Why Should You Go to PodTales?

On Sunday, October 20th at the Lunder Arts Center at Lesley University the first ever PodTales Festival will take place. A festival dedicated solely to audio drama and fiction podcasting.

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“Our heart will always be like that little mouse logo;

small and cute, but happy and powerful.”

by Alex C. Telander

Something special is coming to Cambridge, Massachusetts: on Sunday, October 20th at the Lunder Arts Center at Lesley University the first ever PodTales Festival will take place. What makes PodTales special is that it’s the first of its kind: a festival dedicated solely to audio drama and fiction podcasting, and before you ask, yes, this does include RPG podcasts too.

PodTales is an arts festival, not a professional conference; it’s about the work itself and learning how people do it, whether you’re a fan or a creator (or both, as many of us are). PodTales’ goal is for you to walk out with a whole list of new shows to check out.

Now, why should someone attend the PodTales Festival, other than its free admission and it being the first convention tailored exclusively to audio drama? Well, I had a chance to ask a couple of the organizers behind PodTales all about the festival and what their hopes, fears, and dreams for it are: Alexander Danner is the festival director and Jeff Van Dreason handles exhibitor relations and the IndieGoGo campaign, which runs through July 14th. And yes, these are the guys behind the terrific audio drama, Greater Boston.

Where did PodTales come from and when was it conceived?

ALEXANDER: The Boston area is rich in active fiction podcasters, making it one of the geographic hubs of the form, so I’ve long thought it would make sense to have a major community event here. There was also a particular model of show I’ve been hoping to attend, but which doesn’t really exist—one more similar to an indie comics festival, where new and established artists intermingle, where the act of creating within the form is celebrated no matter the artists level of experience.

My biggest inspiration is MICE, The Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo, which was founded by my friends Shelli Paroline and Dan Mazur. There’s a palpable joy in celebrating the craft in how MICE is run, and no con anywhere that ever made me feel as valued as an exhibitor as MICE does. That’s what I want for exhibitors at PodTales.

And we wouldn’t be here without MICE for more practical reasons as well. I had mentioned to Shelli just in passing how I wished there was a local show for fiction podcasting like MICE. And she came right back with, “Actually, we’ve got a second space available every year that we don’t use. And we’re already looking for a partner show to put there. You want it?”

That was too clear an opportunity for me to resist! And with MICE and Lesley University providing the festival space, creating PodTales became much more financially viable. At the same time as PodTales is holding its first ever show, MICE will be holding their tenth anniversary show in the building immediately next door. It’s going to be an amazing weekend for celebrating storytelling!


Alexander Danner

Did you come up with the name early on?

ALEXANDER: No! I spent months trying to come up with a name I liked. I tried to create an acronym based name, something rodent themed that would parallel MICE, but I couldn’t find anything that worked well. And finding a “storytelling” title that wouldn’t work equally well for a festival of non-fiction podcasts was equally difficult. When I hit on using “Tales,” that actually captured a bit of both those goals in a way that sounds fun. I know a lot of people are kind of hoping the prefix “pod” will die, but for the time being, it still communicates what we’re about with clarity, which is more important to me.

What are you hoping to achieve with PodTales?

ALEXANDER: I’m hoping PodTales will become a community event for fiction podcasters, as well as a contact point with their audiences. My experiences at PodCon suggested to me that our community really wants something like that, an event that brings us all together to share our admiration for each others’ work, to make new connections and form new collaborations, and to just get to know each other in real life. I think the strong sense of community our form has historically shown has been vital to the growth of our art form, but with the rapid growth we’ve seen recently, it’s getting harder to maintain a connection with the fullness of that community. I think having a physical world community event will help with that.

JEFF: We want to celebrate the incredible talent of audio fiction creators, in addition to highlighting the awesome possibilities that come with independent audio fiction as a genre. It’s a growing genre that deserves more exposure. It doesn’t necessarily frustrate me that many people automatically associate podcasting with nonfiction shows, but it is unfortunate. PodTales is our small attempt at trying to change that, in addition to making audio fiction podcasts on our own, of course.

What were your first steps in putting it together?

JEFF: A lot of this came from conversations Alexander had with the directors of MICE, whom he’s been involved with for years. Alexander has connections with the independent comics world (especially web comics) and his comics friends involved with MICE have seen how much audio fiction podcasting has taken off lately. They all see a lot of similarity between genres and audiences, and we feel it just makes sense to build off an already existing showcase of independent artists. We’re hoping the audience for MICE might also be interested in learning about PodTales, and vice versa.

