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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Ray Gunn and Starburst: Series One

This superhero origin story achieves the same effect as the Deadpool film, while at the same time fulfilling the promises inherent in the genre of space opera comedies. Ray Gunn and Starburst starts off a little lackluster. There’s nothing new here, aside from the fourth wall breaking, and even then that feels like a gimmick. It’s not until episode three when we learn of the larger world and thus the stakes of the galaxy.

That being said, the evil overlord is not all that threatening and his terror comes from characters reacting to him rather than him doing anything all that evil. If you’re the kind of person who enjoys a good villain, you may be disappointed. They do rectify this in the last episode, but by that point it’s too little too late.

The cast of characters are a delight and the ending surprisingly works, despite it essentially being deus ex machina. I won’t spoil the end other than to say the fourth wall break keeps it from being a poor story choice.

Ray Gunn and Starburst is a breath of fresh air for the audio drama medium, because it adds something new to the overpopulated space opera comedy genre. Also, if you’re a fan of fourth wall breaking, you’ll certainly get a kick out of this. It’s not quite the same as Deadpool, because it’s not the character who breaks it, but it’s still very much the same in theory. The foreshadowing commercials are a nice twist on the typical fake advertisements found in shows such as Hadron Gospel Hour as they serve more than one function.

4.5/5 Stars

ISS Forlorn Hope

ISS Forlorn Hope feels like the beginning of a series, but offers the self-contained nature of a television pilot. The story starts off strong. Bits of humorous dialogue make the characters likable and place the reader gently into the opening scene. Not much set up is required and you get the gist of what’s at stake early on.

A man is on trial for the murder of his best friend. As his retelling unfolds, we learn about his friend and how the two of them got sucked into a space opera world, full of evil overlords and technological marvels. And what better way to start this off than at a science fiction convention. A mysterious couple of aliens wants a box the two characters–Rob and Keith–have come into possession of. How a box as powerful as it was described happened to land on earth is a mystery. Then again, this is a comedy and thinking that in depth about the story doesn’t bode well for anyone. Rob and Keith are forced onto the ship, but Keith doesn’t survive. In fact, we learn the incompetent ship’s doctor “Improved him” to the point that he’s no longer human.

This a comedy and stupid humor occurs from time to time, but overall the story is consistent with itself and not over the top with its cheap jokes. Honestly there are so many space opera comedies out there, it’s hard to differentiate them. Most of these types of stories feel rehashed and overdone. Once you’ve experienced one of them, you basically how it’s going to end, and the journey isn’t that impressive either.

Overall this a solid introduction to a larger world with the compactness of an hour long television pilot. The credit read was a delight, but there’s nothing fresh and new here to warrant anything other than a standard rating.

4/5 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

Good Omens

The adaptation of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s pre-apocalyptic story on the events of the book of Revelation makes for an interesting story, and an even better audio drama. It was produced by Dirk Maggs, who also worked on the Neverwhere audio drama, and like the underground city of London, it adds life and complexity to this co-authored work of fiction.

If you haven’t experienced the story before in its original form, this audio drama will be that much more effective, I feel. Having never read the book, I was going into this story blind. What sets this story apart from other apocalypse stories is the humor. It’s hilarious, but at the same time unlike the usual comedic dribble movies released every couple of months. At times the humor is juvenile, sure, but there’s only one example of that and it’s kind of running gag, so it’s okay.

Author Brandon Sanderson said it best on a recent Tor.com blog post on Terry Pratchett’s death this year:

Pratchett is transcendent. There are lots of funny writers. Some are hilarious. A few are good at making you think at the same time. But most humorists, while brilliant, have trouble with story. If I put their book down, I remember the laughter, but feel no urgency to return.

That “transcendence” is what most  comedies by Pratchett have in spades. He also delivers a style unique to him and almost universal to all (there’s always going to be haters). Of course, let’s not forget Neil Gaiman, whose own literary skill can be found in spades, despite Pratchett’s comedic and storytelling genius.

If there was a gateway drug for both Gaiman or Pratchett work, this would be as popular as a commonly used anti-depressant. All I can say is I’m going to my local library and checking out a few Pratchett books, because now I see what all the fuss is about.

You can find it on audible.com. It’s well worth the credit or price you pay.

5/5 Stars

The Case of the Prince Formerly Known as Hamlet

How do you make shakespearean tragedy better? Have it performed on stage rather than read the play. How do you make it funny? By adding a hard-boiled detective element to the play. Of course, based on the title of this review, the shakespearean tragedy in question is Hamlet. This audio drama is both a “what if” parody as well as a secret (fictional) history.

