Vast Horizon Review

Space. The final frontier for humanity, but one of the very first frontiers for podcast writers. I mean honestly, you can’t throw a blue yeti without hitting an entertaining, original, scrappy young podcast set in space.

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Vast Horizon Review

By Lex Scott

Space. The final frontier for humanity (other than the depths of our own oceans anyway, but that’s a whole other article), but one of the very first frontiers for podcast writers. I mean honestly, you can’t throw a blue yeti without hitting an entertaining, original, scrappy young podcast set in space. Some of them are truly excellent (lookin’ at you Girl in Space), and some are tragically lacking in one or two key areas while still being excellently mixed and produced. Most though, unfortunately, simply fall into the broad category of “pretty good”.

Don’t get me wrong, pretty good is a damn hard target to hit. I would sacrifice a lot to elevate some of my previous work to the level of pretty good (Quest Academy, oh what you could have been if I’d been competent or had experience…), and because my subscription list isn’t very large by most standards pretty good will often keep me thoroughly entertained in lieu of the same 100 songs I’ve got loaded onto my phone.

But pretty good won’t make you stand out. People tend to remember three kinds of things: their favourites, (coloured by personal experience so it’s a different beast), the greats, and the worst. No one ever remembers those movies that were just okay, the ones you went to because it was hot and you needed to kill a few hours. It is to this category unfortunately we have to relegate Vast Horizon, the newest entry from Travis Vengroff and K.A. Statz’ Fool & Scholar Productions.

Vast follows the now standard “Girl in Space + AI” set-up, though of course with it’s own twists: Dr Nolira Eck (an agronomist, not an MD) suddenly and painfully wakes up on The Bifrost, a massive colony ship that is mysteriously deserted but for her, a mysterious and as yet un-”seen” bipedal presence, and a dry AI that has lots of trouble with context clues.

In terms of set-up it’s rather economical. Once the story gets going we establish very quickly Nolira’s position, location, and lack of memory (another well worn but useful trope for easing an audience in: making the main character need just as much hand holding as the audience), while also doing a good job of presenting and explaining what will be one of the shows primary sources of tension: Nolira’s bionic limbs.

We also establish that the AI is unable to provide Nolira with any concrete answers as to why she was unconscious, where everyone is or even what happened to the ship, due to lost or corrupted data. The pair need each other, Nolira to physically go places and manually do things, the AI to provide her with in-the-moment info and a general plan on how to proceed if they’re going to take control of their situation.

Like I said, it’s a pretty solid premise that has a lot of potential. Unfortunately it consistently fails to hit the mark in most areas of production.

The show’s strongest area is definitely the sound design, which for the most part does an excellent job of setting up and presenting an audibly tangible world for us to immerse our ears in. But, it’s lacking in certain cues that would help convey physical action (a character apparently falling, which I didn’t realise until she was struggling to escape a hole), or time passing while an action is taken. Little things that would complete the picture for us and really sell the story and presentation. It’s the kind of thing that would be so easy to miss for anyone not a professional but as a listener is so jarring, and always takes me out of the moment.

The show’s weakest area I hate to say is probably writing, though the issues with the writing are also tightly bound up with similar issues in directing and editing.

Somehow, and I cannot figure out why, the overall pace feels simultaneously both too fast and too slow. Now, this is obviously a problem with the writing, as overall pace is something that’s present in the script from the very first draft: the speed at which plot moments happen one after another will always be right there on the page first (and it’s the hardest thing to manage I think, especially for a new writer), and that’s where you always have the most control to change it.

But, editing together a finished product is essentially doing a final draft of the script, so it’s a problem with editing too. And while directing you need to be aware of what the scene needs and coach that performance out, so it’s also a problem with the directing.

From line to line the dialogue itself is quite flat, though this has to do with delivery as well as actual writing. There are some lines that are just too wordy and clumsy, as though when they were written no one ever said them out loud to test them, and there are several instances where the clearly british-accented actor is pronouncing words with a distinctly american intonation (mom being the most egregious, please let your actors just say words in their native manner).

There are also several instances where Nolira’s actor just doesn’t quite reach the emotional heights required for a scene, though I would be hesitant to put the blame for that on her. It’s the directors job to coax the necessary emotion into a performance, and a good casting director will always be looking for the range an actor is capable of. Then once an actor is cast, a good writer will tailor lines and emotional beats to a performer, leaning into their strengths and being aware of their abilities. When everyone is working in harmony, every moving part compliments the others, and actors will never fail to amaze you with what they’re capable of. But if you don’t take your choices into consideration, if you just plow ahead without fine tuning your team and the new circumstances, it will always ring hollow.

The actual plotting of the narrative, and the “this therefore that” manner in which it proceeds is actually quite well done. The episodes so far have been 38, 38, and 28 minutes respectively, with not too much time taken up by pre and post show housekeeping, and each one makes good use of that time to progress events and throw obstacles in our protagonists path. Which is why it’s so odd that in the moment each episode still manages to feel both too slow and too fast.

Overall, I think this is a lackluster show from a team that should know better. The main actor, Siobhan Lumsden, is clearly skilled but just as obviously miscast in the role, while the writing and directing are well short of what I would expect from a team with at least six other shows under their belts. The story is well-trod territory, the tropes are well established in audiences minds at this point; fertile ground for a more creative team to subvert expectations, here a bland and muddy path for people who just want to rehash what’s gone before, minus the character or charm.

And again, although the sound design is overall pretty good, given the breadth of their experience I would expect them to be able to avoid the pitfalls they’ve fallen prey to here.

So, I would say feel free to skip this one unless your queue is empty and you’re in desperate need of a new show.

Main Street Mythology Review

There is a certain elegance in knowing what you’re good at and then delivering just that; not trying to do too much or stretching yourself too thin. Like a singer that knows their range and nails a simple song within that range. The 5 episode mini-series, Main Street Mythology presented by Newton’s Dark Room, is fine a lesson in doing just that. A few narrators, reading short stories in a shared world that are spiced up with a bit of background music.

by Matthew William

There is a certain elegance in knowing what you’re good at and then delivering just that; not trying to do too much or stretching yourself too thin. Like a singer that knows their range and nails a simple song within that range.

