Occasionally, instead of following up on one of the many recommendations I get for fiction podcasts, I like to search the various internet dials and see what pops up. One such result was
The Truth is a series of short stories, directed and produced by Jonathan Mitchell, an audio veteran whose C.V. includes WNYC Radio, This American Life and RadioLab.
These “movies for your ears” are described as “sometimes dark, sometimes funny, and always intriguing. Each story is different.”
Having heard a number of episodes, I concur. The last episode I heard was about… well, it's called The Man in the Barn, and was recorded on location in Ireland. I won't spoil it for you but it's a far cry from the first episode I ever heard;
Eat Cake features a random encounter – a chance conversation – between two people who find common ground over a coconut cake.
And that's the thing about The Truth: the stories, as well as being intriguing, are all wildly different. Not keen on a particular episode? Coconut cake not your favourite? (You weirdo – coconut cake is amazing). Don't sweat it, because the next episode is about a hypothetical situation where Apollo 11 crashed on the moon! What would the astronauts talk about in their final moments? What could be the cultural ramifications for the USA and the world? It turns out that President Nixon had a speech prepared for the worst case scenario.
Too freaky? Well, here's an episode called False Ending – a satire within an enigma within a film within a radio story! And… on it goes. Each episode is its own entity, joined only by the loose tenet of entertaining by provocation.
I love a good series. naturally. Characters to learn and love. Places to imagine and become familiar with. Story arcs to become invested in and see through… but there's a place in the world for the wildly eclectic, for those brief imaginings of “what if? Those stand-alone ideas that can be told perfectly in one sitting. The Truth makes its home in that place, and may well be King – at least in the audio world.
The productions themselves are wonderfully smooth. The only time the ambient sounds and music will grab your attention is exactly when they need to. Actually, I'm always wary of productions with too much music and noise, when the background floods the story. Usually because producers can't resist putting on layer after layer like an ambitious birthday cake drowning in decoration.
Indeed, this anthology could almost be called, “Nothing But The Truth,” from a production point of view. It gives you everything you need and wastes nothing.
The same goes for the writing – the stories themselves are short in length because they more or less get to the point with some well-honed narration plonking us directly into the thick of things. Concise and deliberate. “What if X happened? Well, here it is – cue dialogue.”
Thought-invoking, of course, and intriguing, but that comes from the great ideas they start with – not all of which are their own, granted, but they obviously choose the stories they use because of their suitability for audio. Telephone conversations. Stranded astronauts. Always intimate and engaging.
The thing that will surely put me off a production is poor acting, be it the fault of the actors themselves or – more often – poor writing. For that reason, The Truth takes a special place in my heart, because it was the first audio fiction podcast where I thought, “Wow, they sound real! They sound like they're having a real conversation! I'm listening to real people and I love it!”
Okay, a lot of people normally opt for a decent series to wrap their ears around. The evidence is that reality-based audio drama series' are lighting up the airwaves at the moment, with productions like The Black Tapes and Serial racking up millions of downloads. I've heard them, and I like them enough, but they can occasionally feel tired, formulaic and repetitive, frankly.
They certainly can't compare to this anthology – and that's the truth.
Do you have a favourite audio drama or fiction podcast you'd like to see featured here? Drop me a line in the comments box below.
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