Pen Pals Episode One: Romeo and Juliet

Pen Pals: Romeo and Juliet Cover

The first episode of Mira Burt-Wintonick and Cristal Duhaime’s new series, Pen Pals offers a twist on the classic Shakespearian tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. What happens after their dead?

In addition to this being a retelling of Romeo and Juliet’s journey, the first episode also acts as an solid adaptation for the source material. The listener experiences the story through audio. However, the in-story method is done via text messaging. The one drawback is the sound effects can get repetitive.

As far as adaptions go, this version of Romeo and Juliet doesn’t rehash the entire plot through spoken text messages. It goes off what the general audience knows about the play and lets you fill in gaps where necessary. What Duhaime and Burt-Wintonick do with this 15th century play is not only bring it to the modern age, but also tell a fascinating story about two lovers who die tragically and suddenly have to deal with the fact they’re no longer together. Even in the afterlife.

At times the story can get somewhat annoying, but that’s only because they capture the hormonal moodiness of teenagers too well. If you teach a class on Romeo and Juliet, some of the scenes might be worth checking out. Be warned there are a few curse words, which most high schools would frown upon. However, they are used sparingly.

Starting out the scenes are a nice duration. They get to the point and don’t stretch out. In late, out early. Towards the middle, the scenes become shorter and less happens. It’s played for comedic effect, but after the fourth or fifth time it got old.

Overall Pen Pals’ take on Romeo and Juliet is a wonderful addition to fan fiction everywhere. Highly recommended you check it out. Use promo code: PENPALS to get a one month free trial.

4.5/5 Stars

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Who’s Johnny Long Arms?

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An audio drama short from UK arts nonprofit “Life you Choose,” “Who’s Johnny Long Arms” is a horror story with little to no suspense or actual fear for the characters. Life you Choose does’t work with trained actors and that’s apparent in the first few minutes. Doing a bit of research after the fact, it became clear the purpose wasn’t to entertain the masses. Instead, the goal was more than likely a confidence booster for the people playing the characters, and there’s nothing wrong with helping kids with learning disabilities try to come out of their shell.

Full disclaimer: Most if not all of my employment history has been with non-profits, whether it’s national ones like PBS or smaller organizations on an independent contractor basis, there’s a soft spot in my heart for 501(c)(3) organizations. That being said, those looking for quality in their audio dramas should look elsewhere. There’s plenty of professional material on iTunes and audible, if you’re willing to pay for it.

The story of “Who’s Johnny Long Arms?” is basic, but not simple. There’s unexplained subtext which doesn’t have time to be addressed in an eleven minute short. In summation, the story ends on an anti-climactic note, giving the listener a sense of incompletion and bored wonder. At various points it’s even hard to understand what’s being said. Part of the problem is the actors. Again these are by no means professionals and shouldn’t be judged the same way.

For their first audio drama, “Life you Choose” shows potential. Practice makes perfect and as someone with disabilities, I wish there was a organization like this growing up. There’s a need for programs like that. Going off script here: Support your local PBS station and help keep public broadcasting alive and well. Or if you’re in the UK, consider donating to “Life you Choose.” As for this review:

3.5/5 Stars

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Big Data | The Complete Series (Episodes 1-9)

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Ryan Estrada’s nine episode comedy series asks some big questions and tackles even bigger ideas. Big Data is both funny and smart. A trait not found in a lot of humor pieces. At its heart Big Data will appease fans of both random side jokes and those who prefer a coherent story with humor sprinkled in. Almost all the jokes are a home run. At its peak, Big Data is both social commentary and a well-written sitcom with meta humor about the medium of podcasts. After all, it asks the question: What if the internet was gone?

The idea of there being seven keys to access ICANN and destroy the internet as we know it, sounds like the plot out of an epic or urban fantasy series. However, while that might be fantastical, the depth and knowledge of how the internet works is amazing. There’s just enough to make you wonder if there really are keys to the internet.

The tongue in cheek method of improv comedy isn’t just apparent in the episodes like “Relay” where there’s a blow by blow description of what’s happening from a single person. Something which is hard to pull off in an audio drama, but works marvelously here. If there was one thing about Big Data which might be a turn off it’s the chaotic nature of each episode. The script, assuming there is one, doesn’t have dialogue in the same sense as a movie or television show. It’s more like Mr. Estrada put people in a room, told them about the scene and let the audio recorder run for however long it took. The ultimate audio drama ad-libbing session.

