Best of 2016: Podcasts

Science Fiction/Fantasy books and films may have been disappointingly sparse this year but it was a banner year for Podcasts.  As I indicated in earlier articles, I have come to appreciate audio dramas on my long car-rides – the best of them really fire up the imagination and given the low production costs, there are some imaginative work being done which you would never be able to pull off on television.  Here are the best ones I listened to this year.

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Hadron Gospel Hour:  My life was a pointless and bleak existence – I prayed to all manner of Gods for release but they never answered.  That is when the mad scientist dressed in a lab coat and skull face makeup stepped out of a dimensional rift and told me I could save the multiverse.  I took his hand and stepped through the rift.  Now my life is filled with delightful things.  Last night the love child of Steve Reeves and Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, dressed up as Colonel Wilma Deering and gave me a lap dance in the front seat of an Oldsmobile Delta 88.  Dave Bowman, still dressed in his space suit and helmet told me to ‘Open the Pod Bay Doors’ from the front seat and the cast of Mystery Science Theater 3000 cheered me on from the back.  The Bee Gees ‘More than a Woman’ played on the radio while a shirtless Kirk fist-fought the goddamned Gorn Commander on the hood of the car.  Thank you, Hadron Gospel Hour – you are the only thing in the world I wish to remain the same.  The only thing I love that loves me back.

We’re Alive:  I will get fried for saying this but We’re Alive is a better and more believable zombie story than The Walking Dead.  It was 143 episodes long and ran from 2009-2014.  It was high production values and had a great cast of characters but I think the thing I appreciated most about it was no one was a superman in this show – they made stupid calls, paid for them, and it wasn’t afraid to paint large on its canvas.  It seemed more real to me than The Walking Dead and I was invested from start to finish.  If society collapsed, I think it would look closer to this than anything else.  Best of all, it is a complete story – something which doesn’t occur so much in the world of podcasting.

Hello from the Magic Tavern:  What would happen if a Chicago comedian was transported to a fantasy tavern and interviewed its guests while in the company of a pompous Wizard and a sex badger.  Remember when I said shit happens in podcasts that can’t happen on TV?  This podcast proves the point.  Completely improv but if you’re going to start, do so from episode one because after a year of doing this they have constructed an elaborate and entertaining world complete with its own rules.  I almost crashed my car laughing at Usidore’s reaction to being asked if the dark one’s secret villain name was Count Dooku?

Bright Sessions:  I love superhero stories, especially when they don’t know their superhero stories.  The Bright Sessions is about a therapist with an unconventional practice – young men and women with ‘abilities’ and all the associated issues which come with it.  As a guy who once did some time on a therapist couch, I find the interactions to have an authenticity to them which is gratifying.  I won’t spoil the surprise but it becomes apparent there is more going on here than just therapy and this series is poised to break out of the therapy room and into the larger world.

Tanis & The Black Files:  Both series are interrelated and come from the fictional Pacific Northwest Public Radio.  They are both telling different stories, one a gothic horror owing much to the Cthulhu mythos and the other a more bizarre mixture of surveillance, science fiction, and ancient evil.  They both possess high production values and tell compelling stories.  I think I like the gothic story in the Black Tapes a bit better mostly because I feed the lead narrator a bit more compelling and the creepiness factor is exceptionally well done.  However, the science fiction angle on Tanis is right up my alley and new episodes of both series are happy days for me.  Both are on season break and will be returning with their third seasons in the Spring so now is the time to catch up with the Black Tapes first and Tanis second.

