The Recent Listenings of an Audio Aficionado
A golden age of audio programming is upon us.
When you’re a podcaster, it’s easy to find excuses to avoid listening to other people’s shows. For me, listening procrastination has been a combination defense mechanism and overwrought time management. I spent about two years listening to the smallest number of shows I could, investing my extra time in working on my own shows while paying little attention to everything else.
Late last year though, I started walking on a regular basis. To pass the time, I needed some podcasts and audiobooks to fill my ear holes with, and it felt like a good time to make right my wrong and start investing in other creators' programming.
I started my journey by listening to the many productions I’d been to putting off, and then branched out from there. In no particular order, here’s some of the programs I’ve been listening to lately, along with my reviews for each of them.
What happened to the residents of Limetown? And what were they up to before they disappeared?
These are the questions posed by Two-Up Productions’ debut audio drama podcast. I was initially drawn to the show because Limetown is located in Tennessee, and I’ve long had an attraction to works of art that reference my home state. In a time where small town tales are far from the norm, it’s very refreshing to find a show where one is at the center of the drama.
Skip Bronkie and Zack Akers weave an incredible mystery in this show, and each episode keeps you on the edge of your seat as you’re learning more about Limetown and following along with the characters. Limetown avoids the cardinal sins of this show format by putting a lot of the focus on character development. Because of the strong character focus, you often loose track of what’s real and what isn’t, which only helps to make the show even more incredible.
Limetown is an Ultimate recommendation of the highest order. If you enjoy a good old fashioned mystery with tight character drama, be sure to give this show a listen.
Season One is available now, and Season Two is coming soon!
5 out of 5 stars. 10/10
I got on the Blue Sky bandwagon late into the show’s run, and only after the prodding of show creator Dan Whitelaw. But I’m so glad I took the plunge.
The show follows the exploits of George, Tom, and Laura: three young members of Blue Sky, a freedom fighter organization out to stop the corruption happening in Capital City. Blue Sky has a very strong anime vibe to it, with the character drama feeling nice and soapy by lingering on the emotions riding between the characters. That vibe is a big reason why the show works as well as it does, with the drama shifting from war to peace to temporal disaster all on a dime.
As the story progresses, the show gives you an opportunity to really get inside the heads of the lead characters (sometimes literally). And the villainous antagonists also get plenty of ample time to shine — if you love hammy, unstable antagonists, you’ll absolutely love this show.
Season Four just kicked off last week, and the first episode was downright splendid — the acting, mixing, all of it! With more episodes just around the corner, there’s never been a better time to give Blue Sky a shot.
4 out of 5 stars. 8/10
If “Enchanted” and “Stranger Than Fiction” had a kid sister, it would be Night Warrior.
WGA Productions’ Night Warrior follows the life of Viranda, a struggling writer who’s world is turned upside down when the characters from her upcoming novel come to life and start wrecking havoc on the city.
The show features a slew of stellar performances along with some great writing. The characters are also interesting to keep up with, and the way the show tackles its real world sensibilities really shines through.
4 out of 5 stars. 7/10
Captain Marvelous is best described as a cheesy Silver Age comic in audio form. The show’s first run featured writer and mixer Jordan J. Scavone playing all of the parts, making the show kinda like a quasi- Patrick Stewart Christmas Carol audiobook. The first run squeezed out a total of six episodes, which ended with a Christmas special.
When the show’s second run began, I wasn’t sure if I’d enjoy the new Captain Marvelous since I thought the original was so brilliant. But once I made the plunge, I found myself digging the new format. It comes across kinda like a new comic book run, where the art and writing is different but the characters still have the same DNA as their original counterparts. I thought the new cast of actors sounded like they fit the roles well, and aside from a couple jokes that don’t quite land, I thought the overall show came together nicely.
4 out of 5 stars. 8/10
The big kahuna of podcasts.
If you listen to podcasts at all, you’ve almost certainly heard of Serial. Serial covers real world stories, told week-by-week (sometimes week-bi-week) in a serialized format. The first season covered a teenage murder trial from the 90s and season two just wrapped up covering the Bowe Bergdahl case. Both seasons delve deep into their respective stories, and keep you on the edge of your seat as the investigation’s findings are uncovered.
The show also has a knack for being thoroughly gripping. In the first season, host Sarah Koenig made dozens of phone calls to Adnan Syed, the subject of the season who was convicted for murder and is currently serving his sentence at a Maryland correctional facility. Listening to his story, listening to him claim his innocence, and then hearing Sarah dive in and try to uncover the truth is incredible to follow. Likewise, in season two, Sarah makes several phone calls to the Taliban — yes, THAT Taliban — all in the name of chasing the story.
Rarely does a show become a phenomena in its own right, but Serial did it in one fell swoop. If you enjoy gripping real world storytelling, Serial is the show for you.
5 out of 5 stars. 10/10
The Elysium Project
When I first listened to Natalie Van Sistine’s The Elysium Project, I knew I’d stumbled upon audio gold. The writing, the acting, the mixing — all of it incredible. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, and I couldn’t believe what I was hearing was actually FREE. This is the kind of show that deserves top dollar.
