The Bright Sessions Season One

The first season of the audio drama “The Bright Sessions” (written by Lauren Shippen) may be two people talking in a room, but it’s some of the most compelling storytelling and acting I’ve heard in a while. The premise is straight forward–a psychologist for the supernatural.

The story isn’t simply Dr. Bright talking with her patients for 10-20 minutes per episode. Each of her patients has an otherworldly power. Mind reading is the most “normal” in terms of speculative fiction. The most complex character is Caleb. His ability isn’t too specular (reading people’s emotions, rather than thought), but Lauren Shippen’s 16 year old character balances the line of homosexual and heterosexual behavior that one can interpret his sexuality either way and isn’t heavy-handed as a result.

Diversity aside, it’s hard to fault something this basic. It accomplishes what it sets out to do. There’s no complex narrative or witty banter between Dr. Bright and her patients, which eliminates any need for speculation or theory-crafting, almost.

As the story unfolds through Dr. Bright’s audio logs before and after the sessions, her interest in these unique people seems a bit more ominous. By the end of episode nine, you realize there’s more to this service than simply helping people with extraordinary powers.

Another fascinating aspect of this story is the transmedia nature of the podcast episode descriptions. There’s a sense of a larger world using little to no description. Sure it might seem shallow, but what transmedia campaign is known for being anything other than a gimmick. For example, what do the levels of empath mean? How powerful is a level seven compared to a level four?

So much is left unanswered at the season finale, but based on the structure of each episode, there’s no feeling of loose ends. At least not when you consider it’s a season finale with more being released on a regular basis.

5/5 Stars

The Death of Captain America

The aftermath of Marvel’s Civil War is a story which holds no punches, but those punches are rather soft. Unlike its predecessor, “The Death of Captain America” doesn’t have the luxury of falling back on other heroes and villains in the Marvel universe, when things get a bit dull. This is primarily a Captain America tale, or rather, the repercussions of his death to everyone who both knew him and knew of him.

There are a plethora of characters in this story, not as grand as Marvel’s Civil War, but enough to keep it mildly interesting. The political undercurrent which kept the story afloat barely gets by with simple tropes. The main cast includes Agent 13, Bucky Barnes, the Falcon and many others on both sides of the compass of good and evil, including those in the morally grey area.

Within the first hour, the villain Crossbones has killed America’s hero and most famous World War Two veteran. As with most stories about assassination, the person carrying out the job is not the same as the person orchestrating it. There’s a lot of mystery, but nothing which felt like a good act three twist. The actors seem to downplay those moments of revelation in order to preserve the tone of the piece. Unfortunately for them, the tone isn’t that interesting and the foreshadowing is so abysmal that it might as well not be there at all.

One example of the poor, nonexistent, foreshadowing is the man pretending to be Captain America after Steve Rogers’ death. This comes much later in the story and, no, I’m not referring to Bucky Barnes AKA the Winter Soldier. Before the imposter gets in the costume, he is found by Agent 13 and we learn all about him as apparently he was an important character in the super soldier serum aftermath. For those not blessed with back issues of Marvel Comics, this feels like a bit of a stretch, considering this is the first time he’s appeared in the story or is even mentioned.

Like most Graphic Audio dramas. The casting is spot on and the music exhilarating and calm at just the right moments. Most of the complaints come from the adaptation or the source material, rather than the production value. The first Graphic Audio production I’ve ever disliked on some level. Hopefully it will be the last as I truly enjoy the work they do.

3.5/5 Stars

Darth Plagueis

Taking place before the events of the Star Wars prequels, “Darth Plagueis” is a political drama about the story of Hugo Demask’s and his apprentice, Darth Sidious’ rise to power.

While not part of the new canon, established by “Star Wars Episode VII,” it does have a few problems with pacing. At times the politics can get boring, but unlike the prequels it’s not sloppily mashed together with kid-friendly moments that don’t make sense given the galactic scale conflict. In a way, “Darth Plagueis” is almost what the prequels could’ve been, as the politics are given much more detail and aren’t constrained by the length of a movie.

The story itself mostly focuses on Sidious and his rise to the position of Supreme Chancellor. Aside from the opening chapters, the title character of Darth Plagueis (Hugo Demask) barely has any point-of-view scenes. Sidious steals the show in both the story and the narrator’s portrayal of him.

By far the best part was the soundscape. Little things like blaster and lightsaber sounds make this more than an audiobook and fully immerses you in a galaxy far, far away.

Trying not to compare this with the prequels is hard, because the story takes place before the events of The Phantom Menace, but it does drag on in–mostly due to the political scenes where very little happens. On the plus side, it does explain a lot of the backstory behind the Phantom Menance’s convulted plot.

Overall, the story is much better than the prequels, but with dozens of Star Wars novels out in the world, with more coming on a regular basis, there are certainly better ones available for purchase. However, if you’re one of the people who liked the concept of the prequels, but hated the execution, this might be a good alternative. At the very least it gives you some insight into the world George Lucas had in his head, but didn’t get explained on the screen.

4/5 Stars

New Contact Information

Some of you may have noticed that your e-mails to michaelbergonzi@audiodramareviews.com have not been sent. In preparation for the new  server switch, I forgot to set up new a new e-mail address.

