Tag: audio drama

Audio Drama Review: Black Jack Justice, Season 8

Black Jack Justice eighth season was released monthly between September 2012 and March 2013, once again featuring Christopher as Jack and Andrea Lyons as Trixie Dixon, Girl Detective.

The series at this point was in a nice groove and the first four episodes reflect the typical episodic nature of the series up until this point. In “Jawbone of an Asp,” they find themselves drawn into the middle of an academic controversy.  In “Two is Too Many,” they end up trying to see if long-time underworld supporting character “Freddy the Finger” Hawthorne and his cousin have inherited a fortune. And in the best episode of the season, “The More Things Change,” the duo are hired by a woman who wants them to prove her fiancé to be virtuous.

The final two episodes are inter-related. “The Late Mr. Justice,” grabs the listener’s attention as Jack informs us that he’s about to die and explains how he got to this point. An old-time gangster Jack sent away has been released and is out for blood, having taken Jack’s girlfriend hostage. The gangster threatens to kill her if Jack doesn’t show up at an old abandoned theater. There’s some great noirish feel that leads to a solid finale.

The second episode has Trixie in an empty office wondering what happened to Jack after the events of the last story and whether he’ll be back. A boyfriend comes from a big agency with a clients…and with hopes of  becoming Trixie’s new partner if they uncover a missing will. A wealthy woman supposedly left it, cutting a repentant black sheep in for part of her estate. This was a good story that Trixie managed to carry quite well but I had a couple problems with it. Innuendos which Trixie used occasionally in most episodes were way overused as if writer Gregg Taylor was leaning into them a bit much.  In addition, this is the second story in six episodes involving a will. But other than that, it was a pretty good finale with a nice revelation to wrap up Black Jack Justice’s Eighth Season.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

Black Jack Justice Season 8 can be downloaded for free at Decoder Ring Theatre.

Audio Drama Review: The Twilight Zone Radio Dramas, Volume 8

The eighth volume of Twilight Zone radio dramas features six more stories adapted from the classic TV series.

“The Long Morrow” is about an astronaut who is chosen for a long-term deep-space mission because he has no attachments to anyone on Earth. Right before he’s scheduled to leave, he goes on a date, meets a woman, and falls deeply in love with her. He’s to go into a stasis capsule and not age during the whole voyage. There’s a lot I like about this story. The romance and character stuff is engaging, but they also explore some interesting sci-fi concepts that a lot of the “going into stasis until you arrive on a new planet” stories kind of ignore. It’s an all-around solid listen.

“The 7th is Made of Phantoms” is about an Army National Guard Unit in the 1960s that’s on maneuvers and finds itself interacting with the Battle of Little Big Horn. This is one of those stories that I just don’t get the point, the moral, or the lesson. There’s no explanation or hint of one, so it’s a very unsatisfying story.

“Mirror Image” is a really unsettling tale where a woman with an apparently poor memory at a bus station comes to believe she has a doppelganger who is trying to take her place. There’s little atmosphere or real explanation of what’s going on, but it really builds tension and atmosphere to make it a worthwhile listen.

“A Thing About Machines:” A man who lives alone seems to be constantly at war with his machines and for his machines, the feeling appears to be mutual. This one doesn’t work for me because the machines only go so far, and since we’re not dealing with like a computer or artificial intelligence, it’s just a bit silly.

“The Last Night of Jockey”-A disgraced jockey gets one wish and wants to make himself a big man. This is an interesting story and it works as a morality tale. It’s an interesting theme that the Twilight Zone examines where a protagonist thinks they need just one break in order to escape their failed lives, they get a break, and ultimately they prove that fundamentally their own character flaws led to their downfall.

“The Fever”-A tightwad (Stacy Keach) is afraid his long-suffering wife will get hooked into out-of-control gambling when they win a free trip to Vegas. So, of course, it happens to the husband instead. This has been a pretty common plot, though this has a supernatural twist. The success of the production ultimately comes down to Keach’s performance.

The stories in this set are fine, but I’d only say “The Long Morrow” and “Mirror Image” are very strong pieces. This is one collection where it may make sense to go on audible or the Itunes store and purchase your favorite episode as a standalone, because the quality in this set is a bit mixed.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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Audio Drama Review: Twilight Zone Radio Dramas, Volume 6

The Sixth Volume of Twilight Zone radio dramas features six radio dramas that recreate classic episodes.

