The Red Panda Adventures by Decoder Ring Theater was one of the earliest of the new podcast audio dramas to be released in recent years. It launched for the first time in October 2005 with a new episode airing every two weeks until December with the second half of the series airing every two weeks beginning in April 2006.
The Red Panda Adventures is set in the 1930s in Canada (where the series was produced.) The series is a mash up between the Green Hornet and the Shadow radio series, while adding its own unique improvements.
It’s like the both series in that the hero is a wealthy young man, though it leans more towards the Shadow in that the Red Panda (Greg Taylor) has no active business concerns in his dual identity that we’re told about.
The Red Panda is like the Shadow in that he has strange hypnotic powers. However, unlike the Shadow, he doesn’t limit his mind-control powers to a single trick of invisibility. He creates all manner of elaborate mental illusions, such as making the villain see multiple versions of himself. It’s a much more imaginative take on the idea. The villains also bare a strong resemblance to the Shadow’s big, over the top megalomaniacs.
The Green Hornet influences can be seen in the hero’s super-fast car and crime-fighting gadgets as well as the suspicious attitude by which he’s viewed by police. However, unlike the Green Hornet, the Red Panda doesn’t try to pass himself off as a criminal mastermind.
Of course, the Red Panda goes beyond what the original mystery men of the 1930s did on radio with a greater sense of superheroics and the series intro actually references him as Canada’s greatest superhero.
Perhaps the most unique thing about the Red Panda is his sidekick Kit Baxter (aka. The Flying Squirrel) played by Clarissa Der Nederlanden Taylor. She’s a very well-written and well-rounded character. She’s a tough character and more prone to using physical violence than the Red Panda, occasionally getting carried away with it.
Her relationship with the Red Panda is complicated. Like the female assistants of many golden age heroes, she pines for him, while he feigns cluelessness about her feelings in this first season. Yet you also get a strong sense of the Red Panda being a mentor figure to her and also being protective of her without being smothering. The dynamic between the two is probably the strength of the series.
In terms of the plots, this first series has a lot of standard boilerplate stories. There’s the episode with someone impersonating the Red Panda, there’s the episode with a mysterious ghost ship, and the episode with the cursed house, and the one where a hunter decides to hunt the most deadly game of all: The Red Panda. Probably the most interesting and original episode was, “The Devil’s Due,” where the Red Panda investigates a series of deaths where the victims sold their soul to the Devil and he’s here to collect…or is he? Even though most of the plots are well-worn, they’re also well-executed and the strength of the characterization helps the stories to work. While later seasons would be more innovative, this season really serves to establishes the characters and their world.
The tone of this first season is relatively light. While there are some scary moments, as well as a few violent ones, the series doesn’t try for the constant dark and foreboding feel of The Shadow. It also isn’t designed in such way that you’re likely to forget that you’re listening to a production made in the twenty-first century rather than one in the 1930s like many of the early episodes of Harry Nile. It’s a clear homage to the Golden Age of Radio, but it is also a modern production. At the same time, it’s not goofy or a parody like the original Red Panda Universe (a topic for another time.)
If the first season had any weakness, it was the sound design which on occasion didn’t support the show, though, the epic scale of the adventures was portrayed. Further, it doesn’t detract too much from the series because of the strong characterization and also because it played off Golden Age Radio Dramas where the quality of sound effects and sound design really could vary.
Overall, this is a very strong start to a much beloved Internet series.
Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0
The first season of the Red Panda Adventures is available for free on the Decoder Ring Theatre website.
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