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Podcast Reviews

A Listener Reviews: The Amelia Project

The Amelia Project

Episodes: 13 episodes, plus preludes, available in season 1. Season 2 to release on July 19 2019!

Length: Generally around 20-25 minutes

I’ve listened to… Most of season 1. I’ll explain below.

The Premise: Have you ever just needed to get away and start over? Fake your own death and begin a new life somewhere wonderful? Amelia can help with that. Just give them a call and they will be happy to have their team start working on a way that you can disappear for good.

My Review: Talk about a podcast that caught me by surprise. I had this in my queue for a little while and was kind of uncertain. I heard a lot of good things, but I was not sure the style of humor was a fit for me.

While I was skeptical about the humor versus randomness feel to the story, that quickly evened into a really nice balance that kept me surprised, but also felt natural. The Interviewer is a quirky character, no doubt, but also makes sure things get done. And little twists and turns in the episodes themselves left me smiling. Some of them even now have me scratching my head. From cult leaders to roller coaster designers to government agents to unsatisfied characters, Amelia has helped many people escape their circumstances and find a better life.

This is definitely a story of the week kind of podcast, and I like that. While having overarching stories is good, too, I like a mix of both. There are references to past episodes or characters, but most of the episodes stand alone. There are also Preludes. When I first started listening, I did not know if the Preludes were unique content, or just a teaser of content that was released in the episode. Don’t be like me and skip the Preludes, they are completely unique content. I still think I missed one or two. The Preludes provide resolution to past episodes or introductions to new characters, sometimes a little of both, and are just fun little snippets of the inner workings of Amelia. These will not be in season 2, but will be available to Patrons, per the podcast’s website.

I just love the funny creativity in each episode. The situations are bizarre at times, and so they call for outrageous solutions. The show is written well enough ,though, that these outrageous solutions end up feeling perfectly reasonable. Of course, that sounds like a great plan, I find myself thinking at the end. The Interviewer feels like a complete character, with internal consistency and important flaws. He feels right at place in the world they’ve created.

The Amelia Project is what I would call a charming podcast. It will win you over, because it is just that good. The second season will be out soon, so it is a great time to listen to the current episodes so you can be up to date. Definitely a story to enjoy.

You can find them here: The Amelia Project

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A Listener Reviews: Calling Darkness

Calling Darkness

Episodes: 8 episodes so far

Length: Generally around 30-45 minutes

I’ve listened to… everything put out so far.

The Premise: A group of hopeful actresses show up at Annabelle Crowe’s residence for an acting workshop. Only they accidentally summon a demon overlord, like you do. Now it is up to these women and some helpful (or not) companions to just mostly try to survive the whole demon thing.

My Review: As someone who grew up on the corny movies on the Sci-Fi (now Syfy, what?) channel and a healthy dose of MST3K, this show is perfect. It is an audiodrama that lovingly plays with so many of the horror tropes, but takes them in unexpected directions. Or sometimes plays them up for the humor. I mean, they do have a priest there, after all. Maybe. He has a priest ID, so who can question that? If you like horror that knows how to laugh, then this is definitely something worth listening to.

The concept is good, bouncing between some really unsettling horror ideas and some honestly funny moments. The narrator in the series, who I think knows more than she’s letting on, has a great tone about her that helps balance the mood of the story as a whole. It provides some nice transitions, some good foreshadowing, and adds an additional level of mystery to what is really going on in Crowe House.  The podcast overall is really well written and well-acted. So often, people try for these self-mocking style stories, but end up falling flat by either taking themselves too seriously or not taking the story seriously enough. Calling Darkness manages to balance those very well so far. The story is good and well-executed, not leaving glaring holes or inconsistencies. The characters are interesting and well-acted by their voice actors. And at the same time, they lovingly mock themselves and other tropes within the genre.

Speaking of characters, I think this is a true strength of the podcast. The characters are all stereotypical to a degree, but play up those qualities for plot and character development. So many stories miss the mark when playing around with stereotypical characters because they leave them in that role. Calling Darkness has already done a great job demonstrating character growth, development, and depth. So what starts out as your stereotypical horror movie scream queen develops into someone much more complicated through the story. I’m really looking forward to seeing where this goes as the plot continues to unfold.

Overall, Calling Darkness feels like horror-humor audiodrama gold. It brings in demons, guilt, alcohol, running from the past, acting, songs by Journey, pizza, horror, and humor all together into one messy, wonderful pot. If you like this kind of media, then Calling Darkness is an excellent take on the story with some complicated and strong leads just trying to survive. The latest episode released as of this posting, (episode 8: “It’s All Going to Hell”) was one of the strongest of the season and really demonstrates how good this story can be. You want to start at episode 1 so you can appreciate how wonderful that episode is. And by that point, you should probably just keep listening to see where it goes.