So after those initial conversations, our first steps were figuring out how to do it. We had some meetings via Skype to plan who was going to be responsible for what. The thing with this kind of event is even the strictest, carefullest planning gives way to unseen problems popping up, and there’s more work that goes into this type of thing than I think anyone can realize ahead of time. Hopefully it doesn’t seem like a lot of work to anyone who isn’t actually working on it, though.

Jeff Van Dreason

How did you go about putting a team together, who does your team consist of, and what are their respective roles?

ALEXANDER: My team is pretty much self-selected. Anyone who offered to help out, I wasn’t going to turn down the help! But those people have been fantastic. Jeff Van Dreason, of course, I have plenty of history working with, and always like to have him involved in anything I’m working on. He’s taken charge of the IndieGoGo, and is doing a fantastic job. Amanda McColgan is our social media manager, and is just blowing me away with her ability to keep people excited about the show, keeping so many people engaged with us months before the show even happens. And more behind the scenes, my key advisors have been Jordan Stillman and Alex Yun. Jordan has been working with MICE for years, and is organizing their tenth anniversary festival, but she’s also been a huge supporter of PodTales from day one, and has made herself constantly available to share resources and her experience in running a similar festival. And Alex is just brilliant. At one point, Jeff scolded me for waffling on one of Alex’s recommendations, saying, “Look, if Alex gives you advice, just take the advice.” And I’ve learned that lesson, because it’s true: Alex is always right.

Where did the logo come from?

JEFF: The voice of Leon Stamatis himself! Braden Lamb designed that cute little mouse. In addition to being an excellent voice actor, Braden is an incredibly talented artist, and he’s been a comics artist for years now. In fact, his partner Shelli Paroline, is the co-director of MICE, so there’s already a solid foundation of crossover talent extending from MICE to PodTales, and given that we’re spinning off from MICE, it makes sense to have our mascot be a fiction podcast rocking rodent, right?

How is PodTales different from Podcon or PodX?

ALEXANDER: I haven’t been to PodX, so I can’t compare as accurately. But PodTales is going to be a much smaller show than PodCon. Our entire physical area could probably fit inside PodCon’s exhibit hall three times over. So I think it’s important that people with experience at other shows know going in that we’re working at a much smaller scale. It’ll be a much more intimate sort of show.

But also, we’re really inverting the balance between programming and exhibition. The big draw at PodCon was clearly the programming, which was plentiful, and full of well-known podcasters. And that’s great—the programming at PodCon was wonderful, and it was terrific to have so many options to choose between!

By contrast, the exhibition hall will be the heart of PodTales. By numbers, PodCon 1 had 15 exhibitor booths total, five of which were podcasts. PodTales currently has more than 50 exhibits lined up, every one of them representing a podcast or podcast network. The tradeoff, of course, is that we won’t have nearly as much programming, probably only two or three tracks. Though, with fewer programming events, we are going to work hard to make sure those events are entertaining and substantive! Our programming will also be built around our exhibitors, primarily highlighting the same people who are giving the exhibit hall life.

What do you hope attendees get from attending PodTales?

ALEXANDER: First and foremost, I want attendees to leave PodTales with a long list of new podcasts they plan to check out! Discovery is at the heart of our mission—we want to facilitate creators and audiences finding each other. But also, I want attendees with ideas of their own to leave PodTales feeling empowered to pursue their creative ambitions, and supported by a creative community that will help them find their way there.

JEFF: Discovery. Especially independent artists. New and exciting ideas and stories. We want people who’ve never heard of audio fiction podcasting to fall in love with the genre. We want people who do love audio fiction podcasts to find their new favorite shows, meet and learn from creators they know and love, and new, up and coming people as well.

What has been the hardest part of putting PodTales together?

ALEXANDER: Fundraising is always a challenge. Jeff has handled the IndieGoGo beautifully, while I’ve been working on cultivating partnerships with sponsor organizations. It’s a lot of searching for hard-to-find contact information, trying to pitch PodTales as an event various companies would benefit from advertising at, and negotiating mutually beneficial contracts. It can take a couple dozen attempts to cultivate one promising lead, and then weeks or months of discussions before an agreement is signed. Lesley University was with us from the start, which is great, and RadioPublic is a perfect partner for us. We’re close to signing a couple more sponsors, but this is an ongoing effort. But it’s also very important to meeting our aims for the show—we want to keep admission free and exhibitor fees low, but that means finding our funds from other sources. The more successful we are at working with sponsors, the more accessible we can keep the show for attendees and exhibitors.

