Awesome Foley: Deck the Halls (with Matrimony!)

Foley

Give this Foley Artist ALL the Awards

Without a doubt, this is one of the best sounding free podcast audio dramas out there. The foley work alone is deserving of every award out there. Right from the start, the foley artist uses everything and the kitchen sink to create an image of chaotic harmony in the opening scene. As for the actors and actresses, their voices are distinct from one another and you understand everyone’s role in the story early on. The writers throw you in the deep end with a wedding preparation scene involving turkeys, played by actual gobbling people. And, like the foley, it doesn’t come across as sounding fake, forced or unintentionally comedic.

A romantic comedy may be a staple of Hollywood, but in an audio drama the idea of a miscommunication affecting a relationship feels more like bad storytelling. Deck the Halls is the answer to that common complaint. Even if it falls back on the same tropes by the end. That being said, this hour long production treats it more like a plot twist than a face palming joke, giving it more of an emotional punch than most romantic comedies. The feeling might not be expected from a romantic comedy, but it’s what separates it from so many others. No, nobody dies.

Story < Foley

As far as story goes, there’s nothing new here in the realm of a romance, comedy or romantic comedy. The plot is the simple “boy meets girl, boy loses girl. Boy gets girl back” cliche we’ve seen a million times. The one difference is there’s a female in the lead role instead of the usual male protagonist. However, in today’s society, it doesn’t hold the same weight in regards to a trope subversion.

5/5 Stars

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Next Time

Liberty: Critical Research (Season One)

A Theater of the Blind Western: Powder Burns Five

The Blind Sheriff. Powder Burns

Blind Start: Season Premiere or Finale

Once again back in the old west with the blind sheriff, played by John Wesley Shipp and created by David Gregory—this unexpected second season picks up a few weeks or months after the finale of season one. “Unexpected” meaning, in the intervening months, it’s hard to tell if they were on hiatus or if the first season was completed. Based on the opening of this episode, it sounds like the latter.

Performances, Politics and American History

Shipp returns with his well enunciated southern drawl and A+ acting to the role of Sheriff Emmett Burns. The blindness angle has lost some of its appeal and novelty even with how they make his disability into a strength. It comes across as more confusing than being a “wow” factor for the episode.

The story of this episode is straight forward, with a theme and viewpoint that’s portrayed as one-sided on one hand and falling back on the “straw man” trope on the other. The issue is slavery. Considering the setting of the post-Civil War era becoming more of a plot point than simply backstory for the characters, it makes sense to have an entire episode dedicated to the subject.

Moving away from the political aspect of the episode, the focus of the narrative is split in two. The second half deals more closely on the issue of slavery in a post-13th amendment society with a trial as the main way of portraying both views. Again, a bit one-sided and definitely preachy in some parts, but the writer’s philosophy was not lost. He’s correct in his view that slavery’s evil, but a better job could’ve been done regarding the other side.

The first half is the set up for the main event and starts off strong with well acted and believable-enough dialogue, but as soon as the slaver enters the picture it becomes a a picture perfect example of straw man logic and confirmation bias.

Aside from the political philosophy lecture, the only other problem was how they got to the aforementioned trial scene in the first place. Upon first listen, it was about as confusing as a fight hidden in a cartoon smoke cloud as to what happened. The main character is blind, but that doesn’t mean the listener needs to be confused as to what’s happening in the scene.

4/5 Stars

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Next time…

Deck the Halls (with Matrimony!)

Public Domain Avengers: Starlight Radio Dreams

Public Domain Adventure Team

Public Domain meets the MCU

Why no one has made it big with such a simple idea is beyond words. Thankfully, the folks at Starlight Radio Dreams do it rather well in their recurring segment, titled: “Public Domain Adventure Team.”

As the title suggests, it stars characters in the public domain. Think the Avengers or Justice League, but with literary classics. The cast includes Jane Eyre, Beowulf, Mr. Toad (The Winds in the Willows), and the Ghost of Christmas Past (A Christmas Carol).

This particular review looks at the first episode of the second season of the podcast feed as a whole. More information can be found on their website as to the different shows they have available.

The cast of characters remains constant, but every episode introduces a new character from the public domain, if only for a one-off storyline. For this episode, its the relatively recent addition from classic literature: Sherlock Holmes. In the beginning, we learn about Holmes through Jane Eyre more or less fan-girling about his deductive skills. Oddly enough Sherlock doesn’t steal the show like the BBC series, starring Benedict Cumberbatch.

The story told is primarily comedic. By far the funniest member and the source of most recurring gags is Beowulf. The actor’s old english accent is hysterical and when added with the physical humor, it’s hilarious beyond reason.

One of the more fascinating elements about the show is that it is a live performance. The engaged audience adds to the level of enjoyment on the podcast. Like yawning, laughter is contagious, and you’re certainly laughing with the audience every time a joke lands. For those who hate laugh tracks in sitcoms, might get annoyed at the constant laughter, but you can’t deny it adds to the overall experience of the live performance—which is by far the most entertaining aspect of this production company, even while listening by yourself with the theater of the mind.

4.5/5 Stars

Next time…

Powder Burns Episode Five

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Audio Drama Sitcom: Wooden Overcoats

Sitcom: Wooden Overcoats

A British audio drama sitcom with American sensibilities and humor, the first season of “Wooden Overcoats” is packed with laughs and characters who run the line between well-developed characters and somewhat overused character archetypes. All while running with metaphorical scissors, cackling like a maniac. If that doesn’t scream sitcom, nothing will.

The first two episodes don’t give much to the overall tone of the story. Yes, they’re funny, but it’s not until the third episode where you find yourself laughing out loud at some of the humor it pulls. It’s absurd, but for a situational comedy it’s held back from becoming a tired and obvious blend of sitcom tropes one after the other. The season manages to balance itself well between thought-provoking character studies and off-the-wall crazy hijinks the characters have thrust upon them or create for themselves.

The final few episodes serve both the humor and the story, much more than most television sitcoms. The story comes together slightly disconnected, however, with a mystery that is set up rather late and falls flat. Thus giving the listener a sense of “why was this included so late?”

Of course as with any comedy, thinking too hard about the logic makes any humor-based show seem unfunny. Wooden Overcoats manages to walk that line between traditional US sitcoms while still having the British wit Americans love to enjoy.

Highly recommended!

4.5/5 Stars

Tune in next time for Starlight Radio Dreams and the quirky cast of their Public Domain Theater segment.

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Promo

Melting Potcast

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?

Johnny Long Arms Cover

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)

Big Data Cover Art

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

Pod Planet Cover Art

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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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
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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.

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Michael L. Bergonzi