You can find them here: Calling Darkness


A Listener Reviews: Still Lives

Still Lives

Episodes: 8 episodes in this contained story

Length: Generally around 20-30 minutes

I’ve listened to… the whole story

The Premise: Five people live alone in a post-apocalyptic world…until one day someone knocks on the door. With this change comes many others that threaten the delicate equilibrium they have established.

My Review: This is another story that is all told in one season release. And, much like The Deca Tapes last week, it tells the story in a packed eight episodes. And again, it is a story I was so sad to see end. It starts quiet and slow, and builds tension in a more restrained way. The stakes are high at times, but the tension built is of a quiet sort that seeps into you and twists into knots.  The creators have described it as a “pastoral post-apocalyptic audio drama.” When you break down what that means, it does an excellent job of describing the tone and feel of the story. It’s quiet, subdued in that pastoral sense. But it’s also post-apocalyptic. So the main reason it’s got such a quiet tone? Most of the humans on earth are dead, with all our noise and chaos.

The story focuses on five main characters: The Archivist, the Cook, the Scientist, the Soldier, and the Kid. The Archivist is the main character and the narrator for most events, and she develops as a rather complex character. In fact, all the characters are pretty complex. They are flawed, selfish, and impulsive at times throughout the story. But their wants, desires, and ways of handling situations are so painfully human. They make mistakes–some of them big–and there are real consequences. There are also situations with no good solution that left me feeling bad for the characters put in those predicaments.  In eight short episodes, I was able to connect with the characters and see their perspectives, even when I disagreed or knew it was going to lead to trouble. It is that realism that captured me and separated this story from the millions of other post-apocalypse tales that have flooded…well…everything.

This is certainly the kind of story that could go on for many seasons and episodes, meandering through crisis after crisis. However, I think its strength is that it does not try to do that, but instead focuses on telling one story, and telling it very well. It has a clear beginning, middle, and end. There is a central conflict that the characters are working to resolve, each in their own way, and their success or failure is what drives everything forward. I found some episodes a little slower than others, but I think that is a good thing. There is tension in the story surrounding timing, and so it’s fitting that I’m getting nervous and wanting to rush ahead, because rushing feels like it would solve the in-world problems. Even if it might not.

My critique does come at the end, in the way things were wrapped up. Without giving too much away, I felt it was too convenient in how it tied up loose ends. There was ambiguity, moral quandaries, and uncertainty all throughout. To have an ending that put a bow on so many things was not as satisfying. I think I wanted more ambiguity in the ending, to leave it a little messy. While I like the clarity about how things end, it felt inconsistent with the other story beats. That said, it did end everything and bring the main conflicts to a satisfying resolution.

While the story was not always positive and uplifting, I found myself enjoying listening simply for the quiet, contemplative tone that it set. The characters were human in all the best and worst ways, the story followed a steady and even pace, and the themes presented were really interesting to hear. I spent a good bit of time wondering about some of the dilemmas presented, trying to figure out right, wrong, and a way out for the characters. It is a different take on the apocalypse, but one that is refreshing in its perspective and treatment of human themes.

You can find them here: Still Lives


A Listener Reviews: The Deca Tapes

The Deca Tapes

Episodes: 8 episodes in this contained story

Length: Generally around 25-35 minutes

I’ve listened to… the whole story

The Premise: Recordings have been released detailing the lives and events that befall ten strangers kept together in a small, confined location. The strangers, each with their own roles in this micro-society, narrate the events. These events are also cut together with news, radio, and interview clips providing more background on who the ten people are and how they arrived there. I don’t want to say much more, because anything else might give away some of the fun twists and turns.

My Review: Looking for a really interesting mystery? Something with a bit of whodunit, a bit of conspiracy, and a whole lot of piecing clues together to uncover the big picture? The Deca Tapes manages to bring a lot of ideas together in a really successful format. It is a very serious mystery and deals with some adult themes and content throughout. But the way it all comes together makes for a wonderful ride. I’m going to do my best to avoid giving too much away, because the slow reveal is certainly one of the strengths of the story as a whole.

Each episode follows a single character and outlines a bit of their life. Some pasts (and presents, for that matter) are horrifying, some are sad, and many live in a messy grey area. Character development is brief, since most only get one episode to really share their perspective; however, they manage to be unique in voice, motivation, and personality. By midway through, a listener can start to recognize and understand how characters are likely to respond as new situations face the group. There are some characters with more thorough development, background, and personality, but each serves their place in the overarching story.