The 5 episode mini-series, Main Street Mythology presented by Newton’s Dark Room, is fine a lesson in doing just that. A few narrators, reading short stories in a shared world that are spiced up with a bit of background music.

That’s the whole show. And I’ll tell you what, everything comes together nicely.

The premise for the story is quite simple: “What if our world was built by a pantheon of gods instead of people?” So the cities, the clocks, even the satellites in this setting were created by deities. There are immortals that overlook the trash, the streetlights, the internet; keeping watch over their domains and making sure everything runs smoothly.

These fables are brought to life by one of three narrators, Eleiece Krawiec (who has narrated for Escape Pod), Robert Ready (who does work as an audiobook narrator) and Mike Emling, and all are excellent, grounding this fanciful world and giving the podcast a professional sound.

The stories are accompanied by an original score from La Troienne. The mystical soundtrack provides an otherworldly ambiance to the tales, and the music does a tremendous job of adding to the immersion without ever being distracting.

The whole show is brought together by Talon Stradley; a writer, musician, and audio producer based out of Long Beach, California.

There’s not really an overarching plot to the narrative and that’s okay, you’re here for the worldbuilding. Each vignette runs 5-10 minutes long and is a story about a certain god or a certain event and everything weaves together to form a really cool quilt of a shared world.

The production team, Newton’s Dark Room, is even sort of a character in itself. Their description is kept a little enigmatic, adding to the mystique.  

“An otherworldly artist collective based out of Calisland. Our collection of unique members scour countryside and cosmiverse to bring you the best in multi-media storytelling.”

All in all, this is a great podcast to listen to if your in the mood for a bit of escapism and enjoy worldbuilding. I listened to it while driving and it was a relaxing experience. I kept on coming back for more peaks into the world of this show.

Newton’s Dark Room has done a great job of creating a simple fiction podcast. And in a world where so many stories are packed to the gills with action and high stakes, it’s refreshing to have a show that simply brings you to another world and keeps you entertained.

That in itself is pretty ambitious.

Lindsay

Lindsay is essentially an audio drama fan fiction of the 1998 film “The Parent Trap” with a supernatural twist and that is easily the best summary I can offer without going into too much detail. It comes from, Waks On Waks Off Productions and is what I can only assume is their first show, and from what I could garner from this, hopefully not their last.

Lindsay is essentially an audio drama fan fiction of the 1998 film “The Parent Trap” with a supernatural twist and that is easily the best summary I can offer without going into too much detail. It comes from, Waks On Waks Off Productions and is what I can only assume is their first show, and from what I could garner from this, hopefully not their last.

Lindsay is an easy listen at a mere six episodes with most not being longer than fifteen minutes and yet it manages to pack a lot of content and intrigue in its brief run time. Even the first episode had my jaw to the floor as the narrator shoots witty comebacks at a gross man she just met and the dialogue just rolls into the next scene with a sort of fluidness you almost forget that this all started with a moody monologue typical for the genre.

Given the third episode is in the listing is called “Private Pussy”, I wasn’t surprised at the number of teeth Lindsay has in its mouth, and just how many were barred from day one. A very take no prisoners kind of approach that I’ve found in things like Rover Red and SAYER but with more subtle takes at the flimsiness of reality and the supernatural.

Above all Lindsay is just really funny and ballsy, and the small amount of episodes keep’s the momentum rolling the whole time. Though the main character has quite a mouth on her and she completely owns her role, she’s easily the best part and an amazing vehicle to see the lens of this world through.

It’s shows like this that really make me appreciate things like effective sound design, and all the difference it makes for letting scenes transition. The way the music and the voice acting blends together so fluidly, no hiccups or awkward cuts and yet they still keep the run time at a brief and breathable pace.

Some scenes might rub people the wrong way, and if that’s a plus or minus to the overall tone of the narrative, well that’s up for debate. It’s so honest and mature about topics of childhood innocence and the corruption of fame you’d think they were pulling some scenes off exclusively to amp up the edge, but no matter how off putting, the execution makes the surreal moments more surreal, and really strengthens the unhealthy mentalities of the small cast of characters.

There are one or two elements introduced in the beginning that we don’t get much elaboration on, or isn’t pushed as much use as it could have been, but that might just be the small amount of episodes to blame for that. Though I think the short length is a plus in certain ways, it does come at the risk of their being just a little less of Lindsay to enjoy.

Lindsay is amazingly polished with a solid narrative and a lot of wit and personality to a story that proves to be a compelling modern noir. It’s everything I didn’t expect and more, and ended up being all the things I could possibly seek in a satisfying story.

In the end, Lindsay is something you can breeze through in a day while being deeply invested in an overarching plot. You get a lot of engaging content for so little episodes and I look forward to a possible sequel about the inside story of “Mean Girls”.

So You Want to Make an Audiodrama?

Many new podcast listeners decide to become creators and make their own shows, so we’ve taken a look at a couple of courses that will help you get off to a flying start.

By Alex C. Telander

Podcast listeners like to brag about the size of their ‘to listen’ list, how they’re not sure if they’re ever going to get totally caught up, because they keep finding new shows to subscribe to. There are new audio dramas debuting every week. Part of the reason for this is because many new listeners decide to become podcast creators and make their own shows. They either listen to a type of show they would like to try and make, or are encouraged in hearing so many great shows and want to make that idea in their head become a podcast reality.

But wanting to make an audio drama and actually releasing one are two very different things separated by a great divide. There is A LOT that goes into making a podcast, depending on what sort of show you want to make, and how much time and energy you’re willing to sacrifice to make it. Most creators end up sacrificing more than they can afford and steal from things like sleep and doing anything fun.

Let’s quickly list the steps to making a single episode of a show:

1. Write the episode.

2. Revise the episode until you’re happy with it.

3. Cast actors for the episode.

4. Have actors record for the episode, either together or separate.

5. Mix voice acting and dialog.

6. Add sound effects.

7. Add music.

8. Mix everything together so it sounds how you want it to sound.

9. Get podcasting host.

10. Release episode to the world.

So that’s just ten steps in making a simple episode off the top of my head. Yes, it’s a lot of work. For a lot of people – especially those being creative for the first time – it’s daunting and at times seemingly insurmountable.

