Category: Audio Drama Review

Audio Drama Review: Red Panda Adventures, Season Nine

The Ninth Season of the Red Panda Adventures finds the world in flux. It’s now a question of when rather than if the Allies will be victorious. But what happens afterwards is an open question.

The series is split into two parts. The bulk of the season focuses on supervillains previewing the sort of threats that will be on the ground after World War II. This is represented by an old villain returning in a new guise to take over Toronto and exact revenge on the Red Panda. In addition, we get an episode where the Red Panda battles villains known as the Rocket Men. These stories are fun, exciting, and pulpy in the way so many of the early Red Panda Adventure were.

The other part is cleaning up the war and dealing with what might come in a post-War world. Of particular concern is their old nemesis Professor Von Schlitz, who is going whole hog cooperating with the Americans. The Red Panda fears the German scientist will corrupt the Americans and use them for his evil ends. And the robotic red ensign wants revenge on Von Schlitz for the murder of the robot’s human wife at the start of the war. This leads our heroes into tight spots.

The “V E Day” episode deserves praise. It’s an anthology episode that told different stories with differing themes all structured around VE Day. The episode is great listening and points to the potential future of the show.

After nine seasons and 108 episodes, the series was still going strong, with the 100th episode airing without ceremony. Much like the Red Panda himself, the series might be past its peak, but it still packs a punch with exciting stories, fun dialogue, and a real sense of classic pulp adventure. The Ninth Season was a worthwhile and satisfying listen.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5

You can listen to the entirety of Season 9 of the Red Panda Adventures online.

Audio Drama Review: The Trial of Sherlock Holmes

The Trial of Sherlock Holmes finds Sherlock Holmes whisked away to a secret courtroom and forced to answer to charges of being a public menace and is forced to relive three little known cases.

This is a more comedic take on Holmes and Watson. Essentially in less than an hour, we’re given three remembered mysteries and the framing story about the trial which is itself a mystery and we’ve got a lot of comedy mixed in.

The acting is broad but decent. The five-member cast play their ensemble roles well and make all of their characters quite distinct. The writing is fine. While I knew from the start, there was something wrong with the judge, I didn’t figure out until 2/3 of the way through what he might be up to. The story explores the idea that Holmes’ rivals (aka detectives who sprang up soon after him) emerged during the time he was presumed dead after “The Final Problem.”

The story and its comedy veers towards the silly, and has its hits and misses. So the stories are mostly off-beat.

That said, doing a Sherlock Holmes comedy is hard. I’ve heard some awful attempts and by comparison, this isn’t half-bad. It’s unremarkable but it’s relatively short, occasionally funny, and a relatively pain-free listen. If you’d like to hear a silly Sherlock Holmes comedy that isn’t truly horrible, this might be worth trying.

Rating: 2.75 out of 5

The story can be downloaded for free from the Wireless Theatre Company

 

 

Audio Drama Review: The Patrick Scott Smokin’ Mysteries

To enjoy the Patrick Scott Smokin’ Mysteries, set the right expectations. These are not typical half-hour or hour-long mysteries. Rather, they’re about 4-6 minutes in length and meant to be enjoyed in short bursts, preferably with family. They are more about puzzles, brain teasers, and trivia than whodunits. Think more Encyclopedia Brown than Hercule Poirot.

In one episode, a series of clues were used as two police officers were engaged in trying to find where a suspect was heading and the police officer would intercept with the key being the listener’s ability to guess which street they were heading to. Of course, real police officers have a knowledge of a city’s street set up, so there’s no mystery in real life. The set up reminds me of detective-themed riddle books.

However, once you understand the set up, these are enjoyable diversions. Each episode follows Lieutenant Patrick Scott, Jr. (Scott Brick), his father, retired Captain Patrick Scott, Sr. (Patrick Fraley), or another family member or police officer as they try to solve a puzzle generally involving a crime. The set up will generally be a single scene (or two) where clues are gathered and then the listener is given about a minute of “mystery-solving music” to think about it and/or discuss the case with others who are listening before the solution is revealed.

The mysteries are decent brain teasers. There’s some humor that’s amusing, if not laugh out loud hilarious. The stories  are all fairly clean at a G or PG rating level. The mystery-solving music is pleasant, usually a bit of soft jazz, though they do mix it up a bit, particularly in three episodes that feature an Irish informant who makes the police solve his riddle in order to get clues.

