Episode 14 - Podcast Medley #1
Episode 14 – A Podcast Medley Part 1
As I continue to work on this project and pitching in on the other ones Miscellany Media Studios has in development, my mom is trying to be supportive, but it would help if she completely understood what a podcast is or how to access them. She’s technologically challenged in the unique way that people in the generation before her generally are. Actually, that’s being a bit harsh. She just has a set system that gives her all she needs, and any additions to that system aren’t going to come easily or any sooner than a year. Unfortunately, that system doesn’t include a podcast player. In fact, I think the iTunes player on her laptop is so old it still has the original blue logo. The entire operating system on that thing is ancient, but she never uses it anyway. Her desktop computer, on the other hand, has the newest operating system, it doesn’t even have any player installed.
I’ve tried to help her before, but it wasn’t easy to do when I was over at her house never mind when I am in a different state. What the situation is now.
But I—somewhat selfishly—really want her to fully understand what Miscellany Media Studios is up to. Especially when it comes to all the audio dramas we have in development.
In general, podcasts aren’t a form of media that’s properly appreciated, at least from what I’ve seen. The part of me that lacks any faith or trust in the goodness of humanity would say that no one takes this medium seriously partially because of the difficulty in monetizing this content and that the low bar of entry makes it seem like a less prestigious medium to people who care about that sort of thing. If it’s available to anyone and anyone can do it, then (quote) “talentless” people can also do it. And it’s that same low bar of entry that allowed podcasting as a medium and podcast fiction more specifically to completely ignore the norms and convention that creators in other fields have always adhered to out of fear.
On that latter point, it would also explain why—from what I’ve seen—audio dramas have taken the worst of it. This questioning of their legitimacy has always struck me as odd, considering they are the logical heir to the classic radio dramas. In fact, they are the strongest contender that has come up since radio died.
See the aforementioned reasoning why podcasting has gotten a bad reputation, I guess. But these—passive aggressive condemnations generally tend to be the only exposure someone like my mom will get to a medium she’s not sure how to access. And though she hasn’t said anything about it to me, I wonder if she’s seen these petty parties and if so, what she thinks of podcasting as a result. I can’t imagine they soothed a mind already inclined to be anxious. And I don’t know how to show her the alternative viewpoint.
But I’ve been in the figurative den of audio dramas for a while, slipping deeper into it every single day. And while I know better than to present myself as any sort of expert, I’ve definitely found some of the many gems hidden there. But before I forget…
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Hi. It’s M. Welcome to Episode 14.
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That’s what I want to talk about today: good audio dramas that do good things, even if more traditional news outlet don’t want to acknowledge them. I’ve talked about Within the Wires and Welcome to Night Vale in past episodes, but these medley episodes are more about highlight achievements in the audio drama community rather than explaining the role each audio drama has had in my life. Ultimately, if each episode needs to have a personal connection, this episode’s the personal connection would be that I like good things and talking about things that are thoroughly enjoyable. This may be a very small podcast connected to a baby network, but I’m a firm believer in giving credit where it’s due. If you make or do something great, I think you should get props for it, however insignificant those props may be. Also hearing about the amazing things other people have done will likely calm my mom’s nerves a little bit. Which is super important to me.
On today’s episode, I’m going to discuss three different audio dramas and what I love about them. Or—I guess—what I love most from each show. I have a lot to say about each, about other audio dramas, and audio dramas in general. Consequently, expect more episodes like this in the future. Which is just going to be another reason for me to indulge in my favorite audio dramas. Not that I was looking for another reason, but they are nice to have.
First up is Tanis. Tanis is a serialized docudrama from the Public Radio Alliance and Minnow Beats Whale about a mysterious entity known only as Tanis. What started as a mysterious reference in an obscure science fiction story quickly balloons into something much bigger, something akin to a conspiracy but with an addition of a religious “cult” with that last word in quotations respectfully.
As of recording this episode, Tanis consists of four seasons, and boy, does a lot of ground get covered in those four seasons. Nothing as of yet has been completely explained but a lot gets discussed as not only does the concept of Tanis get developed in a variety of unexpected, twisting, and unclear terms, but the story touches upon almost every major mystery of the Pacific Northwest.
It can be a lot of information coming at you, especially when you first jump in and have to work through the backlog of episodes somewhat quickly so you can enjoy each new release with everyone else. But this is coming from someone who took it at two episodes every day for about two weeks until I was caught up. It doesn’t seem like much, but I’m genuinely not sure if I could have handled anything more.