Starting out as a successful Kickstarter campaign, Big Data asks complex questions, bordering on philosophical at points. Yet it’s still humorous, throughout. If you thought the episodes were funny, stay for the credits as you’ll get a quick chuckle out of them as well.

5/5 Stars

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Pod Planet: Season 2 | Episode 16

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Pod Planet Presents: The Gift of the Magi

Pod Planet is an anthology series where every story is “between 83 and 100% true.” This particular episode is an audiobook narration of the famous O’Henry short story “The Gift of the Magi.”

People have discussed this story for the twist at the end. For a twenty-first century audience, this might conjure up a revelation in the person’s mind of the Sixth Sense or any of Shamalan’s earlier films. If you don’t know anything about the story aside from it has a twist, come into this with your expectations low. This is not a Hollywood or modern day book thriller type of twist. Instead of having a big world-changing event occur, the short format lends itself well to the internal moment of the twist. In essence, it’s a character twist, not a plot twist.

Focusing in on the audible components, the narrator gives a performance which rivals any professional voice over artist out there. Given the time the original story was written, his voice is well suited for this kind of twentieth century story. That being said, the monochromatic tone of the narrator’s voice makes it hard to understand the story. To use an old writing adage from George Orwell: “Good prose should be transparent, like a window pane.” The story itself is already literary fiction. It doesn’t need another barrier for the person trying to understand the story. Aside from that, it works perfectly for this type of story.

4.5/5 Stars

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Press Release: Pen Pals – A New Series from the Creators of Love Me

From the hearts and minds of Mira Burt-Wintonick and Cristal Duhaime (“Love Me” and “Wiretap”) comes a new audio series: “Pen Pals.”

This new scripted audio series takes unlikely character pairings such as Frederick Nietzsche & Charlie Chaplin and runs with them. The first episode drops on March 15, 2017 and involves the characters of Romeo and Juliet with a twist. What happened after they died?

The show’s cast includes Paul Rust (Love), Noël Wells (Master of None), June Diane Raphael (Grace and Frankie), Mary Holland, Seth Morris and more. The 5-part series will be available on Stitcher Premium. Listeners will be able to sign up for a free month using promo code PENPALS.

You can listen to the trailer at stitcherpremium.com/penpals.

Review of Companions: A Sci-Fi Romance

Artwork for Companions

It’s not quite a romance in space, but writer Bob Koester know how to elicit the same emotions as a Harlequin novel. Interpret that however you want, but personally the milieu of Companions convoluted the romance arc, leaving it watered down and by no means easy to follow.

The story’s setting is hands-down hard science fiction, while the primary drive comes from the two love interests. The main problem with the characters is how they interact and that has nothing to do with the actor’s performances. Koester complicates their method of communication by adding a layer of confusion to an already loaded script, filled with a lot of exposition that doesn’t add much substance. They talk through a virtual simulation and the dialogue during those scenes will make you re-listen at least once, because you don’t know who’s talking: the online avatar or the person controlling it?

One thing which stood out was the non-linear structure of the story that’s combined rather elegantly with a classic victorian-esque frame narrative, though obviously set in the future. In addition to the frame, the story also skips around the lives of the protagonist, dodging the “boring” bits through obvious author sleight of hand.

Whether it’s a romance masquerading as hard science fiction or hard SF pretending to be a romance, Companions is worth a listen or two. Just don’t expect to understand everything even a second time through.

4/5 Stars

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Interview with Companions’ Writer/Director

In a recent interview with Audio Drama Reviews sister site “Audio Drama Digest,” creator Bob Koester sat down with us to explain the behind the scenes of the story. You can find that here.

Voices in the Wind Presents: Snow White – An Audio Drama

Snow White Audio Drama Cover

Adapted from the classic Grimm fairy tale, this audio drama of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” follows the source material well, yet adds some new elements and characters that fans of the Disney film will find interesting and compelling. A sort of secret history of what really happened.

Rather than start in media res with the evil queen and Snow White as established characters, the story begins with Snow’s mother and an owl conversing about the future. The princess hasn’t even been born yet. After introducing the geo-political tension between two rival kingdoms, you realize this isn’t your childhood Disney feature presentation.

The biggest difference between the children’s story and the animated film is the ending. For those who aren’t aware, the evil Queen tries three times to kill Snow White herself (four if you count the huntsman). The apple is a last resort, but it’s unclear as to whether the poison was the cause of Snow White almost dying.

