Tag: audio drama

Audio Drama Review: The Twilight Zone Radio Dramas, Volume 7

The seventh volume of the Twilight Zone Audio Dramas adapts six more stories as audio dramas:

“Hocus-Pocus and Frisby” is the story of a small-town braggart and teller of tall tales who garners the attention of aliens from outer space who think his whoppers are true. This is a fun story, with a nice dish of the absurd.

“Cavendar is Coming:” An angel with a problematic track record is given one last chance if he can help an awkward young woman. This is just bad. The premise is stupid (and depressing), the story is nonsensical and the dialogue is unimaginative. The TV version had the benefit of featuring a young Carol Burnett as the young woman Cavendar “helps.” The TV episode was released in 1962 and was a backdoor pilot for an unrelated series. It does not hold up.

“The Little People:” Two members of a spaceship crew land on a planet that’s seemingly uninhabited and work on repairing their ship. However, one of them sneaks away and discovers there is life: tiny people with their own society, who he decides to oppress by pretending to be their god. This is a somewhat typical Twilight Zone story, with some nice details and even a computer that plays a role, as well as a solid twist.

“One More Pallbearer:” A wealthy man invites three people over for dinner who he blames for embarrassments earlier in his life. He has a scheme to make all of them apologize and beg him for shelter. This is  the best story in the release. While actor Chelcie Ross isn’t a household name, he’s great in the lead and manages to embody the pettiness and the damaged mind of the wealthy man. The story has not only a twist ending, but a double twist.

“The Big Tall Wish:” A washed-up boxer boards with a single mom and is beloved by her son. He decides to make a comeback and a hopeful boy makes a wish, the biggest wish (a big tall wish) but will it be enough for the boxer to win. This is a simple, wistful tale, with a downbeat conclusion.

“The Living Doll:” A tyrant of a father is infuriated that his wife spent money to buy his stepdaughter a doll at the department store. The father doesn’t like the Talking Tina doll and is shocked when Tina lets him know the feeling is mutual. He hears the doll speaking, but only when no one else is around. Probably of all the stories I’ve listened to in the first seven volumes, this is the one that fits most easily into the horror genre, though it’s definitely a more psychological horror.

Overall, this box set is a mixed set. “One More Pallbearer” and “The Living Doll” are superb, “Cavendar is Coming” is awful. The other three are between okay to good.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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Audio Drama Review: Martin and Lewis

Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis were the last of the great legendary comedy teams. They’d been a success in night clubs prior to landing their own radio show over NBC in 1949.

There were two Martin and Lewis shows, though collectors and CD makers group them into one long run. The first ran in 1949 until January 1950. The second, The New Martin and Lewis Show ran from 1951-53. Both programs had different formats.

The 1949 series started off with a comedy variety-style program with Bob Hope but reverted to a situational format. Martin and Lewis played themselves in the radio program, which was about them making the radio program. It also had an ongoing plot arc about starting a nightclub.  Martin would still manage at least one song an episode, sometimes with a hilarious plot justification for him singing. The series featured Sheldon Leonard as a shady conman named Soapy Leonard who served to get our heroes into trouble. Flo Macmichael played a maid who became Dean and Jerry’s assistant and then played some other female characters during their initial radio run. The show featured a variety of guest stars including William Bendix, Bing Crosby, and Victor Moore with the actors playing “themselves.”

The New Martin and Lewis show followed a comedy/variety format with no plot, Dean Martin as the host who sings two or three songs in the course of the show (one often a duet with a guest star), he and Lewis banter and do a skit, they introduce the guest star, banter with the guest and do a sketch with the guest. The guests included strong performers like Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Anne Bancroft, Jack Webb, and Ida Lupino.

Dean Martin is a superb singer. He’s fun to listen to and his singing is the best argument for buying high quality recordings of this program. The guest stars are good, and it’s nice to hear Martin and Lewis getting to play off of some of Hollywood’s finest actors.

The comedy is a bit more uneven. Even though the plots were formulaic or silly, I prefer the original Martin and Lewis show. It gave Lewis more to work with. The new series format limited Lewis. Radio already took away the physical comedy which was such a big part of his appeal, but there was only so much that he could do with the banter portion of the shows, that many of the jokes and bits feel repetitive.