JEFF: For me, the hardest part has been balancing how much to be involved. I love helping out, especially with something as exciting as this, and I’ve already committed to more than I thought I would originally, but I also need to step back from it soon. My personality sometimes pushes me to try to do too much, which I’ve been actively trying to change because it’s gotten me into a bit of trouble. I don’t have the time to co-run PodTales, unfortunately. But I set up and I’m running the Indiegogo campaign, and I’m helping with our exhibitor list and exhibitor relations, which I’m really excited about.

There’s also been a hard time just planning everything and getting the word out. Everything has to happen at once and it takes a lot of organization and coordination. There are only so many of us trying to do a huge thing, so things take longer than we’d like, but there’s not much we can do about that, unfortunately.

What has been the easiest?

ALEXANDER: Filling our exhibit hall! Starting a show like this, we’re taking a big gamble on whether there are enough people who see exhibiting at a festival as worth their time, especially since it’s not really an established facet of our process. But there was an abundance of interest, and we filled every seat we had available, then went back to our floor plan and rearranged to squeeze in a few more! And I’ve still got a few people on our wait list. This has really been one of the most encouraging outcomes we’ve had; it’s incredibly gratifying to know so many people are excited to show their work at PodTales!

JEFF: Working with exhibitors and our incredible featured guests. I’m really excited about everyone who is coming, and every single person has been a pleasure to work with.

Do you hope to make PodTales an annual podcasting event?

ALEXANDER: Yes! We’ve still got a long way to go before we’ll know if that’s feasible, but I’m definitely trying to build the show in a way that will make the process of doing the next one easier. If possible, I’d like to expand the show to two days as well. We’re keeping the scale small this year because this is our learning experience. But our hope is to grow from here.

What do you want to get out of PodTales?

ALEXANDER: I’m really hoping that this festival will contribute to spreading enthusiasm for fiction podcasting in general. Given our central location, free admission, and partnership with MICE, I’m hopeful that we will have a significant audience of people who are discovering fiction podcasts for the first time at PodTales. It’s really all about celebrating the art itself, and showing just how much we have to offer!

JEFF: I want it to be fun, diverse, informative, and safe. I want people to come and feel safe and celebrate our fabulous genre and have a great time. That’s it. I’d like it to grow and be sustainable too, but I would also like it to be sustainable in a way where I’m not as involved as much as I am now. I do a lot of the type of work that it takes to put on PodTales with my real job, and between my real job and this work, there’s not a lot of time left over for the type of creative work I cherish. So I’m really missing that right now, and we have two more seasons of Greater Boston to do, not to mention whatever comes after that. So I want PodTales to last forever, and I’ll always want to be a part of it. Maybe just not as much of an integral part as I am right now.

Five years from now, after this festival has exceeded goals every year, what does PodTales 5 look like for attendees?

ALEXANDER: Well, I’d certainly like PodTales to be a two-day show, and I’d hope to be able to move into a larger event space that can accommodate more exhibitors and larger audiences at our panels. (Probably the same space that MICE uses, once we’re ready to go out on our own.) But there’s a limit to how big I want it to get—I want to stay true to the missions of focusing on indie creators and keeping the show financially accessible to as many people as possible. This is an arts festival, not a large convention, and that’s how I want it to stay.

JEFF: I’ve gone to MICE for years and it’s absolutely grown, to an extent, and only gotten better every year. But it’s also been surprisingly consistent in its nice, niche, small, independent qualities too. I’m interested in seeing PodTales grow in terms of sustainability, kind of what I was speaking about before. And I always want more and more people to discover audio fiction podcasting, But I’d be lying if I said I wanted record breaking attendee numbers out of this thing year after year. I want people to come and be excited about this genre, and I’m involved because I love audio fiction podcasts and I want more people to discover them. But I also love how MICE is a small little show celebrating a unique type of independent art, and I’d never want PodTales to become this huge thing that feels like it exists solely for networking and business. That’s not to say that industry conversations aren’t important, they are, but I also don’t want to lose that independent spirit. So no matter what happens in five years, ten years, or fifty, I hope we just remain consistent. And I believe we will.

Our heart will always be like that little mouse logo; small and cute, but happy and powerful.


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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.

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.

Edict Zero Episode 4

A Man in the Alley, a Man in the Elevator, and a Man with(out) a pan.

The Deep Dive Into…

Edict Zero – FIS

by Lex Scott

Welcome to part four of my deep dive into Edict Zero. If you’re new here make sure you check out my previous episode reviews (part 1) (part 2) and (part 3), before joining me for the rest of my journey.

And as always, spoilers ahead

Episode 4, Beautiful Lies

A Man in the Alley, a Man in the Elevator, and a Man with(out) a pan. A tactical unit commander acting as technical support, and a military presence despite the assertion that humanity (and the planet they occupy) are no longer divided into competing countries.