If only there were some guide available for would-be podcasters to learn how to do it all and get lots of advice?

Well, there is. Actually, there are two amazing guides: Audio Fiction 101 from the Fear of Public Shame team, and Sarah Rhea Werner’s Podcast Now masterclass.

On August 14th, 2014, the first episode of an audio drama called Wolf 359 was released and podcasts were changed forever. As each episode and season was released, the show grew and grew in popularity, and it is now one of the most popular podcasts around, up there with Bright Sessions and the Black Tapes, boasting a five-star rating on iTunes with 2,150 reviews. The show dropped its last episode on December 26th, 2017.

Zach Valenti

Since then, the people behind Wolf 359 — Zach Valenti, Sarah Shachat, and Gabriel Urbina – have released a mini-series, Time:Bombs, under the name of Fear of Public Shame. In late 2015, the trio started talking about the idea of doing an online audio fiction course, then they put it on hold until fall 2018 when they started planning and in November they kicked it into high gear. Their goal is to impart some of their knowledge and experience in making an audio drama for those looking to make their own show. After a number months and a lot of hard work, the result is Audio Fiction 101.

Sarah Shachat

It doesn’t matter what level you’re at, whether you’re a complete novice at writing audio dramas, or have been doing it for some time, Audio Fiction 101 will have something for you. Now, it’s important to note that this online course is not about sound design, engineering or anything related to working with sound in podcasting. Audio Fiction 101 is about writing and storytelling and honing your craft when it comes to creating and writing an audio drama. It’s about knowing the advantages but also the pitfalls and hindrances of this genre of podcasting. It’s goal is to give you all the tools you need to make a compelling and popular audio drama.

Gabriel Urbina

The course is told through a series of videos over three hours in length, divided into three units. Unit One covers how writers think about storytelling: “Understanding the objectives narrative, shaping audience expectations, and what makes audio unique among storytelling mediums.” It consists of eight videos including: “The Science of Storytelling,” “The Art of Control,” and “The Limits of Imagination.” The introduction video is available for preview.

Unit Two gets into the details: “How to construct settings, write for sound effects, plot and structure, do effective world-building in audio, and more.” The unit features fifteen videos giving full coverage from the strengths and weaknesses of audio dramas to “Designing Great Radio Characters” to “World-Building in Audio.” If you want to check it out, a couple previews are available on the site.

Unit Three is all about getting you ready to start making your show: “How to outline effectively, strategies for getting a first draft of the ground, how to even come up with ideas, and more.” It features ten videos with interesting titles like: “The Fear of Public Shame,” “Outlines Are Your Frienemies?” and “It’s Not Over Till It’s Over.” There’s also a preview video for “Revising and Improving” to give you an idea what this unit is like. In addition to these three units, there are also appendices with resources on “inspiration and writing software choices.”

The practical side to the Audio Fiction 101 course is that all the videos are relatively short, in the five to ten minute range, making it a very versatile course: you can watch videos on your commute, or just before going to bed at night. You can do one a day or one a week and apply what you’ve learned; or marathon a bunch of them together unit by unit. The price tag isn’t too bad either: the whole course for $75, or four monthly installments of $20. There’s even a scholarship option available for those who can’t really afford it.

If you consider yourself an audio drama fan, then you’ve very likely come across the great show Girl in Space and its writer and lead voice actor, Sarah Rhea Werner. You may also know Sarah from her popular writing podcast series Write Now, featuring writing advice and author interviews. Sarah is also one of the few podcast entrepreneurs who has turned all her work into a full-time and successful job. She has been featured in Forbes and had her very own TED Talk. Now she’s going one big step further and offering everything she has learned and experienced in podcasting to you with her very own online course, Podcast Now.

Sarah Werner

The 12-week masterclass “will guide you, step-by-step, through the entire podcasting process – from strategy to launch and beyond.” What’s neat about this is you can choose an audio drama track or a nonfiction podcast track. It features eight modules with 52 video lessons. There are also downloadable worksheets to be completed and help you along as you complete each video lesson. Throughout the course Sarah will also offer weekly live office hours where you can “ask [Sarah] literally anything you want. No holds barred. Not kidding.”

The course covers the entire process of making your podcast beginning with ideas and plotting and writing, to recording and editing, to eventual publishing and marketing, using a “step-by-step action roadmap” and achievable goals so you won’t get lost along the way or become overwhelmed. As an extra aid, you’ll also get access to the private Facebook Mastermind Community group where you’ll be able to receive personal coaching.

Pricing for this immense and comprehensive course has an estimated value of over $4000, but is currently on offer for the special introductory price of $1500. An installment plan is also available with 12 payments of $150. Enrollment for the course will open once again for the second time June 3rd through the 7th and begin on June 10. After that the course will not be offered again until October when the price will likely increase.

Course Comparison

The obvious big difference between the Audio Fiction 101 course and Podcast Now course is the price tag. But the scope of the two courses is different: Audio Fiction 101 focuses on writing and putting together an audio drama with a series of short videos, while Podcast Now course helps you make your podcast, whether its audio drama or nonfiction, from initial idea to creating your show, to making it a success. If anything, both courses compliment each other relatively well, and if you can manage it, taking them both would provide you everything you could possibly need to turn your inkling of an audio drama into a popular and well-rated show.


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History is Gay Podcast Review

Think back to your history class: any history class you ever took from college to high school or even before: did you ever wonder whether a particular historical figure was gay or not? You can discover the truth with the History Is Gay podcast.

History Is Gay

By Alex C. Telander

Think back to your history class: any history class you ever took from college to high school or even before: did you ever wonder whether a particular historical figure was gay or not? I can only speak for myself as a cis white male, as I am one, but I can safely say without a doubt that this thought never once occurred to me. I feel one big reason for this is because the teachers and professors in the classes I took never talked about the sexuality of historical figures, nor was there a “gay history” class available for me to take. But another reason is because it never occurred to me. I regret this now.

