The Bootleggers: Episode One

Produced by Pocket Radio Theater and set in my hometown of Rochester, NY–this period piece about life in the upstate New York city during prohibition mixes the old time radio aspect of the time with modern audio drama sensibilities. Complete with music which reflects the period is only icing on the cake.

The writing is good and the sound effects even better. The immersion factor is seemless and you’re never thrown out of the story even for a little bit. A problem a lot of newer shows have with their production values.

The plot of this episode deals with two bootleggers who run into trouble with the feds. After a scene which explains a change in management for the two men, the bootleggers go about their daily lives, complete with name-dropping actual places inside Rochester, NY. As a native of the city, it made me smile. After the stage is set and we get to know the main characters a bit more, the episode ends.

There’s not much to say about this other than there are new episodes released on the 15th of each month and it’s a serial. The first episode is not self-contained, but there many things about it which hook you. I started listening to the next episode immediately after. If you’re a fan of the 20s and 30s, this audio drama is for you.

You can listen to the first eight or nine episodes on iTunes or by visiting their site at PocketRadioTheater.org.

4.5/5 Stars

Powder Burns Episode 4: Fifteen Thousand Friends

The Blind Sheriff. Powder Burns

This episode starts off what with can only be called a flashback. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it, but the scene feels out of place when compared to the rest of the episode’s story–which is in present day. By the end, you still aren’t sure why it was included.

Moving on to the meat and potatoes of the story, episode four could basically be called 3.5 as it has very little to do with the previous plotline of Emmett trying to capture Monte Hogue. We’re introducted to another character, a man from the US Army. Seeing as this is a western, you know he’s going to be trouble. You arent’t sure in what capicity, but the moment he’s on screen you know he’s plotting something.

Once again, John Wesley Ship and the rest of the cast bring their A-game and the appearance of Robert Vaughn (Napoleon Solo from the original The Man from U.N.C.L.E series) makes the episode stand out a bit more than usual. This is the weakest of the episodes in terms of the overall story arc, but still a good episode taken on its own.

4/5 Stars

Powder Burns Episode 3: Weep for Me

The Blind Sheriff. Powder Burns

Episode three of this audio drama western takes us once again deeper into the backstory of the characters. This episode is very much a set-up for episode four. Or at the very least a moment of rest which ends on a cliffhangar.

This episode is under twenty minutes, but it feels more like ten. The pacing is fast and the tension ratchets up with every spoken word. Without this increase, this episode would feel like a sequel, rather than a scene. If memory serves correctly, this episode was just one long scene, but it’s not something you’re thinking about when listening. In fact I just thought of it as I was writing this review. So points for that. Hopefully my memory is still functioning properly.

As for the plot of this episode, there really is none aside from what was set up in episode two. Emmett is once again on the lookout for outlaw Monty Hogue. The real conflict comes from the clash of personalities of the Emmett and his deputy. The ramp up in tension in that one scene is exhilarating.

The episode’s conclusion is a cliffhangar. A confusing one at that. For the first time, we get a glimpse of what it’s like to view the world when blind. It may be the logline for the show, but the execution feels like a badly shot action sequence. The one’s with all close up shots and shaky camera work. Episode four was also released last month and will be reviewed next week. Until then I give you with a rating.

4/5 Stars

The Cure

The Cure is a tale from Theater in your Mind productions. They are a relatively new group which shows potential. The story however doesn’t quite work. It was boring and you could tell what the twist at the end was going to be early on. Pretty sure it’s been done before. Add in the lackluster performances and the result is something easily forgotten. The acting isn’t bad, but nothing about it made it memorable.

If you couldn’t tell by the title or the episode’s description on iTunes. This story is a zombie apocalypse origin story where you learn where the zombies come from. The answer to the question is tied directly with the big reveal near the end. In terms of originality, I have to give them points. But as far as the execution goes there was a missed opportunity here. It was like the writer took the first and most obvious plot twist he came up with and rolled with it. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but when the rest of the story is bland you need to step up some other aspect of it. Otherwise you’re just another direct to blu-ray horror movie. And sadly that’s what this feels like.

3.5/5 Stars

Mistborn: The Hero of Ages (Parts 1-3)

Graphic Audio’s three part adaptation of the third Mistborn Novel aims high and succeeds, but the source material is unfortunately lacking in the ending department. Everything else about the story is great. All the loose threads that are tied up by the end are numerous and the way they form the proverbial bow is tied up is interesting and you don’t see it coming, That being said, as an ending for a trilogy, it falls short. Taken on its own, the book is on par with the Well of Ascension’s ending in terms of the wow factor.

The people over at Graphic audio did a tremendous job as always and this was the first mistborn book I didn’t already read at least a part of before diving into this audio adaptation. The experience was exhilarating. I doubt I would’ve enjoyed it as much.