Enter the main character, Justin Thyme: A detective who investigates crimes in fictional stories. And what better story than Hamlet to parody. We all know the story, Hamlet’s father is murdered by his brother. What we don’t know is that Detective Thyme was hired by the late King of Denmark

The first part is mostly set up for information most people already know. There are however a few differences, like how involved Thyme was in the ending of Hamlet. Spoiler alert: everyone dies. Everything from the jokes (some of which get a naughty) to the hard-boiled similes offered by the detective are wonderful and don’t disrespect the play. Rather they add a level of enjoyment to it.

The second part is much more proactive and follows the book more closely after the initial detour from the original story. It’s always fun to make fun of a person’s indecision and Hamlet is the king of it. The “to be or not to be” speech being a prime example of his indecisiveness.

All in all, this comedic audio drama is both fun and enjoyable. The writer even twisted the ending, adding a layer of complexity not found in the original play. Again this doesn’t distract from the story or disrespect it in anyway. It enhances the enjoyment of this story — undoubtedly, is different from the play — but by no means inferior.

4.5/5 Stars

Hadron Gospel Hour Episode 1: The Reluctant Hadronaut

Welcome to the multi-verse or at least one creator’s idea of a timeless science fiction trope. Dr. Who be damned, because there’s a new quirky comedy on the scene and it’s combining elements of Robot Chicken with Sci-fi comedy from the stylings of The Destiny of Special Agent Ace Galaksi. Hadron Gospel Hour promises to achieve both great storytelling and acts of random humor.

What makes this unique is how it uses the multiverse trope to justify the occasional random humor. That could be a turn off for some people. The beginning is way out there in terms of the randomness factor. It’s not until you get past the fake commercials for things like the awesome product that everyone needs that you get into the real meat and potatoes of the first episode. It’s an interesting way to set up the series and the world building behind it. In the essence of “show, don’t tell,” the creator(s) have achieved an interesting balance between explaining the world and showing you how random and unpredictable it can be.

The first episode has a whacky beginning, a comedic middle, and an ending that takes the whole thing up two notches. Honestly, the way they tied the main plot of this individual episode and the setup for the series together was outstanding. I certainly wasn’t expecting that kind of twist so early in the show’s debut.

The Destiny of Special Agent Ace Galaksi

Where to begin? It’s something all writers have to consider and in “The Destiny of Special Agent Ace Galaksi” perhaps they start where it all began…Maybe? The premise of this show revolves around a single person—an agent of the Canadian Special Investigations Service (CSIS). The first scene has nothing to do with him. It sets up the “omniscient” beings that work at the big book of destiny, which the title should say it all. It’s sort of that blurred line when a story has an omniscient POV character, is it limited or omniscient? Without opening up that can of worms, there really didn’t seem to be a point to the big book of destiny office scenes. They seemed there to provide expositional setup for the scene that comes right after it. Why not just go to straight to the next scene?

That being said, the scenes that took place at the big book of destiny were entertaining, they just distracted from the main story and weren’t as funny as the rest of the scenes. That sort of brought the overall story down, because everything built up so much and then stopped and resumed itself after a few minutes of witty banter. But at that time, all the tension is gone and one kind of forgets what the characters were even doing. In some cases, entire days or weeks have gone by and a single line of dialogue is all one gets for the time that has elapsed. It’s the same problem that “The Dark Knight Rises” has when skipping ahead in time. If one isn’t paying attention, then the line can be easily missed.

This story is a comedy, there’s no denying that. The jokes they tell are quite clever and funny, though some could border on insulting for some individuals. Looking past those kind of jokes and the comedic elements itself, the story is a smorgasbord of things happening that make sense, but don’t have a lot of weight to them. Then again, comedies aren’t known for their emotionally powerful scenes, so I’m willing to look past that.

Despite the complexity of the story. the plot is fairly simple. Special Agent Ace Galaksi wants to find out why a dinosaur had a tennis ball necklace buried with it. Of course that answer is reveled, but not at the end like one might think. The audience learns the answer early on, the events just keep escalating to a point where I really didn’t care anymore. It was the “yes, but” storytelling methodology—where something goes right, BUT then something horrible happens soon after—taken to the extreme. It raised the stakes so much that it became obvious what the creator was doing.

All that said, this audio drama is a great comedy series and knows that it wants to be one. At six episodes long, you’re definitely getting a good story. It just sits in that weird place in my brain where the pros outweigh the cons, but the cons are the things I remember the most about it.