The post titled “Reviewers Wanted” is now up to date with the correct e-mail address. All review requests should be made to Requests@AudioDramaReviews.com. If you’ve submitted previously to the old e-mail, don’t worry I still have access to it. I just can’t receive any mail. Not sure about sending it.

In any case, here is a list of the following shows on the review queue:

  1. The Bright Sessions
  2. New Century – Arlington
  3. Wooden Overcoats
  4. Caalo Xan
  5. Gallow Tree

If you’ve submitted something that isn’t listed above, please e-mail the above e-mail address. If you’ve contacted me about wanting to be a reviewer for the site, send an e-mail to Volunteer@AudioDramaReviews.

Reviewers Wanted

In an effort to expand readership, Audio Drama Reviews has opened up their doors to other critics of the art form. We are looking for a few writers/reviewers to add to the arsenal. If you are fan of audio drama, full-cast productions, audiobooks, or any story told without required visuals, send an e-mail over to Volunteer@AudioDramaReviews.com. Use the subject: “ADR Employment – GENRE OF INTEREST” (See below).

We are looking for 3-6 reviewers in the following genres (two for each one is the goal, but one per genre is also good):

Comedies
Horror
Anthologies

Please note, for the time being, these are volunteer positions. I’d love to be able to pay people per word right out of the gate, but it’s just not feasible for me right now.

The body of the e-mail should contain your credentials. A cover letter. Don’t worry if your new to reviewing anything artistic. Once the e-mail is sent, I’ll reply back with some follow-up questions. The sooner you answer these, the sooner you can be added to the reviewer’s roster. These questions are to help me place you inside your ideal position.

If you have any questions, leave them in the comments below.

Thank you.

–Michael Bergonzi

The Wall in the Mind

The Wall in the Mind is an Irish-produced audio drama set in Berlin before and after the fall of the Berlin wall. It centers around an Irish woman named Claire O’Hanlon and her adolescent boyfriend Emil who mysteriously reappeared after years of being missing. The main focus is Claire and her obsession with finding out the truth about Emil.

By far the best part of this audio drama was the dystopian tone from the pre-fall period of the Berlin wall. There was so much tension and realistic angst for the characters, it felt like I was experiencing the second Hunger Games film in audio form. The fact that it’s set in the real world past makes it all the more bleak.

The title is purposefully misleading. Throughout the story you get a sense that Claire might not be all there. She’s constantly making rash decisions when she arrives in modern day Berlin all because she is desperate for some closure.

The German and Irish accents can be hard to understand for an american audience, but you still get the general sense of what they’re saying despite not hearing all the words. The actors, specifically the male ones, sound similar enough to each other that you wonder who’s talking to whom. The cast is also a bit to large for the kind of story there telling, making it needlessly complex. The soundscape was created on location, which definitely added to the confusing nature of the dialogue and scenes. Audio drama may be a blind medium, but when the listener feels blind as to what’s going on, the immersion factor decreases.

My interest level waxed and waned constantly throughout listening. There are so many twists and turns and you’re sure the story will end a certain way. In fact the story practically confirmed my early suspicions during episode five. However by the end of the series, it’s not entirely clear why the scene was included as it raises more questions than it answers. Needless to say I fell for the misdirection, thinking Emil’s fate had to be part of some conspiracy. It’s almost like “Memento” in the way our primary focus is on one character. Everything we experience is filtered through the lens of Claire O’Hanlon.

Overall this six-part audio drama series is a great example of writer’s creating misdirection in their mysteries. Even if they didn’t quite nail the landing, it was still an impressive jump.

4/5 Stars

Ray Gunn and Starburst: Series One

This superhero origin story achieves the same effect as the Deadpool film, while at the same time fulfilling the promises inherent in the genre of space opera comedies. Ray Gunn and Starburst starts off a little lackluster. There’s nothing new here, aside from the fourth wall breaking, and even then that feels like a gimmick. It’s not until episode three when we learn of the larger world and thus the stakes of the galaxy.

That being said, the evil overlord is not all that threatening and his terror comes from characters reacting to him rather than him doing anything all that evil. If you’re the kind of person who enjoys a good villain, you may be disappointed. They do rectify this in the last episode, but by that point it’s too little too late.

The cast of characters are a delight and the ending surprisingly works, despite it essentially being deus ex machina. I won’t spoil the end other than to say the fourth wall break keeps it from being a poor story choice.

Ray Gunn and Starburst is a breath of fresh air for the audio drama medium, because it adds something new to the overpopulated space opera comedy genre. Also, if you’re a fan of fourth wall breaking, you’ll certainly get a kick out of this. It’s not quite the same as Deadpool, because it’s not the character who breaks it, but it’s still very much the same in theory. The foreshadowing commercials are a nice twist on the typical fake advertisements found in shows such as Hadron Gospel Hour as they serve more than one function.

4.5/5 Stars

ISS Forlorn Hope

ISS Forlorn Hope feels like the beginning of a series, but offers the self-contained nature of a television pilot. The story starts off strong. Bits of humorous dialogue make the characters likable and place the reader gently into the opening scene. Not much set up is required and you get the gist of what’s at stake early on.