The Final Empire is still the best in the series, aside from how they defeat the Lord Ruler–although it’s grown on me these past few years. The Well of Ascension, looking back, had the trouble of a slow middle, but a fantastic beginning and end. The Hero of Ages is the culmination of the first two books as you would expect. It’s the last book in a trilogy of trilogies. The ending is just meh. Wish I could give more details, but I don’t want to spoil anything. The one thing that disappointed me was that we never know much about the Eleventh Metal aside from what is explained in the first book. It wasn’t important to the plot of this book or the second for that matter, but it was a dangling thread I wish was tied up in someway by the end of the third book.

HUNT the TRUTH: Season One

Halo is a universe near and dear to many people, including my own. Some will blindly like anything with the “Halo” name attached to it, others will hate it out of principle. HUNT the TRUTH takes the popularity of NPR’s Serial form and uses the fictionalized world of the Halo video games to increase sales of the next game in the series–Halo 5: Guardians.

It seems the writers were so focused on creating a bridge from Halo 4 to Halo 5 that the result feels more like solely a marketing department decision. The only thing unique about this story is that it explains why the Master Chief is being hunted by Spartan Locke and his team. Everything else, even the slightest fan will know to be canon. The whole atrocities of the Spartan II program are nothing new. Yes, in-world, only a select few characters know the truth about the second phase of the Spartan program, but to compose a whole story based on that concept alone is foolish. Add in the fact they undermine themselves near the end with a cheap thrill ride by practically retconning the story they’ve told so far. The ending is basically a lie you’re expected to swallow. While it goes down nice and easy, there’s a strange after taste which makes you question the decisions of the writers.

It’s a shame that the second attempt at a Halo audio drama falls short of its precursor. The Halo 3: ODST story told via collectible audio logs was the first and a true audio drama. NPR’s Serial is a good show, but as many have said it isn’t audio drama. It’s the equivalent of creative non-fiction. HUNT the TRUTH takes some of the same notes as Serial, but ultimately fails as both a marketing ploy and an audible drama in general.

3.5/5 Stars

It’s About Time: The Heist

The time traveling comedic duo had amazing first episode. There was genuine laughter every few minutes and the story was great. Episode two takes the concept of time travel and turns it on its head. Paradoxes in particular are a focal point of this episode, without being overtly obvious about it. If you know about science fiction, then you’ll know about the butterfly effect: the theory that one little change in the past will have a ripple effect on the present. The classic example is a man steps on a butterfly and suddenly the dinosaurs are still alive in the present day.

The comedy is great once again, and the story is bit more complex. The subplot with the professor felt odd and the scenes focusing on him too short. It begged the question why this was included in the first place. Hopefully the answer will become clear by the end of the first season.

The plot focus of this episode is the two newbie time travelers hatch a get-rich-quick scheme, which involves robbing Blackbeard. The ending is where the butterfly effect comes in isn’t exactly world-shattering like most time travel stories, but that’s what made it a WTF moment. A good WTF moment.

I suspect good things from the rest of the season.

4.5/5 Stars

Powder Burns Episode 2: Father Abraham

The Blind Sheriff. Powder Burns

At first listen, this might feel like a filler episode, but in truth it blends a “reaction” scene with some great character development. Getting to know a character through any sort of plot is a higher form of storytelling and something that can easily turn into something which feels obvious. The dreaded “author’s hand” writing motif.

Powder Burns episode two manages to slip in bits of dialogue about the protagonist’s history that it feels natural. Much like episode one where there was a sense of depth in each line of dialogue–whether it was about the setting, character, or plot–episode two has fewer of those moments, but their quality exceeds that of the pilot.

The plot for this episode revolves around a mentally challenged boy who shot a bank teller, and now Emmett Burns has to decide what to do when the town wants the boy’s life for his crime. That’s the setup. Right from the start, the tension keeps ramping up until you get to the climax where it all comes together in a nice neat bow.

Most of this episode is self-contained, save for the last minute or so before the credits where it gives a glimpse of what episode 3 might be about. We’re Alive redefined the zombie story for me and Powder Burns is doing the same thing with the western genre. Hats off to them.

4.5/5 Stars

Good Things Come

A story, whose aim isn’t high or out of reach, but right on the mark. It knows what wants to be and does it well. The plot of this tale is unusual and its form even stranger. It takes a stroll through the pre-WWII era all the way to the 80s via commercial radio ads. A fun little gimmick, but getting tiresome in the medium overall.

The story is unusual in that it sits smack dab in the middle of audio drama and full-cast productions. It sits there perfectly, using both functionalities of the different forms. In other words, I forget that most of the story was told through narration. The only times I was thrown out were the radio ads, but that was a product of the need to jump forward in time every decade. They arrived in late and out early.

The story is about a girl who has a strange fantasy of being whisked away from her room through her window by a German or other foreign boy. As the years go by, she gets older. For the most part, we never see her leave her room. There’s subtle hints that she knows what goes on in the house downstairs, but there’s never  a scene where we see her outside her room.

Overall this feels like a standard audio drama short with the stylistic tone of a Beverly Cleary novel, but with the complexity of a story for adults.

4/5 Stars