Other ‘Best of…’ lists from 2016:

Books

Movies

Computer Games

Podcast Review: The Bright Sessions

I recently discovered The Bright Sessions, a newer podcast which has quickly gained a following and for good reason – it is excellent!  But, first a digression.  I loved the first season of Heroes – a 2006 television show which is kind of infamous.  It started strong but rapidly dropped in quality to the point where I felt the final season was nigh unwatchable.  But what a first season!  I think I liked it so much because it took this group of regular people and gave them superpowers.  Some of them saw their powers as liberating, some saw them as a curse – but best of all the reactions felt realistic as they attempted to grapple with their new realities in the face of threat. download

The Bright Sessions captures that same feeling from Heroes.  The podcast is about a rather ordinary therapist with a rather unconventional set of patients – young people who have manifested powers and are attempting to cope.  Their everyday lives have been impacted by their powers and often not for the best.  The podcasts are recordings of the therapy sessions as the therapist tries to help her patients cope with their newfound abilities.  As a person who has been on the receiving end before of one of these talks, the interplay is surprisingly accurate and real.

The podcast is less than a year old and getting ready to start its third season and I’m really looking forward to it.  I don’t want to spoil the story but it is clear early in the series that not everything is as it seems and the therapist isn’t completely altruistic – she has an agenda which quickly moves these sessions to a much larger story.  The end of the second season was outstanding and I have high hopes that this podcast gets even greater exposure.

Podcast Review: Tanis

One of my favorite new Podcasts is The Black Tapes, a radio drama I covered a few weeks ago.  The fictional producers, Pacific Northwest Stories Radio, came up with a second Podcast called Tanis and like its companion series, it is a pretty gripping story.images

Tanis, like the Black Tapes, is a horror show done in the style of the very popular Serial podcasts.  This time the main narrator is an engaging Nic Silver – don’t worry, the Black Tapes narrator Alex Reagan drops into the show from time to time.  However, where the Black Tapes is a dark horror story with gothic overtones and ancient evil, Tanis’s horror owes more to science fiction and the surveillance state.  One of the main characters is a bad-ass hacker named MeerKatnip.  MK adds the technical element in the show as she aids Nic in his search for the truth.

The show is almost done with its second season and unlike the Black Tapes where the nature of the horror is revealed well before the end of its second season, Tanis’s horror is still a bit up in the air – I think I know what it is but I am not certain.  Fortunately, I don’t really mind.  As I said in the earlier article I love a good slow burn conspiracy story and Tanis delivers.

Like the Black Tapes, Tanis is well worth your time.

Podcast Review: Hadron Gospel Hour!

There are few things in science fiction and fantasy history which I enjoyed more than Mystery Science Theater 3000.  On the surface, I enjoyed the humor and banter of the human and robot casts as they were forced to watch and comment on the most horrible and cheesy genre movies of all time.  But more than that, I really enjoyed the take no prisoners raise the black flag attitude of the show.  Nothing was sacred and everything was delivered with wink and a nod – more than anything, MST3K was the wittiest show around and I miss it dearly.

But I don’t have to miss it so much anymore because one of my new favorite podcasts, Hadron Gospel Hour, is setting the standard for wit and hilarity.

Hadron is a high productions value series which styles itself as an audio science fiction/comedy adventure hour for weirdos and other living things – and boy it’s not lying.  It follows the exploits of mad scientist, Doctor FrancisOSc9XVbV Oppenheimer Valdini and kidnapped IT guy and part-time indie filmmaker Mike Wilkinson as they try to save the multiverse.  There is an entire cast of bizarre companions who join them on their journey but I would remiss if I didn’t mention my two favorites, an acerbic tongued AI named Ashley and an overly enthusiastic ‘just happy to be here’ Higgs-Boson particle named Higsby whose oft-stated tagline is ‘this pleases me’.

The show lists it’s influences as The Monkees, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Doctor Who, Thrilling Adventure Hour, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, The Young Ones, and 70’s Hanna-Barbera cartoons – and I would be remiss if I didn’t add MST3K.  The show is chock full of one-liners, throwbacks, storylines, and references to the entire panoply of science-fiction/fantasy fandom and culture.  It isn’t afraid to poke fun at all of it with a gigantic stick.  However, it is done from a place of love.  They want you to laugh along with them as we journey through not just the multiverse but the entire culture of Geekdom.

This show isn’t for everyone but if you’re reading this blog, I strongly suspect you might be exactly the target audience to join Oppenheimer and Mike.  This show is full of gracefully delivered wit and irreverence –  something which the world needs.