Scott and Fraley are both old pros at the voice acting game and have recorded hundreds of audiobooks. Fraley (who also wrote the production) did a lot of voices for animation, particularly in the 1980s and 1990s. From my childhood, he was the voice of Wildcat on Talespin and many characters on the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon including Krang the Conquerer and Baxter Stockman. Fraley was a regular fixture as an animation character actor as so many of his credits are for “additional voices.” All that to say, both are top people in the voice acting profession and delivered the performances you’d expect. Brick’s Patrick Scott, Jr. sounds exactly like the ex-Private Eye he’s supposed to be and the narration is flawless. Meanwhile, Fraley’s Senior is endearingly irascible and fun to listen to.

Beyond the leads, this is very much an ensemble production with actors having to switch from one role to another frequently and without making your characters sound all the same and everyone did a good job of that. There was only one character that seemed off, but given the sheer number of mini-mysteries in this set, that’s a good average.

The last twenty minutes or so of the disk feature a Q&A session with Frank Muller, a pioneer in the audiobook world who’d recorded books for many authors including Stephen King. Muller had just recently passed away and this was offered as a tribute to him. To me, it was an interesting insight into how good audiobook narrators ply their trade. If that doesn’t excite you, then you may not get much out of that portion.

Overall, this is an interesting release. It’s well-acted with good sound, although minimalistic, and is good for short diversions. It’s best to listen to one or two mysteries at a time when travelling with kids and looking for something to do in the car. With that approach, the more than two and a half hours of puzzle mysteries will last a good while.

Rating: 4 out of 5

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Audio Drama Review: The Collected Bowdrie Dramatizations, Volume 3

The final collection of dramatizations of stories featuring Louie L’Amour’s tough and smart Texas Ranger, Chick Bowdrie (Reathel Bean) offers six more adventures as he hunts down and solves mysteries as he roams the state of Texas serving justice as he goes.

The first four stories in the set have a strong mystery element and he makes a good detective. The mysteries aren’t top tier, but they’re engaging enough.

The last two stories, “Down Sonora Way” and “Strange Pursuit” are different as each is about Bowdrie chasing outlaws. “Down Sonora Way” finds the ranger in a stalemate with an outlaw when they both observe a settler family butting heads with indigenous peoples and they decide to call a truce to rescue the family from harm’s way. In “Strange Pursuit,” Bowdrie is on the trail of a quick-witted outlaw whose exploits included hanging a sheriff who was trying to hang him and riding off with the sheriff’s horse. Bowdrie spent weeks on the man’s trail and spends much of the story making little progress and picking up new tales of his exploits.

Overall, these are at the same level as the previous two collections. While most of L’Amour’s characters aren’t complex, they do have some interesting wrinkles. His level of research and knowledge of the old west is profound. In fact, one of these stories includes a bonus addition of L’Amour talking about sign tracking. The stories are thoroughly entertaining. Bean is superb at Bowdrie and all the other actors are on-point.

The Bowdrie collections would be enjoyed by anyone who loves tales of the Old West, or even if you’re not big into Westerns, if you like well-made audio dramas, this is definitely worth a listen.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post at no extra cost to the purchaser.

 

Audio Drama Review: Black Jack Justice, Season Nine

Season Nine of Black Jack Justice sees Jack (Christopher Mott) and Trixie Dixon (Andrea Lyons) back for six more investigations. The ninth season continues the same high standard. It offers everything you come to expect: The opening monologue that introduces a well-worn aphorism as a basis for the case, the clever banter, and the solid mystery stories you come to expect.

Jack’s status as a newly married man has a small impact on the series. Had there been romantic tension between the two lead characters, it would have been much more major. However, unlike in most detective fiction, where statements of contempt hide passionate love, the statements of contempt between Jack and Trixie reflected that they didn’t much like each other personally but had a good working relationship. However, Jack’s mood is less dour than in past seasons as he’s enjoying conjugal bliss. One episode, “Home for the Holidays” saw Jack getting involved in solving a crime in a small town so Jack could get home to his wife.

The series had limited appearances from the recurring guest cast. Jack’s wife is seen and not heard after appearing in the previous two seasons. King the office dog and Freddy the Finger are far less present than in previous seasons.

The episodes are all good. I particularly liked the contrast between the last two episodes of the season. In “The Big Time,” Jack and Trixie get an unexpected opportunity to take on a big case for an insurance company with a big payoff. This is followed by, “The Learner’s Permit” where they agree to help a writer do research for his new detective story, and then bungle their way into a murder investigation where they should be able to tell the police everything needed to solve the case and provide photographic evidence, but instead have bungled it so badly that someone else has to step in and solve the case. Creating a contrast between a high water mark and one of their most embarrassing moments business is a clever take by writer Gregg Taylor.

While I did miss some of the recurring characters, this was still a fun listen. If you enjoyed any of the past Black Jack Justice seasons, Season 9 is well-worth listening to.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

Black Jack Justice Season 9 is available to listen to for free at Decoder Ring Theatre.