Thankfully, there’s this wonderful podcast called History is Gay:

“where your hosts Gretchen & Leigh examine the overlooked and under-appreciated queer ladies, gents, and gentle-enbies from the unexplored corners of history. Whether shining a light on queer pirate adventures, emo lesbian Sappho, or your other faves from the pages of textbooks you never knew were queer, it’s time to bring our stories out of the shadows. Because history has never been as straight as you think.”

It’s all about that last line, because there have always been members of the LGBTQ community since there have been people in this world, we just haven’t been taught about it. Now I have a Bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing with a minor in Medieval History, so I’ve taken my fair share of literature and upper level history courses, and with each episode of History is Gay I feel I’m getting the same level of research and lecturing as I’ve received in any previous college course.


Gretchen

But this isn’t too surprising when we look at the hosts for History is Gay. Gretchen, who identifies as bisexual, has a degree in Church History and Historical Theology, as well as a degree in Hebrew Language and Rabbinics. Leigh, who identifies as queer, has a degree in European History and Theater, wrote their thesis on “ascetic medieval women and all the ways they messed with the patriarchy,” and also “flirted for a long time with slapping on an archaeology degree as well, because why not! Bones, yo. They’re so neat.” Both hosts joke about how extensive their outlines are always for each episode, which usually run over an hour in length, and feature a post on the History is Gay website listing all sources used in the episode, as well as various types of media whenever possible.


Leigh

After a short introductory episode where the hosts explain the format of the show, use of terminology and language, as well as what to expect with regards to formatting and schedule, Episode 1: Were Some Pirates Poofters, is all about gay pirates, both male and female. Episode 2 is Cloistered Queers, all about the gay monks and nuns of the Middle Ages. To make it clear they’re not limiting their research to the western world, the third episode is all about homosexuality in Imperial China. To date, as of this writing, there have been 23 episodes with most of them being over an hour in length. As an avid podcast listener, I’m usually listening to shows half that length, so when I saw how long the episodes were, I was a little hesitant, but as soon as I started listening I was instantly drawn in and completely hooked until the end. The hosts speak with such confidence and intelligence on the subject of each episode that any fan of history will become immediately caught up in it.

If you like history in any way, do yourself a favor and start listening to this great show, “because history has never been as straight as you think.”

Sit back and enjoy episode 1 right here and now!


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Hadron Gospel Hour: A Love Letter of Sorts

Comedy podcasts are no rarity in the audio drama community, and this is helped along in no small part by the multitude of improvisation shows that pop up the second you search comedy on your average podcast listening app. During my time in high school, when I was listening to ILLUSIONOID and on the fence about the level of devotion necessary to get invested in The Thrilling Adventure Hour, one show that I was always at the beck and call of no matter what mood I was in was Hadron Gospel Hour, a long-form science fiction comedy made by two long time friends.

Hadron Gospel Hour: A Love Letter of Sorts

By Podcake

Comedy podcasts are no rarity in the audio drama community, and this is helped along in no small part by the multitude of improvisation shows that pop up the second you search comedy on your average podcast listening app. During my time in high school, when I was listening to ILLUSIONOID and on the fence about the level of devotion necessary to get invested in The Thrilling Adventure Hour, one show that I was always at the beck and call of no matter what mood I was in was Hadron Gospel Hour, a long-form science fiction comedy made by two long time friends.

Richard Wentworth and Michael McQuilken star as the main characters in a multidimensional love letter to Douglas Adam’s inspired sci-fi romps, where our heroes travel from place to place trying to fix a fractured universe. The opening narration will gladly inform you about how the effects of a science experiment gone wrong ripped a hole through space and time, and provides the groundwork for a number of weird things to happen to weird people.

The central plot does follow a grieving Dr. Oppenheimer wallowing in his failures and trying to piece together his shattered wife whose existence was scattered over multiple dimensions, upon his failure to study the “Hadron Effect” the show credits its name to.

When rational IT worker Michael Wilkinson gets dragged into Oppenheimer’s plan purely by accident is where the show properly begins and does a decent job of setting the central tone of random chance conflicting with personal interest. This is where the buddy-cop aspect comes along and makes up the primary comedic dynamic, ensuring that as long as these two are around, there is plenty of comedy to spare in between the bouts of tragedy.

Hadron Gospel Hour is one of the most creative story-driven podcasts to have come out in 2014: A scripted series, but still not short of the sort of wit and charm that an especially interesting DnD session may have. There’s a variety of locations, great narrative pacing, and a number of characters and gags that add to the chaotic nature of a fractured setting.

Hadron Gospel Hour may be all fun and games but it has an excellent underlying theme of sticking to your guns in even the toughest of scenarios, and finding the best qualities in the strangest of people. It’s a story about compromise and unlikely encounters, forgiving yourself for your mistakes while also pursuing a life of self improvement. Hadron Gospel is never pointlessly cruel to its heroes and always finds a way to make the most bizarre of problems joyous and comedic.

And yet, Hadron Gospel Hour isn’t just a science fiction show: it’s every possible kind of science fiction show. There are bizarre creatures and races, super computers and supernatural powers, and hilarious body horror. There’s an episode entirely about troubling romantic relationships, with a twist so excellent I won’t spoil it, and a battle of the bands plot in what I think is one of the best episodes ever put out in any fiction audio drama in general.

Hadron Gospel has very long episodes (for a scripted podcast), some pushing past an hour, but they really do ensure each and every second isn’t wasted. The amount of creativity on display could only be possible by two friends with ambition and a shared devotion to their craft, to make the best possible piece each and every time.

Weird for the sake of weird is something I’ve had my fair share of ever since pursuing this hobby, but not many other audio dramas have also charmed me like this show has. The character writing, it’s ability to be equal parts episodic and story driven, the miniature arcs that are satisfying and never drag on… t makes for an experience you can sink your teeth into and still laugh about.

