Category: Golden Age Article

Audio Drama Review: Twilight Zone Radio Dramas, Volume 9

The ninth volume of Twilight Zone radio dramas features six more audio recreations of tales from the Classic TV series.

The set kicks off with “Time Enough at Last” where a bank teller who wants to do nothing but read and talk about what he’s read is persecuted by both his wife and his employer. It’s a classic story. The TV version is tragic and depressing and the expanded time for the audio drama manages to make it even moreso.

Next up is, “Will the Real Martian Stand Up?” There’s a report of a UFO, state troopers go out to investigate and find footprints leading to a diner. A bus has just arrived. The driver says he had six passengers, but there’s seven in the restaurant. Who’s the real Martian? This story is a nice science fiction mystery with a very clever twist at the end.

“The Trade-Ins” takes us to a world where the elderly can have their life renewed with a new body. An elderly couple wants to do this so they can have a fresh start on life. But they’ve only saved enough for one of them to get the treatment. The story has a few logical issues but still has some very sweet and surprising moments in it.

“A Passage for a Trumpet” features a trumpet player whose career has been ruined by his drinking. He’s ready to pack it in, selling his trumpet, and getting ready to leave town when he steps out in front of an oncoming truck. The story gets interesting when we find out what happens next. The story is heartfelt and earnest even its turns are a bit predictable.

“I Shot an Arrow Into the Air…” follows the crew of a downed spacecraft. One crew member sees this as a cutthroat survival experience. They have limited rations and the more of them there are, the less long those rations will last. So if fellow crew members die off, that’s longer for him to live. This one turns on a huge twist which changes everything for both the protagonist and the listener.

“The Brain Center at Whipples:” The owner of a factory (Stan Freberg) is bringing automation to spur on efficiency and eliminating jobs. This is a heavy-handed story about the anger and fear at the coming of automation. There’s a twist but you can see it coming a mile away. It does seem when Freberg did the Twilight Zone radio dramas, he tended to play roles that were much more caricatures than characters. Still, he does convey good emotion when the owner gets his expected comeuppance.

Overall, this was a pretty solid set. The stories were told well and adapted well (for the most) so the expanded running time the radio dramas offered was to put to good use. There were issues with a few of the stories but even the last (and least favorite) story wasn’t bad. All in all, a decent collection.

Rating: 3.75 out of 5

DVD Review: Pie in the Sky, Series Three

The Third Series of Pie in the Sky sees Richard Griffin return as Chief Inspector/Restaurant Chef Henry Crabbe. Unlike the first two ten-episode series, this series and the next only featured six episodes.

I’d describe this particular series as mellow compared to the two that came before. From its gentle theme song to its stories which leave plenty of room for character development and light human drama to its lovely small town setting, the show was a series that’s unafraid to walk on the mild side. Only one homicide occurs in the six episodes.

The series kicks off with a shake-up in the first episode as the criminal who has been key to Crabbe being blackmailed by his superior Assistant Chief Chief Constable Freddy Fisher (Malcolm Sinclair). This had been the only reason Crabbe remained on the force while also working at the restaurant. However, a new complication is added in that policies have changed and he can’t take early full retirement and has to wait three more years to do so. This is not nearly as interesting of a hook and the thing I least liked.

Overall,  even though the mysteries were not homicide, they were generally interesting and well-written. My favorite mystery was  in the episode, “The Other Eden” where Crabbe was tasked with solving the mystery of several stolen gardens and had to deal with a national department that was trying to claim jurisdiction.

Beyond that, the character work in the series was pretty good. Crabbe and his wife Margaret (Maggie Steed) do have some clashes. She technically owns the restaurant (due to regulations that forbid him from owning it as long as he’s still a policeman) and they have a bit of a battle of wills over her desire to save money by cutting corners on the ingredients. They also have to deal with a super strict health inspector threatening to close down  their restaurant and a bank manager who’s not too certain about giving them another extension of credit. It makes for interesting viewing since we’re invested in the characters and we get to see the way that Margaret and Crabbe approach problems differently.

The second episode, “Game Pie” sees some nice character moments for Fisher. Through the first two series, Fisher had been portrayed as the  ambitious police officer who was more concerned about his career and looking good with his superiors than with doing the right thing. However, when he’s implicated in an apparent accidental death, many of his fellow senior officers take steps to protect the department and put him at a distance, this brings out a different aspect to him.

