PODCAST REVIEW: BLACKOUT
Legend has it that the 1938 Halloween radio broadcast of Orson Welles‘ THE WAR OF THE WORLDS caused widespread panic, with people genuinely believing and fearing that the world was being invaded by aliens. While inciting mass terror is not necessarily the desired outcome, one could argue that the very real fear the broadcast evoked in people is a testament to the power of episodic radio as a storytelling and entertainment medium. Those immersive qualities felt by audiences still run strong, if not stronger due to the technological advancements and personalized delivery of audio dramas as they stand today. Back then the family waited with bated breath to gather round the radio to tune in, today you can throw on some headphones and listen where you want, when you want.
The latest scripted audio drama to hit the podcast scene is BLACKOUT, a doomsday scenario thriller created, written and produced by author Scott Conroy. The podcast is also produced by Academy Award winner Rami Malek who lends his credible acting skills to the project as the lead protagonist and narrator of the story.
Berlin, a small city in New Hampshire, is thrust into chaos when the entire U.S power grid is mysteriously shut down. As social structures crumble without access to power, local DJ Simon Itani (Rami Malek) takes matters into his own hands to protect his family and keep the community together. Some intriguing questions are raised- Why is the power down? Who shot at Simon? What was the “national emergency” that was about to be announced on the TV?
Off the bat BLACKOUT throws us into the action with a pilot’s mayday call as he suddenly loses control of his plane and crashes. We hear the entire ordeal with crisp sound effects that would be at home in a blockbuster Hollywood movie. This amazing level of sound design is what you can expect from BLACKOUT in its entirety, with award winning sound designer Brandon Jones (A QUIET PLACE, PET SEMATARY) holding the reins.
It’s a surreal feeling hearing things come crashing down while on your morning commute (as I did), or wherever else you choose to listen to it. Every moment of the story has its corresponding sound, from footsteps to gunshots. Talk about making the most of a medium!
The message behind BLACKOUT is a familiar one, urging us to fight against the internet/technology addiction epidemic. To actively engage in human interaction and experience authentic connections over being tethered to our phones. It asks us to consider that perhaps if we were less reliant on technology then maybe we will all be more prepared for a large scale blackout, should it ever happen. Simon jokes that people are “Snapchatting each other from the same room, while watching TV with some speed metal cranked, running a blow dryer and microwave at the same time just for kicks” Painting a comical image of the glut of technology we have become so accustomed to using and abusing.
Some of the dialogue does come off kind of trite, with ‘millennial’ and ‘small town’ clichés abound. You can’t help but notice the things you don’t like in a script when it is the main storytelling vehicle for both the imagery and dialogue.
Despite these small discrepancies in the script, the delivery of it is flawless. Malek is comforting to hear as we listen to him soothe the town over the airways. It’s an authentic portrayal of an average guy thrust into responsibility. Malek is backed by a talented cast of actors including Chloe Brooks, Seychelle Gabriel and T.C Carter who all give solid performances as the rest of the Itani family.
The first 4 episodes of BLACKOUT are currently available on Endeavor Audio, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts and other podcasting networks. You can listen to them in anticipation of episode 5, which airs Tuesday April 9th and then every Tuesday until its episode 8 finale on April 30th.
“BLACKOUT offers up flawless delivery, great performances and crisp sound effects that would be at home on a blockbuster Hollywood movie.”
3.5 Tombstones out of 5…