Episodes: 9 so far
Length: 15-20 minutes
I’ve listened to… all current episodes
Transcripts Available: Yes, available on the individual episode pages at their website
The Premise: An anthology series based on spoilers. In each episode, someone dies in the elevator. The who and how are what keep things exciting episode after episode!
My Review: The premise of this series is remarkably simple. Each episodes takes place within the bounds of an elevator, and in each episode, someone will die within the elevator. It may sounds too simple at first glance, but the degree of creativity brought into each story has made it truly remarkable to listen to.
Each story so far has been surprisingly unique, tied together by setting and outcome. However, even within the setting of the elevator, there has been remarkable differences and creativity. Ancient elevators, futuristic ones, and even you everyday hotel. Combined with the variety of genres present, it has become a surprise each time the story unfolds. This is a premise that could become stale, yet so far each episode has felt like a good story in its own right. And even knowing where the story will end, I am guessing and wondering how it is going to get to that point. Like any anthology, there are certainly standout episodes and those which are not my particular cup of tea. Yet even the stories that have not been my preferred genre or style have been entertaining and well-developed.
Episodes are relatively short, and yet they pack a great deal of story into that space. In a few lines of dialogue, distinct and developed characters come into focus. The dialogue is easy to follow, but always leads closer and closer to someone’s inevitable end. Additionally, the additional sound effects and background provides needed context, helping to crate the world and scene so that the listener can follow along. The stories also manage to balance danger and levity well. There are some big themes addressed (and the content warnings at the start of each episode do a great job of preparing the listener without revealing too much), yet it manages to do this without feeling heavy or overly dark.
Overall, despite giving away the big reveal in their title, Someone Dies In This Elevator manages to take a simple idea and iterate on it to create some really engaging pieces of fiction. It is cleverly written with a diversity of tones, settings, and genres to keep the surprises coming episode after episode.
Episodes: 5 full episodes and 4 “Bonus” episodes
Length: 30-45 minutes for each full episode, 2-3 minutes per Bonus.
I’ve listened to… the entire run.
Transcripts Available: No
The Premise: Rani is a genetically enhanced athlete set to break through barriers and compete in the 2040 Olympics. However, the world is divided on whether or not genetically enhanced individuals should be allowed to compete alongside non-enhanced people. This tension spills over into violence, and Rani’s family is left to contend not only with the increasingly dangerous social environment, but themselves and their relationships.
My Review: I was contacted about Twenty forty and asked to listen for a review. And, as is usually the case, I was very glad I did. This is an intense, engaging, and binge-worthy story. Told through five episodes, one from each main character’s point of view and a grand finale, it seeks to uncover the mystery of who was behind a tragic attack and what that means for the family going forward.
The concept of this is incredible. It sits just close enough to our present time to echo some of the current dialogue stirring around transgender athletes, while also pointing toward future challenges and complications. It is uncomfortably familiar at times, which served to pull me even further into the unfolding story. The role of technology is a central point of conflict, not only in the main focus of the Olympic, but also in other ways. How does technology affect how we relate to one another? How we experience emotions? Rather than avoid some of these questions, it tackles them in the content, with the decisions the characters make in these areas having important consequences.
While the concept was certainly intriguing at the outset, the true star of this is in the characters. They are human. Messy, selfish, imperfect, impulsive, and complex humans throughout the story. It echoes familiar ideas from classic tragedies as the story progresses. The competing motivations of characters leads to clashes, and the complex world provides a perfect stage for them to spiral into chaos and comfort. The characters often end up being foils of one another in various ways. Like any family, they mimic each other enough to help highlight their differences. These qualities serve to create conflict and also bring them together. Everyone in the story is far from perfect, and each one makes critical mistakes that, ultimately, contribute to the mystery unfolding.
It is a heavy story, and emotions often run high. Yet the writing does an excellent job at pushing the characters, and by extension the listener, to better understand the roles of these emotions in the story that develops. In addressing such heavy topics, characters seek comfort in many ways, some effective and others likely harmful. Yet those are their missteps to make. It highlights the consequences of trying to silence our emotions, including the personal and communal impact of such decisions.
The story focuses on understanding what happened during the central tragedy, waving a complicated story from multiple perspectives and moments in time. While it is typically easy to follow along, it uses flashbacks and recordings to reveal information in key moments. In addition, characters biases or weaknesses (such as memory problems for one) serve to illuminate and obfuscate different details throughout. This deepens the overall mystery and left me uncertain until the end exactly what happened. It is a chaotic ride through grief, resilience, and heartache. And yet each moment brings things into focus, highlighting the characters in their truth and deceptions.
As a note, whenever I see “Bonus” episodes in podcasts, I always wonder if they are recaps/previews or additional content. For Twenty Forty, the Bonus episodes are an extension of the story that adds depth to the “Free Play” characters. They are an integral part of the overall world and story. The Free Play movement is one of the parts that I found most unsettling, because a lot of the rhetoric already exists. It brings this story of the future uncomfortably close to home. The writers did a remarkable job demonstrating how truth and lies can be woven together for an agenda, as well as how the radicalization process can happen.
Overall, Twenty Forty was a complex story with messy, complicated, and imperfectly human characters trying to achieve their aims. It demonstrates how technology can be a blessing and a curse, how blinded we can be by our own views, and how family can come together to support or wound. The themes are heavy, and the story rests solidly in the realm of tragedy/drama throughout. Yet it was one I was eager to listen to, each episode introducing more layers to the story and keeping me searching for more. By the end, I was eager to see how everything fit together and sad to know it was coming to an end.
Length: around 30 minutes each episode
I’ve listened to…all released episodes
Transcripts Available: Not that I found
The Premise: Samantha Williams is an investigative journalist uncovering the truth behind unusual events. When she starts to dig into what happened to four teens in a mental health hospital, the missing Filmore Four, the story takes her deep into dangerous territory.
My Review: The Gloom is a remarkable horror story told through the investigative journalism frame. It sets out to tell the story of the Filmore Four, teenagers who died or vanished in relationship to a mental health hospital, all with a shared elusion related to The Gloom. It hints at a whole lot going on beneath the surface, and the reveal of information and the power of The Gloom is handled very well throughout.
One of the things that makes this audiodrama standout is how well it plays with uncertainty. Throughout the story, it is hard to know who or what to trust. The characters may be legitimately experiencing delusions with no ties to the real world. Or perhaps they are all tied together by this supernatural presence. Or maybe it’s an extended metaphor. Or maybe it’s medical experimentation. Even as the story comes together in the end, there are threads of uncertainty that make it hard to distinguish what is really going on. I absolutely love that constant ambiguity. And yet the end leaves enough that a listener can certainly settle on a conclusion.
The story is primarily told through Samantha’s experience, in addition to tapes of the Filmore Four. The frame of a radio production has been used regularly in audiodramas, and it works well here. It provides Samantha an initial impetus for the story, before the events begin to draw her in. The other characters in the world are also well developed and provide skepticism and expertise throughout, giving it a very realistic feel. I appreciate that there is a constant push to find the underlying cause, because I don’t think most people are ready to throw rationality out too easily, even when confronted with incredible things. Yet there are pieces left that lack logical explanation, leaving room for that delightful uncertainty.
As a therapist, I was also overjoyed to hear someone finally mention HIPAA when the journalist comes knocking. In general, I felt the mental health aspects were treated fairly. Some of the specifics about symptoms and disorders was clouded by the supernatural elements, so I give a bit of leeway in the accuracy. It is not, after all, a case study in diagnosing and treating mental illness. However, it was refreshing to have the realities portrayed and have someone call out unethical behavior from mental health providers directly. Since shining a light on the mental health system is one of the initial aims, that and understanding what The Gloom might be, it handles those elements well.
It comes from Violet Hour Media (who also created In Another Room), so the production value is there. I found the sound quality and use of sound effects to be great. The writing is well paced and engaging from start to finish. Characters show real emotion, and the world comes alive.
Overall, I enjoyed The Gloom from start to finish. The story has some familiar notes, but yet comes alive with the strength of the characters. It introduces a compelling mystery that only gets deeper as the details come out. It could be easy for this to come apart, but the story stays together to the end. For a spooky, supernatural story that manages to stay firmly anchored in our world, definitely give this a listen.
Find them here: The Gloom
Episodes: 12 so far, with more planned
Length: 40-60 minutes
I’ve listened to… all currently released episodes
Transcripts Available: Yes, available here
The Premise: Two followers of an outlawed god travel rural lands in an attempt to find miracles and workings of their god. It exists in a world where consumerism and religion have melded, and where belief begets existence in many ways, whether you want it to or not.
My Review: Billing itself as a mix of weird fiction and horror, The Silt Verses manages to tell a story horrifying in its content and implications in equal measure. It is a tough one to explain, because it is so different than a lot of what is out there. It is most similar to I am in Eskew, a show by the same creators. The Silt Verses continues the strong tradition of blending the impossible and the macabre into a complex world with serious stakes. The powers that rule the world are fickle and often cruel, highlighting the precarious fragility of humanity within the web of their power.
