Our Fair City, Season One

The first act takes its sweet time in getting to the main conflict. We have about seven episodes of getting to know the setting, through the eyes of different characters for almost every episode, up until episode seven. I am enjoying the structure, which is essentially one scene equaling one episode. Each episode is less than ten minutes. This is both a strength and a weakness. Its strength is that in this age of boredom, the pacing is fast and snappy and doesn’t give you the chance to be bored. It’s a weakness, because you want more of what it has to offer.

As for the actual story, i felt the middle of the season surpassed the beginning and end. The beginning took too long to get to the main plot and the ending lacked dramatic tension. It succeeds at being a comedy, but in terms of drama, it didn’t do it for me. This begs the question of is “Our Fair City” a comedy, or a drama? It has enough drama in the middle that it could go both ways. This doesn’t really become a problem until adulthood, when you want your pure comedy and pure drama separated. Obviously there is overlap, because pretty much every drama needs a humorous element in it. Although going the other way rarely works, from what I’ve experienced (going from humor to drama).

As I stated earlier, the middle of season 1 is quite a rare phenomenon, because the middle usually is the most boring to write. This usually reflects in the story as  long and boring expository scenes or information that doesn’t really matter to the story. I never got that sense that the writer was “filling a word count goal,” so to speak, in the middle. I basically mean that the middle doesn’t drag on and give useless bits of information that the individual already knows.

To sum up, if you can get past first seven to eight episodes of somewhat trivial infodumps, you’ll enjoy what this season has to offer. The ending–though surprising, yet inevitable–lacks a dramatic punch you would expect from any kind of season finale, regardless of whether it’s humor or drama.

Off-Topic Blog Post: Mystery Elements in Stories

I won’t do this often, but this something I’ve wanted to say for a long time:

I’ve been thinking a lot about mystery plots in any type of storytelling, in particular how to write them, and I think I’ve come up with a general rule of thumb that I hope will help some people with the mystery plot line.

If you introduce a mystery right at the beginning of your story, be sure to answer it by the end of the chapter. The earlier to the start the better.

Doing this limits the potential for plot holes, which is basically a mystery that doesn’t get solved ever, or not until very late in the book–way before that point, the reader has probably put the book down. If you start with the reader getting to know your character, then you can slowly build a mystery for your story.

Granted if you do this too much, you will start to info dump. You want to pick what is absolutely necessary to the plot, at that moment in time, or that will make  future scenes not contain any plot holes

Of course, curiosity and interest trumps all. That being said, not all readers have the same amount of curiosity. A five year old is going to be more curious than someone much older.

Robots of the Company Episode 3

This series is really reminding me of the Schlock Mercenary Universe. I know I stated that in the last review, but if you just replaced the mercenary crew from the web comic with all robots you’d pretty much get Robots of the Company (At least from what I’ve listened to so far). The way it’s paced makes it seem like a slightly longer comic strip of 7-8 panels, rather than 3-4. I’m not quite sure if it’s one scene per episode, but it sure feels like that–especially for this episode. In fact I think it may even be just that.

The plot of this episode is that the robots are trying to get a ball from inside Rover, who is a robotic dog. The robots are trying to decide who will go dig in there and get it. I write this, but as a disclaimer know that this was not going through my head as I listened. Basically I’m wondering how bad could it possibly be inside a robotic dog. Maybe my imagination isn’t that great, but I just pictured a hollow shell, with gears and other mechanical devices. I didn’t picture flesh, bones or anything that really makes a dog a dog and human’s human for that matter. I just don’t see how they could have made that big a deal out of getting something out of Rover. Again, this is something I thought after the fact and it didn’t ruin my listening experience.

The end of the episode kind of fell flat for me. It would more interesting if Brisco wasn’t there to save the day. Putch said he was busy, or something along those lines. And yet at the end he showed up and got Squeak out of doing the job. It seems like a deus ex machina to me, but a very minor and insignificant one that didn’t really effect my opinion all that much. What did it for me was the overused joke of “Those are the wrong balls” as the last one or two lines of dialogue. I don’t think it’s childish, but I have seen it so many times that it loses its impact.

