August 15, 2006

Second Shift: A Review

A really bad day was saved a couple of weeks ago when an email appeared in my box asking if I would be interested in reviewing another serial podcast. Absolutely made my day, I tell ya.

Simple minds, simple pleasures. My mom used to tell me that all the time. Sloooowly. So I'd get all the words.

Disclosure time: Beyond Tolkein (which not reading violates some kind of natural law I think) and a few other scattered offerings, I've never been a fan of the fantasy genre. I much prefer History or Science Fiction.

Which means that Second Shift has been a pleasant surprise, because even though it's Fantasy/Adventure, I am really enjoying it.

The story goes like this: Three college students find themselves in another place. Planet? Universe? Who knows.

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These are *not* the three students

At first it seems that their arrival was accidental, but in later episodes there are hints that at least one of them may have been intentionally targeted.

The new place is a world where magic is pervasive. They meet the local who (might have) summoned them, and also very quickly have a run in with the bad guys. Before long, swords and sorcery and quests and adventures are experienced by the trio of friends as they search for a way back home.

I understand that the description generically describes a significant percentage of all fantasy fiction ever written, but that's all I'm going to say so as not to give away any spoilers. Ok, one spoiler: there are "Undying" wandering about. You know how I am about zombies, so major bonus points there.

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These are probably not the "Undying"

While listening to the first episode I was reminded of Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in "His Girl Friday", in that the dialogue comes at you in machine-gun bursts. You'll have to pay attention to these exchanges or you'll miss something.

A couple of observations about the dialogue.

First, you will hear the very occasional naughty word and the mildest of innuendo. This is a barely PG-rated story so far.

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These are not the "undying" either. Not yet, anyway.

Secondly, there is quite a bit of speaking in the "local" language, and it's beautifully done. The accents (I love the accents) and pronunciations are consistant and sound real, and there's no stumbling or hesitation when the actors speak in unfamiliar syllables. The language itself is lyrical and pleasing to listen to, and sounds natural enough for me to wonder just how much of this language is already real (in the sense that there is a dictionary and humans fluent in the language of the fictional Klingon race).

A "couple" means two. Ignore my inability to count and consider this a bonus.

Thirdly, the actors voices are distinctive and you'll be able to tell who is who before you know it. Which kind of ties into the characters themselves. These characters are three dimensional, not cardboard heroes (mystery reference for you gamer geeks). They have depth and background history and realistic emotions. Their speech and exchanges with other characters sound real. Since this is an audio play, dialogue is paramount, and it is exceptional.

Like real life, the good guys aren't always good, and sometimes they're not even particularly likable. At different times, each of the three students need a whack upside with a clue-by-four to remind them that whether you like it or not, reality isn't what you feel or wish for, it is what is right in front of you. So just shut up and hide in the bushes.

Not everything revolves around the three students either. The locals have their own history and stories, and sometimes things happen just between them. Again, this adds depth and you don't feel like every character exists just to support the three travellers. In fact, I can easily imagine a storyline involving Fezmir and crew that has absolutely nothing to do with those pesky kids (no points for that one, it's too easy).

So far, the bad guys aren't as fully fleshed out, but their story keeps coming to you in bits and pieces. There's great promise there, so I remain hopeful.

On to technical matters. The sound quality is good, and there is no subscription cost. The music is only ok. Sometimes the theme music really grates on my nerves, and other times I'm like, "that's not too bad". I haven't caught myself humming it yet, although I think it's right on the edge of becoming an earworm.

Each episode gets better as far as sound effects, both in number and quality. Low point: jogging through leaves. It sounds pretty much like running for your life through leaves. Most everything else though has been good, and there are a few really outstanding sound effects that have been used.

The production schedule calls for new episodes to be released every two weeks, and they're sticking to it despite some unexpected turnover among the production crew.

Extras. Their website is pretty cool, and just chock full of those little internetty doo-dads and gimcracks that I hate so much. Despite that, you can ignore the cuteness and you'll find that it's very easy to get around. It does look and act differently in IE vs Firefox, just so you know.

There are forums to explore, and a nifty journal where you get a glimpse into the behind-the-scenes work. I thought the posts on creating the sound effects were particularly interesting.

They've got a small shop to buy podcast related stuff, so far limited to "Work, Stupid Magic" stickers and buttons. Very cool, and even better after you listen and are in on the joke. They've promised more in the near future.

As an extra little bonus, these folks posted an episode of Captain Laserbeard and his Gamma Raiders! It's... odd. And funny. I mean, who doesn't love space pirates, arggh? A snippet of this show airs as background noise in one scene of the first episode.

On my last review I had a guest with me, our zombie friend Bub. The idea proved to be popular (typical comment: "More Undead, Less Ted!"), so I decided to ask another beloved movie character to rate Second Shift.

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Looks like a big "thumbs up" from here!

If you like fantasy, you'll enjoy Second Shift. If you like character driven stories, you'll enjoy Second Shift. If you like Cary Grant, you'll enjoy Second Shift. You were paying attention, right? If you are intrigued by podcasts or the golden age of radio, you'll enjoy Second Shift.

Don't be Abby Something-or-other, go give Second Shift a try.

Posted by: Ted at 04:57 AM | category: Cult Flicks
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