From moment one, the tone of the show is dark, brooding, and mysterious. Things that are explained as commonplace and expected are subtly (and not-so-subtly at times) wrong, leaving a sense that something is deeply wrong. In many ways, it it like the uncanny valley, but for existence rather than entities. The world has some similarities to our own, and yet the early signs point to things being horribly wrong.
One of the factors that I find most intriguing is the blend between consumerism and religion. Say what you will about the mix in our current world, but this takes it to a new extreme. Brands rely on gods, create gods, bring worship to them. Throughout the show, there is this idea that belief, want, and need can at times combine in terrible ways to create monstrous power. And once that power exists, it requires worship and sacrifice. These are not merely metaphorical concepts, either, but eldritch horrors that reach into the world on the behalf of companies. There is also the unsettling feeling that everyone is playing with powers much grander than they can understand, that one change in the fickle nature of these gods could bring about disaster.
The two main characters are Carpenter and Faulkner as they seek out miracles from their outlawed god, the Trawler-Man. They form a competitive, unwilling partnership for such a pilgrimage, and their conflict reveals uncomfortable truths about the religions of their world. As the story progress, Officer Hayward is introduced, an investigator specializing in uncovering and stopping those who try to follow forbidden gods. The characters are incredible. their backstories unfold over the course of episodes, displaying various degrees of reverence, despair, confidence, disillusionment, and cynicism. The world continues to expand with more characters, more perspectives, and more details about the way this strange world works. Each character that appears feels complete and driven, with a chaotic network of aligned and conflicting goals existing between them.
The story does not rush, but steadily draws out the world and the characters. It is paced well, lingering on those uncomfortable, impossible moments. Each episode either adds a new complication, a new facet of the world, or a new step forward in the character’s competing quests. The writing is dramatic in style, often introspective in its focus. Dialogue between characters feels realistic and well-crafted. As the characters deepen, the dialogue showcases who they trust and how much through what is said and left unsaid.
Since The Silt verses released, I have been eagerly listening through each episode, getting pulled further into the world being created. It is a dark story, set in an unpleasant and threatening world. As far as horror goes, it does not rely on jump scares or gore, but on existential dread and unsettling imagery. The writing is polished, intentional, and beautiful in its stylized way. As far as exceptional horror podcasts go, no list would be complete without including the Silt Verses. There is more to come in this story, and I am worried about where it may take us.
Length: 20-30 minutes
I’ve listened to… All currently released episodes
Transcripts Available: Yes, available here
The Premise: The story begins in the city of Highgate, introducing most of the central cast. When raiders attack, the five not-yet-heroes set out on a journey of various aims, from supporting one another to vengeance. Set in a wide fantasy world full of danger and magic, it centers on the six adventurers soon to be known as Aurora Nova.
My Review: The Legacy Saga is a classic fantasy adventure following the origins of our heroic groups as they set out on their first true quest. It is a familiar, comfortable fantasy story that develops a host of interesting characters striving to make their ways in a deep and fantastic world.
The story starts with introductions and orientation to the general themes. It gives the characters an opportunity to stretch and develop their skills and motivations early on, pushing them into the rising action through magic and misadventure. It begins with five of the six characters as they live in the city of Highgate, a city no one has left for years. Azrael, Atarah, Sabin, Rowan, and Naiea provide an introduction to the world of the Legacy Saga. Each one has a unique background with differing drives. It certainly has its connection to the RPG world, and that provides a wonderful structure from which the story grows.
When tragedy comes to Highgate, the heroes are forced to decide if and how they will respond. Their friendship and individual needs pull them together and out of the safety of Highgate. One clever thing this audiodrama does is include a cast of characters with little exposure to the outside world. As the world expands beyond the gates, the characters are learning right alongside the listeners. It provides a very natural way to develop the world. And the world itself appears well-developed, with its own conflicts, technology, magic, and politics. I am interested to learn more about how differing factions and fantasy races fill in the world.
This is certainly the kind of story that hinges on its characters, and the six main characters each provide a different facet to the overall story. They balance each other well and provide competing motivations for the group as a whole. The relationships within the group continue to develop and evolve episode by episode, developing strong ties and tenuous alliances.
There is a very light frame story in play, only referenced with occasional audience comments. Personally, I have found these moments tend to reduce some of the tension and at times undermine some clever foreshadowing. However, these are very brief moments and do not generally detract from the events and the story. And the story is intriguing. It hits on familiar fantasy themes, but I am certainly invested in learning about what is going on, who the good and bad guys are, and how the heroes will manage.
I’m always going to be a sucker for good fantasy, and the Legacy Saga has drawn me in. It has a cast of interesting characters thrown into a complex world. I’ve never played DnD, but the influences are clear in the structure and development. I find it enjoyable to hear those beats without worrying about the dice rolls or fine details of actual play. If you want to get pulled into a fantasy world with someone new to root for, then the Legacy Saga is worth a listen.
Length: 30-40 minutes
I’ve listened to… all current episodes
Transcripts Available: No
The Premise: The Chronicles of Wild Hollow follows bounty hunter Fandango Boursin (front and center in the image above) as he takes on jobs. However, he unknowingly may be falling deeper into a web of danger with each passing moment. The first trilogy of his adventures is available to listen now, with more content planned.
My Review: If you ever wanted a musical podcast full of adventure, intrigue and sardonic humor, then I have some great news. The Chronicles of Wild Hollow hits numerous notes, creating a serious story in a fantasy world. It creates an endearing cast of characters and a surprisingly complex world. The creators, Shouting is Funny, reached out to me for a review. And I am so glad they helped me discover this absolute gem.
This audiodrama borrows some cues from westerns, noir, and adventure genres. I was impressed with the way it wove in classic genre tropes, and yet turned them around or used them to poke fun at convention. It is self-aware in a pleasant way, calling itself out to deepen characters and the world. The writing is clever, quick, and engaging. It never lingers too long in one moment, but keeps the action moving while still providing ample room for character development. I listened to the Christmas special first, as it was the first in queue. And it had me laughing and shaking my head (in a good way) all the way along my commute. That is a good introduction to the style of the show–dark, but funny. Unexpected, unconventional, and witty.
It uses humor very well to balance out the very serious themes presented, keeping it from becoming too difficult of a story to digest. However, the storylines are well-developed and thoughtful, addressing drug use, conspiracy, community, and crime. It uses these situations to develop a cast of interesting characters, with Fandango being the most complete of those depicted so far. His character wrestles with the reality of his job at times, of money versus compassion, of justice and doing the right thing. This is a fairly classic conflict for such characters, but the execution of this is excellent. As Fandango develops, the listener is kept wondering how he will navigate increasingly dangerous situations while remaining true to who he is.
The background characters are also well-done, but tend to be static and more limited in their involvement. It makes sense given the stories being told, and there are some who get additional development. Even with those brief glimpses, it was easy to like certain recurring characters. I also expect some of those with a briefer role may get developed more as future stories about Fandango are released.
I would be remiss to write this whole review and not mention the musical aspects. This is a charming aspect of the show, using musical numbers to introduce characters, progress the plot, and provide scene development. The music is well-written and placed well throughout each episode. It provides an opportunity for more focused world building, using song to provide background and setting details, but in a way that keeps everything moving at a nice pace. The lyrics maintain the feel of the show and feel consistent with the overarching themes of the show.
Overall, this podcast was one that took me by surprise and quickly became a new favorite. The first trilogy leaves off in a precarious place, so I am eagerly awaiting more. In the span of four episodes, the team at Shouting is Funny managed to create a great character, wonderful supporting characters, a complex world, and fantastic music to go along. I never knew quite how a scenario would turn out, and the clever writing pulled me in right away. I can highly recommend you give this show a listen.
You can find them here: The Chronicles of Wild Hollow
Length: The whole things comes in at about 140 minutes
I’ve listened to… all episodes
Transcripts Available: The story itself is based off the Jack London Novel, but I did not find specific transcripts available
The Premise: The Iron Heel is, according to the web “the first modern dystopian novel.” It follows Avis and Earnest, two lovers fighting for worker’s rights against the Iron Heel of the capitalist oligarchy.
My Review: I previously reviewed a podcast by this same theater group and loved the approach. In The Resistible Rise of JR Brinkley, the episodes wove together not only the story of the strange JR Brinkley’s rise to fame, but also interviews with experts in various historical fields and adaptations of period music. It was a really wonderful listening experience that was not only enjoyable, but informative. So hearing that there was another show in the same vein, I was incredibly excited.
The Iron Heel continues this style. For me, listening captured the feel of sitting in the theater watching a play. It has the familiar setup and frame as a theater show, and I have missed being able to sit in those seats recently. The acting and writing are styled and paced like a three act play. I found each of the three sections held up well on its own, though the story is understood in completion.
As I mentioned, the production weaves together the actual story alongside interviews with relevant experts. There are also renditions of labor-movement songs. Personally, I found many of the musical adaptations to be clever not only in the wording, but in the tunes used. Throughout this story, there are threads woven together between economics, religion, personhood, and family. It is a theme that touches every part.