Wormwood Episode 3

It’s only episode 3 and I’m already feeling the weight of many questions that are desperately waiting to be answered. To me, a good a mystery needs to be foreshadowed and not having the questions being answered with an avalanche effect. Writers usually need to answer some of the questions before the climax, because otherwise it may be an explosive pow ending, but the reader will have so much time with the mystery that when the answer is revealed it feels lacking in dramatic tension. The most recent arc of Batman: The Ace of Detectives did this to me, to the point where I was expecting more. Granted that’s do to the one episode a month format their working in, which for incidences like those, tend to be a weakness. But, that’s an entirely different review.

I also have a hard time keeping up with the story in general. I can’t tell one episode apart from another. Which is good for a serialized story, but in terms of reviewing one episode, it’s a nightmare to keep it all in the brain with some spill over. But, I suppose that’s true with any serialized story. I liked the episode and the series, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that when you have to re-listen to an episode over and over again, it tends to lose it’s original momentum.

Robots of the Company Episode 2

Love the introduction and robot puns. You can’t go wrong with jokes that replace “mother ______ with  “motherboard.” So far the series reminds me of an audio drama version of Howard Tayler’s web comic, Schlock Mercenary. The humor is based around the character’s interactions with one another and not just based on the wacky incidents they find themselves in. Just like there are plot-driven stories and character-driven stories, there is also character humor and plot humor. The robots are likeable and their relation to one another is great. It’s hard to find humor in plot as then you’re basically having a badly written scene in a situational comedy (sitcom) where–for example–a person gets a pie in the face. No matter how good the sitcom is, character humor trumps that almost every time.

The joke with the suspense musical sting being part of a robots programming was quite funny and clever. It’s breaking the fourth wall, but it’s done in such a way that it comes off as witty–rather than childish. Though, I’m the kind of person who loves any type of humorous fourth wall breakage. When you break the fourth wall by kicking me out of the story, then thats something completely different. I just wished the episodes were a bit longer. Not much to say about a less than twenty minute episode, other than it’s good or bad.

If you can’t tell I enjoyed it on the level of its humor. I can’t really judge the entire first season having only listened to two episodes, but so far I’m enjoying myself.

Wormwood Episode 2

The plot thickens, and by “thickens” I mean it gets very intriguing and mysterious. As I’ve said before in previous reviews, audio drama’s have their work cut out for them in terms of a mystery plot. Mostly it’s trouble’s with foreshadowing. It may make sense on the page, but the execution always doesn’t do it for me. The ending of The Kingery season four is such an example. I’m sure outlined and on simply reading the script that it works, but the point of audio drama is to listen. That’s not say that it’s the actors faults. I’ve yet to listen to an audio drama where I could blame a failure entirely on the actors. As like filmmaking, audio drama is a collaborative medium.

I’m also really liking the various subplots like the one involving “the muddy man.” Th subplots have a sort of space opera-esque feel to them, at least in the way they’re being executed. Your not going to find many supernatural thrillers like Wormwood. My first listen of this episode wasn’t nearly as exciting as the one I base this review on and I’m just glad I gave this serial a second chance. The first listen wasn’t too memorable.

Tom Riddle’s Diary

Voldemort has always been on my list of top 20 villains in any story, mostly do to Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and the Horcrux chapter. I know it sounds weird, and contradictory to what most professional writer’s talk about, but I enjoy reading info dumps. Maybe it’s just my love of learning – but when I read a paragraph, chapter or scene about how a magic system works (or technology, if science fiction) I adore it. The weirdest thing is I don’t generally write a lot of info dumps in my prose fiction stories.

I love the connection to World War II and the holocaust in episode two. In the books, I completely missed the subtext of “mudbloods” being allegorical to Jews. It wasn’t until the movies made it blatantly obvious that I saw the connection. I suppose that may have been the filmmaker’s call and not J.K. Rowling’s, but it made for interesting similarities that I love in stories. Basically I enjoy allegorical stories like The Crucible, because I love history and a good story and when those are combined in a unique way I enjoy the book that much more and can overlook some problems.

What I don’t get, and maybe this is just an example of same actor, different role, but why are Voldemort’s posse, practically the same actors as in Snape’s Diaries? This wouldn’t be a problem, but seeing as Tom Riddle’s Diary is set during World War II I can’t suspend my disbelief that Voldemort’s cronies survived when Snape was at school. Maybe I thought that the two Harry potter Series’ from Misfits Audio were connected in some way. I can believe Voldemort surviving all these years, because of splitting his soul. The more I think about it, the more confused I get with the timeline of Harry Potter (before the books begin).