Continue reading “Edict Zero Episode 4”

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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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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SCP ARCHIVES

SCP-078 is a darkened stairwell located on an undisclosed college campus that contains two very disturbing anomalies. The fact that the stairwell itself appears to be endless is disconcerting enough, but the anomalies contained within are enough to scare even the bravest of souls.

SCP ARCHIVES

by Dōhai

Secure. Contain. Protect.

Episode 1. Released Tuesday 19th March 2019.

SCP-078 is a darkened stairwell located on an undisclosed college campus that contains two very disturbing anomalies. The fact that the stairwell itself appears to be endless is disconcerting enough, but the anomalies contained within are enough to scare even the bravest of souls.

Episode 1 of SCP Archives brings this scary tale brings to life and it’s just one of the thousands (and I do mean thousands) of files found on scp-wiki.net that form the basis of the show.

Given the material, it probably comes as no shock to you that the people bringing this cornucopia of strange and obscure phenomena are the fine people at Bloody Disgusting Podcast Network, who have teamed up with Jon Grillz (Small Town Horror, Creepy) and Pacific S. Obadiah (Lake Clarity, Aftershocks, Enoch Saga).

Having listened without headpones (where the hell are they?) I just had to wake Pacific, (who says he “wasn’t asleep” but the drool on his keyboard says different) and ask him a few questions. Don’t worry, I gave him some time to get a coffee.

Who’s initial idea was it to bring these documents to life, and on what basis have you chosen files to use?

Jon’s actually! He reached out sometime around last summer and mentioned his idea, and I was on board, but at the time I was working on two other shows, so I kinda put the idea on the back burner, until I saw some stray comment on r/Audiodrama (A reddit board for audio dramas) asking about an SCP podcast. I messaged Jon, and we got to work.

Right now, we’re just going down the list of most popular stories of all time on http://www.scp-wiki.com. Only rule is the story must have at least one addendum (like an interview, field notes, tests, etc). Popular stories without addendums are going on our Patreon for now!

How many stories have you chosen to cover for a first season, or are you planning to continue indefinitely? If so, how many stories have you got in the can/ in various stages of production?

Technically our first season is 29 episodes – Which brings us to October 1. Though we don’t really have any plans of stopping when we hit that. Those episodes have all been recorded, and the first 10 are in various stages of post production. I think once we hit 20 episodes, I’ll start working on new episodes past October 1. I have some pretty fun plans for October!

How much artistic licence are you planning to use in regards these files? I notice the stairwell story stays pretty tight to the wiki file, but I can see the potential to take it further in the form of the “Data Expunged” Document 087-IV which could give it a whole new lease of life.

That’s one of the really cool things about working on a story that’s in the creative commons, we’re free to adapt and remix however we want! For this first “season” we want to stay pretty true to the wiki, a lot of our artistic license comes in the sound design and music. Though, Jon and I have definitely talked about doing some original content, whether that be an all new SCP, or expansion on previous lore, that’s still under wraps- For now. We have a few little experiments you’ll see within our first season, and if they work out well, even more in the future!

Do any of the team plan on writing their own SCP stories, either for the show or the SCP wiki? More importantly (my lips are sealed if they need to be) will there be an underlying story that will slowly reveal itself?

None of us have ever written SCPs, but I’ve been reading the wiki since I was pretty young! While there won’t be a very overt overarching story in the first season, it’s important to know that our “Narrator” is a character in this world, and he has his own reasons for doing what he does, his own approaches to things, and while a lot of these entries will be things that have been secured, he exists in the present and is still working.

Well if that’s not a little cryptic nugget that will stir a little excitement then I don’t know what is. A huge thanks to Pacific, who’s now run off to one of his finals so the only thing left to do is wish him and the rest of the crew the best of luck with this new show (and his exams)!

You can check out the show on your usual applications, or at any of the show links above. Enjoy!


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Edict Zero Episode 2

By Lex ScottWelcome to part two of my deep dive into the masterclass in audio drama that is Edict Zero. If you’re new here make sure you check out my episode 1 review right here, before joining me for the rest of my journey.

The Deep Dive Into…

Edict Zero – FIS

By Lex Scott

Welcome to part two of my deep dive into the masterclass in audio drama that is Edict Zero. If you’re new here make sure you check out my episode 1 review right here, before joining me for the rest of my journey.

And of course, spoilers ahead!

Episode 2, 2415 Part 2

3 seconds. In all my studies and my own experience in content creation, 3 seconds is all the time you’ve got to hook your audience in the online space. This of course is not true of all content: watching a movie you’ve usually got a few minutes to grab your audience’s attention, and just a few fewer for television. But online content: web series, social media videos… podcasts? You’ve got precious little time to really get to the point before your audience decides to move on to a more immediate gratification.

