Sweeney Todd: A Bit More Polishing Off From Olde Sweeney Todd

The plot thickens. Now I’ve used that cliche twice to start a review. I really need new one liners. Anyway, the second part of Sweeney Todd and the String of Pearls has a plot that does thicken.

What I really noticed this time around was the Nineteenth century dialogue. It blended quite well with the attention span of modern audiences. Being a member of the modern audience, by which I mean, I’m not old old enough to remember the golden age of radio. In fact, I heard my first audio drama podcast in 2008. But that’s not why you came to this website. You came to hear me review this wonderful story.

Back to the dialogue, the script had that shakespearean acting vibe. The result of this, however, wasn’t confusion. There was no need for a “No-Fear…” series of books for this four part adventure. I could tell the amount of work that went into each line of dialogue. It got its point across, moved the story forward, and all by using a style of speaking that has been non-existent for centuries. (Not sure if that last sentence I wrote counts?).

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Strikes

The first episode of the four part series, produced by Blackstone Audio. This was made free via the Radio Drama Revival podcast. Technical information aside, I enjoyed this interpretation of the demon barber from fleet street.

This episode is a simple, yet ingenious mystery plot. Its simple in that we know what happened in the first scene. Sweeney Todd is one of my favorite stories so I know the story quite well. After listening to this episode I found out that Sweeney Todd used to be a serialized newspaper story. The mystery that every character but Mrs. Lovitt and Sweeney Todd don’t know is practically common knowledge.

What makes this ingenious is that you spend the majority of the story with characters who don’t know and are curious about what happened to a Mr. ______. So much time is spent that you often forget what really happened.

That, of course, is just my reaction. However, the tension and suspense alone will keep your headphones glued to your ears. It plays the sliding scale between a mystery plot and suspenseful anticipation. Most stories have a mystery plot and a anticipation plot that are separate from one another. In fact it could be argued that those are the two main plot archetypes (anticipation and mystery). This rendition of Sweeney Todd has elements of both and sits somewhere in the middle, making it a great listen for those long car rides.

Slick Bracer, PI: A Four Star Murder

A lot of people didn’t like this, based on what I’ve seen on the comments section at Decoder Ring Theater. While I can see where there coming from, it is all a matter of perspective. If people thought it was trying to be serious, then they would feel that the jokes were forced–and unfunny. The contrapositive is also true, obviously. I thought the tone was humorous and a good breaking the forth wall joke is alright, one in a while.

What bothered me was the ending. Knowing who the culprit was required the listener to not be given information: the last name of the culprit. On top of that, the last name is used as a joke. I can forgive a lot of things, but when a joke gets in the way of telling a good story, you’ve lost me. In prose fiction, if the author withholds information from the reader in a third person limited story, then it’s cheating. The same principle applies to audio drama. If you the punch of your plot twist requires withholding information from the reader, it’s going to feel unsatisfying.

I think the writer had a golden opportunity to twist the whodunit story on its head. 2-3 times we here the line: “you’re wasting your time.” If the culprit actually had been the person already in police custody, that would have been a nice twist. But, the writer goes for the twist that’s not foreshadowed and feels like a dirty trick.

Shinkei

This is one of those stories where the ending overstays its welcome, thus lacking dramatic power. Cutting off right when the line from the opening scene is repeated would’ve been perfectly alright. Instead we get the same trick used at the end Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Of course, I’m referring to the scene with the psychologist that explains everything. I like a nice explanation. People criticize the movie Inception for being a two and a half hour movie with nothing but exposition. Exposition, done correctly, is a wonderful tool for writers. It can increase the depth of your characters, setting, and plot.

The problem I have with the ending of Shinkei is that we don’t need the exposition. The writer is explaining things we already know, or that didn’t matter to the story. On top of that its confusing to try and piece everything together. My brain practically fried, trying to keep track of everything. I will say that the exposition given about how the main character was caught was needed, and didn’t hurt my brain. Its mostly the information that comes after the shift in time (or at least I assume that’s what it was). Do we really need to know what’s happened to the supporting cast? My thought is “no we don’t.”

I enjoyed the story while listening. I was captivated right until the big exposition scene at the end. I’d go as far as to say this is one of my favorite audio drama shorts in recent memory. The concept, characters, and production value were astounding. But that ending just didn’t do it for me.

The Knightmare (Part Two)

The second part, doesn’t fulfill the promises made at the beginning. In fact it twists the end, not once, but twice. This would be fine, if the twists didn’t feel like they were being made for the sake of the twist—and not the story. The two twists follow somewhat cliche archetypes: The Act III villain change and “I knew it all along” plot twist.

I won’t give the specifics, but the villain you think is the bad guy is not the bad guy. That alone would’ve been fine, but it goes one step further than necessary. The twist after that is the hero knew about the murder legion’s plan all along. This is a plot twist, for those who listened to both parts—back to back—that comes off as more of a plot hole. However, during its original release, people forget the first part.

The reason I say that the hero knowing can be considered a plot hole, in the confines of this story, is because he is surprised upon hearing about the Murder Legion. The twist could’ve worked, if it was (Female crime boss) who told him. But the writer doesn’t go that route, thus making the plot more convoluted and a potential plot hole.

