Every week, a GG staffer will give a little love to one of their current obsessions. This week: Matt loves the old-timey schtick of the Thrilling Adventure Hour.
Over the past few years, I've become a hopeless comedy podcast junkie. It started with Comedy Bang Bang (then Comedy Death Ray Radio) and my habit has only expanded from there. I reached critical mass a while ago (I am subscribed to about 15 shows currently) and had to cut myself off; no new shows.
And then I tried The Thrilling Adventure Hour.
TAH is a fresh break from the current glut of "one comic, one mic" shows. The podcast consists of recordings of a live monthly show of the same name in Los Angeles, styled after old-time radio dramas but playing everything for comedy. Every episode of the podcast presents a new chapter in one of their numerous serials, hopping back and forth across stories week-to-week.
The concept makes it unique, but the talent behind the show makes it something special. There's a cast of repertory players that includes Paget Brewster, John DiMaggio (voice of Futurama's Bender) and American treasure Paul F. Tompkins. Then there's the guest stars, an amazing collection of actors, comedians and other familiar faces: Nathan Fillion, Colin Hanks, Patton Oswalt, Busy Phillipps, Josh Malina, Justin Kirk, Samm Levine, Kevin Pollack, James Urbaniak and more.
There are two serials that pop up the most, since they are the two mainstays of the live show (and clear favorites in the eyes of the fans and the creators). "Beyond Belief" features Brewster and Tompkins as aloof members of the 1% who also happen to encounter ghosts on a daily basis. Brewster is particularly amazing in this role, both for the affectation she takes on to capture the voice of Sadie Doyle and the zeal with which she delivers the lines, be they simple puns or dry one-liners. Beyond Belief is generally just a fun series, always trotting out solid guest stars and letting everyone have fun being campy.
The other major story is "Sparks Nevada, Marshall On Mars," a western set on the Red Planet that always has more to do with the titular hero's personal life and faults than his skill at law enforcement. Sparks is my favorite offering from TAH, because so much effort and care clearly goes into each episode. They are constantly expanding the universe of the story, developing the characters and using both to keep driving the plot. It hits in that western/sci-fi sweet spot where The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. and Firefly once excelled (Fillion plays a recurring character), and the language of the show is always so sharp and well-honed. The best thing I can say about "Sparks Nevada" is what I first said about Aaron Sorkin's "Sports Night back in the day - it makes me aspire to be a better writer.
Some of the less-frequent features, such as "Captain Laserbeam" (a take on superheroes) and "Down In Moonshine Holler" (the reverse-Cinderella story of a millionaire searching for 'the hobo princess') are clearly more about the performances than the story; the general plot of each episode remains largely unchanged, but that doesn't stop the actors from delivering a line or two that have the crowd roaring. That's why I find the show so enjoyable, because it's clear that this is a collection of people who are having fun with the project. The creators and writers stay reverential to their genre while simultaneously subverting and commenting on it. The actors on stage (all in formal attire, as you can see above) revel in the scripts and take time to chew the scenery, if such a thing is possible in audio form.
The most important thing about my recommendation the Thrilling Adventure Hour: it's less than 30 minutes each week. While everyone else is breaking past the hour mark on a weekly basis, each TAH chapter stays comfortably in the 15-25 minute range, which is perfect for the stories they tell and easy to slip into your regular routine. Give it a shot (start with Sparks Nevada or Beyond Belief, for sure) and see if it grabs you like it grabbed me.
The Thrilling Adventure Hour podcast is available via iTunes or Soundcloud. More information on the show (including live dates in LA) are online at www.thrillingadventurehour.com or on Twitter at @ThrillingAdv.