It’s more than just the ever expanding lore that created something akin to a clog in my brain. Tanis, the podcast not the mystery, has a lot going on in terms of characters, all of whom are important to the story but whose voices can occasionally blend together if I’m listening to an episode on my way home from a particularly intense day at work when my brain is somewhat fried. And for all its charms, the story occasionally stalls or moves too quickly. And even when the pacing is fine, sometimes, it brings up some detail or nuance you struggle to remember from a season ago or maybe it focuses too long on your least favorite character or aspect of the mystery. Or maybe it started to take a risk but then backed down too quickly for your liking and you find yourself obsessing over what could have been.
Despite all of this, it’s a good podcast, but I’m not going to pretend I didn’t struggle to stay with it at several points or that there wasn’t times when I considered giving up on it entirely. Both happened. But no matter what form my doubt may have taken, I always came back. And I think this is largely because of what I’m convinced is Tanis’s greatest strength.
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Making you care about Nic.
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Nic Silver is the host of Tanis and the primary investigator of the Tanis mystery. His role gets more complicated than that, but all of those things are spoilers, so you will just have to live with that description for now. It’s his voice guiding us through the story, his story, as he dives very deep into the mystery that has always captivated his imagination.
This show couldn’t make me consistently care about Tanis, but it could make me care about Nic who throws himself so deep into the mystery that the stakes for him are impossibly high. Once again, to clarify that would be getting into spoiler territory, and on this show I try to stay as spoiler free as possible. But all the same, knowing he could possibly lose his very life or destroy the world with one mistake, I can’t help but want to be there with him to see this to the end.
Sure, Nic can be slightly clueless and naïve, almost in an unbelievable way especially when it comes to technology. Like wow MK must have the patience of a saint to deal with him sometimes. Even from the listener’s perspective, it’s almost annoying. But that’s okay. No one is perfect. He does have characteristics that are important, though. Above all, he just comes across as a super genuine person. The kind whose presence you instinctively know to value.
It’s not just that Nic is flushed out to be a complete person rather than a two-dimension stand in for a person. On one hand, Nic’s narration style is incredibly warm and natural. It is polished and professional, erring on the side of being more calming and almost casual even when recounting something that is in no way calm and casual.
But on the other hand, from very early on we see that Nic doesn’t have that an abrasive nature. Hence the calm tone of his voice. He often just brushes off when conversation partners, keepers of information that he needs to solve the mystery shut him down when putting on a show or acting with a sense of bravado would be a convenient plot device. People can’t easily go against their nature unless they are truly threatened. Plot points do whatever they have to do to keep the story moving. This more authentic approach is a gutsy way of storytelling. I don’t doubt that most of the characters know more than they are letting on or that Nic could brute force his way to the truth, but where would be the fun of that? And where the real Nic be in that?
Approaching storytelling in this way almost sets up a contract with the reader. Which is a weird statement but bear with me. Rather than being patronizing and doing whatever it takes to get the audience to the end, the creators of the podcast are offering a true and authentic character to the listeners. They are creating a more full and whole story that may take time to be resolved but will be resolved in the best manner possible. That which includes what could be considered by some standards a real person and not a stand-in, acknowledging the audience’s ability to see the difference and that they deserve the person and not the stand in. And to reciprocate that trust, the audience has to agree that even when the story dips in quality, they will be there to see that character through in the end. If only for the characters’ sake.
And honestly, that’s what happened to me. At some point, during the first season, I committed not necessarily to Tanis but to seeing Nic get his answers.
Compare that to the long running televisions show that I used to adore. I used to watch them almost religiously but then dropped them without a second thought. A dip in their shows’ momentum or a couple of bad episodes—not even a bad season—or if they caught me on an off day, and I would drop the show, moving on to something similar or nothing at all.
Here’s the takeaway of that comparison. Any decent show—audio or audio-visual—can build tension and drama, temporarily absorbing your attention. But it isn’t a sustainable grip. The people who write that show, act on that show, or direct that show are all human. They can make mistakes. And if they can’t make you care about the story they are trying to tell, or the characters they are present to you, or the characters’ struggles. There’s no safety net to catch them if they mess up, something that Tanis gets to wear very proudly
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Second on the block is The Amelia Project by Imploding Fictions. When I was trying to persuade my friends to listen to it, I described it as “a very fun podcast.” Or, more specifically, it’s what you listen to when you want to both enjoy yourself and justify some hot cocoa despite it being summer and building management taking their sweet time fixing your air conditioning unit. Because, you know, any time is a good time for cocoa. It’s not about warming the body but about warming the soul.