However, that’s not to say there aren’t laughs to be had, but the show is far from the team’s best work, particularly when compared to their films or the appearances on television’s Colgate Comedy Hour.

Overall, if you’re a fan of Martin and Lewis or either of the two on their own, both series are worth a listen.

Martin and Lewis Show rating: 4.25 out of 5
New Martin and Lewis Show rating: 3.75 out of 5

Is a New Golden Age of Audio Dramas Coming

As we hunker down during the global pandemic, those with more leisure time have binged a whole lot of television and been able to find distraction in new episodes of their favorite programs.

Many live late night programs have continued with the host at home and guests also at home. While this can work to an extent for Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert, it raises a point.

How is this going to work for scripted dramas? There are so many logistical issues with filming a TV show or movie. The sheer number required to be working together on the set, the close proximity that actors have to get to each other, etc. If some form of social distancing continues to be enforced, any TV shows and movies produced during this time are going to look quite odd. That’s if they can be produced at all.

While it’d be an interesting idea to do more animation of popular TV shows, the truth be told, there’s not going to be time before the Fall Season to produce high quality animation to continue beloved shows.

The answer may be for the shows to re-embrace the audio medium they abandoned nearly sixty years ago and work to release new programs over radio. British Audio Drama company Big Finish announced on March 17th that it was suspending recording due to the COVID-19 virus and therefore would not be in studio. However, 9 days later, they were back in production having discovered that most of their stars could work from home and the direction could also be done remotely.

Dramatic podcasts around the world have been doing the same thing for years, as producers using affordable software have been able to mix and blend voices from thousands of miles away to tell stories via audio that sound just like they were recorded with all actors in the studio together.

While it might be tempting for any audio content to go to a premium provider like Audible, there’s going to be a larger audience for radio and a good potential to earn advertising revenue during a time when filming’s going to be difficult. The added listeners might also help radio stations who have seen their listening numbers decline with less people on the roads.

Several types of radio programs could work over radio during this period:

  1. Exploring Continuity Gaps:

A lot of dramatic television is highly serialized today. In an earlier era of television where continuity was light, it’d be easy if you made one-off radio episodes that told previously untold one-off adventures. That’s harder today because so many episodes are interconnected. TV shows also won’t want to continue their ongoing planned storylines over radio because we hope that television will eventually return to normal and they don’t want to mess up their reruns and resyndication plans by having audio episodes you have to listen to in order to understand what’s going on. They would have to re-record the audio shows for TV and I assume they won’t want to do that.

Some series could return and explore gaps in the continuity. For example, months often pass in-world between the end of one season and the start of another. If a TV series has already shot its season finale and knows that it wants to start the next season by jumping forward several months, it might do a radio series that explores what happens in those intervening months.

It might also explore past gaps in continuity. For example, the third season of the CW Series The Flash ended with the hero being imprisoned in the otherworldly Speed Force. The fourth season began after his friends had protected the city for six months in his absence. In the premier episode, they bring him back from the Speed Force. CW could commission a radio series based on what happened during that six-month period.

2. Spin Offs

Many programs have had popular guest characters and this might be a great time to explore whether their stories might be worth exploring in their own right. Creating Spin Offs will once again spare the main series from having to mess with its continuity. If the radio spin off works well, then a TV spin off may make sense once all returns to normal.

3. Return of the Cancelled Shows

Some shows continue to be popular even though they’ve gone into reruns. A new Golden Age of Radio could see them return for a limited run. There are two approaches that could be taken. First, is the continuity gap solution listed above. Secondly, you could set a show after its finale.

Monk would be a fun program to bring back by either approach. Attempts at making a Monk movie over the last 11 years have been stymied, but a series of radio dramas could hit the spot in these difficult times.

4. Original Programming

The networks have a whole host of ideas for concepts for new TV programs. Many of these could be adapted to radio, as well as bringing programs especially created for radio to light. Radio could provide a low-cost way to test the market for shows that would have high production values on TV.

5. Movie Adaptations

During the Golden Age of Radio, the Lux Radio Theater, Screen Guild Theater, and Screen Director’s Playhouse were dedicated to adapting movies to an audio format and recreated great big screen moments over the radio.