The story itself is based off the Jack London novel. It uses a similar frame, a narrator recounting and adapting the found journal of Avis as she describes the fight against capitalism. Her story focuses on her husband, Earnest’s, role in the events. The frame story is set in a socialist utopia, looking back at the often tireless fight that finally succeeded. It takes this dystopia story and adds an element of hope, something I found refreshing. Avis is a really relatable character in many ways, confronting her own prejudices and then serving to hold people true to their stated goals and aims, without giving in to the pressures of the new world.
The way this story is adapted is wonderful. The language retains that more formal, older style. At times it feels a bit stilted because it is not the way we talk, but it serves to keep the past events anchored in their past. There are also a number of clever, fourth-wall-breaking moments. I found these served to help break down the romantization sometimes seen in such works. It focuses on the brutal, bloody systems in place. Those facts are not hidden behind the language, but up front. The frame story also includes intentional misunderstandings, serving to reinforce how far society has come. Both of these techniques wonderfully create that sense of distance from events.
The selected interviews at the end of each episode are also enlightening. I had cursory exposure to labor movements in the US during school, but nothing too detailed. I will always take an opportunity to be entertained and taught, and the Iron Heel delivers. It demonstrates how art is a part of revolution through focus on writings and music of the time.
Overall, the Iron Heel is a well-produced audiodrama that delivers the feel of an in-person play, but through a podcast format. They use that to their advantage to pack in a number of songs and interviews that deepen the context of the story, while also providing some real world knowledge. The story is based off of Jack London’s work, but adapted to this format to tell a quick paced, character-driven exploration of the fight against the oligarchy. A different approach than many audiodramas, but one that is well worth hearing.
Episodes: 9 in the first season
Length: 25-45 minutes per episode, with most around 30 minutes
I’ve listened to… All of the story
Transcripts Available: Not that I could locate
The Premise: Mike takes a job to run a fire lookout tower in the remote forest, hoping to get away and work on his novel. But once there, he begins to hear and see strange things, eerily similar to the fate that befell his predecessor in the tower.
My Review: Tower 4 is from 7 Lamb Productions and tells a spooky story of isolation and conspiracy. I stumbled across the show and quickly was drawn into the narrative style and lives of the characters. The focus on nature really caught my attention, and being someone a little more constrained by the responsibilities of life, the freedom of being in the wild is, well, intriquiging.
The story focuses on Mike’s life in the eponymous Tower, including his relationship with his one and only contact to the outside world, Amber–the lookout for Tower 3. The story manages to weave the two personalities together into a very interesting narrative. Both appear unreliable at times. Mike is harboring his own hurts and demons, and maybe the isolation is a bit much for him. The constant question as I listened was what was coinicdence and what was something sinister. Amber provides a skeptic’s balance to the events. But as Mike begins to distrust her, I as the listener did as well. She manages to easily dismiss the events–is that because she knows more than she’s telling, or because Mike is making more of the events than they are?
Despite this constant duel between potentially unreliable narrators, the relationships between Mike and Amber is nice to hear. There are some really natural, friendly moments between them. Throughout the course of the episodes, their relationship provides a platform to deepen both characters through their interactions and snippets of the past. They are both wounded in some way, running from something in the woods. That common hurt allows them to grow closer, showcasing their strengths in their interactions. It also leads to a good bit of the conflict. I’d be remiss to not include the forest as a character here as well, and the way the setting interacts within the world is really well done. It is the backdrop, but also begins to seemingly take on more agency as the story develops. I leave the episodes so far feeling as if the forest is not simply a neutral location, but could be either friend or foe.
The storyline overall is paced well. It starts relatively calm, with Mike learning his role and exploring the area. The strange elements begin to creep in on the fringes, but develop more and more quickly as the story progresses. It shows enough to keep the story interesting without ever really revealing what all is going on. The story balances reveal and concealment very well, with each new piece of information moving closer to the truth. And yet it does not rush the ending. In fact, season 1 ends in a way the opens up a myriad of questions for season 2.
The story has a first person narrative approach, and I found it very easy to listen to Mike throughout. The writing, descriptive level, pacing, and tone of voice are rather relaxing. For me, that made those tense moments stand out all the more from the surroundings. It’s easy to be lulled into a feeling of peace in the forest, away from everyone. And yet this podcast demonstrates one less common reason why that can be a very dangerous thing.
Interspersed are excerpts of Mike’s book, telling about his past relationship and the way it fell apart. There is a real sense of grief, loss, and guilt not only in the narrative sections, but also in Mike’s reflections on this event and other parts of his life. It provides a deeply introspective tone, and the events of the story serve to highlight this. Mike is at once finding similar patterns and trying to respond differently, to choose a new path for his life. And yet it seems like some forces may have other plans.
Overall, I have found Tower 4 to be a wonderful show that makes me happy every time I see it show up in my feed. The characters are inviting and human in their motivations and interactions, and I continue to listen to see how they will play off one another. Each twist of the plot brings it deeper and deeper into the world of the weird, steadily building up strange occurrences. Just as the pieces begin to fall into place, something else takes things off course. I love a story that starts simple and explodes into dozens of questions and mysteries, and Tower 4 does that exceptionally well. If you want to puzzle over some clues and get lost in a conspiratorial mystery, I’d recommend you find a quiet place and tune into the first season.
Episodes: 10 in the story
Length: 45-70 minutes per episode
I’ve listened to… every episode
Transcripts Available: Currently up through episode five, linked here
The Premise: The city of Everton, built by two brothers after World War II, was meant to be a sanctuary. And then it disappeared. Now two agents must find out what happened to the people of Everton. The journey will take through impossible realities, astral existence, Arthurian legends, and danger in every step.
My Review: Margaret’s Garden is created by Midnight Disease, the same folks responsible for the wonderful podcast that is SCP Archives. They bring the same talent and excellent production to this standalone story set in its own fantastic world. I finished listening to Margaret’s Garden about a few weeks ago, and I am still thinking about the incredible story that unfolded in these ten episodes. It is amazing how much work and creativity was poured into this story, and the final product is truly remarkable.
The podcast takes place both in semi-present day and the time shortly after WWII. It switches between the two timeframes, guided deftly by the wonderful narrator. The narrator plays an integral role, acting as an omniscient presence guiding the story, providing context, and bringing listeners along. There is ample direct address to the audience, creating a sense of familiarity with the world and experiences. And when things get hard to follow, the narration provides an anchor to tie information together.
The story also alternates between the world we know and the world of the astral plane. Each setting is slowly explored over the course of the story, developing into their own world with rules and expectations. This, of course, adds a remarkable degree of complexity to the storyline. However, it always feels manageable based on the talented storytelling. When I say there is a lot that happens in these ten episodes, I mean a LOT. There are love stories, horror stories, legends, wars, conquests, and universes all contained within the ten episode run. I do not think I have really come across a podcast telling a story quite like this, though it certainly shares themes and concepts seen elsewhere. The breadth and complexity of the story is standout.
The writing, in both dialogue and narration, is phenomenal. Each character has their own tone, motivation, weaknesses, and story. The decisions they make, especially how they react to what they do not know or fear, drives the plot forward in a very organic way. It provides ample opportunities for characters to learn and grow…or stay in their faulty ways of thinking and sacrifice everything. Given how, frankly, bizarre some things can be, the use of description and narration is balanced carefully with the dialogue and sound design to ensure scenes are comprehensive and engaging, even as it stretches the bounds of what one can imagine.
The themes addressed are weighty. What would you do to be safe? To be loved? To build a better world? To be powerful? In the character’s successes and missteps, a remarkable world rises and falls. It does not try to maintain simplistic views on the good guys and the bad guys. Each character is complex, with understandable motivations and, often, questionable means to meet their needs. And that make sit hard to know what will happen next or even what outcome the listener should be rooting for. And yet it manages to tell a powerful story that addresses this complexity and refuses to stoop to solving it with a neat bow.
Overall, Margaret’s Garden is a beautifully constructed story with a whole group or intriguing and realistic characters. The production team behind it is talented, and so every aspect has been carefully polished to be a wonderful listening experience. The acting is engaging, creating characters a listener can know and care about. The writing balances a host of competing storylines and themes in order to tell a full and satisfying story in multiple times and places. It is a wonderful piece that blends sci-fi, fantasy, supernatural, and horror themes into something new and different. And you should definitely buckle in and listen.
Episodes: 13 full episodes with three prologues, and epilogue, and a full supercut available.
Length: 15-30 minutes per episode, with the supercut totaling 222 minutes
I’ve listened to… Everything
Transcripts Available: Yes, linked here
The Premise: Two scientists discover evidence of an abandoned world and set off on a journey to uncover what happened to the missing civilization. The story is told in alternating segments from the perspectives of the scientists, one starting from the beginning and the other from the end of the story.
My Review: As I mentioned last week when discussing Primordial Deep, it is wholly my oversight not to talk about Janus Descending earlier. For sci-fi horror, you really cannot go wrong listening to this story, and they have a sequel story in the works now. When I saw something new show up in the Janus Descending feed, I immediately loaded it up to listen and was so excited. So let me tell you why you should listen.