The Dummy: Bruno Kirby plays a ventriloquist who believes his dummy is alive. Trouble starts when he decides to replace his dummy with a new one.  Ventriloquist dummies are great in creepy stories, and I think they work particularly well over audio.

No Time Like the Past: Jason Alexander stars as a scientist who tries to change history three times to make a better world before giving up and deciding to go and live in history, where he falls in love with a woman who is fated to die. Some of the emotional beats in this story work, but the logic of both the scientist and the story are a bit strained. His attempts to change history were haphazard at best and doomed to failure due to his lack of planning. A theme of this episode is that history can’t be changed, but the overall point can be taken as, “History definitely can’t be changed if you don’t actually think through your plan.”

Still Valley: Adam West plays a Confederate sergeant who is given a chance to win the war through witchcraft. I do love Adam West, and he puts in a very good performance, and the story goes in a direction I didn’t expect. There’s some great atmosphere and nice music. This is a really easy listen.

King Nine Will Not Return: The story focuses on the pilot (Adam Baldwin) of a crashed bomber searching for his crew in the dessert.  The story itself is pretty good, with a nice twist, and a bit of unexplained spookiness at the end. But what makes this a standout is Adam Baldwin’s performance. This is his second Twilight Zone and once again, he’s got nearly all the lines and his performance is superb. These two plays convince me that Baldwin’s talents are underrated. If radio/audio were as huge in America as it used to be, Baldwin would be the guy I’d want to listen to all the time.

I Am the Night Color Me Black: A man (John Ratzenberger) is about to be executed for killing an abusive racist when strange things begin to happen. This one was definitely a very moody, suspenseful, and surrealistic play. It’s definitely a different role for Ratzenberger, who is best known for his work in comedies like the TV show Cheers. It’s well worth listening to.

The Incredible World of Horace Ford: A toymaker (Mike Starr) is literally transformed back into a kid when he visits his old neighborhood. This isn’t a bad story. It deals with the idea of the dangers of living an idealized past, and the importance of living your life in the present. It’s a recurring theme in the The Twilight Zone. But that also means its a story they’ve done in more interesting ways. In particular, I think of, “Walking Distance.” (Done on Audio in Volume 5.) This feels like a slightly inferior exploration of the same theme and a little too on the nose.

Overall, this is a pretty strong set. While the stories aren’t perfect, these feature a couple of my favorite stories so far, and everything else is fine.

Ratings: 4 out of 5

Audio Drama Review: The Red Panda Adventures, Season 7

At the end of Season Six, during World War II, the entire Canadian Home Team of superhuman allied soldiers was wiped out. The Red Panda (Gregg Taylor), in the guise of August Fenwick, had his plane explode while heading to Europe.

The first half of Season Seven picks up where Season Six left off with The Flying Squirrel (Clarissa Der Nederlanden) having to pick up the pieces. Missing her husband and crime-fighting partner,  Kit Baxter-Fenwick has to keep the city safe while expecting the birth of her first child.  It’s decided that neither the fifth columnist or the criminal element in Toronto should know of the Panda’s apparent demise so the android John Doe (Christopher Mott) pretends to be the Red Panda. Kit has to mentor John and also help him as he tries to move on from the death of his wife.

This first half of the season works really well. While Season Six tried to develop Kit/The Flying Squirrel, those attempts came off as a bit artificial. In Season Seven, we get some really good character development, as well as a nice mix of solid adventures that we’ve come to expect.

**spoilers warning**

In the second half of the season, we learn the Red Panda survived and we pick up his story with him imprisoned in a POW camp. However, before his capture, the Red Panda (I believe) used his mental powers to segment all he knew of being the Red Panda from August Fenwick so he could not be coerced into revealing information. Fenwick meets up with former Red Panda Operative now Army Captain Andy Parker and his commando unit. He teams up with Parker, and is able to get them out of prison using Red Panda powers and abilities while denying being the Red Panda. They then make their away across Europe to the season’s denouement where the two halves of the season tie together.

There were things about the second half of the season I enjoyed, like the reappearance of a character who was presumed dead, and I think the last episode is good. However, what happened  with the Red Panda/August Fenwick is convoluted and I’m not sure I understand it right. The plot also got repetitive with the denials of him being the Red Panda and members of Parker’s Rangers thinking he was.  It felt a bit padded at six episodes. The arc would have been better if it’d been only three episodes long.

Overall, this is a still a solid season, owing to the strong first half, but it’s the weakest of the seven seasons I’ve listened to so far.

Rating: 3.75 out of 5

You can listen to Season 7 of The Red Panda Adventures here.

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.