A man is on trial for the murder of his best friend. As his retelling unfolds, we learn about his friend and how the two of them got sucked into a space opera world, full of evil overlords and technological marvels. And what better way to start this off than at a science fiction convention. A mysterious couple of aliens wants a box the two characters–Rob and Keith–have come into possession of. How a box as powerful as it was described happened to land on earth is a mystery. Then again, this is a comedy and thinking that in depth about the story doesn’t bode well for anyone. Rob and Keith are forced onto the ship, but Keith doesn’t survive. In fact, we learn the incompetent ship’s doctor “Improved him” to the point that he’s no longer human.

This a comedy and stupid humor occurs from time to time, but overall the story is consistent with itself and not over the top with its cheap jokes. Honestly there are so many space opera comedies out there, it’s hard to differentiate them. Most of these types of stories feel rehashed and overdone. Once you’ve experienced one of them, you basically how it’s going to end, and the journey isn’t that impressive either.

Overall this a solid introduction to a larger world with the compactness of an hour long television pilot. The credit read was a delight, but there’s nothing fresh and new here to warrant anything other than a standard rating.

4/5 Stars

Bioshock: A Radio Drama Part 2

The second part and finale of the Bioshock backstory, which leads up to the actual game itself, is everything you expect and more, given the first act’s conclusion. The death of Frank Fontaine and the corporate takeover of Fontaine Futuristics by Andrew Ryan is the catalyst of the beginning of the end for the Rapture dream. A newcomer by the name of Atlas certainly doesn’t help, but the fact that Ryan sent in Rapture’s police force to shut down Fontaine Futuristics doesn’t help the man’s claim of free enterprise Laissez Faire Capitalism.

Rather than focusing on an ensemble cast like the majority of part 1, part two dives deep into Bill McDonagh’s character arc. Out of all the characters, he is the most normal in terms of his trajectory. He starts and ends the story the same man morally, but his attitude towards Rapture and Ryan has degraded like the city itself. It’s a shame his story is told primarily through audio logs found in the game, as in this adaptation of the book “Bioshock: Rapture,” Bill acts as the everyman for the listener–and the actor certainly does a good job of getting that across.

Everyone else in Rapture either stays the same or becomes an even worse version of themselves at the beginning. For example, Dr. Suchong takes science too far and dies in a similar way to Frankenstein’s monster killing the famous doctor in Marie Shelly’s gothic novel. Tenenbaum has a transitive arc, going from former nazi scientist experimenting on children to genuinely caring for them and horrified at herself at how she could do something so horrible.

Part two is more of the same. There’s a genuine amount of service to the fans, especially during the end credits–which act to foreshadow the events of the first game in a unique and interesting, similar to post-credit scenes in super hero movies.

4.5/5 Stars

Fugue State

One word: “Mind blowing” is all that comes to mind when thinking about “Fugue State.” From both a production and story standpoint, this short 45 minute production from BBC Radio 4 is everything you expect from a modern audio drama, but plays with the structure of a traditional narrative.

The setup was brilliant. In fact, you don’t realize how brilliant it is until your 3/4 of the way through, because you’re enjoying the story as it unfolds. The way the creators used the medium of audio to their advantage by crafting a story around it, rather than the other way around, is brilliant. The story is deeply layered. It’s a different kind of depth than something like the dialogue in “Powder Burns.” Rather, it’s the techniques that have been used by audio dramatists for almost a century, molded together in a different and unique way.

With all this praise, one thing that bothered me was the ending. It was too abrupt. After hearing the credits, one’s reaction would probably be one of “it’s over?” For someone who’s been listening to audio dramas of all shapes and sizes, the moment of getting lost in a story for the mind is a rare phenomenon indeed and one I haven’t experienced since my introduction to audio drama podcasts. This was both a huge nostalgia trip and a cohesive story. Something that is a hard thing to do.

The film “Interstellar” is a good movie to compare this story with. Both have elements of wonder involving space and the ideas they posit are completely unimaginable by human standards. In “Interstellar” the people who made it possible to get from Saturn to another galaxy are referred to as the mysterious “them.” By the film’s climax, we still aren’t sure with 100 percent certainty who created the wormhole: aliens or humans. As the character Polly explains in the audio drama, the human mind can’t comprehend what happens when it has truly “blown.”

Therein lies an inherent problem with the “Fugue States” ending. The explanation for the mystery which drives us along for the majority of the tale is, for the most part, too abstract. This isn’t like love, where it can be somewhat quantifiable in the sense that we get sweaty palms or our nervous around those who have strong feelings for, but something beyond comprehension. On a microlevel, this is commonly referred to as non-humanoid characters. Whether they’re aliens or something else, fictional people who are so out there in both appearance and customs are too far removed from human culture that we can’t empathize with them. That being said, the metaphor of the ant was well done and gave a good enough explanation to make the concept not completely alien to us.

All in all, “Fugue State” is worthy of the praise it has gotten, from both the story and the “wow” factor it invokes if you just think about it.

You can listen to it here.

5/5 stars