Chel and Peter are the main characters, and episodes alternate between their personal logs. These logs are made up of descriptive information about the planet and their discoveries alongside personal reflections and monologues. They both know the other may be listening, and so they also serve as notes between the two, messages separated in time. Chel and Peter have very different approaches to the discovery, with Peter often taking a more cautious approach, while Chel is chasing the excitement of exploration. Between their two perspectives, the listener gets a clearer sense of the reality of their situation. It is one filled with wonder and riddled with danger, a fact neither of them can fully understand until later on.
While they give away the ending very early on, the context develops slowly, providing multiple layers of discovery and appreciation over the course of episodes. So, even though I knew the ending from the very start, I cannot say I fully understood or appreciated it until much later, as comments became clear and the reality sank in. The alternating perspectives also served to fill in the gaps, as one character might experience something described by the other at another part. It was enjoyable having the chance to put the pieces together and reconstruct the story as it developed, filling in the missing pieces from both the start and end.
Aside from Directive and Seren, I’m not sure I’ve had as emotional a reaction to an audiodrama as I did with Janus Descending. There is something beautiful and tragic in the unfolding story of these characters. They become so complete in the telling of the story, and something about knowing the end makes it all the more poignant. It is truly a beautiful story set in a very terrifying world.
Of course, the plot centers around exploration of an alien world. And this is handled wonderfully, telling a tense story with excellent pacing, careful reveals, and building unease. The alien concept is not necessarily unheard of, and fans of sci-fi staples will probably recognize familiar ideas. However, the way it develops and is presented sets it apart from other similar works. It takes these familiar threads and weaves them in a different way, using clever moments of obscurity and revelation to savor the exploration of the world they have encountered.
Overall, Janus Descending is a podcast that has stuck with me since I first listened. It is the kind of story I wish I could write, done masterfully. It combines sci-fi and horror elements that are familiar, but through careful work and thoughtful character development, spins those into a new listening experience. It remarkably balances character and plot, developing both in chronological and reverse order simultaneously. The attention to detail in the characters and themes of the story makes it feel cohesive from start to finish, weaving a beautifully tragic tale of space exploration that deserves plenty of listens. If you like sci-fi/horror podcasts, this is pretty much required listening.
And again, they absolutely deserve all the support you can provide. So please, help them keep creating new shows, like the upcoming sequel to Janus Descending, Descendants.
Episodes: 7 episodes + a prologue and epilogue in season 1.
Length: 45 – 75 minutes (and worth every second)
I’ve listened to… all of season 1.
Transcripts Available: Yes, linked here
The Premise: A crew is sent deep under the sea in order to investigate strange happenings. However, it becomes quickly evident that there is more under the water than anyone bargained for, and their employer must know more than he let on.
My Review: No Such Things Productions are the creative geniuses behind Janus Descending which, after realizing I have not already reviewed it, will be reviewed next week in eager anticipation of their new story in the Janus Descending world. But today’s focus is on Primordial Deep, a sci-fi horror show set in the deep oceans of our very own planet. Continuing with the theme of the strange, horrifying, and alien, this earth-bound tale weaves a fantastic and heart wrenching story.
I’m writing this fresh off of the season finale. And woah. Let me tell you, it is a spooky ride, but one that you should definitely join. The cast of characters really makes this work a masterpiece. A story like this with carboard characters who can live or die without any emotion would fall into anonymity with hundreds of similar stories. But the amount of life brought to each character in this story is remarkable. It is a character story told in a horrific setting, with stakes increasing moment by moment.
The classic conflicts are human vs. human, human vs. self, and human vs. nature. Primordial Deep manages to weave all three of these conflicts into one single story, with constantly shifting threats from within and without. The writing balances danger and periods of quiet well, but never lets the listener feel too comfortable. If it is not monsters, it’s the boss or a character’s own thoughts that threaten to destroy the team and mission. The pacing is wonderful in this regard. The show spends time learning about, understanding, and developing characters both during times of distress and times of relative quiet. In turn, the listener develops a strong relationship with them.
There are a lot of heavy hits in this show, and it is not for the faint of heart. The story is unapologetically dense, tackling a lot of difficult themes around life, relationships, grief, guilt, and belonging. However, these are consistent with the overall themes of the story and the developmental needs of the characters. Each person comes in with their strengths, weaknesses, and works in progress. As humans, they are messy, hurting each other in their attempts to keep self and others safe. No one reacts perfectly to every situation, and it provides a level of realism to the otherwise sci-fi setting.
Admittedly, I am one of those people who does not trust the ocean on a good day, and this audiodrama has provided me ample reasons to stay far away in the future. There are creatures in here, and the development and creativity of these is incredible. They provide varying levels of threat, making it often hard to know what is dangerous and what isn’t….until it is. I am not a marine biologist, but the descriptions and explanations presented also felt really consistent throughout. Is it scientifically accurate? I have no idea. Is it convincing and well-developed in a fictional setting? Absolutely.
And the sound. It is very atmospheric, which is really crucial for a story where the setting is as much a character as any of the voice actors. They provide a great background for what is happening and allow the listener to discover some of the secrets of the ocean alongside the characters, based on the well-designed sound cues. I think the investigative tone of the initial mission also functions well in the audiodrama format, as characters provide scientific descriptions of creatures encountered and their behavior. I left most episodes with a great mental picture of what was going on, whether I wanted to imagine such things or not.
Overall, if the preceding paragraphs have not given it away entirely, Primordial Deep is a horrifically good sci-fi story about the dangers under the water. It develops the characters well in order to fully engage the listener, and then holds them there with wonderfully developed sound design and expert writing. Once the story takes off, it does not slow down much, hurtling toward greater stakes and danger each step of the way. It’s worth listening to, and with all of season 1 released, it is definitely worth binging so you can eagerly wait for more.
Also, one moment, but this creative group is one that absolutely should be swimming (pun only moderately intended) in Patreon support. So if you can support them, please do, because I need them to be around a long time creating such wonderful shows.
Episodes: 3 so far
Length: 25-40 minutes each
I’ve listened to… all available episodes
Transcripts Available: Yes, linked here
The Premise: Life With LEO(h) follows Jeanine, a futuristic lawyer specializing in keeping one rule-bending company out of trouble. After saving them yet again, she is given her very own android. The problem is, LEO(h) has free will, something that is definitely not okay. The story follows Jeanine, caught in this ethical nightmare, and LEO(h), the loving, empathic, optimistic, and only sort of helpful android as they confront questions about free will and love.
My Review: I was contacted to review this audiodrama and was so excited. As I mentioned when reviewing them, The Bright Sessions was one of the first audiodramas that got me truly hooked on the genre. So when Atypical Artists reached out about one of their new projects, it was an easy choice.
The story so far has been a blast. Jeanine and LEO(h) are incredibly interesting characters, and the supporting cast really add a great background to provide depth to the world and additional stakes. The writing is sharp and engaging. There is a wonderful pace to every scene that keeps the story moving along, while unraveling strange cases or sifting through personal problems. Each episode is constructed to move the overall story forward, while also handling new challenges.
In one sense, it feels like a really smartly written sitcom. The episodes each have their own individual struggles, and each of these play into the bigger picture. The comedic aspects of it are very much based on the absurdity of certain situations and vicarious awkwardness, and yet that balances very well with the real important questions. Early on, the story introduces the concept of consent. LEO(h) has free will, except in that he must love Jeanine. The show dives straight into the question of whether or not that is free will, and can consent be freely given?
The world feels close to ours, albeit with advanced AI and androids. The situations are realistic extensions of what we experience today, updated to a futuristic setting. As the show has progressed, the intricacies of this reality have been further and further developed. Jeanine’s work colleagues offer insights into the complex system set up to try and manage the world of android law. Through their cases and conversations, the preconceived ideas and assumptions that keep things running begin to show up, and LEO(h) serves as a contrast to the legal precedent.
In addition, Jeanine’s sister and fiancée break up the tension with their good-spirited banter and familial taunting. They offer a space for Jeanine to reflect and get a good reality check as needed, while also rooting for some exciting romantic drama to keep them entertained. They are a wonderful addition and serve to provide a human, lighthearted element to the story overall.
I am truly smitten with Life with LEO(h) so far. The writing is quick, witty, and engaging. The plot is well-paced and intriguing. The characters, both main and secondary, are relatable, energetic, and realistic. I also cannot wait to see where they take some of the big questions around free will, sentience, love, and consent. I am not a huge romance fan, but this is one romcom I am eagerly waiting for, episode after episode. If you like some laughter and humanity in your sci-fi audiodrama, it is definitely one to listen to.
Length: 20-30 minutes
I’ve listened to… All seven episodes
Transcripts Available: No
The Premise: A comedy series about super heroes and, more directly, the super villains in the world. It is a light-hearted show that tackles superhero tropes head on, using those to develop a different perspective as it follows the daughter of famed super villains and their lasting impact on her life.