The dwarves are limited to four. This change from the animated film and possibly the original fairy tale is almost required for an audio drama. The problem people thought the first Avenger’s film was going to have was too many characters to juggle and not being able to do them justice. David Farquhar and Voices in the Wind solve this problem by simplifying it. Rather than having at least seven people play the dwarves, he uses four who each act different from each other, yet combine traits from the other three dwarves found in the Disney film. Comparisons aside, this truly has feel of a fairy tale.

Farquhar is a force to be reckoned with and I look forward to his next project. You can find this on Audible, iTunes, Barnes and Noble, and more. For less than ten dollars, it’s perfect for kids and adults and for those awesome parents who want to introduce their children to audio drama at an early age.

5/5 Stars

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Going Forward…

Starting today, Audio Drama Reviews will no longer be releasing on a bi-weekly schedule. Instead, we’ve decided to go for a more audible solution and focus on our podcast and YouTube channel.

Since recording and producing take time, we feel any schedule would put us in a deep depression. In addition to the podcast, we’ve also reinstated the Patreon to help fund site expenses.

Check out the new rewards like “Archived Audio Reviews” and the “Audio Producer.” Details in the link above.

We’re Alive: The Complete Third Season

We're Alive: The Complete Third Season Cover

Review #200

After spending over two seasons with these characters, We’re Alive: The Complete Third Season manages to throw some more curve balls and still end on a satisfying, ominous and hopeful note.

Much of the first half of the third season focuses on resolving the loose ends of seasons one and two. The biggest and most obvious one being who betrayed the group to the Mallers. No spoilers, but the whole idea of writing in journals explained in the first season finally gets a nice arc. Before the narration of the epistolary sections felt like crutches. Yes the reason behind it made sense, but it felt jarring more often than not. If narration in audio drama is a turn off for you, then you’ll be pleased to know the sections where a character describes a scene are limited and the quality of writing has improved. Not that it was bad before.

The middle is all set up for the final battle between man and the zombie horde. Where as in previous seasons, the zombies acted more like set dressing, here they are fleshed out and are a more immediate threat. You may recall me tweeting on twitter about certain moments as I was listening. Again, no spoilers, but let’s just say I ran the gambit of feeling happy, sad, angry, surprised, etc. Basically every core emotion within a single episode, most of it in the back half.

The climactic finale We’re Alive: The Complete Third season is so tense you desperately want to cling to some sort of normalcy within this apocalypse, but with both sets of characters knee-deep in zombie blood, you feel there’s no hope for anyone. Throughout it, you’re on the edge and waiting for something to change—even if it’s bad—oblivious to the seeds of hope that have already been placed.

We’re Alive: The Complete Third Season is a good stopping place for the casual fan, but for the vast majority of people who have followed these characters—not finishing the fourth and final season may seem a fate worse than un-death.

5/5 Stars

MarsCorps

MarsCorp is a 12 part sitcom audio drama made from the production company Definitely Human. Yes, you heard right. Sitcom, like Fuller House and Home Improvement and the lot. Unlike its less-than-stellar relatives, MarsCorp’s humour, wit, and setup is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before.

Set in 2070, it’s about a team of scientists whose mission is to colonize the red planet. The atmosphere is stunning and dead-on, immediately grabbing it’s viewer and refusing to let go. A lot of very talented people obviously spent a colossal amount of time on the sound design alone. The sound designer for the show is one of the best I ever heard. I truly felt like I was in their world from the beginning all the way to the end.

The pacing is unusually precise, never skipping it’s narrative beat. The comedy is stellar as well. It’s dialogue and character heavy humour is done admirably. On a lot of comedy audio dramas, they usually sacrifice it’s story and pacing to tell a joke and disrupt all tension in the scene. In MarsCorp, however, it’s comedy and story mesh together extremely well and one never feels disjointed from what is happening.

The theme song captures the nuance and tone of the show quite well. It may be my favorite theme to an audio drama yet. The song itself warrants several hundred repeats.

The characters are both interesting and fleshed-out by the excellent writing and superb voice acting. Each character has a vivid and likeable personality. The laissez-faire and humorous attitude everyone has on board is more infectious than We’re Alive!

As stated before, I’m not the biggest fan of science fiction. But I highly recommend MarsCorp to anyone who enjoys heartwarming and witty characters, engaging stories, and realistic sound design.

5/5