James Greyson’s daughter Emma has lived in the shadow of her father’s secretive career her whole life. But when James attempts to sever his ties to the titular Elysium Project, the powers behind the project make it their mission to bring him back by making Emma their newest unwitting test subject.
The Elysium Project itself allows subjects to manipulate reality. The powers expressed are in someways like a cross between the abilities of Green Lantern, Jean Grey, and Spider-Man, while still being it’s own thing, making for an interesting twist on established super power concepts.
But concepts aside, what truly makes a show shine are its characters, and Elysium’s characters are TOP SHELF. Everyone gets their time in the limelight, and everybody has their thoughts laid out bare for all to see. Elysium’s characters are finely nuanced, and you never feel like the show’s cheating someone out of character development.
All in all, The Elysium Project is the audio drama equivalent of a medium well prime ribeye: lots of meat, lots of flavor, and lots to digest.
5 out of 5 stars. 10/10
I don’t like giving negative reviews. Most negative reviews out there are spiteful, mean, and generally rage inducing, and that’s just not me. I want to uplift fellow creators, not tear them down. So as a counterpoint, when there’s something I dislike, I like to write a review of constructive criticism. It seems to be the fair thing to do, and quite honestly, I would want someone to tell me in a kind manner if my work didn’t hold up in their mind’s eye.
Folks, I don’t find The Message to be a particularly great show.
The eight episode series follows (fictional) podcaster Nicky Tomalin as she documents a cryptography group’s efforts to decode an extraterrestrial Message on behalf of the NSA. Oh, and side note: almost everyone who’s listened to this Message has died.
Sounds intriguing, right?
The problem is, The Message fails to give its characters ANY real development. There’s a few lines here and there about this person’s life, or this person’s family, or this person’s college education, but that doesn’t really pass the bar. Those are bullet points, and they tell me nothing about how a character ticks. Another problem is that the show’s NPR format doesn’t function very well without that character development. Every character feels like a shell of a more interesting character, and we’re never given a chance to get to know any of them very well. It cheapens the third act, and it REALLY cheapens the twist ending.
If I’m being fair, it seems that part of The Message’s problems stem from its corporate sponsorship with GE. The third act is entirely tailored to feature GE technology; whereas the first half of the show felt empty, the attempt to insert GE tech into the back half awkwardly stands out.
On the whole, I loved the ambition of The Message. The premise is killer, and with the right push it could have been an incredible show. But despite its best efforts, it can’t escape its lack of character development and the effect its corporate sponsorship had on the story.
2 out of 5 stars. 4/10
An anthology show covering the horror and science fiction genres, Earbud Theater has stellar production values, incredible professional acting, and provoking writing. It’s a very high quality podcast through and through; the kind you’d be willing to plunk down money on after some clever marketing.
My favorite episode is one of their newest works called On The Line, and it follows two women trying to recover a missing cellphone from the man who picked it up where they left it behind. It’s a very creepy episode with excellent acting and a great attention to detail.
All in all, if you enjoy audio drama with a horror bent, you’ll enjoy what Earbud Theater as to offer.
5 out of 5 stars. 9/10
Yet another show I discovered through the Audio Verse Awards! (It’s a marvelous discovery tool, folks!)
The Grayscale is narrated by a mysterious character known as “The Voice Inside Your Head.” Each episode follows a new recording he’s uncovered that delves into the inner workings of human nature. The eponymous Grayscale functions as a Twilight Zone-esque framing for each episode, allowing the show to cover a broad range of subjects.
Easily my favorite episode of the series is called Jess Dempsey, First Woman on Mars, and it’s every bit as intriguing as it sounds. It’s impossible to delve into the plot without spoiling it, but the story is a great examination of the human resolve and psyche.
If you loved The Twilight Zone, you’ll love what The Grayscale has to offer. Give it a shot.
5 out of 5 stars. 9/10
Ah, Seminar! Seminar’s where I got my start as an audio drama writer. That’s reason enough for you listen to it, right?
An anthology show covering all genres, Seminar follows a group of students being taught lessons by an AI known as The Instructor (or Tutor, or Professor, or what have you depending on the season). Each classroom session consists of two anthology pieces for the students to compare, giving the show a comparative vibe to drive the framing.
Unique to Seminar’s anthology framing is that it follows an overarching narrative, with each episode’s framing driving a much larger story line. I myself have contributed six shorts to the show, and each time I enjoy seeing how the writer weaved my own writing into the overall narrative.
Seminar has a lot to offer anthology show fans, so be sure to check it out.
4.5 out of 5 stars. 8/10
Active Radioactive Radio
Hello, hello, radio apocalyptica!
Active Radioactive Radio is a post-apocalyptic radio show hosted by that swanky man without a plan, Johnny Franks.
Two-parts Delilah, two-parts Howard Stern, with just a dash of Ryan Seacrest, Johnny Franks hosts Active Radioactive Radioshow live from his mountaintop bunker, broadcasting music from before the nuclear apocalypse and answering real questions from real listeners out in the ether.