It’s definitely the kind of experience that’s highly unique, and I think that’s due to the solid chemistry of the creators and can be easy to get wrapped up in once you get acquainted with its likeable cast. It’s still in something of a niche category even given its quality, but how much it has to offer has made it my immediate go-to for recommendations in comedy podcasts.

When the show makes its joyous return for what will likely be a series finale, I not only look forward to how this all wraps up but what new adventures Wentworth and McQuilken might have in store in different dimensions.


Angel of Vine Review

Let’s start out by saying that The Angel of Vine is one of the best audio dramas out there. Produced by Vox Populi, it has accrued 651 iTunes reviews worldwide, with a 4.8 average star rating at the time of this article’s writing. So it’s fair to say it’s popular, as well as high quality.

The Angel of Vine Review

By Matthew William

Let’s start out by saying that The Angel of Vine is one of the best audio dramas out there. Produced by Vox Populi, it has accrued 651 iTunes reviews worldwide, with a 4.8 average star rating at the time of this article’s writing. So it’s fair to say it’s popular, as well as high quality.

The first thing you’ll notice is the all-star cast (especially by audio drama standards), with Joe Manganiello in the lead as Hank Briggs, Camilla Luddington, Oliver Vaquer, (who also wrote the show and plays the NPR-style journalist host) Misha Collins, Mike Colter, Alfred Molina, Khary Payton, Alan Tudyk, and Constance Zimmer. Veteran voice actors Travis Willingham, Matthew Mercer, and Nolan North round out the cast.

For those of you who haven’t heard it yet, here’s the official synopsis:

The Angel of Vine is a noir tale told in true crime style. The “podcaster,” a journalist named Oscar Simons (Oliver Vaquer), is fascinated by cold cases. One of the most infamous is “The Angel of Vine,” a gruesome murder in 1950s Hollywood. Young aspiring actress Marlene Marie Evans was found in a parking lot, her body mutilated and posed, with evidence either nonexistent or destroyed when she was discovered by a stampede of curious onlookers.

The police gave up with no leads, and the case would never be closed… or would it? Ex-cop and private detective Hank Briggs (Joe Manganiello) may have solved the case, but he never told a soul. It’s up to Oscar to search through Hank’s mountain of tapes and clues from more than 60 years ago to uncover the killer.

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With near perfect production values, acting, and story, there is very little to complain about. It seems they have achieved a new gold standard for audio drama production. I could wax lyrical about how great the show is, and I feel like most reviews have been doing just that. But, I do still have a few nits to pick.

Now, the dialogue is mostly good. I can see how some people call it stiff, but that’s sort of the point. 1950’s noir is sort of stiff. But the dialogue didn’t pop the way it does in, say, Double Indemnity, and I was never surprised or felt as if I was listening in on a conversation. It felt as if I was listening to the main character uncovering the plot points and nothing more.

For example, in the first six minutes of Episode One, when the daughter describes going to the house where her estranged grandfather had been living, she suddenly starts describing the old car in the driveway in graphic detail for some reason:

“Old car. Not a classic car. An 83 Cutlass Ciera. Hadn’t been maintained in years. A fender was rusted. Cobwebs around the hubcaps. The felt from the interior ceiling was sagging.”

This might play into the “film noir” style they’re trying to affect, but it felt too much like a school report to me. “I’m describing the setting here! Aren’t you immersed?”

The character development also could’ve used a bit of work, as the main character Hank Briggs, is a little too one dimensional.

I get that it’s a noir, but characters, especially lead characters, need to be more nuanced: he’s into poetry (which feels a little shoehorned into his character), we’re told multiple times that he has a great sense of humor, and he had scenes with his daughter where he shows a tender side.

But overall I just couldn’t shake the feeling that it was directed with the words, “Okay, you’re a 1950’s Brooklyn tough guy, fugettabout it!” in pretty much every scene.

At the end of the day, maybe it was for the best, because when he’s confronted with the gruesome climax, he is truly shaken and that’s what shakes us. We hear him crack, so what he sees must be really bad. So, from that point of view, I really can’t fault the choice.

But the good far outweighs the bad.

Oliver Vaquer had the unenviable task of making something that sounds both conversational and journalistic, set in the modern day and in mid-century LA. In the end, I feel like I took a tour through old-school Hollywood. That’s a hard trick to pull off.

The writing does a skillful job of using the audio drama format, with the conceit that the main character was always carrying a recording device with him. And the descriptions of the crime scenes will send chills down your spine (no pun intended). I’ve even heard it said from multiple people that it took them awhile to realize they weren’t listening a true crime podcast.

The acting is one of the key things responsible for that. Vaquer as the journalist is very believable, and the genuine performance convinces you this is a real cold case investigation. Alan Tudyk is incredible in his role as Samuel Tensch. I didn’t feel like he was an actor at all, rather a living breathing character. And Alfred Molina has acting superpowers. His character, Leonard Shaw, is so over the top awful, but he delivers the lines so perfectly that when he later starts talking about his health problems, you somehow start feeling sympathy for the guy. My goodness.

That said, I wish there was a better female part. The players are largely male, and the story could have really used a femme fatale type. There are a lot of women in the cast, Constnace Zimmer and Camilla Luddington are given 2nd and 3rd billing, respectively, as a mother and daughter pair, but they aren’t given much to do. (I can’t even really remember anything the mother says or does, besides constantly sounding a bit tired.)

And how fantastic is that theme song? I mean, seriously, I could write a whole article on that. A modern take of a 1946 song “Angel Eyes” that really sets the mood and makes you feel like you are in old-school LA.

There are ads tucked into the show, as most podcasts do, but one particular Johnnie Walker ad blew my mind. Not long after a Johnnie Walker Blue Label ad, the characters in the show sit down for a drink of Johnnie Walker Blue Label.

“I think it’s the perfect way to mark the moment,” the character Beth Turner says, somehow quoting the slogan perfectly.

Production isn’t really my area, so I don’t have an insider’s perspective, but to my ears, it’s more or less perfect. The sound effects were immersive and never pulled me out of the story. They do an amazing job at making the old sound old and the new sound new.

