Wednesday, March 09, 2016

A Squeeze of Lime

I'm a year late to the party, but I've recently taken up listening to the breakout podcast Serial. (Perhaps because I'm only coming to it now, I'm enjoying season 2 just as much as season 1, which seems to be a rare opinion.) Serial in turn has breadcrumbed me into other things to occupy my regular commute. And that's how I came to discover Limetown.

Limetown is a podcast by Skip Bronkie and Zack Akers, widely described as "Serial meets The X-Files," and I can't imagine a tighter or more accurate explanation. It's the fictional story of a public radio journalist's investigation into a bizarre and unexplained tragedy. All 300+ people living in a cloistered town/research facility went missing after a mysterious disaster, leaving only questions behind. What was going on in Limetown? What happened to all its inhabitants?

The podcast unfolds over six full-length episodes (with several extra two- or three-minute interstitial segments peppered throughout). Though it starts off very deeply in the mode of a "fictional Serial," it quickly and increasingly morphs into something of an old-time radio drama. The production values are solid, with pretty of background sounds to sell the reality, and well-deployed music to heighten the suspense.

The story will be instantly engrossing to anyone who has ever been hooked by the ongoing story line of a sci-fi TV show: Lost, Battlestar Galactica, or as mentioned before, The X-Files. But Limetown benefits from not having to be open-ended for an undefined number of years. While one could imagine "season one" being followed some day by more episodes, it also works as a stand-alone tale. Each episode brings new answers to your questions, and by the end of all, you certainly feel that you know what happened in Limetown.

But compelling as the story is, it wouldn't be nearly as successful were it not for solid acting from a surprisingly gifted cast -- better than you might expect could be pulled together for a podcast (that at least started out small time). Most episodes involve the main journalist character (Lia Haddock) interviewing a single subject with new information to reveal. So it generally falls on a single performer to carry lengthy monologues, walking the line between plausible conversation and dramatically heightening the fiction. And while there are moments here and there where you feel the performance sail a bit over-the-top, those moments never really feel out of line with the atmosphere of "conspiracy dramas" you've no doubt seen on film or television. As a whole, the acting really works.

I suppose there might not be anything radically different or revelatory about Limetown. But it's a quite well-executed spooky mystery story. I give it a B+. If you're into podcasts or audiobooks, it's definitely worth a listen.

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