My Review: Super Villain is a production of Phonic Phoenix, a group creating comedy sketches, including short and long-form content. This seven part series sits alongside other, brief, standalone comedy sketches. The creator reached out to me and suggested I look at Super Villain specifically, and so this review remains focused on that series. (But if you are looking to subscribe on your app of choice, the feed is Phonic Phoenix.)
Super Villain is an enjoyable listen, a story about the nuanced and more down-to-earth life in a world with heroes and villains. In general, the tone is rather light, even when discussing some significant challenges, and remains optimistic. It is a feel-good kind of tale, but taking a different approach to the hero genre. Episode one ends with a direct, fourth-wall breaking commentary on the superhero genre, specifying the ways Super Villain intends to do something different. It was a cute and clever way to highlight that, despite some familiar opening notes, the story intended to diverge.
The main character is Dani, daughter of a famed super villain duo. She is forced to wrestle with the legacy of her parents, as well as decide who she wants to be in the world while overcoming obstacles she never asked for. In addition, there is Captain Hero, our requisite super do-gooder, and The Sage, his current nemesis. Dani is the best developed of the characters, and I really enjoyed following her story. She has attitude and grit, which makes it interesting to listen. I enjoyed following the ways she got out of challenges, using her strengths and weaknesses to handle the day-to-day struggles of life in superhero world.
The Narrator is also a key character. Super Villain is told within a frame story of an audiodrama production. The Narrator is there to read the script, keep things on track, and advocate on behalf of listeners and characters. There is the traditional script-reading, but also “unscripted” commentary about what is happening. This allows the show to address some concerns, such as the dialogue in episode one explaining why it is not your run-of-the-mill hero show, while also providing some levity and optimism. I do feel that at times the writing leans to heavy on the Narrator to explain things, when instead it may make sense to trust the audience to put it together. However, the Narrator is a likable character and provides some relatable reactions to the unfolding script. In addition, this role provides a lot of the non-audio cues. He sets the scene, describes visuals, and narrates actions that might be confusing in an audio format.
The first two episodes really serve to set the background and introduce the main characters. This is important information for appreciating the story as a whole, but the excitement really takes off in episode three with the characters, conflicts, and world fairly well-established. It is an engaging ride throughout, and I was very drawn into the story within a few episodes. The writing is good, with some clever moments and organic dialogue. Dani’s conversations and interactions with her friends felt fun and supportive, a bright spot of human connection in a story shining a spotlight on the hurt we can cause each other.
The plot and ideas were well-constructed, rarely wasting information. Each moment and scene propels the story along. In some ways, this can feel convenient: the right person always happens to be listening at the right time. But, it also works well for the pacing and structure needed, avoiding traps that could bog down what is a well-paced tale. It simply does not waste time on unnecessary things. Even when I thought something was wrong or superfluous, it turned out it was just hinting at a more important reveal. The general plot is a comedic action-adventure, and yet it manages to bring in big questions about right, wrong, and meaning without breaking stride.
Overall, it was an enjoyable show to listen to that gave a more nuanced view of life in the world with super humans. At its core, it is not about being a hero/villain and saving/destroying the world, but more about figuring out who you want to be. The frame story helps maintain its upbeat, hopeful tone throughout, even when asking big questions and tackling tough moments. The character of Dani is well-developed and fun to get to know, with a selection of side characters that enrich the world and relationships therein. If you are wanting a break from the dark, gritty, nail-biting urgency of modern day superheroes, Super Villain is a enjoyable exploration of these ideas worth a listen.
You can find them here: Super Villain
Episodes: 7 so far
Length: 10-20 minutes
Transcripts Available: No
I’ve listened to… All currently available episodes
The Premise: An unnamed man discovers a supernatural realm and uses his skills to help and protect others, as well as himself. It follows him interacting with the strange and unknown in all kinds of encounters with the supernatural.
My Review: The show creator reached out to me a few months back to let me know about their upcoming release. As the show was still new, I mentioned it in my 2020 Roundup and agreed to come back when a bit more of the show was available for review. And now at seven episodes, I am excited to point you toward this show!
Arcane is a mysterious supernatural audiodrama following our unnamed protagonist as he encounters all kinds of supernatural oddities. It covers a wide range of different scenarios in the first few episodes, with people trying to steal knowledge/power, spells gone wrong, and people with strange abilities. While having a “monster of the week” style approach, the dangers encountered veer away from the traditional tropes /monsters and focus on more unique experiences.
The first episode starts off with a rather dark turn, setting the stage for the somber tone and high stakes of the series so far. On my first time listening, I was not sure what to take from Episode 1, but it came into focus as the episodes developed. I have found myself going back to episode one and turning over some of the unique plot points from time to time, just because it really caught me by surprise in a fantastic way. I do think this is a show that takes an episode or two to hit its stride, not in the quality of content, but in the overarching concept. Once it settles into that rhythm, the surprises continue to show up, but I felt I was able to appreciate more because I was better oriented to the universe.
The sound is great and serves the story well. It is not overdone, but it provides appropriate context clues for what is happening in the scenes so that a listener can get a good visual of situations. Similarly, the blend between narration and dialogue works well. The unnamed protagonist provides some very helpful context and background as needed through narrative pauses, without turning into too much of a monologue. It can be hard to strike that balance, especially in a story where the world building is very important, and I think it lands with a good split of both overall.
One of the things I most enjoy is the slow discovery in this particular story. There is limited handholding by the creator as to what things mean in the broader context, but there are clues and breadcrumbs to follow regarding the bigger picture. It is a really pleasant experience to notice those pieces coming together and forming the background to the events in each episode. There is definitely a much broader, deeper world here than has been revealed so far, and I have enjoyed the opportunity to piece things together as they come up within the context of the episodes.
Overall, Arcane is a unique take on the brooding, supernatural serial. It has moments of light and darkness woven together to create a complex world that had been exciting to explore. The writing and sound are solid, providing the necessary frame to get drawn into the world being created. It deals with familiar ideas, but avoids falling into classic tropes and traps, instead introducing unique concepts and conflicts in each episode. I am excited to listen to more and see the world of Arcane continue to develop.
You can find them here: Arcane
Episodes: 8 publicly available. Patreon supporters have access to episodes in a weekly format ahead of public release, with a total of 47 weekly episodes currently available for $5 and up Patrons.
Length: Monthly cuts are 35-45 minutes in length. Weekly episodes are 5-10 minutes each.
I’ve listened to… All 7 public episodes and maybe (definitely) all the Patreon episodes. I got hooked.
The Premise: Arthur Lester awakens with two startling revelations. He cannot see, and there is another voice inside his head. The story follows him and this entity as they try to understand what has happened, getting drawn deeper and deeper into a web of otherworldly conspiracies that put them both at risk. Using the Chaosium system to provide some additional framework to the story, it takes the listener on a mystery adventure deep through cosmic horror unknowns.
My Review: In the interest of all transparency, this creator reached out to me on Reddit and asked me to review the series. I had been eyeing the episodes for a while, so decided to take a listen. After listening to the 7 monthly cuts of episodes widely available, I decided it was well worth the $5 investment to get access to more, and I have just been listening to as many as possible since.
Malevolent is cosmic horror, and it delves into that genre quickly with rituals, sacrifices, ancient evils, and plenty of bizarre deaths and evocations. If you are familiar with lovecraftian stories, this will feel familiar, but far from stale. The plot twists and turns into danger every step of the way, constantly ratcheting up tension, while using brief moments of pause to summarize and reflect on what needs to happen next. One thing I found very interesting is that each of the weekly episodes ends with a choice that $10 and up Patrons can vote on, determining which path the characters will follow. I think the plot works seamlessly around these plot points, and even with outside control, the writing ensures the decisions are consistent with the world and characters as they are developing. The story also does a great job of providing subtle hints and clues throughout the story so that listeners can begin to piece things together. It is hard to create a sense of the uncanny through audio alone, but Malevolent manages to incorporate by providing just enough details so that the listener begins to realize the pieces aren’t aligning. And then the bizarre shines through, mimicking that real world feeling.
Arthur is the main character, a private investigator now being forced to solve what may be an impossible mystery for human minds to comprehend. The stakes are high; an entity has moved into his head and, while seemingly an ally, there is no guarantee that the arrangement will last forever or end well for Arthur. He is a sympathetic character, and I find he demonstrates a good level of thoughtfulness in the story, while also having his moments of panic and helplessness. While we might all like to imagine we would escape mostly unscathed, Arthur shows how easily human ingenuity can be eclipsed by the otherworldly.
The Entity, which is the title I will use to avoid any potential spoilers, is just as stuck as Arthur, and yet may know more than they are letting on. That’s a great deal of the character tension, because while they are working together, Arthur and the Entity are in adversarial roles simply due to their situation. As details emerge, they serve to further complicate the tenuous partnership. The Entity also fills in some of the details and provides an excellent narrative voice. Since Arthur cannot see, the Entity explains things as they happen. I think this allows the story to sidestep one of the potential pitfalls in audiodrama in general. The audience is provided a detailed descriptions of characters, scenes, and events. This made me feel like I was getting the chance to play along, wondering if Arthur would take the same thing from encounters or places that I did, following the same leads.