What really brought it home for me was the way the writers tied in the flashback in The Chamber of Secrets. It was one of those nostalgic moments that I completely forgot about until the very last minute, when the credits rolled.

Snape’s Diaries

Going into this I thought the series was complete, but the end of episode four gave no closure to the series. In fact that’s when it started to get good. Not that the first three episodes were bad. They were okay, just not on the level I’ve come accustomed to when listening to a misfit’s audio production.

The acting, while not bad, I would imagine different takes could’ve been used. To put it simply, the actors didn’t match each other’s emotions. Yes I am aware that most online audio dramas don’t have people in the same room, feeding off each others performances. However, since there are many online audio dramas that have scenes and sometimes entire episodes where I suspend my disbelief and actually think they are in the same room. Those happen enough times that I can safely say that those instances are not flukes, but good choice of takes compiled together to form the illusion that these people are in the same room.

Episodes one and two were the setup episodes, but I don’t think many non-Harry Potter fans (whether that be the books or the movies) would be listening to this series. Then I read the release year on itunes: 2008. All that backstory was necessary, because the last Harry Potter movie hadn’t come out yet. And since quite a few people only watch the movies, they would have no idea that Snape loved Lily Evans/Potter. I felt the writer handled their relationship in a unique way that added to the Harry Potter universe, rather than crowbarring a story into the wizarding world of J.K. Rowling.

This Thing of Ours Episode 5

When I hear the tagline for “This Thing of Ours” (“A story about life in the mafia”), I imagine the fancy way of living that most mafia members probably enjoy. The holiday party scene was exactly what I think of when I hear the words, “mafia lifestyle.” The scene had great ambiance, it felt like I was sitting in the fancy room. As I’ve probably said before in another review, I’m a pretty vision-oriented person. For example: I rarely see what a character looks like inside my head. The fact that I could visualize it speaks a lot to the mixing side of the episode. On top of that, as I said before, I felt as if I was in the scene; immersed in it.

During that scene I felt like I was a character, witnessing the story first hand. Most of the time, when I listen to audio dramas I hear the story, rather than experiencing them. Just like movies, there are some audio dramas that are better than others.

I define “okay” audio dramas as ones where I only hear the story. “Great” audio dramas immerse me in the universe. A “bad” audio drama is where I have no idea what’s going on, whether it be the mixing or the writing. If I can’t follow the story, then you’ve lost me.

Scott Spaulding did this twice in the same episode. The final scene, where we are constantly shifting POV from Frank and Mickey to the people outside is so tense that I found my self saying: “Sh**, sh**, sh***” Luckily I was home, so no young minds were corrupted. But man, that was so nerve wracking. I only thought that cutting back and forth between shots worked in movies. After hearing this, I have to say that if I saw this scene on the screen, I wouldn’t be half as scared.

This Thing of Ours Episode 4

Episodes 2 and 3 were not the best, but the last two episodes more than make up for it. Generally the second act of a story is the boring bit, because your in between an awesome beginning and the climax. You still have to get from point A to point C, but point B is where things can get tricky. Episode 4 really brought me back into the lives of the mafia. The meeting between Frank, Carmine, Mickey and Steve is one of great suspense and conflict, because based on what you know about Frank and Mickey, you’re expecting one thing to happen. But what you get is both satisfying and inevitable.

Another plus of this episode was the “double doors” scam, implemented by Carmine and Joey. I’m not sure if it’s an actual mob practice, but it sure is simple and ingenious; not that I recommend people do it. A part of the scene I really enjoyed was when Joey is telling Carmine how to act. For example: “Look Happy.” It’s very clever in that he’s also telling the audience at the same time.

Since audio drama can be considered a “blind” medium, lines of dialogue that explain exactly what’s going on are difficult to pull off. The reason being is that when dialogue is badly written, it will often come in the form of “I found a…” The character’s can see the object or whatever it is they see, because they are part of the story. The audience, obviously, can’t and will sometimes groan when they hear dialogue like that (or maybe that’s just me).

Anyway, this is my second favorite episode of Season 1. Episode 5 is my favorite, but more on that next week.