There were some changes as well in the kitchen staff with Nicholas Lamont joining the cast as the new assistant chef and ex-con Gary Palmer who replaced the old chef Steve Turner.  Other than having a bit of a chip on his shoulder, I didn’t get much of a feel for Gary as a character. Though, it should be noted the kitchen staff characters, while having some distinct characteristics, were much more functional than anything else.

Overall, this series is a likable bit of television with solid acting, particularly with the leads, good stories, and makes for easy viewing.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5

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A Look at the First Two Episodes of T and T

T and T was a 1988-91 syndicated television series starring Mr. T as T.S. Turner, a former boxer who was wrongfully convicted of a crime until attorney Amanda Taylor (Alexandra Amini) clears him. He becomes a private detective and teams up with her to help the wrongfully accused.

As a kid, I loved Mister T and but never got to watch more than a  few minutes of the show as at that age, I never had control of the television. So I was curious to find out what I missed when I found it streaming on Tubi.

T and T was from an era where Canadian-produced first-run syndication series were quite popular and this was a half hour program which could come in handy for local TV stations looking to fill a block of programming. The budget for the show is modest and the show definitely looks of its era.

The child actors and supporting actors on this series range from competent and professional to either monotone or over the top. Ms. Amini comes off a bit flat in the first episode, but in the second, I think she’s much better.

Mister T. carries the show in these first two episodes. Mr. T’s charisma and warmth make Turner an endearing character. Turner isn’t quite the larger than life character of Mr. T’s most famous roles, Clubber Lang and B.A. Baracus. He’s slightly more down to earth. He’s a professional who cares about people, does his job, and carries himself with style. In these first couple episodes, Turner spends a lot of time wearing nice suits and the look really works for Mr. T.

The first two episodes are, “Extortion in Chinatown” and “Mug Shot.” The first involves Turner and Taylor trying to help a shopkeeper and his son in Chinatown. “Mug Shot” finds Turner and Taylor trying to help out a teenage boy who was duped into delivering crack.

These are pretty boilerplate detective show plots and the story plays out in a typical manner. The storytelling is workmanlike and not all that surprising. Like a lot of Mr. T projects during this era, T and T is concerned about teaching good morals, with the high popularity of Mr. T among 1980s youth. These episodes weren’t too preachy, but there were a few pieces of dialogue that were a bit off. (Though it could have been the acting.)

The show was hurt by its half hour length. By nature of the format, both Turner and Taylor were working together and operating in very different worlds. I don’t think there’s enough time to do this properly in the half hour runtime. I did find that there was a four part story (originally a TV movie) and I might check that out in the future.

Overall, T&T is an okay show. If you like Mister T and are intrigued by the idea of him as a 1980s private detective and are willing to overlook a few production quality issues, this is a fun show to watch, and the half hour length makes it a quick fast-paced watch.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

T and T is available for streaming on Tubi for free with ads.

Audio Drama Review: The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (BBC)

There have been multiple books as well as an American audio series from Jim French Productions released under the name, The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. This BBC version was a little late to the party airing between 2002 and 2010 on BBC Radio 4, but is certainly a memorable take.

The sixteen episodes (eapproximately 45 minutes in length) eac tell a Holmes story based on some reference in an original Sir Arthur Conan Doyle story. The last story, released in 2010 was a two-episode story that harkened to a previous Further Adventure.

Each of the stories is written by Bert Coules, who does a great job capturing the spirit and feel of Victorian times. Given their release date, there’s very little revisionism to suit modern fancies and tastes.

The soundscape is minimal but sufficient for capturing the Victorian era. The supporting actors are really superb, boasting a very solid professional cast. I’m no expert on British Television but Mark Gatiss, Siobhan Redmond, Stuart Milligan, and Tom Baker (Doctor Who actor who also played Sherlock Holmes) were all names I recognized. Even those I didn’t know gave compelling performances.

I will admit it took me a while to settle in on Clive Merrison’s Holmes. While he had appeared in adaptions of all the classic stories, I’d not listened to them. Still, I think he does do a good job with his own take on the character, which is  true to tradition and I’ll have to seek out more of his work.

Most of these stories are quite solid although I have my favorites. “The Savior of Cripplegate Square” is a great listen due to Tom Baker’s superb guest performance and the way Holmes as a young detective finding his way. I also quite enjoyed “The Abergavenny Murder”  is an unusual case because it mostly is Holmes and Watson (played by radio legend Andrew Sachs) trying to solve the death of a man who died at 221B Baker Street before the police arrive. Other than “the client” being heard briefly, the play is just Holmes and Watson and is a great opportunity to examine how they work together as well as a bit of their personal relationships.