This is definitely a show I would recommend, without hesitation. It is excellent in almost every area, but I had one major issue with it, which unfortunately pertains to the ending. So…

MAJOR SPOILERS from here on out: (I mean, if you haven’t listened to it already, what are you doing? Go and download it immediately.)

First off, the story endings feels flat and unsatisfying.

We go through this whole investigation to try and figure out who killed the Angel of Vine, and in the climax we finally learn that it was Samuel Tensch – the man who was paying Hank Briggs to investigate the crime.

Then we get the explanation as to why he committed the grisly murder and it was because… he was crazy!

And that’s pretty much it.

The thing about a mystery is, when it’s finally solved, you are supposed to go: “Ahhhh, of course, I should’ve seen that coming. All the pieces fit together now” not: “Oh, uh… okay, I guess.

As soon as I heard the last episode, where we learned Samuel Tensch was the killer, I went back and re-listened to the previous episodes, to see if I missed anything – any bit of foreshadowing, or clues, or any hints that this character is maybe hiding something.

But nope. There’s not really anything.

There’s a brief mention of a mysterious fire, where his mother figured died, and we later find out he killed her and he caused the fire to dispose of her body. But there are no motivations, no clues, no nothing. We just find out he was disturbed and used his victims blood to make paintings.

Um, okay.

I know real life serial killers and murderers don’t always have a satisfying motive, and the pieces don’t always fit together into a nice coherent narrative. This could be the show paying homage to such unsatisfying endings in other popular true crime serials, but we expect our stories to be better than that. Especially mysteries.

Despite all this, the Angel of Vine remains a can’t-miss podcast. I just wish the writing was a little stronger. But they left the story open to interpretation: either the killer is still at large… or Hank killed him. We’re probably going to be getting more seasons to find the answers.

And that’s definitely a good thing.

Now ‘scuse me while I pop open this bottle of unbranded, not-paid-to-advertise bottle of whiskey, the perfect way to mark the moment of finishing off a review.

♫ Oh, where is my Angel Eyes?

Excuse me while I disappeeeeear…♫


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Edict Zero Episode 3

The plot kicks into motion in this episode, with Briggs being rescued from his brief captivity in the sewers; Wakeman being suspiciously helpful about it, and a concrete confirmation that there is indeed a group conspiring (either directly or indirectly) against our protagonists…

The Deep Dive Into…

Edict Zero – FIS

By Lex Scott

Welcome to part three of my deep dive into Edict Zero. If you’re new here make sure you check out my previous episode reviews right here (pt1) and here (pt2), before joining me for the rest of my journey.

And of course, spoilers ahead

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Episode 3, Dead Canaries

The plot kicks into motion in this episode, with Briggs being rescued from his brief captivity in the sewers; Wakeman being suspiciously helpful about it, and a concrete confirmation that there is indeed a group conspiring (either directly or indirectly) against our protagonists.

Now this was a good episode, in that it definitely advanced the plot and gave us new information, but it also succeeded in highlighting what I’ve discovered is my main underlying issue with this series so far: The episodes are far too long, especially given how little actually happens in each one. It’s been three episodes so far and we’ve elapsed significantly less than 48 hours in this series of events.

That’s more than three hours worth of solid, jam packed story time, covering only two days. Now, you might be thinking that a lot has happened in that time but let’s recap. A bomb went off, agents were assigned to investigate it and evidence was reviewed. Suspects and witnesses were interviewed, more evidence was collected and presented, and our protagonists were assigned to the case. Then one of our protagonists was incapacitated and promptly rescued.

That’s it.

That is the entirety of the plot that has been covered in these three plus hours.

Now I don’t want to be giving out praise to TV procedurals, but that’s the kind of story they can (and do on a weekly basis) cover in a measly 35 minutes, with time left over to gossip about office scandals and hookups.

‘But Lex,’ I hear you saying through the magic of modern day spyware, ‘there’s been so much more covered! Important stuff, like character development, motivation, interpersonal relationships, all that vital good stuff that makes compelling human drama!’ And to that I say, everything I know about our characters I learned in about five minutes of “screen” time. Total.

I know Kircher is idealistic, moral, and honest. She genuinely cares about her job, her coworkers, and helping people. She’s also criminally underserved by her employer and unfortunate gender politics.

I know Garret is a widower, very unexpressive of his emotions (though the show would like me to believe he lacks them completely), and makes a very real and genuine effort to understand people and their motivations, but lacks the personal experience necessary to do so on anything more than a purely academic level.

I know Briggs was once in a relationship with Kircher, likely throws himself into his work to avoid confronting his personal and emotional issues directly, and tends to work alone and resents being anything less than self sufficient.

So much of the character and world building on display here is so gingerly holding my hand and carefully walking me through everything that it’s all but hammering me over the head. The show, and of course the writer, director etc, don’t trust me to follow along with it all.

They say show don’t tell, and Edict Zero has that down. They absolutely show me how everything fits together and works, and they show me how everyone relates through their interactions and genuinely good performances. But it also tells me all of that too.

The scene where the random drunk finds the briefcase floating in an alley (gravity bomb) was excessive. I don’t need to know that he’s late on rent and laid off from work, I don’t need to know that his wife is cooking and he’s ungrateful because he wants to go out drinking…

Side note: If your wife is generous and cares enough to cook for you don’t berate her, that’s just shitty.

…I just need to know that he’s drunk, it’s new years eve still, and he found a floating briefcase that he intends to pawn. It’s simple, it’s maybe a minute, and it’s far more engaging.

I should say though that there was one very satisfying moment, where Garrett’s brother-in-law confronts him and Kircher actually calls him out on it! It was a very typical moment between two characters where one says something confrontational and entirely unprofessional that just wouldn’t fly in a real workplace, that usually goes uncommented on by other characters. But in this instance Agent Kircher takes notice, and actively dresses down the man and defends her colleague.

It didn’t go as far as I personally might have liked, but it’s giving me hope that the writer will actually treat her character with a more deft hand than I previously thought.

Look don’t get me wrong: I like this show. It impressed the hell out of me the very first time I turned it on, and from a technical standpoint it’s goddamn genius. Each new episode I turn on I’m engaged with the plot and I genuinely want to know what happens, not to mention the director getting very good performances out of the actors (and of course the actors giving those very good performances).