The clips from outside the group serve to provide a lot of character development, as well as push the mystery forward. These ended up being some of my favorite parts, because I felt each one gave some clue to the mystery, and I was hungry to learn more. On top of that, the backgrounds of the characters shared through this format were really creative. I was often surprised by the directions the stories took, and the writing took care to avoid some of the more obvious or expected tropes. As the character backgrounds come into focus, it makes it clear how each was assigned to their role, and why that might not always be for the best.  If you do the math, though, you’ll notice that not every character gets their episode. Which I think works in the end, but my greedy curiosity would have loved more.

Another strength is that the writers clearly set out to tell a specific story. The plot is tight and moves at a good pace. Each episode serves to reveal a little more, and I certainly felt a growing sense of dread as the pieces began to line up and the big mystery became clearer. With eight episodes, it does not drag, nor does it feel too rushed. The preparation and storytelling considerations up front really help this story stand out.

My main critique would be the ending. Not because it was bad; it was completely fitting and appropriate given the direction of the story. I think it also threw me for an unexpected loop related to the timeline, but I won’t say more. However, I was left wanting more. I wanted more about these characters, more about their journey, and more about the shady stuff going on behind the scenes. It’s not that the ending did not wrap everything up nicely, but rather that the story really captured my curiosity. I was sad to see my time of studying this tiny portion of the universe end. And if I’m being honest, I really wanted there to be ten tapes. Because the Deca Tapes. But I think that might have been a little too on theme, and maybe not entirely consistent with the overall message.

The Deca Tapes is a well-paced, somber mystery that explores greed, religion, human nature, fear, and a lot of other deep concepts. It take a “found tapes” style approach, but develops those more fully so that it becomes a very vibrant story. While I had figured out a good bit by the end, as I mentioned, there were still some surprises waiting. It’s a solid story, written well, and executed beautifully. At eight well-constructed episodes, it is definitely worth listening to, even if you turn out like me and end up craving even more.

You can find them here: The Deca Tapes


A Listener Reviews: Marsfall

Marsfall

Episodes: 16 Episodes so far.

Length: Generally around 25-35 minutes

I’ve listened to… All available episodes

The Premise: A colony from Earth has landed on Mars and things get off to a catastrophic start. Can the colonists stabilize and figure out how to survive life on Mars with a constant barrage of problems?

My Review: This story is intense. And I mean that in the best way possible. It is certainly not for the faint of heart as it starts with tragedy and deals with the “harsh reality” of life on Mars, per their content warning at the outset of each episode. But wow, do they tell a fantastic story.

I do not know if I have listened to a podcast that has evoked so many strong feelings. In it’s 16 episode run, there has been a lot of grief and heartbreak. The characters are authentic about their feelings, at least in their personal logs, and it ends up drawing me in as the listener so that I feel very invested. The logs also help to create an incredibly deep cast of characters with complex motivations. You still have your good guys and your bad guys, but there is far more time spent with characters muddling through gray areas. I’ll listen to that any day.

Speaking of characters, I think that is truly what sells the story. They are so perfectly human, flaws and all. Even characters I like I disagree with and find myself frustrated at their decisions. Because they act with all the nearsightedness and selfishness of all of us. However, as the story is told from multiple perspectives, the listener knows all the moving pieces, and you can’t help but wish they could overcome. Their weaknesses serve to drive the story and make it interesting. No one is satisfied sitting around and waiting, and so their impulsivity and focus on individual goals end up propelling them into exciting situations. But it all feels so organic, because they first started with realistic characters whose motivations follow naturally.

In terms of critique, I wish they would handle content warnings in a different way. Sometimes it ends up giving away too much of what’s coming in the plot. I understand the appeal of content warnings to people, and I think they have a place in media. However, the decision to speak to specific episode content each time ends up spoiling some big plot points. I would much rather have a generic content warning, followed by details in the show notes or some other format, rather than hearing up front that an episode contains death. However, even with those “spoilers,” I have ridiculously enjoyed every episode I listen to.

So, in case you have not noticed, I absolutely love everything about Marsfall. It’s incredible. It is intense, as I mentioned. I think you need to be aware going in, because some episodes are heavy. But it truly excels because it does not shy away from those topics, either. It confronts death, grief, loss, anger, fear, and so many other tough parts of life. Its willingness to confront the challenges is what really makes it something special.

Just to let you know how good it is, it was what inspired me to finally get a Patreon account and start giving back. I checked theirs, expecting it to be absolutely FLOODED with patrons because it is just that good. And I found that it was chugging along, but not nearly receiving the support they deserved. So I definitely had to sign up and give them my money every month. Because when people are making something this good, they deserve every cent they can get.

You can find them here: Marsfall


A Listener Reviews: Oz-9

Oz-9

Episodes: 12 Episodes so far.