Second explanation. The America Project is essentially hot cocoa in audio form.
Third one, the more clear and substantive one. The Amelia Project is a highly specialized organization. They help clients fake their own deaths. Actually, no their services include much more than that. Not only do they help you create your perfect fake death—with the theatrics you may want—they also help you reestablish a new life of your own design with relocation, language lessons, and plastic surgery when necessary. All of this for a fee, of course, but it’s probably a reasonable one. I mean, I could scarcely imagine what fee would be considered unreasonable when you look at how thorough that bundle is. And if a company does a good enough job, any transaction is a good deal, right?
That’s not the point here. This isn’t an economics podcast. What each episode actually is, is a glimpse into what could be considered an “ordinary” consultation. Using the term ordinary in a relative sense. We meet a client and listen in on the conversation as the client explains why they need to leave, what they think a good fake death would be for them with a call back to their circumstances, and what kind of life they want to lead afterwards.
It could be the blind enthusiasm of The Amelia Project’s employees that make this a thrilling ride or the unbelievable nature of some of the clients’ plights. But ultimately, it consistently has amazing writing, acting, and sound mixing despite how much variety there can be from episode to episode.
And it’s premise is something I don’t think any other medium could do justice to, even if you had the same team of stellar creators behind it. Or maybe I just love this manifestation too much to imagine it existing in any other form. But it feels like an appropriate artistic choice. Given the secrecy of The Amelia Project’s work, having any sort of video feed just feels improbably, but obviously they’d want evidence or protection in case something went unfathomable wrong. And it’s an easier record of the client’s wishes than writing everything done.
Also it helps the welcome message featured at the beginning of each episode, which is important to The Amelia Project process, set the scene and pull the audience is, which a visual would likely work against.
But ultimately, the freedom of podcasting lets the creators take an idea and run with it, or so I suspect. Because I don’t think a story like this could be green-lit in any other medium or any other platform. It’s an absurd little story that doesn’t even feature what some would call the best part: i.e. the fake death. Sure, you can purchase extra content on their website if you are curious what happened to your favorite client after the consultation which the added bonus of supporting your favorite, worthy creators, but part of what makes The Amelia Project so enthralling is the focus on the question of your disappearance.
The idea of disappearing from your life and the problems therein is something that other stores have played with, but The Amelia Project does so playfully. It embraces the potential absurdity involved in needing to completely reinvent yourself. If anything were possible, what would you do?
Sure, every client is acting under some sort of duress when they first come in. They often don’t want to disappear so much as they need to. But that’s the other side of the coin that makes The Amelia Project such an amazing audio drama. The limitless potential of the Amelia Project’s capabilities allows a faked death to become an act of reclamation for the client. The theatrics of the act further the defiance therein. They are at risk of losing the life they knew, and rather than fighting what could potential be a losing battle, they repurpose a moment of defeat into a new beginning for themselves. The consultation that we witness then becomes a moment of triumph. And being able to share that with someone can be a powerful experience. Or at least, a very positive one.
Also, it’s super funny. Which made for some awkward moments on the bus, but hey, I live in a big city. Everyone on that bus sees weirder things on a regular basis.
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The third and final audio drama I want to talk about today is The Bright Sessions by Lauren Shippen. The original run concluded not that long ago, but hey, that just means no waiting for the next installment of the story, which is the worst part, right? Probably not.
Regardless, The Bright Sessions chronicles the work the titular Dr. Bright does with a few select patients. You see, Dr. Bright specializes in therapy for the strange and unusual. Think time travel and mind reading, but the variety that you can’t control. Things that could be great but life is a little dysfunctional right now.
We all have those moments right? When things have just gone a bit awry and we’re struggle to regain our footing as seemingly everything in our lives falls apart. In those moments, even our best relationships—even our relationship with the things we love the most or our most treasured abilities—can come undone. And it’s not something we can always sort out on our own.
But sometimes the expectations is that we can or will. And it’s a convenient thing to believe.