The sound design for episodes is also fantastic. I think the story is served well with a blind main character. Arthur is just as surprised by sudden sounds and noises, and it creates a deeper sense of immersion. Additionally, the spooky noises, background sound effects, and wonderful skill of additional voice actors really serves to create a dynamic and engaging world. (Correction, all the voices are provided by ONE PERSON! Even more impressive, because I had no idea.) It is very easy to get sucked in and walk alongside Arthur through his perilous journey. I found episodes flying by as I listened, caught up in a world I could not see, but could easily experience.
As a brief aside, the story does use the Chaosium system, as stated in materials. I am not an actual-play podcast person, nor have I played an in-depth RPG-style tabletop game (but plenty of other tabletop games). I mention it to say, after reading up a bit on the system and some of the Call of Cthulhu rulebook, I can see how the system helps provide some additional structure to the story. That said, it is not an actual-play podcast and does not use dice rolls. I also never found myself lost or confused because I do not have the RPG experience. My one hesitation prior to listening was the reference to Chaosium and worries that I would be in the dark. Fortunately, I have not found that to be the case in the slightest.
Overall, I am so glad I gave this a listen. It is a great spooky story where the unraveling tale keeps me hooked. I am working to put the pieces together as the story develops, feeling like I am walking alongside Arthur and the Entity as they get pulled in deeper and deeper. The writing is strong, dialogue well written and acted, and sound design on point to create an immersive experience. I have been able to get lost in the world and the mystery of Malevolent, and I think it is an excellent listen if you need a little more otherworldly terror in your life. And who doesn’t, right?
In Another Room
Length: 30-45 Minutes
I’ve listened to… All of it
The Premise: Wendy Morrow is exploring a notoriously haunted house. Each episode tells the story of a room as Wendy tries to understand not only what has happened in the past, but what is in store for her after she is caught within the house’s clutches.
My Review: If you like haunted house stories and great ghost stories, then this podcast is almost certain to have something for you. While each story deals with a specific room in the house, it is definitely designed to be listened to in order so that you can understand the workings of the house. Each room holds a clue to what happened, but more importantly what is keeping the souls trapped. The frame story with Wendy is also well-crafted, focusing on her need to understand the supernatural at the expense of the rest of her life.
The individual ghost stories are told well and have some familiar themes. To be fair, it is tough to come up with new ghost story themes, because it has been a genre since the start of time. However, the delivery of each story, as well as the interplay between time and setting, creates some unique experiences even with familiar concepts. It innovates on a theme that many will find familiar, turning it into something new. It is a haunted house, not only because it is inhabited by spirits, but because each spirit is haunted in their own way as well.
Some of the stories really stuck with me. They were well-written, well-acted, and showcased a great mix of complex characters throughout. The stories develop a claustrophobic feel as they explore the injustice of those trapped, and the same feelings spill over into the present-day experience with Wendy beautifully. Wendy’s story becomes its own standalone cautionary tale, following someone driven to the edges by grief, even to the point of missing life right in front of them. In many ways, she is trapped before she ever steps foot in the house, and so it is interesting to follow in her footsteps deeper into the mire that exists.
Overall,Iin Another Room took a lot of ghost story ideas and blended them into a unique and intriguing story. It creates a sense of chaos and confusion that brings setting and characters alive throughout the story. Voices blend over each other, time shifts, and everything that happens within the house has the feel of solid reality and complete fantasy rolled together. It is spooky and unsettling in all the best ways, ultimately reworking the idea of a haunted house in a way I am really glad I got to hear. It reminded me of campfire stories from my childhood, but grown up with an air of polish that kept me eagerly listening episode after episode.
You can find them here: In Another Room
The Patron Saint of Suicides
Episodes: 14 episodes in season 1.
Length: 20-35 minutes per episode
I’ve listened to… all of season one, very eagerly.
The Premise: Years ago, a flash robbery on a train went wrong and ended in bloodshed. And now, bodies are showing up on the train tracks with the same Lucha masks worn by the perpetrators. The podcast follows Haven Otomo, one of the attack survivors, as she navigates her recovery while walking alongside the investigation into these new deaths.
My Review: This is a strong mystery crime thriller that introduces a cast of phenomenal characters and develops a compelling interwoven story about grief, loss, recovery, pain, justice, and revenge. It starts with two primary focuses, following Haven as well as the investigation into new deaths, led by Victor Blossem and Zoey Gibson. As the investigation progresses, Haven’ connection with a survivor’s support group makes her invaluable to the investigation as they try to figure out why these suspects are turning up dead. I very much enjoy stories that start with divergent stories and weave them together, and I think this manages to bring the two sides of the story together in a wonderful way.
The character of Haven is developed over the course of the season in very compelling ways, revealing deep pain and remarkable resolve. She has a habit of patrolling the Golden Gate Bridge to help people contemplating suicide, fulfilling a role as impromptu therapist on many occasions. Through this, listeners also learn of her own recovery and progress, as well as her lingering wounds. Haven’s perspective is generally told in her own words, with a biting level of insight and honesty, even when exploring those moments of uncertainty and insecurity. She has her flaws and these are generally displayed openly throughout, with her own awareness of her weaknesses servicing to add a layer of internal conflict that feels very real. Even when she can recognize pitfalls, sometimes she is unable to avoid them.
In addition, there is a whole cast of strong characters that exist within the world. They show different responses to trauma and grief, each in different stages of healing. I really appreciated the way these trauma reactions were handled throughout, noting how challenging it can be to recover from an event like this, but also demonstrating how people find healing and recovery at times. That’s not to say it is all happy endings, and there is a very authentic exploration of death and suicide throughout, both from central characters and secondary or tertiary ones. So, it is important to know that suicide and death will be frequent themes in the episodes. If you couldn’t guess by the title.
In addition to the treatment of trauma, I really appreciated how the story spoke about race, privilege, and the impact of mental illness. It fluidly incorporates many systemic factors that often negatively impact marginalized groups (such as the impact of mental illness of members of a minority group, or how police relationships can be shaped by race and status). In doing so, it adds layers of complexity and realism to the story that deepen character motivations, strengths, and weaknesses. It is a thoughtful story that tackles challenging topics in an effort to provide a believable and increasingly complicated story.
The writing was engaging and well developed. Each episode left me wanting more of the story, introducing new twists and turns. Dialogue is well-written, narration is thorough without becoming distracting, and the internal workings of Haven’s mind provide the chance for the audience to really connect and understand her more fully. In addition, I really enjoyed the glimpses of her standup sets for the additional view into her world provided. The plot is complex, but developed wonderfully throughout each episode. The finale episode was remarkably done. It is a crime thriller with hints of a whodunnit throughout, so I won’t give anything away besides noting it is an exceptional episode that really did justice to the story as a whole so far.
It is a complex story, and so I feel I have tried to capture some of that in this review. But it is certainly a fascinating and emotional story to listen to from start to finish. I am interested in hearing where it goes from the finale of season one, but I have no doubts there are plenty of intriguing ways to further develop and explore the characters. While it deals with heavy topics, it is something I wished I could have binge listened to (had I not listened as it released) because each part was so good. Now that all of season one is out, I highly recommend listening to it as soon as you can.
Episodes: 7 in season 1
Length: 30-60 minutes
I’ve listened to… all of season 1.
The Premise: The surface of Earth can no longer sustain the population, and so underground bunkers are constructed to save who they can…based on a numeric rating system. The story follows Hannah Ori as she lives in this world and works on a new project, The Oyster, promising complete peace. But at what cost?
My Review: I found the Oyster when it showed up in a number of other podcasts I listen to. I had previously listened to Darkest Night, which shares some themes and creators in common, and so I was eager to hear more. I wrote briefly about my thoughts in A Listener Reviews: New 2020 Roundup, and my appreciation for the story only grew the more I listened.
The Oyster is a pretty dark ride. It does not shy away from discussions of trauma, grief, loss, racism, suicide, and meaning. And for that, I really appreciated the story on multiple levels. I think it is important to be aware of these themes and the pretty grim tone throughout for anyone considering listening, just so you can check your mental health. But if you feel up to it, I think the story it tells is wonderful and evokes some great questions that we should wrestle with.
Everyone in this story has their dark side, some more than others. There is an acknowledgment of collective trauma, as well as exploration of the individual stories that brought people there as well. The cast of characters all act in various shades of grey, ranging from shadowy to midnight. However, there is generally a compelling reason for their actions and consistent motivation, even if I find the decision abhorrent. I think this is a true strength of the show because it does not have evil for the sake of evil, but evil often in the name of “good.” It demonstrates just how reasonable terrible things can seem when spun in the right way with half-truths and fearmongering. Hannah is an engaging narrator set in a world that is executed well in the audiodrama format with good use of sound design to flesh out the world.
In addition to this, the story weaves themes of systemic injustice throughout, highlighting how most of the people who did not make the initial cut to escape underground were members of a minority group, those with medical/mental health conditions or disabilities, and people with other difficulties that often act as barriers today. It managed to showcase exactly why such systemic inequalities can exist. Everyone taking comfort that it does not affect them directly while refusing to see the bigger picture. That aspect of the story is introduced in multiple places, always managing to show how damaging perpetuation of the status quo can be.
