March 07, 2008

Podcast Adulation II

Black Jack Justice
produced by Decoder Ring Theatre

Since I've started taking a longish train commute every day, I've become a rather avid devourer of podcasts. Reading on the train is great too, but on days when I have only gotten a few hours of sleep (far too many days), it's nice to be able to rest my eyes and just listen. Since a large portion of my ride is underground, music sometimes gets swamped (or at least the subtleties of it do, and I like the subtleties) by ambient noises, and rather than enjoy it in a John Cage way, I'd rather listen to some people talking for a while.

Which brings me to radio play podcasts. If you've read here a while, you know I'm a fan of the hard-boiled detective fiction, and it probably won't surprise you to know that I like listening to old radio serials from the 40s and early 50s - Sam Spade, Phillip Marlowe, et al. Really fun and excellent stuff, and the podcast medium is quite perfectly suited for it.

There are a small number of groups out there performing new radio plays for podcast, but by far my favorite is Black Jack Justice, produced by a Canadian outfit called Decoder Ring Theatre. It's a detective show in 30-minute self-contained episodes, centering around private eye partners named Jack Justice and Trixie Dixon, who investigate the seamy underbelly of midcentury Toronto.

For me, the tone is pitch-perfect. If you've ever heard the later Sam Spade broadcasts done on NBC radio in the 50s, you'll recognize the combination of pulpy action, broad but wry humor, winking self-awareness, and attention to character. I'm impressed with how very few stylistic accomodations need to be made for this format and style to fit contemporary understandings of gender roles, the social contract, etc.

The writing is ridiculously sharp throughout - obviously someone's labor of love - in plot arc, character development, dramatic pacing, and fast-paced witty dialogue. The actors really strike the perfect tenor for this kind of endeavor too, playing it just larger-than-life enough without going into the kind of self-mockery that can ruin enjoyment. Voice acting is a real lost art, and it's great to see it making a comeback in this new medium.

Tremendously entertaining stuff, which you should give a listen to on their website, or get from itunes.

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