Radio Series Review: My Friend Irma

My Friend, Irma came to radio in 1947 starring Marie Wilson as Irma, a quirky young secretary from Minnesota who came to New York and was befriended by Jane Stacy (Cathy Lewis and later Joan Banks) who took her on as her roommate. The series is all about their misadventures. 

It would be spun off into two films as well as a TV series. The series was created by Cy Howard, who would go on to create Life with Luigi and it’s stylistically similar in many ways as well as both series featuring legendary  voice actors Hans Conried and Alan Reed. 

The series had a lot of running jokes. Conried’s character Professor Kerplotkin would greet Irma and Jane with an analogy to two things with the latter being a back-handed suggestion Irma wasn’t quite all there and would apologize stating it was “a little joke” he’d picked up somewhere. Mrs. O’Reilly, their landlady would show up and also get insulted by Professor Kerplotkin. The Professor would also complain about his room in the most over the top way possible and make a suggestion of something romantic with Mrs. O’Reilly (played by Jane Morgan and later Gloria Gordon) only to pull the rug out from under her with yet another insult.

Irma’s shiftless boyfriend Al (John Brown) would always try to turn any situation to his own benefit through (often poorly thought out) schemes. When he ran into a situation where he didn’t know what to do, he would say, “There’s only one man who knows what to do,” dial a number and then say, “Hello, Joe….Got a problem.” Nothing is inherently funny about this but Brown’s delivery practically wills it into a laugh line.

Probably the biggest running gags in the series center around Irma and could be paraphrased, “You know how weird Irma is?”

Marie Wilson deserves a lot of credit for her performance. It’d be easy for a character like Irma to become annoying, but she rarely does, and it’s the writing that sometimes makes Irma too whiny. Her comic delivery and timing is great and helps to sell the show. She’s particularly adept at having Irma’s mixing up messages other people tell her to deliver to sound completely natural.

The supporting cast is good Again, it’d be easy for them to come off badly and for the most part, they don’t. While they all know Irma’s a little bit off, they’re all supportive. Her boss, Mr. Clyde was mean but most comedy bosses during that era were mean, so that was to be expected.

My biggest problem in the series was Jane Stacy. On one hand, she could be nice to Irma and help her out and she could also be long-suffering with all the problems Irma caused. On the other, she often could lose it. In addition, she was the one who introduced the episodes and talked to the audience. She tended to deliver the meanest and most cutting remarks about Irma not only to other characters, but to the audience.

I came to view Jane as Irma’s “friend” who resents having her around and complaints constantly to other people about Irma. I found Jane insufferable and two-faced. I had negative reactions to other Cathy Lewis characters because I’d think of Jane Stacy when I heard them. Joan Banks’ take on Jane Stacy and Mary Jane Croft’s character of Kay Foster weren’t any better but they didn’t have as much time to wear on my nerves as Lewis did.

Numerous casting changes occurred in the course of the program, and not all of them are well-documented or observable. The bulk of episodes in circulation are from the show’s earliest days from 1947 to the spring of 1949, so many casting or character changes are unexplained within the radio program as any transitions occurred in episodes that were lost. There was a total of three episodes in circulation for the three year period between March 1949 and January 1952, and a smattering of episodes for each year from 1952-54. While I have limited exposure to later casts, the original cast, with both Brown and Conried is probably is the best the show had, though the later actors did fine.

Overall, My Friend Irma is a decent comedy. While it’s far from my favorite, it has some laughs. There’s little continuity, so you don’t suffer that much as a result of the missing seasons.

Rating: 3.25 out of 5

Audio Drama Review: The Crogan Adventures

In 2013, Decoder Ring Theatre, best known for producing Black Jack Justice and the Red Panda Adventures released the Crogan Adventures, an audio drama based on Chris Schweitzer’s graphic novel series following the adventures of the Crogan family throughout  history.  

Each of the six episodes has the framing device of the modern Crogan children doing something that sets their father into telling a story from the rich history of the Crogan family.

The Crogan Adventures are set in a variety of times and places. The interesting historical settings include South Africa during the booming diamond mining era, a foreign legion camp, and two boats out at sea. The productions have a strong repertory company feel with different casts outside of the framing scenes each week, so actors who were regulars in Decoder Ring Theatre’s regulator productions get an opportunity to play different parts. Each episode offers a nice combination of mystery, drama, and humor that’s relatively family friendly.

If I had one complaint, it was that the framing scenes did seem a bit cheesy, but that almost feels like the point.

Overall, if you like exciting adventure stories spread throughout history with amazing locations and outlandish protagonists, the Crogan Adventures are definitely worth a listen.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

The Crogan Adventures can be listened to here.