Exploring Audio Dramas: From Quiet, Please to Limetown

Lately I’ve been looking for new ways to occupy my time during dinner. Usually I like to watch “TV” (on my computer — I haven’t owned an actual television in years), but I’ve been trying to save money on streaming services like Netflix, especially since there isn’t much on said services I really want to see at the moment.

The Broadcast mission in The Secret WorldThis past October I had the idea for a seasonally appropriate diversion. One of my favourite ever pieces of content in The Secret World was the Halloween mission “The Broadcast,” which involved a series of haunted radios. Exorcising all nine radios awarded the player with an in-game item they could use to listen to the audio dramas playing on the radios at any time.

It’s an incredibly cool idea, but I’d never really gotten around to sitting down and listening to them, with the exception of the famous Orson Welles War of the Worlds broadcast. I suppose the idea of radio plays just seemed a bit quaint in this day and age, though I now regret that rather narrow-minded view.

At any rate, this year I decided to finally dig out my Paranormal Shortwave and listen to the remaining eight dramas. They were a bit hit and miss, and some really haven’t aged well, but on the whole it proved a surprisingly enjoyable experience.

It takes a little getting used to, but once you become accustomed to the lack of visual stimuli, it’s amazing how easy it is to get lost in the stories. There’s something deeply immersive about pure audio.

My two favourites of the dramas I listened to in TSW (Northern Lights and The Thing on the Fourble Board) were both from a show called Quiet, Please. They were delightfully surrealistic pieces of Lovecraftian horror.

I find there’s something about the audio format that makes horror much more palatable for me. Normally I’m not much of a horror fan, my delirious love for TSW notwithstanding. But as I’ve talked about before, I do enjoy horror that can create a sense of ambiance. Something that’s spooky, rather than scary.

Audio is less immediate and yet somewhat paradoxically more immersive than most other forms of fiction, and that hits a perfect sweet spot for delivering the kind of ambient experience I seek from horror.

My positive experiences with Quiet, Please and the other dramas in TSW left me wanting more. I was already peripherally aware that the audio drama format is undergoing something of a low key renaissance and that there were many free audio dramas online, so I began researching them.

When I looked for recommendations, one name came up over and over: Limetown.

An official banner for the podcast drama LimetownFrom its description, I took Limetown to be a supernatural mystery in the vein of TSW, and I jumped on it. I’ve spent the last few weeks getting caught up, and I’ve now enjoyed every episode of the two seasons that have been produced so far.

Limetown blew me away out of the gate. The voice acting, the mystery, and the sheer ambiance of it was just impeccable. It’s strange to praise the sound design of an audio drama since sound design is basically all it is, but still, the sound design of Limetown is flawless. The subtle background sounds and foley effects put you in the moment so brilliantly.

I think it’s fascinating that at no point has Limetown given any significant physical description of its main character, Lia Haddock, yet I can picture her perfectly in my mind.

I will say that as time went on my love for Limetown did wain a bit. Going in, I was worried it would be another story where questions keep getting piled on without any answers, but it actually ended up being the opposite extreme. Limetown is perhaps a bit too quick to offer answers and resolve its big questions.

Also, I found it slowly became less about the speculative elements of the story and gravitated more towards being a simple thriller a la Jason Bourne or its ilk. As a sci-fi/fantasy nerd, that disappointed me.

That being said, it’s still pretty damn good. All the praise above regarding voice acting and sound design remains true throughout, and it never fails to be a thrilling, intense story. It might not have 100% lived up to the promise of its first few episodes, but at the end of the day I’ve only downgraded Limetown from “absolute masterpiece” to “pretty good and definitely worth your time.”

There’s no word yet on if there will be a third season of Limetown, but I certainly hope for one. The story is there, waiting to be told.

The producers seem to have ambitions to make this a whole franchise. There’s already a prequel novel (which I will probably read at some point), and in theory there’s supposed to be a TV series at some point (on Facebook of all places).

For my part, I need to find a new audio drama to listen to.

I feel silly for not pursuing the idea long ago. As I said, I have been aware of audio dramas for some time. I produced* a short series of them when I was a teenager, for Pete’s sake, and I’ve also listened to Blizzard’s forays into the medium with its audio Legion tie-ins.

*(By which I mean did very little and somehow got nearly all of the credit.)

Well, better late than never. Now, I understand the appeal. Now, I have heard the future.

(Limetown fans will understand that last bit.)

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Review: Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

I almost didn’t bother seeing this movie. The various controversies surrounding the film, and especially Johnny Depp, left a very sour taste in my mouth, and I started to feel as if paying to watch it would be a violation of my own values.

The poster for Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of GrindelwaldBut perhaps my values aren’t so ironclad, because here we are. Hey, I loved the original.

In an attempt to balance my karma and/or assuage my guilty conscience, I did make a $10 donation to the North York Women’s Shelter. If anyone else is feeling similarly conflicted, I’d recommend making a similar donation to a charity in their community.

Anyway, on to the movie.

As I said above, I was very impressed by the last Fantastic Beasts movie. It provided a surprisingly dark and powerful tale with far more depth than I anticipated. Crimes of Grindelwald is perhaps not quite so impressive, but I still enjoyed it.

Once again, my expectations were defied. With a title like “Crimes of Grindelwald,” I was expecting an action-packed, Empire Strikes Back style tour de force. Instead, the experience is much more introspective and character-driven.

The theme of Crimes seems to be the wizarding world choosing sides. Grindelwald is marshaling his army, and people must choose to either stand with him, or against him. This takes place both on a grand, societal scale and a more intimate scale as the cast — including all the main characters from last time plus a few new faces — also must begin to take sides.

I don’t want to say too much, but you should expect to be surprised by how some characters choose to place their loyalties. I sure as hell was.

Newt Scamander and Albus Dumbledore in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of GrindelwaldThe cast of Crimes of Grindelwald is both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness.

On the one hand, every character is once again excellent, both in terms of writing and acting. Even Newt’s started to grow on me.

Much as it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth, I must give special praise to Johnny Depp, who absolutely nails Grindelwald’s dark charisma. The cartoonish evil of Voldemort this is not; as sinister as he is, Grindelwald is a man I can believe people would want to follow.

However, there is a downside. The cast has become quite bloated. On top of all the characters from the first movie, quite a number of new ones have been added, and while they’re also good characters played by talented actors, there just isn’t enough time in the movie to give every character their due. It’s spread too thin.

As a devoted Tina fanboy, I was particularly distressed by how small her role in this movie was. She’s hardly there, and she doesn’t contribute anything of value to the story. Honestly, she doesn’t need to be included at all. It would be almost exactly the same movie without her.

Aside from that issue, though, Crimes of Grindelwald is another surprisingly dark and thoughtful movie that is worth your time if your morals are as evidently flexible as mine.

Overall rating: 8.1/10