In a past episode, I brought up the different types of conflict available in fiction. The details aren’t important right now, but what is important is the existence of the “man versus self” conflict model. Now, all literary conflict models are grounded in reality, but this one in particular, is something we potentially experience in our own reality all the time when our worst nature stands in the way of something we want or something we need. For example, you’re insecurities can keep you from pushing for the raise you know you rightfully deserve. Or if you are haunted by something in your past, this figurative dark spirit lurking in your peripheral vision can be hard to go about your day to day life and do something like go to the grocery store.
That’s one way of thinking of it. Any time you have to confront something in yourself for whatever reason, that’s the “man versus self” conflict model. Now think about how this struggle is usually portrayed in fiction. Your hero goes about the conflict until they have something akin to the eureka moment. Either they talk to the right mentor figure, they face their fears after undertaking a challenge that pushes their limits, or they have to snap out of it for the sake of someone or something else.
It can be a simplistic narrative, to be sure. And that’s not necessarily a malicious thing. Movies, books, and even television shows all have time constraints. For movies and television in particular, these are set time limits they have to stay within as dictated by an outside force. And realistically, the longer you stretch out a conflict the higher the risk of losing an audience. So I won’t deny that there’s something inevitable about resolving these types of conflicts in this way.
However, I’m a firm believe that if you accept the inevitability of an action or method of operating, you also have to accept the consequences. It’s not that you want to, but the full realization or nature of the act is not yours to dictate. I mean, you don’t get to pick and choose what happens as a result. (Music fades out) You are not an all-powerful being.
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In this case, the consequence is a plethora of grossly simplified depictions of the way people confront and overcome personal struggles. This isn’t even about mental illness anymore, but about the normal wear and tear that we can experience when going about our day to day lives. Our experiences aren’t limited to things we can handle. In reality, sometimes we are confronted with things that are beyond our capabilities. And honestly, no one gets through life unscathed.
What then? Should we wait until we have some sort of cosmic challenge to overcome that will force us to confront our demons? And how can you guarantee that such will work rather than break us?
In some ways, therapy is much like the first style of overcoming these challenges. Finding the right mentor figure, if you don’t remember what I said. You find a doctor whose approach or specialty works for you and together you gradually untangle the mess of thoughts swirling in your head. Like untangling a string of Christmas lights. Sometimes, it’s just too much for one person to do on their own, and we don’t criticize someone for that.
The Bright Sessions is a good podcast, but ultimately, I think one of the best things about it is the way it fills in the narrative gap surrounding the “man versus self” conflict type. Namely, that the protagonist is allowed to have a professional ally to get through this process or that they can utilize the clinical setting to confront these challenges.
I don’t think I can go so far as to outright say that narratives like this can completely rid the world of the stigma surrounding therapy. In part because I think this stigma is fueled by our own fears about how much personal autonomy we really have when it comes to what happens in our heads and the idea that we need the occasional assistance to confront our problems go against what the natural desire is. But for someone who knows they need to take this step in this life, The Bright Sessions can certainly calm some fears. I mean, I know I like to look up pictures of a restaurant online before I go just to have an idea of what I’m expecting. And that’s just about my lunch. It’s not a high stakes situation by any stretch of the imagination.
And it also helps, I think, that the thing all the patients are struggling with the effects of something that would normally be seen as a gift.
Because for anyone who likes to make things, your scars can be used against you on occasion. People may say that these trials are what made you a creative person; they are your muses and you need to embrace them unconditionally. You would be nothing without them, or you are to be envied for them.
But that isn’t true. The things that make your life difficult can’t be celebrated. They can be renegotiated with, certainly. Understanding the plight of humanity or individual humans can always inform your art. But they aren’t automatically blessings. Talents aren’t worth dying over. Because, frankly, what use is it for you if you can’t use it. Either because you don’t engage with it out of fear or because you aren’t around to use it anymore.
It’s almost therapeutic to just listen to the recordings, to escape your problem through this way. It’s a valuable outlet.
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Many audio dramas are. No matter what pettiness may arise from those outside the little audio drama community that is forming, audio dramas are here to stay with new stories and new achievements, and I love that. But I also love that there’s definitely a lot to enjoy right now.
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This has been a production of Miscellany Media Studios. Thanks for listening! If you like what you heard, consider subscribing, we’re on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Player FM, and other players. Find us and transcripts at miscellanymedia.online or on Twitter @miscellanymedia for updates on current and future projects, including Night and Ink. Do you want to maximize your productivity? Do you want to create all the things while balancing your day job and personal wellbeing? Let our hosts sort through the advice across multiple dimensions and bring you the best and the worst, if it’s funny.