man’s journey through his own subconscious as he dealt with the loss of his father.

After the second season, a festival in Cologne, Germany cited it as one of the Top 10 shows in the world.

That second season also picked up writing and directing Gemini Award nominations. It didn’t win, it was up against some heavy hitters like North of 60, ENG and Road to Avonlea.

For whatever reason though, network executives messed with a good thing.

Having Jay in a coma half the time was not something CBC was a fan of.

As a result, there was pressure to have Jay come out of his coma into the Upworld, but somehow also maintain his adventures in Downworld.

This created a significant challenge for the writers, who moved towards the change throughout the second season.

Michael Chechik said.

“We had to keep a lot of people happy. CBC was very clear about the notes they wanted us to respond to.”

Throughout the second season, the two realities of Upworld and Downworld came closer together and blended into each other.

When Jay came out of his coma in the third season, he found it difficult to adjust to normal life.

He cannot confide in anyone over his experiences, making him feel alienated.

Where he had been a steadfast protagonist in the first two seasons, Jay was now moody, short-tempered and insecure in the third season.

With the cast now well into their teen years, the story lines also shifted to include partying, youth crime and dating.

It became more Degrassi than The Odyssey.

With the Upworld gaining becoming more prominent in the show, so did the Upworld versions of Finger, Macro and Fractal.

The Downworld still existed in season three, but it was no longer a fantasy world, instead it was much darker.

The sets were made grungier, the costumes were redesigned, and the violence of the world increased.

And this affected viewership.

You can chart the decline of the series by viewing ratings on IMDB.

While the first season episodes are above 7.0, the second season sees a shift to below 7.0 by the last half and the third season has only one episode above 6.4, the last episode.

Most of the episodes from that season rate in the 5.0 to 6.0 range.

Upon seeing the ratings and critical acclaim decline, CBC then pulled the plug on it.

The last episode of the show, titled Time Bomb, aired on Dec. 26, 1994.

Ending on a cliffhanger, with plans for another season, the show would never air another episode.

Chechik said,

“We were always hoping for another season, but I think it was that the kids were getting too old. The numbers started falling in the third season.”

Another reason for the cancellation was cost. Jim Byrd, the head of English programming at CBC, said,

“The Odyssey is a show we really loved but it never really caught on in prime time. We face a $30 million problem in English television this year. The Odyssey was something we had to look at hard and decide whether we could carry on another season.”

After the last episode aired, the show went into reruns on CBC at 4 p.m. on weekdays, before it moved over to YTV to run on weekday evenings.

Over the years, The Odyssey has been re-discovered and is now available to watch on YouTube with every episode uploaded by Encore TV.

There was even talk about a reboot in 2016, but nothing came of it.

With the show off the air, what happened to the actors from The Odyssey?


The actors went on to have various levels of success.

Ilya Woloshyn who played Jay, appeared in some low-budget movies before he retired from acting in 1999.

Sadly, he died suddenly in his home in Barrie, Ontario on Jan. 19, 2023, at the age 43. I was unable to find the cause of death.

Ashleigh Aston Moore who played Donna starred in the coming-of-age film Now and Then alongside Rita Wilson, and earned a Young Artist Award nomination. She also appeared in episodes of Madison, Northern Exposure and Strange Luck.

Her last acting credit was an episode of Touched by an Angel in 1997.

Sadly, ten years later in Richmond, British Columbia, she died of an accidental heroin overdose.

Tony Sampson, who played Keith, continued to act for the next decade and a half. He voiced Eddy in the animated series Ed, Edd n Eddy, which ran for six seasons from 1999 to 2009 on name of network.

After the show ended, he started working in the oil sands in Fort McMurray as a heavy equipment operator.

Mark Hildreth continues to act and has appeared in a wide assortment of shows such as The Tudors, Supernatural and Eureka. He also does a lot of voicework for video games.

Andrea Nemeth continued to act until 2000, when she appeared in Scary Movie. From what I can tell, she is now a successful realtor in Victoria, B.C.

As for Ryan Reynolds, let’s just say that he did pretty okay for himself, he’s the owner of Aviation Gin, and a soccer team in Wales that recently won the National League title.

He also does a little acting on the side to maintain his status as Canadian born heartthrob and international superstar.


Information from IMDB, CBC, Hollywood North Magazine, Wikipedia, Edmonton Journal, Vancouver Sun, Calgary Herald, North Bay Nugget,

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