This is what was going through my mind in the opening moments of Episode 2. Now granted, as I’ve said before this show is quite a few years older at this point and it’s possible a lot of this information hadn’t really been gathered at that point. But still the scene setting in this show is excruciating from a modern viewpoint. They spend so much time setting the scene that I honestly believe if you decided to recut this show you would potentially lose about ten minutes of run time (probably an exaggeration but I really needed to get that off my chest).

I think the most maddening aspect of the scene setting is that most of it isn’t just establishing location through background noise like traffic etc to go along with any “new location” voice announcement. Most of it is actually world building and lede burying, BUT it all ends up being superfluous because they give us the same exact info in actual dialogue during the scenes being set up! It makes me feel like the show believes it really needs to hold my hand and lead me through it’s oh so labyrinthine and difficult plot, which makes me think either it doesn’t respect me enough to be able to follow along, or thinks it’s much much smarter and more elaborate than it is.

It all comes across really as clumsy exposition, compounded further by more clumsy foreshadowing and exposition. Don’t get me wrong, the idea of hiding info dumps in radio broadcasts that our characters are listening to in scene, that slowly fade out as the scene in actual starts to play out, is genius. But the problem is simply that too much time is taken with it all being repeated anyway, when each episode is already bordering on an indulgent run time.

Much like I’ve spent so much time on this one gripe I have with an admittedly high quality and objectively good show.

Side note I’m always genuinely torn when reviewing something; between being a creator and knowing what an achievement it is to just make something (especially independently) and thus shouting down excess criticism, and picking everything apart down to its tiniest components and being very critical indeed. I am really riding the line with this series, but it might be because I’m both reviewing it for work and also dissecting it to better understand what I want in my work.

 

Anyway, episode two is definitely a part two. Everything going on is just wrapping up previously established plot points aimed at putting everyone where they need to be before the action really gets going. We get some great world building in Kircher’s interactions with her AI butler Jasper (sassy or bitchy? Let me know in the comments) and her cars built in AI slash some kind of phone/ PDA system? It’s a fun taste of the futuristic tech that’s just helpful enough to not castrate our investigators in this mystery, and just broken enough to be entertaining.

 

Side note I don’t know what it is specifically but a lot of this whole show just feels really nineties to me. I don’t know if it’s the dialogue or the music or what but so much of it reminds of nineties storytelling and aesthetics.

 

Our trio of main characters (Kircher, Briggs, and Garrett) are thrust together in a mini task force operating independently within the main task force (ed: task-ception!) in a manner that makes Kircher suspicious of it’s ease, and the others exasperated at having to work with each other. Once they’ve each debriefed the others they set out to do some boots-on-the-ground investigating.

Briggs follows up on the homeless angle, given Garrett is “terrible” at interacting with anyone but the hard done by in particular would not put up with him, Kircher follows up on an asylum lead to learn hard info about Cooke and Socrates, and Garrett lets us all learn more about the Paradox Artifacts and in the process introduces us to one of the most teeth gritting characters that are unfortunately seemingly emblematic of this series.

I don’t know Jack Kincaid, and I’m not readily familiar with any of his other work, but he seems to have leaned far too heavily on a kind of excessive pomposity for a lot of his characters. I suspect this has a lot to do with his voice acting: a quick and dirty trick for voice acting is to put on an exaggerated accent as a kind of shortcut to character creation, and his characters all seem to share a similar upper class pastiche that lends itself to verbosity and pompousness. I don’t know if this is still true, or even if it will hold true in the near future of this series, but for now that’s what i’ve seen.

Oh and Mister Cooke returns (totally called in my last review) and reveals that Captain Socrates’ beloved pan was actually gifted to him by Cooke. So I guess I’ve got one more reason to dislike that arrogant eyeless churl.

 

Conclusions/ Predictions

All in all, though I do have one or two specific complaints that come primarily from my own instincts as a writer and thus are entirely subjective to my personal style of doing things, I am enjoying this show. I’m looking forward to finding out how they rescue Briggs, which from the preview will be the main focus of episode two, and I’m genuinely interested in these Paradox Artifacts. Now I lean more towards the fantastical than the realistic, so that could be why, but I really think the show will benefit from leaning more into the outlandish aspects that have been hinted at so far.

 

Side note if I don’t get a scene on a boat with those weird sea monsters they mentioned I’m going to be very upset.

