Return Home (Episodes 1.1-7.3)

Return Home is simply an experience. Very few podcasts I’ve listened to in my long history of reviewing audio dramas (a whole three months!) have elicited such an emotional response. This is storytelling at its absolute finest.

The simple, yet charming adventures of Jonathan Barker, Amy Reynolds, and Buddy Nutters in the decrescent, strange town of Melancholy Falls is mesmerizing. It’s truly a testament to say that were-bunnies is not the strangest thing they encounter.

As Rod Serling would tell you, iconic music is important if you want to grab the audience’s attention and draw them closer to the screen. Or…iPod. The music is top-notch, blending a spine-chilling cola with a loud pianoforte smoothie to create an instrumental that embodies the weirdness of Melancholy Falls. As for the background effects, it is hyper-realistic. It can make one feel like they are right next to a creepy ghoul or Buddy’s toe-jam.

There’s a reason why Return Home has been nominated in 16 different categories at the Audio Verse Awards. Everyone who has worked on the podcast is extremely passionate about their work, which shows with its flawless execution.

Return Home achieves something that audiences are not accustomed to: perfection. It’s one of those rare instances where if this was made to be a movie, it would pale in comparison to the audio version. There is absolutely nothing wrong with Return Home with it’s original story, inspiring and believable characters, it’s superb sound design, and the allure of wanting more.   

You cannot just listen to one episode and stop. It’s as if there was something in the frequency that will make you come back for more…

As Jonathan Barker would tell you, “Let’s go find the weird!”

5.5/5

Gallowtree Season One

Gallowtree Radio details strange events from a town somewhere in England. These events range from literal identity theft to “homeless zombie scum” taking over the world… so predictable, huh? This is very much a story-driven podcast.

Listener’s should be aware that Gallowtree’s concept is noticeably similar to Night Vale, so if you like that podcast, odds are you will like this one. Basically, it’s as if Night Vale was set in a British horrorshow that’s being run by a mentally disturbed anarchist. Although the setting might turn some listeners off, Gallowtree has high production value and good voice acting.

Despire the limited voice cast, I felt that the narrator had a vivid personality and a very loud, creepy voice that suited the tone wonderfully – in particular, the tone and atmosphere. It does wonder for the tone and atmosphere. The writing is a little fast-paced if one is not paying attention. They could easily miss some really good social commentary and important details into a 1984-esque world.

The show has good pacing and good writing, often making references to problems in contemporary society, such as religion, police brutality, politics, and numerous other topics. The 22-minute format reminds me more of a science fiction TV show on the SyFy network than a podcast.

The background noises are so detailed and precise that it only makes you more involved in the insane world it presents. Small things like the echoing background noises sound more like a disgusting sewer than anything else, with rats scuttling across the floor and vault doors slamming  shut so politicians and zombies can’t get in.

This is obviously a labor of love, as it was made by only a few dedicated people who so obviously love the impact Night Vale had on podcasting and audio storytelling. Anyone who is a fan of creative, creepy stories and excellent social commentary should take a ponder at the British craziness that is Gallowtree.

4/5 Stars

Coquettes & Cougars|Brimble Banks Brothers Episode 10

A charming and humorous blend of oral storytelling and drama for the ear. The tenth episode of the Brimble Banks Brothers is a self-contained unit and at the same time a continuation of previous episodes. Coquettes and Cougars is the story of a family in Atlanta and their daughter’s planned marriage to someone of aristocratic heritage and wealth.

Honestly, the frame story of the brothers was far more interesting than the one of southern sensibilities and random cougar attacks. The frame narrative uses classic fourth wall breaking to constantly throw you in and out of the story. At times this is exhausting as you aren’t sure if you’re listening to the story about cougars in the southern United States or back in the real world with two bickering brothers who can’t seem to agree on what the story is about.

The overall narrative is all over the place and incorporates characters from previous episodes into the story. Yes, it’s that kind of story. No holds barred and out there in terms of pacing and plot. In this story, anything goes, including the kitchen sink. If that’s your cup of tea, you’ll enjoy the stories type of humor.

The biggest problem with this is the lack of attention to detail at some points. Not from a story stand point, but a production aspect. The volume goes up significantly at random places throughout the 50 minute long episode. It’s doubtful it was intentional and it’s not something you hear every day in the audio drama community, no matter if it’s free or for purchase.

Without having listened to earlier episodes, it’s hard to give thoughts on the overarching series with the two brothers. That being said, it sits on my feed, waiting for when I have free time.

4/5 Stars

Love Me: The World’s Most Complex Emotion in Podcast Form

The upcoming podcast, “Love Me” from the CBC, is both heartbreaking and filled with such raw, powerful emotions that you can’t help but get a lump in your throat.