But wanting to know what’s next isn’t always enough for me, I know that most recently from Wolf 359. The show started pretty strong with a fun irreverent vibe but now I’m half way through and I’ve been on the verge of giving up for a while now.

Now you should know that I’m obsessive when it comes to story: I have to finish them or it eats away at me. But in this day and age if something isn’t keeping me invested with good execution I have the option to just look up the plot online. I want new exciting shows to immerse myself in and get obsessed with, but you’ve got to be more engaging than simply reading the wikipedia page for your show or I’m not going to finish.

I like this show. I want to enjoy this show. I desperately hope it’s not losing its lustre for me so quickly.

#

Theories and Predictions:

Socrates is actually an agent of Edict One (can’t remember if I suggested this previously) but somehow had multiple peoples consciousnesses transplanted into his brain. He’s clearly got more than one, and it would explain the word salad verbal diarrhea thing he’s got going on.

Side Note: Also I forgot to mention the reveal of his invisibility ring, another artifact briefly mentioned previously, and shown to have failed him in his moment of need. Clearly these Paradox Artifacts are then fallible, so they run of tech as opposed to a kind of magic.

A bit of a fringe theory, but what if Edict Zero is actually a computer simulation. We know that the trip from earth took a huge amount of time, and that most were in cryosleep. What if the reality they’re experiencing is actually generated for them while they sleep? I still firmly believe(/possibly proven) that edict one is actively conducting experiments on the gen-pop, so this isn’t that far removed from what we know.

What do you think of my theories? What do you think of my criticisms: are they genuine but harsh, or the bitter ravings of an amateurish failure? Let me know in the comments below, let me know your own theories, or better yet let me know if you are listening along with me in this deep dive. Just please no spoilers for upcoming episodes, as I will absolutely be reading your comments.

And of course, go download episode 4 right here, and join me next time as I continue my deep dive into Edict Zero – FIS.


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Days of My Life Podcast

The name Aidan Wheller may seem familiar to some of you if you’ve been around the indie podcast scene for the last year or so: he made his debut in the podcasting world when he started reviewing shows in March of 2018 on YouTube. Well now he has his own podcast and not only did we get to preview the first episode, we got an interview as well.

Days of My Life Podcast

by Dōhai

The name Aidan Wheller may seem familiar to some of you if you’ve been around the indie podcast scene for the last year or so: he made his debut in the podcasting world when he started reviewing shows in March of 2018 on YouTube. In the space of five months he reviewed around 60 podcasts, including some of his personal favorites: The Big Loop, Dark Net Diaries, Dark Saga: Aethuran, Duggan Hill, Superstition, Lonesome Pine, Dream State.

Come summer however he stopped producing his podcast reviews in favour of producing a show of his own: he changed the channel name, removed all the reviews, and began plowing his time into his new project, the Days of My Life Podcast.

So when Aidan reached out to me with a sneak peek behind the curtain of his upcoming show, what could I say?

Within ten minutes of listening to his heart warming first episode I was on the phone setting up an interview.

Q. So what led to the scrapping of the review portion of your YT channel? Was it simply to make room for the podcast, or was there something else?

“The idea for Days of my Life came to me in a moment, and by the end of an hour I had mapped out twelve episodes in my head. I started recording the following week, and as it started to go well I decided I had to stop doing reviews. For one thing I thought to myself “I can’t do reviews and put my own show out.” I needed some distance from being a reviewer.”

He added:

“I still listen to loads of podcasts and audio drama but for now I’m just a fan… cheering them all on from the sidelines.”

Q. Is there a possibility that the review portion of your journey will return, or do you think it was ultimately just a stepping stone in your evolution?

“Maybe in some way it could. But as of now I have no plans to do any. (I still have all the reviews if anybody wants them), but to be honest I have ideas for another podcast after I get done with days of my life. I had another moment where a fully formed story popped into my head, this one is all fiction though, so a great amount of work will be needed to make it come alive. The thing I like about the idea of the show is that it does not limit me, for now I have twelve episodes, but I can see there being many more.”

Q. Would a continuation of DomL be just your own experiences, or would you consider doing “defining moments” of other people’s lives.

“I think that other people’s lives have probably been covered well enough. I thought about doing some shows about my heroes, idols… but I quickly ran into the copyright barrier! It’s impossible to really focus in on a person of fame without breaking copyrights! It took me a long long time to get the short clips that I use for reference in Days of my Life.”

A few weeks ago Aidan put up Episode 0, which is now available wherever you get your podcast fix. This heartwarming personal reflection on his deceased mother is entitled ‘Things I Wish My Mum Knew’ and it’s just that: a list of things that have happened since his mother passed away, that presumably is a reflection of the things they shared whilst she was still alive. It’s a simple premise, and with its monologue backed by somber piano music it is put together incredibly well, creating an ambience that makes me reflect on my own life, familial relationships, and the finite time we have together.

Now full disclosure here, I’m not really a fan of autobiographical works, even those of my idols, so obviously I came into this filled with trepidation. Something I’m happy to say, this podcast well and truly smashed. Perhaps it’s because Aidan is just your average guy on the street, not some Hollywood heartthrob or sporting hero that we hold in high esteem, that this story shines for me. Maybe the reason this story is so heartwarming is because it truly shows that all lives matter.

Episode 1 is entitled ‘Home Base’ and runs for just over half an hour.

In this episode Aidan takes us back to August 1997 when he was a wee lad of 16, when the times, as Bob Dylan so aptly wrote, they were a changing, and a young Aidan was having the time of his life. But this was all about to change, for this date was a major turning point in life, not just for Aidan personally, but for Billions of people around the globe.

As far as the content of this first episode goes, I’m going to leave it there. I have no intention of spoiling this story for you. Suffice it for me to say that this episode is not only well written and produced, it also humbles me how candid and self-effacing one human being can be about their own problems, flaws, and limitations. For me that’s worth the price of admission alone.