Length: Generally around 10-20 minutes

I’ve listened to… All available episodes

The Premise: Greater Gated Galaxies (bad ears….) realizes they are about to be found out an lose a lot of money if their whole fleet is grounded. And they’ll definitely be grounded, because the ships are flying deathtraps that are lucky if they’re held together with chewing gum and duct tape. So, the best bet? Hurriedly staff the ships with crews of convicts, take a lot of rich peoples’ money, and load everyone on the ships in the hopes of stumbling across a habitable world at some point, maybe. We follow the crew of the Oz-9 as they struggle to survive the reaches of…space relatively close to earth, but definitely not still within jurisdictional range of anyone. They’ll make it out there among the stars eventually.

My Review: This is one of the few podcasts where I knew I was going to love it from episode one. Usually, it takes me a couple of episodes to warm up to an idea, and then I’m hooked. But this pulled me in incredibly quickly. The scenario is unabashedly ridiculous…but also cynical and greedy enough that I worry it may be clairvoyant. The crew of the Oz-9 are certainly caricatures, but endearing ones. As we learn about their sheer incompetence, it makes you want them to survive even more, because honestly, it seems cruel to kill people that are this hapless.

The plot is beginning to develop a bit more depth, and I certainly welcome it. The “crisis of the minute” style has been good at introducing everyone and everything, but now it’s beginning to build some more involved story arcs, and I cannot wait to see how it all unfolds. I’ll also be interested to see the humor in the show develops as the plot gets deeper. One of the things I most appreciate about this story is it’s ability to be goofy and “random” without falling into the “lolz penguin of doom” style. It does this by using call backs very well, playing on the same gag in unexpected ways. These gags have not become overused, but they’re only 12 episodes in, so let’s not give them too much credit. (I kid. Listen to the show. It’s perfectly on theme.)

Also, let me take a moment in this review to talk about a completely unrelated media property. Arrested Development. I have said on many occasions that if there were a way to remove my knowledge of a show so I can re-experience the sheer joy of a first watch through, I would use that on Arrested Development. For me, Oz-9 hits a lot of the same notes.  A cast of rather unfortunate, oblivious characters, good use of running gags, and a omniscient narrator providing commentary. Admittedly, this narrator has a bit more disdain for the crew and, frankly, the audience. But I probably deserve it.

Oz-9 is silly, senseless, unapologetic humor done really, really well. It doesn’t try to be something it’s not, and it thankfully does not take itself too seriously. It is just good fun to listen to.  I know I can tune in and just enjoy laugh as the crew of the Oz-9 struggle to survive…at least a week or so?

You can find them here: Oz-9


A Listener Reviews: Palimpsest

Palimpsest

Episodes: 20 episodes total (10 episodes per season)

Length: Generally around 20 minutes

I’ve listened to… Both seasons

The Premise: Each season tells a different story. In season one, the narrator moves into a new home and starts to experience some strange things. In season 2, the narrator runs away from home and soon begins work caring for a unique charge in a house that shows off these “denizens” in a high end freak show of sorts. While one is modern day and the second is decidedly not, the share a lot in tone and both focus on supernatural stories.

My Review: Both seasons have been beautifully told stories. The title of Palimpsest refers to a work of some kind where the old has been written/drawn over, but the original remains visible. And the stories stay true to this, with both seasons telling overlapping stories. What has happened in the past has a distinct presence in the future, and characters end up telling two stories at once. I think this is a stronger theme in season 1, but definitely still comes through in season 2 in a more subtle way.

The style of this podcast tends to be a kind of somber, hopeful tone. In the present, it is earnest and optimistic, even in the face of difficulties, and this is woven with a sad nostalgia at times. With a single narrator in each, it manages to convey the different needs and personalities of many different people. The music used is also really well done, setting the scene and tone without becoming distracting.

I have found the seasons to be a little predictable at times, which is unfortunate but not unforgivable. The storytelling is done well enough that I’m happy to go along for the ride even if I’m pretty sure where we’re headed. I think once I made the connection about how the title is woven into the stories, it became easier to figure out the stories because the past and present are often overlapping in the audiodrama.

These are two reflective, intriguing, and emotional stories. There is action and intensity, but it is precede by the steadily building tension that the present in its current form is unsustainable, but the path forward looks impossible. For very different reasons in the two seasons, but still. I think season one is a great example of an unreliable narrator, which is probably one of my favorite approaches when done well. It keeps me guessing, and I like that. Even if I did figure a lot of it out before the podcast got there. It was still enjoyable listening to how they unraveled both stories.

Overall, while it does play on some familiar themes/tropes, the execution and presentation in this audiodrama is phenomenal. I was able to easily become invested in the characters, even when I thought they were making a bad move. It packs a lot of emotion into a single episode, steadily moving the story forward with an even pace. Ultimately, it was a joy to follow along with the story through all the twists and sometimes rather dark turns. I will be eagerly waiting for another season, and I can’t wait to see where they go next.

You can find them here: Palimpsest