The Knightmare (Part One)

An alright rip-off of “The Shadow” radio serials. Not a lot to complain about, but nothing that really set it apart from “The Shadow” and that is one of its biggest flaws. I couldn’t help, but compare it to “The Shadow” and that kind of colored my perspective when listening to this. The acting is solid and everything about it is top notch–for the most part.

A complaint I have about the story itself is that the male characters sound the same. During the scene at the observatory, I couldn’t put a character to a voice. The dialogue was too snappy that I didn’t really have time to invest in the characters, except the love interest. I felt she was the only character in that scene who could actually be called a character. The rest felt one-dimensional, as if the writer just needed someone for the female lead to talk to.

The Magic of the Movies

A fun and interesting story about what goes on behind the scenes of a movie. The logic behind it is fantasy and the writer expects you to just accept that. Which is all fine and good. However, it kind of comes out of nowhere. It felt, and I’ll say it again, crowbarred into the story–just to have a cool twist. This is the biggest obstacle for audio drama’s to overcome: foreshadowing the mystery. It’s easy to do in books and films. But in audio drama, either the writer doesn’t include any foreshadowing or the foreshadowing used is subtle to the point of being unnoticed. These create a continuum where the writer has to decide how much “telling” they need to do, in order to have the mystery be solved.

Author’s hear it all the time, “show, don’t tell.” The books I’ve read, foreshadow by telling. If a person were to “show” a foreshadowing device, the individual might mistake it for something else. That’s just my thought on it and the problem isn’t the amount of foreshadowing, it’s the lack of it. When listening I couldn’t find any reason to suspect the climax of the story would be what it was.

So, what does this have to do with a fantasy story about moviemaking? Well, everything. The structure of this story is told through flashback. The protagonist tells someone in a bar the story (haven’t I seen this before?). This also raises a question of originality in the story’s structure, but let’s not open up that can of worms. The structure of the story goes back and forth between the past and present. The narrative set in the present is a mystery. The audience wants to know why this actor stopped acting? What they’ve probably come to expect, or maybe this is just me, is that a tragedy helped make his decision.

What the audience gets, or at least what I got, was surprising–in that it was original and I wasn’t expecting it. But at the same time I felt it would’ve gone better if the expected did happen. I’m all for happy endings in stories, but the story seemed dark right from the start. I mean, how many stories with happy endings start in a bar?

Our Fair City Season 2

The second season of Our Fair City has an interesting structure. The first few episodes are quite dark in tone, which peaks around the middle episodes. Then we take a relaxing, comedic breather in the episode about the creator of the M.O.L.E. people. Dr. Morow. The reference to Stephen Hawking was enjoyable and the part about turtles made me bust out laughing, both times. Once the humor ends, it’s back to the dark and hopeless state of a city, masquerading as a happy-go-lucky place to live.

I enjoyed the M.O.L.E. people much more than the first season. I felt they were just there as a world building tool. Which is fine when you want the world you create to feel real. As characters, however, they didn’t have that much depth in the first season. I felt I could connect with Clay, who reminds me a lot of myself. The episodes with the M.O.L.E. people, though more in quanity kind of draws attention to itself. So much that you’re expecting the climax to involve the M.O.L.E. people. I call this unintentional excess foreshadowing. I won’t spoil what happens, but the fact that we spend more time than usual with secondary characters—outside of the main plot—made me suspicious as to why we were even seeing things from their point of view. It’s the principle of seeing gorilla in a phone booth. It stands out like, well, a gorilla in a phone booth.

The main plot, at least I assume it is do to the fact that it gets the most screen time, is dark comedy. Which I haven’t really heard in an audio drama. Sure I’ve laughed at jokes with dark humor, but in those the plot wasn’t as dark.

A highly original climax wraps up season two. It may be another zombie story, but the writers twist it just enough to make it original. Rather than the story being about survival all the way through, the woken apocalypse starts near the end. And, quite honestly, I’ve never seen—or heard in this case—a story done quite like this.

The Rats in the Walls (Part Two)

Horror in written form rarely scares me. I feel scared for characters, but I hardly ever feel general sense of horror. A few works of the father of the detective story: Poe give me goosebumps like this did, but I confess I haven’t read any Lovecraft. This was my first introduction to his works and now I’m kind of afraid to read his stories, especially in the dark. The narration just brought up the creepiness level that much.

The Rats in the Walls (Part One)

This is a reading, which surprised me in the sense that I wasn’t expecting a reading of an H.P. Lovecraft story. I expected an adaption, though that didn’t ruin my experience. In fact, it was a nice change of scenery for me. My two complaints are the occasional popped P-sounds and the cello’s volume level. At times the cello would be louder, and thus distract me from the story. The popping of the P-sounds, while few in between also had that same negative effect. These are all just nitpicks, but I feel they’re worth mentioning. I do have to give props to the narrator. He did an excellent job in bringing a horror story to life, using just his voice. I felt a sense of genuine horror and tension when listening that I got goose bumps.

Horror in written form rarely scares me. I feel scared for characters, but I hardly ever feel general sense of horror. A few works of the father of the detective story: Poe give me goosebumps like this did, but I confess I haven’t read any Lovecraft. This was my first introduction to his works and now I’m kind of afraid to read his stories, especially in the dark. The narration just brought up the creepiness level that much.