Q. I assume that the following episodes will be of life changing moments that are as candid and as self-effacing, so with that in mind, how hard was it for you to not only think on these matters, but to actually break them down, and lay them out for the world to see, and how cathartic was the process?

“Yes they all are very heart-on-sleeve, I would not be able to do any other way. In some ways it has been cathartic to go back to these times, maybe even a bit like therapy for me, but because its all my own life I own it 100% there’s no fiction or worry about how things might end, its reflective and honest and when it’s all done I will be proud to know that’s out there and not just in the backseat of my mind.”

“Not all of the episodes are linked to moments in everybody else’s life, 4 or 5 of them are, some of the dates everybody will know. some of the days are about moments in time and events from my own life story, all true but with some little changes to protect people close to me.”

Q. What do you hope your audience, (and yourself) will take away from this endeavor? Here you are talking about the moment you decided to stop using drugs and become more supportive of your dying mother? Does your mother, and other family members feature in other episodes?

“Yes my family feature more in other episodes, and yes my mother’s death and the time I spent looking after comes back, but I did not just stop getting waisted. The other shows focus in on the human condition of loss and living with grief, but also finding new things, and new ways to run away or transform into something else. I was only 16 in the episode Homebase, as I write this I am now 37, so plenty of time for more missadventures.”

“As for what people might get from it…. It’s just me saying hello to the world, and sharing my story, I guess I want people to like it, maybe relate to it.. I don’t think it will appeal to everyone, and not chasing anything… of course I want as many people to listen to as possible but honestly it sounds cheesy but it’s true, if just a few people listen to it and relate to it that’s fine with me.”

Q. So how are you feeling now that your first show is about to launch?

“I guess I feel a bit insecure. I’m not a pro and I am learning my craft as I go. I have one little mic and a shitty old laptop, so when I listen back to my shows I think, “it’s not as good as the shows I love” but then I think ‘Hell’ the whole thing came from one little thought, it doesn’t have to be perfect as long as it’s good enough for me that’ll do!”

I know how that feels, my first ever attempt is almost ¾’s broadcast, and even though I’ve had lots of praise, I still feel queasy when an episode is released, and I am poised to run through it all again so that I can reassess and learn all there is about my writing.

“The last thing I would say is that the show does not follow a solid timeline, so sometimes I might overlap or go backwards then forwards, I kinda like that it’s a bit blurry and rough.”

I wish you all the best with your show Aidan, I’m looking forward to listening to more days of your life in the near future.

If you wish to catch this show, then you can do so wherever you listen to your regular playlist, and episode one ‘HomeBase’ dropped on April 3rd 2019.


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The 12:37 Review

The 12:37

By Lex Scott

I’m going to be upfront with you right here: The 12:37 is not the best show. It hasn’t got the absolute best acting or directing. The dialogue suffers greatly (and given it’s an audio drama, it’s almost entirely dialogue) and the actors struggle mightily to reach the levels of emotion that many of the scenes require.

The 12:37 is an interesting show. It’s also not aimed anywhere near me. And you know what? All those things I just listed: they can be improved. In fact from the first episode to the second they do improve. Drastically.

The notes I made for this review start out pretty harsh: “Nora and Wheeler never manage to get on the same level of performance. Each feels distinctly like they were recorded separately, and the director never bothered to direct their performances to match. They effectively aren’t in the same scene”.

But I had to immediately revise those notes upon starting the second episode. The actors and director do a much better job matching performances, and all the scenes from that point actually feel consistent. It’s that fact that makes me comfortable being as critical as I am in this review; I know for a fact that any technical issues (writing, acting, directing) can and will be improved upon as the series continues and the cast and crew get more experienced.

Our charming lead is Nora, a young (I assume) scientist (likely a chemist) who finds herself in a rush accidentally boarding the wrong train. A time travelling train. She’s told that “shouldn’t be possible”, but we’re privy to certain conversations that indicate that it probably wasn’t an accident. She’s a fine character, though troublingly unphased by her predicament (I have a feeling that might be one of those performance issues I mentioned so that’s all I’ll say about that), and a decent voice to be our touchstone.

The next character we meet is Wheeler, and he serves as our gateway into the world of the time travelling train. He always feels slightly off, but not I think in the way he’s supposed to. He always responds to most of Nora’s lines with this little laugh that never quite manages to be the appropriate reaction to her words. Again, a writing/performance issue that I’m certain will be improved upon with time and experience.

The cast slowly expands out from these two at an excellent pace, introducing characters at exactly the right point in the narrative, but I’ll leave those for you to discover.

This show isn’t the best, but it is absolutely worth your time. One of the best things about podcasting to me is the incredibly low barrier for entry: You don’t need a Blue Yeti, you don’t need to be a professional. Most importantly you don’t need anyone else’s permission to tell your story. I will never dump on someone for being inexperienced, and I will always support someone putting in the work to get something made and putting it out into the world:

You made a thing! Congratulations! That is so much more than about 99% of everyone who ever talks about “well this is how I’d do it if I made it.”

So go and give this show a listen, there are three episodes out so far and they only continue to get better with each one.

Miscellaneous observations:

  • Massive chunks of dead air throughout the episodes is a pretty big issue, to the point where I actually thought the episodes had ended. I think they’re meant to be scene transitions, but they don’t play like it.
  • Explaining what kind of bullet you shot someone with doesn’t make you sound tough, it just sounds dumb.
  • I really really didn’t need a scene where she gets a dictaphone, or really any in universe reason for her to be narrating her life. We managed fine for the majority of two episodes, it’s just unnecessary. (I have thoughts on the prevalence of “found footage” in modern audio drama, but that article is still a long way from ready…)
  • The sound design is wonderfully subtle and understated.
  • The 1237pod.com site damn near crashed my browser, and I have no idea why.

Theory:

I’ve come to enjoy closing out an article with a wild theory about what’s going on so here’s one for The 12:37

(SPOILERS!!)

The staff of the train are on a mission to seed and distribute pharmaceuticals throughout the past in order to disrupt medical patent history, and make medicine better, more available, and more affordable in their future, and that’s why Beyond Pharmaceuticals is after them.


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