In the 1980s, George Lucas sold rights to adapt the Star Wars Trilogy to NPR for $1 per film and NPR produced adaptations of each of the first three films in the trilogy.

Adaptations of other popular films to radio with some of the original cast would be worth exploring. The Star Wars adaptations were popular even though fans could now watch the original films on VHS or TV.

Star Wars has a devoted fan base, which was key to the success of the audio dramas. Any successful adaptation of film to radio would have to be of a film which features equally devoted fans.

Overall, a new golden age of audio dramas would offer the entertainment industry a chance to bring something positive out of the awful events of the last few months, and I hope they avail themselves of the opportunity.

Audio Drama Review: Black Jack Justice, Season Seven

Season Seven of Black Jack Justice finds the show very well settled in to its successful formula as Jack and Trixie continue to solve crimes in a post-War unnamed American city.

The season avoids some of the fancy experimental episodes from previous seasons and really plays to its strengths. That means well-crafted mysteries and clever wordplay. The closest this season gets to any sort of emotional depth is in the episode, “The Score” when an old war buddy of Jack’s tries to draft him to rob a Nazi war criminal to exact revenge.

All of Season 7 is great listening. If I had to pick a favorite, I’d choose the fifth episode, “A Simple Case of Black and White” which finds Trixie and Jack working for a pro bowler trying to connect with his child. The plot is intricate with a surprising solution. There are characters named (of course) Black and White. That plays out to really good effect.

Overall, if you’re looking for fun diverting mysteries that illustrate how a radio detective show should be done, you’ll enjoy Season 7 of Black Jack Justice.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

The entire Seventh Season of Black Jack Justice is available for free download on their website.

Audio Drama Review: The Twilight Zone Audio Dramas, Volume 5 Review

Volume 5 of the Twilight Zone Audio Dramas offers six more adaptations of Twilight Zone in TV episodes.

The set kicks off with, “The Rip Van Winkle Caper.” It’s a story of a well-planned robbery where a scientist is part of the gang and has a plot to avoid prosecution: have the gang hide out in the cave with their stolen gold and then put themselves in suspended animation. The story delivers a smashing twist at the end, but before it gets there, we’re given some great interaction between the members of the gang. The story is a clever and intricate morality tale that holds up quite well.

The next story is, “A Most Unusual Camera,” which is about small-time crooks getting a relatively small haul from a pawnshop burglary that includes a camera that, as they discover, can predict the future. After an unnecessary scene with the crime being reported to the police by the owners of the pawnshop (who are never heard from again), the interaction between the small-time crooks dominates the rest of the story and is a real treat to listen to with a lot of plans, double crosses, and twists.

In “Twenty-two,” a singer is terrified by dreams about the number 22 and she senses impending doom surrounding it and tries to avoid whatever fate awaits. This is a well-done suspenseful tale, though to be honest, it’s the weakest story in the set, which says a lot for this particular box set.

“The Midnight Sun” finds two women trapped in an apartment in a big city as the Earth is moving closer to the sun and everyone is trying to get away from it. The characters in this are great, and there’s a big twist at the end.

In “Walking Distance,” a stressed out ad executive takes a walk while his car’s getting fixed to the nearby town where he was raised. It’s a wistful, sad, yet wise story for anyone who’s ever visited somewhere they grew up and expected it to be exactly as it was as this time he finds it that way.

The set concludes with, “The Passerby” which finds a Confederate War Widow watching the defeated Southern Army return home. She begins to notice strange things, including the return of a soldier she’d believed dead. The story has some atmospheric moments, a great reveal, and an unforgettable closing scene. It’s a picture of the sadness and tragedy of war that’s beautifully realized.

Overall, this is one of my favorite sets in this series. Unlike previous sets, there are no recognizable guest stars in the cast, but to be fair, the original Twilight Zone series, most episodes didn’t feature huge stars or those who would become big stars. For every episode of the TV series featuring William Shatner, Peter Falk, or Burgess Meredith, you’d have an episode or two featuring actors no one remembers. The strength of the Twilight Zone are its writing, its concepts, and the thoughtful ideas at the heart of each script, and that strength really shines through here.

If you’re curious about the radio series, this is definitely a set I’d recommend. The stories are very well-realized and capture the spirit of the original series beautifully.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

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