As of this writing, there are some 115,000 podcasts available for download. The exponential growth of the medium is due, I suspect, to relatively inexpensive production costs, as well as mostly free listener access. Like ham radio shows, blogs, or niche newsletters I’m pretty sure I never subscribed to, they do not need to have a proven interest group in order to exist. Rather than having a target audience, podcasts radiate outward, to be grabbed by whomever, whenever. This last bit may be my imagination, but even so, their existence is less restricted than that of other forms of entertainment. There is still plenty of room for the obscure, a quality integral to creativity.
Serialized fictions and truths, documentaries and mockumentaries, literary readings, and comedic chat shows are just a bit of the astounding range of programs. My goal, with your help, is to direct the Entropy community to podcasts we all might find interesting, informative, challenging, and curious. A little something for drive-time, getting stuck on the T, road-trips through the desert, waiting in line at the DMV or at the pharmacy where they said that Z-Pak prescription would be ready in just ten minutes.
As my tastes are not necessarily yours, I’m hoping that our readers, contributors and editors will offer critical reviews, lists and feedback. (email@example.com)
Okay, then. I’ll go first:
Ten years ago, over three hundred men, women and children disappeared from a small town in Tennessee, never to be heard from again.
In this seven-part podcast, American Public Radio host Lia Haddock asks the question once more, “What happened to the people of Limetown?”
-From the Limetown website: http://www.limetownstories.com
Limetown, from Two-up Productions, opens to Lia Haddock, a reporter from American Public Radio investigating the decade-old disappearance of the town’s entire population. Creepily placeless, it was a devised community, something both squeaky-clean and sinister—a sort of Pleasantville meets the Los Alamos National Laboratories, with a dose of John Windham’s The Midwich Cuckoos. Its inhabitants were recruited to both maintain the façade of the community as well as to implement the research project that was its undoing. The serialized podcast is, on its surface, a well-crafted speculative fiction-mystery. What rests below, however, are a series of intriguing medical-ethical questions.
The tone of first segment is distinctly Ira Glassian, with the public radio cadence, the non-detached detachedness, that we-will-take-as-long-as-it-takes pace. We hear interviews from tangential characters and snippets of backstory, delivered with a strange objective hysteria. Limetown disseminates information via taped “recordings,” a device that works, but for a few instances of voice acting that could have been brought down a notch. On the plus side, the over-earnestness recalls back-in-the-day radio dramas, which goes well with the mixed-up aesthetics of Limetown itself. By the end of the second episode, the vibe of the show has veered away from Serial towards something more speculative, near-future, and downright terrifying. Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds, X Files, and Twilight Zone all come to mind, something I suspect/hope was done not as an act of copying, but rather, as a nod to the show’s sci-fi heritage.
Limetown’s creators, Zack Akers and Skip Bronkie met as film students at the NYU Tisch School of the Arts. From a brief email exchange I had with Bronkie:
Zack and I had never created a podcast before. Coming at this with a filmmaker’s perspective informed the entire production. It informed Zack’s writing, which was inherently cinematic. And it pushed us to build an incredible team from the start. Film is a collaborative medium. Podcasting hasn’t traditionally been thought of like that. We had a cast of over 50 people and a crew of nearly a dozen people, from a casting director to a superb composer to an Emmy award winning sound designer & mixer. It’s that collaborative perspective that shaped this podcast every step of the way and ultimately what I think set it apart.
Limetown is set up to allow the listener to piece together the story of the missing town the same way that the interviewer/narrator, Haddock, does. The storyline is immediately intriguing, both in its premises as well as its presentation. We meet the cast of characters in the order of their discovery, and since Haddock is miked the whole time, we know what she knows. The questions of the series overlap, so that the listener is solving and wondering at the same time.
As with all things scary and mysterious, a full description carries the risk of being a spoiler, and I’m not about to do that. What I will tell you is that Limetown was set up to conduct neurological experiments, and that the Mayberry-esque community was designed to isolate the inhabitants, researchers and subjects, who in most cases were one and the same.
There was a game I used to play with middle-school friends, “Superpower,” where we’d justify which kind of magic we’d prefer. While the other kids usually went for time-travel, breathing under water, or flying, I’d pick the ability to read minds. Limetown makes a strong argument against that choice. Transference of thoughts between beings without active communication might, for an instant, seem kind of intriguing—useful, even.
Ever wanted to know what a pig senses while in distress? How about a human while dying? Well, me neither. Needless to say, the experiments go from promising to disaster in a hot second. While many elements of the show feel familiar, the amalgamation is something new. The mix of entertainment, ethical questions and horror presented in this world that could be the next town over was a fulfilling listen. At the end of the first season, we are left with a cliffhanger, for sure, but also a sense of having been told a complete story. (Bronkie confirmed that they will be producing a second season, but do not have any dates to announce at this time.)