 

A solid episode overall, very functional in what it needs to do. That might sound like a backhanded compliment, but I think not enough people are willing to make functional. All too often people eschew necessity for spectacle and neglect to put in the work, so I respect this episode all the more for it.

I’m working on a theory for the Paradox Artifacts, though admittedly I’ve still got very little info to go on. So far we know they exist. No matter what, that briefcase bomb does exist, and it has a voice activated trigger. We can surmise that some kind of personal teleporter also exists, thus it is likely if two exist there are others that exist as well.

We also have been told that Edict One, the people who developed on the spaceships in the (as yet unspecified length of) time that passed on the trip from earth, keep themselves separate from society and also somewhat prohibit laboratories (and thus probably scientific advancement to some degree?). We can surmise that they have developed technologically as well as socially. We’ve also been told that two other ships “disappeared” on the journey.

So my theory is that Edict One didn’t wake everyone up immediately, instead seeding the planet with these artifacts first so as to facilitate part of the experiment they are so clearly running on human society. Not invasive tests or anything, but sociological observations on how they’re developing as a people. They also probably terraformed the planet at least a little bit. Either way they’ve definitely got their own sixth continent they’ve set themselves up on.

What do you think of my theory? Leave a comment and tell 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 3 right here, and join me next time as I continue my deep dive into Edict Zero – FIS.

What’s the Frequency?

If weird psychedelic noir is your thing, or you haven’t experienced it before, then put down the bug powder, shoot your wife in the head, and take a hit of the motherload!

Words?

words Words

Words words words words words, words, words, words words. Words words words words words, words words words, words words words words.

Words, words words words words, words? WORDSSSSS!! sdrowsdrowsdrowsdrowsdrow¿

Words. words

Words words owrds words, words srowd drows swrod, sword!

*Insert cigarette commercial*

What’s The Frequency? is like yeast extract, you’ll either love it or hate it. It is dark, it is frightening, and it makes you feel very uncomfortable… very often! It prods a boney finger in your chest asking over and over again, ‘What’s The Frequency?’ What IS the Frequency? WHAT’S THE FREQUENCY?

As I say, you’ll either love it or hate it. For a point of reference, let’s compare it to Twin Peaks. If you are one of the latter then this show is most probably not for you. In fact I would just forget what you’ve seen here and be on your merry way. For those of you that conform to the ‘like’ category, I would ask “how much do you like it?” because to be fair the analogy I’m using here is a little off, because What’s The Frequency? is more akin to Lynch’s first work, ‘Eraserhead’. Twin Peaks was a jolly jaunt through a strange town whilst high on marijuana, where ‘Eraserhead’ is more akin to being trapped in the infinite loop of a nightmarish heroin overdose.

From the start, this show goes straight for the jugular. No setting up of pretense here.

What starts as a struggle between the mob, the police, and a private investigator over a ledger providing proof of police bribery, soon escalates into something darker, more esoteric. A struggle for a power that doesn’t belong in the hands of mere mortals, yet here they are, fighting over said power. As far as the plot goes, that’s all you’re going to get from me. I wouldn’t want to spoil your tumble down this kaleidoscopic rabbit hole, so let’s move on to the style.

Imagine listening to a 1940’s private eye radio drama complete with commercials, as it was back in the day. If you’ve explored these ancient recordings to any degree then you will instantly recognise the format, although the adverts here are wonderfully sarcastic. Now imagine a reel-to-reel recording sent, accidentally of course, to the home of William S. Burroughs, who took a machete to it, mailed it to his future ghost-self, who then reassembled it with a nail gun, and attempted to play it on an mp3 player. The result, a terrifying version of words that pays homage to the radio shows of the era, and the Beat Generation. With a tongue pushed firmly into its cheek, and syringes still dangling from it’s pockmarked arms, it not only serves as a reflection of the era, but gives it a 21st century kick in the…

Most of the time it’s a perfect balance between the delivery of the story and the craziness that punctuates it, but there are a few occasions when the train just can’t seem to get back on the rails to conclude an episode, leaving me to drift off into disappointment. It’s like the darkness has taken over. The handy jolt that brings you back out of the hole to reveal the conclusion in the stalled plot has been forever lost, and you’re left spiraling the plughole until the end of the episode. I must say I’m glad that I waited until the first season was released before listening, because with a month between episodes, I feel I would have given up on it, and to give up on this story would be unforgivable.

WTF? has picked up a slew of awards from the audio drama community, and rightly so. I have been waiting for someone to push the boundaries beyond the expected norms for a while now. Not to necessarily slap the listeners in the face as it were, (although they do), but rather to question the humdrum horror/ sci-fi/ comedy/ sitcom carousel of the indie drama world. I’m not saying the indie drama scene is lacking excitement, there are plenty of amazing shows to be found in these genres, but it feels to me that rather than creating something new and exciting, many new artists out there are just using the tried and tested templates and riding the coattails, rather than striding out on their own path; and if you want to get noticed in this fast growing medium, this is something you are going to need to do.