The show’s interactive element works by following Johnny on Twitter, and submitting questions there for him to answer. Sometimes he responds during an episode, and sometimes he doesn’t, but it’s still a cool opportunity for audience members to leave their influence on the show.
It’s too early into the show’s run for me to assign a fair numerical rating, but so far I dig the format and am excited to see what Johnny and his crew cook up next.
The Table Round
Full disclosure: The Table Round logo you see here was designed by yours truly. However, I had not listened to the show in earnest before I worked on it, so diving into The Table Round was a fresh and new experience for me.
The Table Round follows the immortal legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Season One was tightly focused on Arthur trying to unite the Britons under his rule, while Season Two followed Arthur’s wedding and the subsequent skirmishes that cropped up across the kingdom.
The Table Round is at its strongest when it aims to tie the historical into its narrative. Each episode features a stinger at the end that provides some context for the story, which works not only as a narrative aid but also as a teaching tool. The lead actors on the show are also great, and all show a great dedication to bringing these roles to life.
That’s not to say the show is perfect. Early episodes show a learning curve on mixing and microphone quality, and the second season feels slower than the first after Arthur’s main quest is complete. But it’s great when you can hear a show (especially an independent show) grow and change overtime, and on the whole, The Table Round is great fun that offers a good adaptation of this classic tale that everyone can enjoy.
Follow The Table Round on Twitter.
3.5 out of 5 stars. 6/10
Judge John Hodgman
Judge John, man. Judge. John. Where do I start?
I’d been hearing things about Judge John Hodgman for quite sometime, but something about the premise just didn’t grab me. John Hodgman settling common everyday disputes? Okay, yeah, sure.
Color me surprised when Judge John Hodgman not only defied my simpleton expectations, but swiftly rose to the top of my podcast listening pile. It’s THAT GOOD.
Each episode dives into the disputes at hand very seriously, giving the show just the edge it needs to be both informative and very funny. Bailiff Jesse Thorne gives the show a solid standing in reality, while John Hodgman puts his brand of whit to work to resolve people’s issues in a fun manner. Also, celebrity witnesses like Alton Brown make the show even better by keeping the discussions, no matter how wild, grounded in reality.
On the whole, Judge John Hodgman is a lot of fun. It’s consistently at the top of my listening pile, and if you like podcasts you will surely enjoy it.
(P.S. — If you’re reading this John… thank you for being a fellow Myst fan. We need more people like you keeping that flame alive.)
5 out of 5 stars. 10/10
codename:ARTEMIS follows two students from a spy school on a mission to stop a rogue agent who may or may not hold information that could tear the school apart.
It sounds like a very simple premise, but what writer Erika Harlacher does with the characters works quite well, and the sound mix really sells the story in a meaningful way. To its strength, the show goes from fun, to action packed, to emotional right on a dime.
If you’re interested in great audio miniseries’, this one’s for you.
codename:ARTEMIS lacks its own subscription feed, so streaming and downloads are available at the following links:
4 out of 5 stars. 7/10
The Way I Heard It
There’s few celebrities out there that I hold in high regard. For one, I don’t understand the whole celebrity idol worship thing that western culture carries on with; I believe it’s sinful, number one, and number two, I believe it reduces that person’s humanity.
But of the small handful of celebrities I regard well, Mike Rowe sits up near the top of the list. Mike genuinely cares about the average worker, and he’s made it his life’s mission to help people find jobs and to bring awareness to the kinds of jobs people do everyday. And he’s done it all in a mostly apolitical way, which is super cool.
Mike’s new podcast, The Way I Heard It, tells short stories about people who went from nothing to finding success. As he puts it, the show format is for “the curious mind with a short attention span,” and none of the episodes run longer than about 8 minutes or so.
This works to the show’s benefit though, because each story is brief and easy to follow. To date, Mike’s covered subjects ranging from James Earl Jones to Bertha Benz, and his storytelling technique does a great job of keeping the subject’s identity a secret until the very end.
So, if you too like bonafied success stories, give The Way I Heard It a listen.
Follow Mike Rowe on Twitter.
5 out of 5 stars. 9/10
Archer & Armstrong
When Valiant Comics and Pendant Productions announced a partnership to create audio dramas based on their comic properties, I got super excited. While I’d never been a Valiant fan before, new audio drama is new audio drama. And when it comes from a well established AMERICAN media company, you get excited.
Archer & Armstrong #1 pleasantly surprised me. The character work, the corny cult villains, the direction work, the acting… all of it played to the story’s strengths to deliver some really great storytelling.
Full disclosure: this is the one show on my list that’s not freely available, which is why it’s here at the bottom. But don’t let that deter you. So far, this show’s been well worth the money, and I look forward to hearing what it accomplishes in future installments
5 out of 5 stars. 10/10
Now that you’ve been armed with the knowledge of some of my recent listenings, go forth and give these shows a listen. And if you enjoy them, be sure to give the creators a review on iTunes or the social media platform of your choice. It will help them out immensely. *thumbs up emoji*
For more musings like these, follow The Beallman on Twitter.