And it does not stop there. It delves into the meaning of trauma and suffering in a beautiful way. I work as a trauma therapist, so my day-to-day is pretty much filled with hearing people talk about the worst moments of their life. The Oyster starts to show what happens when we individually and culturally prioritize comfort over addressing the pain of the past. It also weaves in additional complexities cause by government conspiracy to increase pressure to conform and pretend as if everything is fine. The culture that is created is one of faux normalcy and concealed pain that seeps into so many parts of everyday life, everyone trying to recover from impossible losses. Which ultimately is what makes the Oyster (the creation that promises to end this pain) so dangerous.
The Oyster overall is a challenging story in the themes it addresses, but it does so in a way that forces introspection and reflection. It tells a very compelling story by holding up a mirror to some of our worst sides, and through it, makes you want to fight for humanity all the more. It was unsettling to listen to, but in a outstanding way, and I cannot wait to see where the story goes from season 1.
You can find them here: The Oyster
Length: 20-30 minutes per episode
I’ve listened to… all released
The Premise: Vega Rex is a highly effective assassin taking out some of the world’s worst criminals in a fascinating sci-fi world. Only this time, she may not be able to catch the bad guy.
My Review: If you have not listened to Vega already, you have definitely been missing out. Set in a sci-fi, fantasy, futuristic, technologic world, it follows Vega as she does her job. Her job as a high-powered, terrifying, secretive huntress. The story is told with a strong, engaging creative voice and weaves together a complex world that I am always left more and more curious about.
The style of Vega certainly sets it apart. It is told through narration predominantly, with frequent asides to the audience, commentary on events, and general insight from the mostly omniscient narrator. It breaks the fourth wall frequently, chides the audience, and keeps energy high throughout the telling. It is one of the most distinct narrative styles I have listened to in recent audio dramas, and it serves very well to accentuate and elevate the story into a different experience. It is not always a linear story. The narrator may pause and expand on a topic, reveal a bit of the past, or jump forward a little into the future. Or even dive into the perspective of another character. It is a fast-paced ride through the story, and the narrator’s energy shows this is a story they are passionate about. The casual and conversational style of the writing also gives it that feel of a great, excited friend eagerly filling you in on the important facts and juicy details. Frankly, I’d listen to the narrator tell me about paint dry and probably still be fascinated.
The world of Vega is also incredible. There is a lot of depth alluded to, and expanded upon in its time, throughout the thirteen current episodes. Not everything is explained or laid out neatly, but the narrator provides context necessary to understand. This also serves to leave a number of questions that I look forward to hearing answered. The cultures created are certainly intriguing, with various worldviews and religious perspectives that are detailed to varying degrees. It provides a backdrop of a complete, fully functioning world that Vega must navigate. And while as a listener I never know all of the pieces, I can start to appreciate some of the challenges present in a universe as complex as the one showcased in Vega. It feels real, as if the narrator could look to the side and begin to tell you a story about that other character over there, their life, experiences, and roadblocks. It feels like a living world.
Vega as a character is intriguing. She is good at what she does–unapologetically one of the best–and she embraces that. However, she also questions and pushes against the status quo when it does not work, putting her at odds with the system she has in many ways mastered. There is some nicely developed conflict between her and the rules of the world she lives in, and I think the character development in those moments is really spectacular. She is also multifaceted, with competing values and motivations at various points around her job, religion, family, and self-preservation. As a listener, I had an opportunity to appreciate the complicated identity of Vega, while also recognizing I have a lot more to learn about her and the world as the story unfolds.
Vega is fast-paced and action packed. However, it does not neglect world-building or character development in the process. Instead, it provides glimpses into a fully developed world, while also following realistic characters living within these cultures. The narrative style is unique, but instantly engaging, and the excitement is infectious. As I said, if you haven’t listened, you are almost certainly missing out. I’ll stop talking so you can go and fix that.
Episodes: 5 total in the story
Length: 150 minutes total, broken up into 30 minute episodes
I’ve listened to… the whole story
The Premise: Riley and Brynn head to Las Vegas in the hopes of repairing their struggling marriage. Once there, however, Brynn is kidnapped by some particularly seedy individuals, and Riley must fight against impossible odds to save himself and his wife.
My Review: I really enjoy short fiction, and I think it takes a lot of skill to tell a contained story in a succinct package. Triple Six manages to tell its story well with a pace that keeps things moving, but also provides opportunity to develop the character arc. And adds in some twists and turns along the way. The production quality in general is really standout, and scenes come to life through skillful use of dialogue, ambient sounds, and appropriate effects.
The main character is Riley, and he’s our hero. He has a typical character arc, but his journey and development is handled well in the brief five episode run. At the start, he has plenty of negative traits and qualities that make him rather unlikable. However, his growth and increasing awareness of his faults over the course of the story ultimately make it easy to root for him as things go from bad to worse. Some of the opening scenes between Riley and Brynn are infuriating and perfect. They have a sad reality to them that showcases bad communications, unmet expectations, and unspoken assumptions in a way that develops the scene and characters. However, as Riley changes as a character, his relationship transforms as well.
It is a dark story, and it does not really try to sugar coat things or dress it up. There are some truly despicable characters, but frankly they work well within the world of the story. Rather than trying to sugar coat things or pull back from the implications of the underground gambling ring, this story runs with it and shows the monsters that inhabit such a world. As well as the unfortunate (and not so unfortunate) victims swept up throughout. It is a production for adult ears and includes references to a lot of questionable content, but it all makes sense with the characters and the world at work. The pacing and style keep it from feeling too grim or heavy, instead pushing it forward like an action thriller.
In many ways, this podcast feels like a movie that you might watch with a bowl of popcorn, edge of your seat. But I think that the podcast really brings the story to life through the sounds, creating immersive scenes. It also puts the listener in the midst of the chaos. There are points where characters are referred to only by their color designation. There are a lot of people introduced and a lot of action happening as Riley works to put things together. It is chaotic and hard to follow. And it is perfect for that moment in the narrative, because it should feel overwhelming. As soon as you as the listener start to get your feet under you, the story speeds ahead. It manages to keep you a little confused in a very good way throughout, mirroring the off-balance nightmare Riley is living.
While the concept presented is not something completely original, I think the treatment of this story, the character development, and the way things unravel at the end really serve to make this a very enjoyable listening experience. It creates a glimpse into a world that I only want to learn about from the safety of a podcast. If you enjoy a high stakes adventure with an everyman hero that will keep you guessing, this is definitely an immersive story worth a listen.
You can find them here: Triple Six
Episodes: 34, with more coming to complete the fourth and final season
Length: Generally around 15 minutes, with some select episodes running in the 25-35 minutes range
I’ve listened to… 11 episodes. I intended to listen to six, then figured I would finish up the first season, and then accidentally listened to one more. A complete accident, of course.
The Premise: BRASS is a steampunk adventure following the titular family of scientific geniuses as they unravel the criminal underworld of an alternate universe 19th century. It is a light-hearted adventure story with moments of danger, humor, science fiction, and just plain old good storytelling.
My Review: This review started with a request from the creators, and so I wanted to give them a listen. I usually start listening to the first three episodes of a podcast. I give them a chance to overcome maybe a challenging opening and catch me within three episodes. I was hooked by episode one and eager to listen to more. Which is how I may have ended up binging far more episodes than I intended originally for the writing of this review. And I will certainly be finishing the story now that I’ve begun.
BRASS is full of fun. It is a full cast audiodrama, and the voice acting really serves to provide additional depth to the characters. There is so much of the story that is told through tone, with a heavy hand of sarcasm throughout, and I am certain you will hear the eyerolls in their voices at times. The characters each have their set roles and personalities, but they play very well off of one another. The writing is sharp as well, providing good interplay between characters. I also find the narration to strike a nice balance. It provides enough context to understand, without slowing the story down or missing out on character building moments. It mirrors the old radio announcer style in a way that is instructive and likable.
This podcast does one thing that I think tends to make me happy in any media. It has fun. The story does not take itself too seriously, but plays with the rules and creates interesting situations which allow the characters to shine throughout. Sometimes things are a little too convenient or bend the limits of the believable. But if you accept the offer to suspend disbelief, I think it is truly an enjoyable experience to follow along with the family Brass.
The world is familiar, yet distinct enough to leave space for discovery and exploration, and I find they weave in the steampunk elements enough to give some extra creativity when it comes to not only problem solving, but also the dangerous stakes facing the family. I personally have really loved the allusions to and cameos from various historical and literary figures, and I find those moments feel like a familiar inside joke. Plus, if you do fall in love with the world of BRASS, there are many different opportunities to learn more. Not only is there the podcast, but also another podcast of short stories from the world, live theater productions, and a short film. It speaks to the depth of the worldbuilding that they have been able to create and support so many windows into the goings on.