The acting here is great on all sides, although the casting of Karim Kronfli as Walter Mix seems a little odd to me. A 1940’s PI in LA this voice is not, I would say he’s more suited to a Sherlock Holmes or a Dick Barton than a Sam Spade or Philip Marlow. It’s not enough to take me out of the story, and the dynamic between Troubles and Whit is brilliant as you would expect from these veterans, but it’s just a little niggle, a little itch behind the ear that gets the occasional subconscious scratch.

Kudos to Oliva, Danner, and the rest of the team for this refreshing piece of art. I’m looking forward to more.

If weird psychedelic noir is your thing, or you haven’t experienced it before, then put down the bug powder, shoot your wife in the head, and take a hit of the motherload!

The Deep Dive Into…

Some 400 years into the history of the New Earth – or Edict Zero as it is officially designated – the first act of terrorism has been committed by one Mister Cooke.

Edict Zero – FIS

By Lex Scott

Ever since I started getting into scripted podcasts, I’ve wished I could find proper full episode reviews and breakdowns. I could never find them, but that might because I never looked in the right place. So, when Podern Times started up and I was asked what I wanted to work on, that was of course the first thing I said. I was recommended a show to check out and review and it was off to the races.

The show was terrible. I thought “I don’t think I can stomach listening to two more seasons of this show”

It turns out it was a joke! I was supposed to hate that show (ed: SORRY! ) and there was something far more substantial, and of significantly higher quality waiting just up next in my podcast queue. The second recommendation: Edict Zero – FIS.

Here was a show that, at eight years old, is still held up as a benchmark of quality for audio dramas, and is regarded by many in the community to be one of the best the medium has to offer. And that’s not just in sci-fi: every new show, regardless of genre, is measured against the astounding quality of writing and production design on display here. And yet no one has really broken it down or analysed it before.

It was everything I’d been hoping for, and almost everything it’s reputation promised: big long meaty episodes roughly an hour each. Excellent technical quality and absolute masterful sound design. I knew, if I could get into the story there would be plenty to sustain a series of articles of analysis, conjecture, and gushing over this veritable audible feast.

So, please join me as I take a long journey, episode by episode, deep into the future of New Earth and the Federal Investigative Services, as presented by Jack Kincaid and Slipgate Nine Entertainment.

And of course, spoilers ahead.

Prequel/ Episode 1, 2415 Part 1

Some 400 years into the history of the New Earth – or Edict Zero as it is officially designated – the first act of terrorism has been committed by one Mister Cooke. An interesting if overly hostile character, our time with him in this episode is sadly very brief.

He unfortunately is emblematic of one of the main issues I had with this episode though: an overly wordy talker, unnecessarily hostile to everyone he meets. It’s a trope I’ve seen time and again in every medium imaginable and I always find it tiresome, because it’s just not believable.

People just don’t get to be that openly hostile to others and still interact with them. He’s rude to the butler who ushers him through the building, he’s rude to security doing his job, the only person he’s not rude to is the girl he rescues.

Side note: I’m assuming both Cooke and Melissa Parker survived, otherwise the entire opening is pointless.

Maybe Cooke’s whole demeanor is meant to make him one of these “characters you’re supposed to hate” but I’ve never bought into that trope. Either engender sympathy for your hero’s plight to make us hate the villain as an obstacle, or make us fear the villain for his actions. Making a vaguely hostile and oddly verbose character just takes me out of the moment and reminds me it’s unrealistic.

Near the end of the episode we learn that Cooke was involved in procuring mystic items for this now deceased mob boss. I’m inclined to believe this suitcase bomb was one of these Paradox Artifacts, and can probably be used more than once. My guess is some sort of black hole or gravity distortion bomb. And the fact that Cooke and Melissa probably survived indicates he probably has more than one in his possession, likely one for some sort of teleportation. It’s debatable whether he also actually does possess the Hex Gate Disc he was supposed to trade for Melissa Parker’s life.

Edict Zero is on the whole an extremely impressive piece of literature. On a technical level it is nothing short of astounding, with sound effects, music, and background noise all expertly layered together to form a truly impressive soundscape that really does build a picture in your mind of where you are. Every scene transition is smooth and flawless without being unnecessarily telegraphed. There is the occasional robotic voice telling us of our new location when it’s necessary or pertinent, but it always feels like it too is part of the world.