Overall, if you’re a fan of the original Doyle stories and want to hear stories in a similar style performed by a top flight cast and crew, this product is a much listen.

Rating; 4.5 out of 5

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App/Service Review: Hoopla Digital

Hoopla is a service offered in hundreds of libraries across the United States and in Canada. Its coverage map is mostly in the East, Midwest, and on the West Coast. My local library offered it and then discontinued it. I found Hoopla to be such a valuable service, I got a non-resident library card at a library in another part of the state just to be able to access it.

Hoopla is a massive repository of comic books, audiobooks, ebooks, and movies/television series totaling some 500,000 items. When an item is checked out the producer of the item earns a royalty. In general, it has an advantage over the most popular library service Overdrive in the size of variety of offerings. However, unlike Overdrive, there’s a cap on the number of items you can check out in a given month. 

That sheer amount of items is both a blessing and a curse. There’s a lot there but it can be hard to sift through to find what you want.  In this review, I’m going to talk about items that will be interesting to folks whose interest runs along the nostalgia/mystery/detective lines as well as general audio drama. If your local library has Hoopla, it’s a great service to use and even if it doesn’t, you may want to think about getting a non-resident card at a library that will give you access like I have. This is a very good option to consider with the current pandemic.

Audiobooks/Audio Dramas: The biggest portion of Hoopla’s collection is its audiobooks and many of these are audio dramas. You can check out audio dramas for 21 days. There’s a lot to recommend:

Radio Archives LLC: Radio Archives is a company that sells high quality old time radio sets on CDs and downloads, as well as pulp audiobooks. They have a wide variety of different sets. There are a lot of well-known individual shows to listen to including The Great Gildersleeve, Let George Do It (Vol. 4 features two uncirculated episodes we didn’t play on the podcast), and Dragnet. However, they also offer their Radio Archives Treasures and Archive Masters which offers a sampling of a wide variety of old time radio programs which can be great for those curious about what’s out there to listen to. It also gives you a look at the quality of their audio remastering which is a selling point with the company.

The audiobooks are also worth a listen. They offer a lot of well-done readings of pulp fiction books featuring characters such as the Spider and the Black Bat. In addition, there are performances of the Wild Adventures of Doc Savage which are modern books by Will Murray written based on unpublished Doc Savage story ideas. In addition to this, there are two audiobooks with new Box 13 and Night Beat stories that are worth a listen.

The Twilight Zone Radio Dramas: Twenty-nine six-episode, amounting to 174 episodes of the Twilight Zone radio series produced by Carl Amari are available to be checked out on Hoopla with appearance by well-known actors like Adam West, Adam Baldwin, Jason Alexander, Beverly Garland among those who start in the radio version of the classic TV series.

LA Theatre Works: LA Theatre works has been producing classic and contemporary drama for nearly forty years. I’m personally not into much of their contemporary drama, but enjoyed their takes on stories like The Mask of Zorro starring Val Kilmer, The Brothers Karamazov, as well as and two of their Sherlock Holmes adaptations. There’s also a couple of very good historical by legendary radio writer Norman Corwin: The Rivalry (about Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas) and Together Tonight (a Corwin play about Aaron Burr, Alexander Hamilton, and Thomas Jefferson that LATW dusted off in light of the success of Hamilton.)

Big Finish: Big Finish Audio dramas are there including their licensed Doctor Who audio dramas and spin-offs as well as licensed audio versions of Dark Shadows and Blake’s 7.  Their Doctor Who range includes their first fifty monthly releases including such acclaimed stories as The Chimes of Midnight, The One Doctor, and Jubilee from 1999 to 2003, along with some more recent releases in their lost stories range as well as for the Fourth and Eighth Doctor Adventures. Among the highlights of the lost stories are the First Doctor Box set with the beloved historical “Farewell, Great Macedon” and the Fourth Doctor lost stories featuring “Foe from the Future.”  They also offer the first eight series of the Victorian spin-off Jago and Litefoot. 

Hoopla also carries Big Finish’s Sherlock Holmes range which includes David Stuart Davies appearing in audio adaptations of two one-man plays he did both in London and on tour and then Nicholas Briggs taking over as Holmes in a variety of plays and Big Finish’s first Sherlock Holmes box set. 