BRASS is ultimately a fun escape into a world adjacent to our own. The characters are entertaining and endearing in their own ways. The writing is done well, moving the story along at a good pace while focusing on the relationships between characters. Most of all, this is a story that enjoys taking you along for the journey, and wants to make sure you are enjoying it as well. It has kept me wondering about what will happen next and how characters will escape the dangers ahead. It is funny, engaging, intriguing, and witty. I am definitely sad that I had not listened to them before, but very happy to have the chance to catch up now.
The Resistible Rise of JR Brinkley
Length: 30-35 minutes
I’ve listened to… the whole production
The Premise: The Resistible Rise of JR Brinkley is a stage play adapted to audiodrama format to help combat the challenge that 2020 has been for the performing arts. It is a Brechtian play (which, if you are like me and need to Google that, means incorporating direct discussion with the audience, historical parallels to modern events, and fourth wall breaking). It details the mostly true story of JR Brinkley, medical fraudster turned radio host turned politician in a story that is eerily familiar to the modern US political landscape.
My Review: This was a fantastic listen overall. It is not what you typically expect when you are used to full cast audiodramas, but understanding the format helped me appreciate the story. The story is told through a conversational narrator, dramatized portions, and interviews with the writer and outside experts. The action may pause for a brief aside to explain an artistic choice, a historical moment, or some other tidbit that deepens the story. It was like listening to an annotated history or a well dramatized documentary. Not only was it entertaining, but it definitely helped deepen my understanding of certain concepts and themes in US history.
The story itself is almost too bizarre to believe. There is a lot more talk about goat testicles than I ever expected to hear in my life. However, that is where the maxim “truth is stranger than fiction” thrives. The parallels to recent events, as I mentioned, are so strong that some of Brinkley’s speeches are edited to incorporate more recent rhetoric and, frankly, they can be hard to distinguish from the original statements. The work does not shy away from the ugly sides of history, not in its depiction of Brinkley as a greedy fraud, nor in the frank depiction of the accepted antisemitism of the time. I think what stuck with the most as I listened was the balance between the absurd and the distressing. On the one hand, I was often in shock at the things that were done, said, and accepted. Were this not a true story, it would probably stay in that balance between comedy and disbelief where the absurd often resides. However, it did happen. It continues to happen.
From a more technical perspective, the production is crisp and clear. They incorporate country music, including adaptations of country classics and contemporaneous political songs. The songs are ear catching and serve to provide transitions, exposition, and additional context for the play. It is interesting how the start of country winds through this already odd story, and it provides yet another way to deepen one’s understanding of the cultural context that led to such events. The discussions with experts on these topics serves to provide intriguing and educational facts that accentuate the complexity of the story overall.
Listening to this story was an experience on multiple levels. It is an intriguing story. It educated me in some cultural and historical contexts that I was not very familiar (not being a country music fan or at all knowledgeable about Kansas politics in the 1920s). It prompted reflection on current events and trends seen in my country today. It did a lot in its just over two hour runtime.
This is not a traditional audiodrama, nor do I think it set out to be. But it was an experience to listen to. 2020 has been hard on everyone this year, and the performing arts have been hit exceptionally hard. I am really encouraged to see some people turning to other avenues to continue sharing their work, though I hope we soon come to a time where we can all return to the theater seats and hear, see and experience it together again. Until that time, however, I strongly encourage you to keep your ears open for great productions like this. If you want to listen to a wonderfully made play, look them up and listen in.
You can find them here: Untitled Theater
Episodes: 22 so far
Length: 30-45 minutes, usually
I’ve listened to… everything released so far
The Premise: Mission Rejected tells the story of the agents who take the rejected missions. It centers on Agent Skip Granger, who is tasked to save the world in increasingly mundane locations when the agency’s star asset hits reject.
My Review: I had not given much thought to that old cliché phrase, “Your mission, should you choose to accept it…” until this podcast came along. But they took a simple concept and developed it in an extraordinary way.
Each episode focuses on a specific mission, with the buildup, planning, implementation, unraveling, and conclusion. If you like action movies and spy flicks, I am certain you will recognize many of the themes and tropes. There are kooky gadgets, mad scientists, evil geniuses, hidden lairs, and a cast of misfit characters tackling it all. I am really torn in writing this review. I wanted to say that the misfit characters are really what make this story. But then I started thinking it was the sharp, witty writing. And then I thought about the subtle jokes and gags that make me laugh in-universe and at our own world. And the sound design is done wonderfully well. Plus they have an episode with multiple original songs that honestly I would listen to outside of the podcast. So, I’m having a bit of trouble, because they do so much well.
Let’s take things one at a time. The characters are a well-developed bunch that demonstrate character growth over the course of the episodes, while also holding true to their roles within the team. After a few episodes, you get a good feel for how they fit together (or how they grate against each other), which provides a lot of contrasting motivations, even when the goal should be on the mission. No one is static in this show, and each character has their own needs, wants, dreams, and growth areas that are changing as the seasons progress. It is truly enjoyable just listening to those interactions.
And the writing is top notch. Dialogue is sharp, character consistent, and honestly makes me laugh out loud in my car. The overarching plot is paced well, with increasing danger and intrigue as the master plot develops, but enough standalone spy-work in each episode to keep you locked in. Plus, the storylines throw some unexpected twists into the plot as they plays with the expected thriller tropes. It does not rely on narration, but tells the story through dialogue. I think they do a great job of outlining the scene and providing visual information through really natural conversations, updates, and observations of the characters. Plus, as I mentioned, they use sound design to create deeper backgrounds, letting a listener fill in the gaps. There are good sound cues that help provide disruptions, plot progression, or general background to bring the events to life.
The world of Mission Rejected looks much like our own, with enough differences to provide the escape I need from reality. It does help it provide some laughs when things hit closer to home than expected, however. As a mom to a toddler, I’m not sure I needed Baby Whale taking up any brain real estate, but there it is. Speaking of the Baby Whale song, I have to say there is a musical episode, and I cannot even conceptualize the amount of work and creativity that went into creating such fantastic, on point songs for each scene. The story is told through the songs in a competition, and it not only progresses character story arcs, but does so with snappy tunes. I was floored.
Because there should probably be a limit to how much I gush about one individual show, I will wrap up. Suffice it to say Mission Rejected has been a highlight of my audiodrama queue recently. It provides the perfect escape and pick-me-up I need during 2020 with a cast of endearing characters that I root for week after week. It has strong writing, strong characters, a lot of laughter, and a fun idea executed to perfection. I strongly recommend you accept.
You can find them here: Mission Rejected
Episodes: 10 so far
Length: 30 – 90 minutes
I’ve listened to… 4 episodes – working my way through more!
The Premise: Forgotten SciFi is an anthology podcast focused on reading the original, as-written foundations of modern sci-fi. With stories stretching back into the Victorian Age, it showcases some of the early stories that smudged the line between scientific breakthrough and fantastic fiction.
My Review: Some of my earliest memories of media are watching Star Trek with my mother at way too young of an age. I remember being fascinated by Star Wars in the same way, and then going with my dad to see the re-releases in theater. There is a distinct moment where I remember feeling betrayed because it dawned on me that he knew the whole time who Darth Vader was, and he had kept it hidden. But that reveal in the theater was remarkable.
Sci-fi as a genre is one that I have become very familiar with, and so many of the tropes that are used can become common place. Rarely can I recapture that amazement that I had when I found out the truth about the Skywalker family. And not to ramble on too long about Star Wars (a bad habit, I’m sure), but I find Forgotten SciFi helps me better appreciate the sci-fi of today by learning more about its history. It shares stories that created what I know and love today, and I realize someone had that same moment of amazement as they learned about alien worlds, time travel, and other twists for the first time in these stories.
As an anthology, each story is different, has a different author, and is its own contained narrative. It is really easy to pick up any episode and dive in. The narration of the episodes is fantastic for this medium, and I find myself really transported by the narrator as each story unfolds. This is a literal one-man show, but it is put together in a wonderful way. The pacing, tone, and emotion of each story is well-balanced. Even when discussing the dangerous and otherworldly, there is something soothing in the voice that just makes me want to keep listening. I’m also impressed by the ability to set apart characters with easily noted changes in voice.
For an anthology, I think it is also served by digging deeper into the past for the narration. These are not stories I have come across in other podcasts, nor are they ones I was reasonably familiar with prior to listening. However, each one showcases a story that developed some of the familiar themes we see in sci-fi today. As someone who also enjoys writing, I am fascinated by the way the writing style, author’s voice, and original context is preserved in the rendering. The “downside” of using such foundational stories, however, is that the stories often become somewhat predictable. Rather than detracting, this instead allows the listener to appreciate the crafting of the story, even if the twists are now familiar.
Forgotten SciFi is unique in that it tells engaging stories that are expertly crafted, while also providing an experiential history of sci-fi. Each story stands alone and presents a unique story that can transport you to the incredible world being constructed. If you like sci-fi, this is definitely worth a listen not only to appreciate the craftsmanship of the original story and the talent behind the current presentation, but also to learn a bit about where modern sci-fi draws its inspiration.
You can find them here: Forgotten SciFi