It actually feels like an automated train announcement, telling us what stop we’ve just arrived at. This even gives us an extra layer of subconscious detail by subtly telling our brains that time has passed while we travelled here.

Another scene transition that blew my mind in its simplicity was a simple change in audio quality. There are a few instances where a character is on the phone with someone, and we hear their voice as though through a phone. Now in video you can quickly switch back and forth, showing the different locations, but here we slowly transition from hearing one character through the phone’s distortion to the other. And we end the interaction now following the second character, in the new location.

It’s an incredibly subtle change, and I doubt most listeners would pick up on it consciously, but  no one would fail to realise that we’ve suddenly changed perspective.

It’s simple, almost consciously imperceptible, and impressively effective.

There were unfortunately a few times where they spent too much time setting the scene, and the whole thing felt a bit too audibly busy, with sound effects and background noises building and bustling. But, as this is the first episode and almost a decade old at this point, I’m expecting this to be improved as the series progresses.

Our second major character is another trope I’m generally a bit tired of, but in this instance I’m more bothered by the people around him than the actual character.

That is one agent Nick Garrett, an example of the Sherlock type character. He’s studied it all, is well versed in the various sciences, but lacks the intuitive understanding of actual people that most develop in their early years. He lacks the “correct” emotional response to most situations, and comes at everything with a critical, analytical mind.

As this character trope goes he’s not bad, but it’s the others around him that make it aggravating to me as an audience.

He lacks any hostility or superiority in his tone to be truly rude, but everyone he meets acts as though he’s the foulest most offensive thing they’ve ever had the displeasure of enduring. Though admittedly this seems limited to FIS agents, in particular those who seem to really lean on their authority and positions. The son of the murdered mob boss seemed to be pretty reasonable in talking to him. This leads to us immediately distrusting most of the other (non-pov) agents. In particular one Agent Whiteman of the organised crime division.

Side note: in regards to Whiteman, they spent so much time showing us how incorruptible he is that if he doesn’t end up being a traitor I well be genuinely shocked.

A counterpoint to the Agent Garrett character is presented in the form of Agent Kircher, and the way she’s treated by the narrative/ other characters is troubling.

In the briefing scene there are two people interrupting Agent Whiteman: Garrett, and Kircher. While Garrett is removed from the room and verbally dressed down, he’s otherwise allowed to continue his own personal investigation. Meanwhile, Kircher is tolerated in the room but later simply removed from the case entirely.

She’s not given the same opportunity to pursue her (entirely relevant) leads, or even confronted about her somehow “disrespectful” behaviour. She’s simply removed without ever being given the same opportunity to defend her position. This is unfortunate but probably unconscious gender politics on display, and the complete difference in the way their actions were responded to warrants further thought and discussion. I don’t believe this was a deliberate or even conscious choice by the writers, but in 2018 it really sticks out.

We close out the episode with a final scene introducing us to our major lead in the case: the homeless, probably mentally ill “Captain” Socrates, an associate of Mister Cooke.

This scene with Socrates is honestly one of if not the single weakest in the entire episode. I know people say in acting you make a choice and it’s better than not making a choice, and Jack Kincaid – the creator of this show, and actor of this role – certainly made a choice.

The trouble is I think that choice was bad.

It’s a tired and, once again overly verbose, caricature of a mental patient from the 1950’s. Speaking in a pastiche of upper class gentleman explorer vernacular, he seemingly speaks in an interminable mashup of movie quotes and pop culture references that lose all meaning when jammed in next to each other. I get that this is probably the aim, presenting an unhinged character with a scattered brain and neurons firing every which way all at once, but it is so world breaking it completely takes me out of the moment every time I hear it.

I cringe, every time, and not in the way the writer probably intended.

Conclusions/ Predictions

Overall I like this show. It is a master class in audio presentation and mixing, truly the most complex and technical show I’ve ever had the pleasure to hear and I genuinely feel like I learned a lot about the craft just by listening to it. The world building is top notch and genuinely engaging, and I really am looking forward to hearing the next episode and knowing what happens to our characters.

One of my favourite things about finding a new (to me) show with a big back catalogue spanning years is getting to see a kind of time lapse of their skills, as the creators grow and develop as people and artists. Getting to go back to the beginning of a journey and looking for all the kernels of promise present right from the start; crossing your fingers and watching them tease out their problematic or tired tropes into well defined thoughts is always engrossing.

I am genuinely looking forward to continuing with this series and seeing where it leads. And, hopefully seeing them outgrow some of these things that bothered me.

Go download Episode 2 right now, and join me next time as I continue my Deep Dive into Edict Zero – FIS.