Graphic Audio: Graphic Audio has a different approach to most audio drama companies. They have full casts with sound effects, but rely on narration and their performances do feel more like performed audiobooks without the constant use of, “Said.” They have a vast catalog they’ve made available for check out through Hoopla with several different series including Westerns, Fantasy, and Science Fiction. Based on the ratings on their website, it seems the majority of their works are made with mature listeners in mind, although they do have a few works that fall into more of a PG-13 rating.

They also produced several adaptations of Marvel Comics including classic comic storylines like Secret Wars, Days of Future’s Past and Kraven’s Last Hunt. They also adapted some Marvel text novels to audio. 

Black Mask Magazine:  Black Mask Magazine was the premiere source for hard-boiled private eye fiction during the 1930s and 1940s. There have been several audiobooks published. Generally, audiobook will collect multiple works. The readers are all talented and do a great job bringing the stories from 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s to life. One volume contains the original serialized version of The Maltese Falcon, which has a few differences from the novels. You can hear forgotten characters or once with more history like Flash Casey. There are also a few Black Mask Audio Dramas that adapt short stories including a Hammett Spade story but most of these are half an hour, so it’s hard to justify using a credit for them.

Colonial Radio Theater…And The Rest: There are a few Colonial Radio Theater releases distributed there. There are Christmas releases like The Holly Tree Inn and Jimmy and the Star Angel. Also, there are a couple Ray Bradbury adaptations: Dandelion Wine and Something Wicked This Way Comes. Also Tom Swift and His Motorcycle and All Four One. There’s no Powder River or the Historical epics that Colonial Radio Theater is known for doing. There’s also a lot of miscellaneous audio dramas. I stumbled on Sid Guy, Private Eye on Hoopla and also found a BBC audio adaptation of 1984 starring Doctor Who actor Patrick Troughton.

If I have one complaint about Hoopla as well as libraries and booksellers in general, it’s the lack of ease in sorting when something is an audio drama or dramatized audiobook vs. a single reader audiobook. Those who love audio dramas like to find them, and those looking for a single reader audiobook may get annoyed when they get them.

Books:  Books also check out for twenty-one days. Hoopla has a decent library of books with a lot of popular books and recent best-sellers. Perhaps the most interesting selection of books for mystery fans is the significant library of Mysterious Press offerings. These include a lot of older previously out of print series such as Mr. and Mrs. North, Michael Shayne, and Ellery Queen. They also added a few Perry Mason books to their collection to coincide with the recent HBO program. You can also find Robert Goldsborough’s continuation of the Nero Wolfe stories if you so desire. 

Comics: Comics also check out for twenty-one days. Hoopla has a wide variety of Graphic Novel collections from both Marvel and DC, including a lot of older property from a wide variety of different eras. In addition, it also features comics from a lot of smaller presses including a lot of licensed properties including Star Trek, Steed and Mrs. Peel, and Doctor Who.

Music: Music collections check out for seven days. They have a pretty good variety. For nostalgic listeners, there’s plenty of CDs from the old legends like Crosby and Sinatra. In addition, they have a very impressive collection of both Motion Picture and Broadway Soundtracks going back decades. I’m not certain this might compare to a very good music service, but for free, it’s not bad, at least if you don’t mind the seven day limit.

TV/Movies: Television shows and movies check out for three days. This is better than most other library video services I’ve checked out, but it’s still a library video service. There are a few good movies and TV shows on here, but as of this writing the big feature film is the Robin Williams comedy License to Wed which got a 7% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a 5.3 rating on IMDB. So mostly the films tend to be okay to lesser regarded films that are a few years old. Hoopla used to stock a lot of second tier Disney movies, but those have moved to Disney Plus.

The same is true of the television shows, although there are some better ones. There’s Poirot, Foyle’s War, and the Italian version of Nero Wolfe with subtitles. I generally haven’t watched many TV episodes for a couple of reasons. First, many of these are on streaming services I have and each individual TV show like each movie costs a credit and I just haven’t been able to bring myself to spend a lot of credits that might be better spent in other areas of Hoopla.

The main reason to get Hoopla would be for its top tier audiobook/audio drama collections, as well as its comics, and a few of its books. The music is pretty good, but I probably wouldn’t get Hoopla just to listen to the music. And the TV and movie selection is definitely not a selling point.

You can get Hoopla from your local library or from an out-of-area library that offers non-resident cards. Once you have it, you can download the app for your mobile device through your app store and if you are interested in the videos, you can get the Hoopla app on Roku.