Part anecdotal and part audio drama, “Love Me” is what you get when you cross NPR’s “Serial” with audio drama of the 21st century. The shows format is straight forward. Real people reading of their own accounts of what love is to them. Love in this context is broader than the definition most people think of when discussing the complex emotion. It includes things like friendships and the struggle of long distance relationships, across both oceans and languages.

The audio dramas come in at the second half of the episode. The first two range from computer-voiced characters who have a falling out and a game show where the contestant is matched against their own id, ego and super ego. Both are humorous, but the real power lies in the first half. Hearing someone about to break down in tears for a friend they clearly care about is heartbreaking and will hit close to home for a lot of people. For those asking about audio dramas like “The Truth” and other similarly toned podcasts, these are a good couple of episodes and a great start to a series.

More Information

The show is produced by Mira Burt-Wintonick and Cristal Duhaime and is premiering its first episode on Monday June 13, 2016. A preview of the show can be found clicking here. You can also Subscribe on iTunes.

The Once and Future Nerd: Princes of Iorden

From the very beginning, the audio production of Princes of Iorden, Book I of The Once and Future Nerd, is an ideal blend of both familiar tropes and interesting characters that turn those tropes on their heads, adding complexity to otherwise meek and overdone clichés. One great example is the nerd who gets easily consumed by a fantasy world. But in the end, the writers manage to make the story enjoyable, despite the tropes, with a mentally and physically diverse cast.

The greatest example of how they evaded a cliché trap is with Jenny, the smart cheerleader. She’s more complex than that pithy one-line description, as her character arc in the first book goes from worried high
school girl to kick-ass fighter. Although her journey there isn’t as good as
the end result, it’s still entertaining.

The overall plot is pretty basic, but uses a full
complement of fantasy tropes to its advantage. Honestly, the story peaks around
chapters six and seven. The shift to a more humorous tone at this point is
certainly out of place compared to the previous chapters. However, the
execution of humorous bits is done so effectively, you eventually forgive such
a sudden, inexplicable shift.

My one real complaint is the subplot with Gwen and the
lady whom she serves. For the majority of the tale, there is no genuine
connection with either of them, at least when compared to the main cast of
Bill, Jen, Nelson, and their protectors.

If there was ever a story in which the individual
characters made the plot actually interesting, Princes of Iorden is it.
Although the plot does follow the typical tropes; the characters add life to
it, delivering everything you expect from an age-old fantasy plot, but in a way
that’s enjoyable and not always predictable.

4.5/5 stars

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

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

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

Star Trek: Outpost Season One

Star Trek: Outpost includes the things people love about the television series and its many spin-off shows. Everything from characters, interesting species, “techno babble,” and dry humor are all included in each 30-60 minute episode.

They say character is most the important element of storytelling. Nobody knows this better than Gene Roddenberry, who’s space opera has touched the lives of people all over the world. Why? Because of the characters were interesting, engaging, and well-rounded.

Granted, I’m not Trek fan by any stretch of the imagination, but from the episodes I’ve watched of the original series, plot took a backseat to character. Star Trek: Outpost is no different. It feels like Star Trek, told in a serialized, rather than episodic way. For some that may be a flaw. Other’s may see it as refreshing getaway from the typical plot-centered stories often found in today’s movies.

Where Outpost truly shines is its attention to the characters. Each one is unique and feels like a living breathing person with their own passions, desires, and personalities unique to themselves and only themselves.

One complaint is that the first seven episodes are hard to pin down as to what exactly is going on in terms of the plot. By episode seven you’re more grounded in the characters and world than the events that have been taking place. It takes half the season to get to the point where crap hits the proverbial fan and that’s a genuine problem it faces. These are long episodes and I personally can’t tell you what happened in the first six and a half episodes in terms of the plot. There kind of isn’t any.

Once you get past that opening hump, the story really picks up momentum. If this sounds like your cup of tea, definitely check out this fan-run Star Trek audio drama from Giant Gnome Productions.

4/5 Stars

The Philadelphia Xperiment

My first listen from Camp Fire Radio was a wonderful treat. Great story, acting, and a tale that made me wince in fear and disgust—but in a good way. What I found most fascinating was the hypnosis scene. The way it combined the “blind” medium of audio with John Doe closing his eyes and remembering the past was ingenious. I felt like I was John, as scary as that thought might be given the ending.

What makes the tale scary isn’t the gruesome sound effects—even though they are extremely visceral. It’s the fact that it’s based on actual history. Well, more like conspiracy type history. You can find more about the Philadelphia Experiment on its wikipedia page.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed this tale. Short and sweet, but packed with tons history, horror, and imagination.

5/5 Stars