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31Aug/130

Radio Drama Review: Powder River, Season Three

The third season of Powder River picks up several months after the second left off and begins in with a noticable change. With son Chad Macmasters (Chad Alerud) gone, Marshall Britt Macmasters (Jerry Robbins) becomes a darker character. He's no longer raising a young son, but drinks hard, and is just a far tougher morose character. Even after Chad returns home in the second episode this remains the case because even though Chad's home, he's basically viewed as full grown man and there's little reason to hold back from his darker impulses.

The first half of the season really continues in the same vein as the second. Chad has gone undercover with the Lucas Clyde gang and become a wanted man. Macmasters along with the rest of the Powder River regulars has to to track down the gang, and this is the central point of the first four episodes of the series, including some interesting twist on how non-vigilante justice was dispensed in the old West.

The fifth episode gave some needed comic relief while also educating as Deputy Clay Tucker (Deniz Cordell) had a toothache and the town's citizens offer suggestions for taking care of it that will make listeners thankful for modern dentistry and then this this leads into the three part series of episodes, "Morgan's Town" which has Powder River's top guns trying to catch a cattle rustler and murderer that committed a murder-that he couldn't possibly have committed. It makes for a nice mystery and plenty of action as they have to go to the town that Morgan owns and controls lock, stock, and barrel in order to gain the evidence they need to convict him.

The second half of the season is different. It seemed to be trying to get away from having nearly every episode involve the chase of the villain of the week.  Unfortunately, the quality of these episodes was decidedly mixed due to airtime given to a new actors who didn't seem to be on the same level as the existing cast and a few plot points that strained credulity.

Perhaps, the most disappointing part of the set was the two part finale which features a crooked saloon owner hoping to take over Claremont. After sizzling finales for Season 1 and 2, this one fizzled. Simply put, the saloon owner wasn't a worthy foe for Britt Macmasters and Sheriff Dawes. The guy was in way over his head and didn't know it. He wasn't a nice person, but unlike Lucas Clyde or Morgan, I didn't think this guy was a threat. In addition, the episode with the relationship or potential relationship between town reporter Sandy Dolan (Diane Capen) which had never really been developed and seems to suffer from no interest at all from Macmasters.

This isn't to say that the second half was without good episodes. "The Bride from the East" was the best episode of the season. It starts out looking to be a lighter episode with Clay having told a girl he was corresponding with that he was a General and trying to rope the town into upholding his outrageous lie. However, when the woman (Kate Manson) arrives, it turns out she has a secret of her own. Manson is superb and the episode is both education and well-written. I also have to say that the two part episode featuring the return of Sam Donato (Sheriff Wilkins from Season One) was fun listening even if there were a couple points that were far fetched.

Despite some stumbles towards the end of the set, as a whole, Season 3 of Powder River works with some good solid exciting stories and some dramatic twists. As both "The Awful Tooth" and "Bridge from the East" show, the series is thoroughly researched, and has an authentic western feel. While not as great as the brilliant Season Two , Season Three is a worthwhile installment for fans of Britt Macmasters and friends.
Rating: 4.25 out of 5.0

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28Jul/133

Radio Drama Review: Powder River, Season Two

Season 2 of Powder River finds Britt MacMasters (Jerry Robbins) having resumed his role as a US marshall, a new sheriff  (Joseph Zamberelli) in town, and the continued process of Chad MacMasters (Derrick Alerud) coming of age.

As the season begins, Sheriff Dawes takes over as the town's full time law man and immediately clashes with the town's  people, arresting the town's best shot Doc (Lincoln Clark) for carrying his pistol on the city streets. Dawes also seems uncomfortable with having a US Marshal in town and wants to assert his authority. However, the coming of Indian raids forces him to abandon these pursuits in order to ensure the town is protected.

While the first season of Powder River (originally intended as a limited series) was good, Robbins and the Colonial Theater players really stepped it up a notch, producing a  consistently great Western adventure series.  The highlights for me:

  • Jenny White singing: Due to an Indian attack on the Overland stage, a great singer from back East ends up stranded in Clearmont and she agrees to perform at the local saloon while she's there.  The singing was authentic and the sound quality on the musical performance: superb. It's fantastic for a series that really didn't deal much in music.
  • Chad MacMasters kidnapped:  This four part story arch has so much going for it. The basic premise of Chad being kidnapped by a vengeful enemy of the Macmaster clan has a very old school feel to it.  Colonial really took their time on this and developed this story perfectly.  It's one of the most emotionally engaging radio stories you'll ever find. The drama and suspense reach high levels as the villain drags Chad into the unforgiving Eastern Montana winter, with Britt and friends right on their trail. This is a story that works on every level from start to finish.
  • General Custer shows up:  The appearance of General Custer in Clearmont is a great story. Chad is grabbed by the idea of becoming an Army Scout under Customer, but as a former Army man that served under the egotistical general, Britt knows better. My favorite scene in this three part story was Britt's confrontation with General Custer.
  • The Stunning Season Finale:  The last two episodes of the second season really created a fantastic contrast. The fourteenth episode of the season found Clearmont celebrating America's Centennial in grand fashion. The season finale, "Nothing Lasts Forever" is about the day after as the citizens of Clearmont learn of General Custer's defeat at the Battle of Little Big Horn. The contrast between the celebratory mood of one episode and the mournful feeling of the other was striking.  The programs originally aired in 2005, and the reactions of the people of Clearmont to the news seemed similar to how Americans felt on September 11, 2001 with the terrorist attacks. Chad decides to take a dramatic new step in his life, but his father doesn't approve, leading to a tense conclusion that reveals a lot about the tough as nails US Marshal. In many ways, the whole season led up to this moment, particularly a shooting contest that father and son competed in earlier in the series.

I'm not a huge fan of westerns, but Season 2 of Powder River is just a very well-produced radio drama that's worth a listen. If you're curious about Powder River, I'd probably recommend starting with this season first as it's a higher quality production and it's not necessary to listen to season one to understand the series.

Overall, Season 2 has plenty of action, adventure, and drama and is a must listen to for your radio drama library.

Rating: 5.0 out of 5.0 stars.

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