Until last year, I couldn’t have told you what exactly a Podcast was. I had heard the term used before, but it was always something I wasn’t apart of, a thing other, more knowledgable people listened to. Since I hate being left out of the loop, I finally decided to start listening to podcasts last year.
And I love it.
It’s radio for the Internet. That’s it. Like how you would listen to a station in your car, but instead there are episodes of certain shows to listen to, tailor made to certain hobbies and other interesting things, often with better quality than the radio. It’s through this medium that people have decided to make radio fictions, or serialized radio dramas (like Little Orphan Annie but modern). It’s a great way to tell a spooky or dramatic story.
And so, we have Tanis. Now that the first season just finished, it’s time to take a look at the show through a critical lens.
Tanis is produced by the fictional studio Pacific Northwest Stories (PNWS), based out of Seattle. There, they produce The Black Tapes Podcast, and more recently, Tanis. Both shows share the same cast of characters and dwell in the same fictional universe, but follow two different story lines with two different main characters. After season two of The Black Tapes has ended, I’m sure I’ll be talking about them too, but for now, we’ll focus on Tanis.
If one thing can be said about the show, they had a strong first episode. It’s an excellent hook, and the premise alone is what kept me listening through to the end of the season. Tanis represents one of the last great mysteries in the modern world, and the producer for PNWS, Nic Silver, dedicates himself to revealing the truth about the age old myth. Nick provides an engaging narration for the opening and introduces the other major character, Meerkatnip (MK), as his sidekick in uncovering the legend of Tanis.
I would also like to add that I don’t buy the criticism that the show mirrors a lot of aspects from Serial in the way it’s delivered to the audience. I love Serial, and I say to people who want to make a show similar, even if it’s fiction, it’s hard to re-invent the wheel. The cast of Serial do a great job of writing for the show, and it’s obvious why it’s so popular. It makes for a great way to tell a story, so why can’t it be used for other things? It’s not like Ira Glass has the formula trademarked, people can make the show however they want. I thought it made the story very engaging.
At least, when it was good.
The Devil’s in the Details
For me, there were a lot of characters for the show. A lot of different people are related in small, tangental ways to what’s going on and people add little bits and pieces to the larger puzzle.
Now, that wouldn’t be a problem, if perhaps any of those people could act. When the mystery is really deep and people are acting effected and human, the show is really great. Most of the time, people are just kind of talking to one another, using a normal inside voice. If you want people to be invested in a drama that’s entirely listened to, your actors have to really sell the voice they’re using to describe emotions. The best character by far would have to be MK, who at least sells her character as an annoyed hacktivist being dragged along for the adventure. Most other people just sound like they could be talking about anything, like the weather or something they saw on TV, even when its about the fabric of reality or cults of Tanis.
No Silver Lining
The worst perpetrator of this is Nic Silver himself.
It makes listening to the show hard. On the one hand, you want to know the nature of the mystery (at least I do). On the other, you’re stuck with Nic for the majority of the time. Despite the fact that he’s getting closer to something powerful and much larger than him, he tends to sound unaffected by what’s happening around him. It’s a bit of a bait and switch from the first episode, which he voiced very well while outlining the first pieces of the mystery. He sounds passionate and dramatic and it’s good stuff. But when that’s over and the show mostly consists of him interviewing people to figure out what they know. Here I will present a sample of the brilliantly written dialogue (paraphrased somewhat).
MK: Hey I found something on the deep interwebs.
Nic: Okay let’s hear it.
MK: Tanis is in the Pacific Northwest somewhere.
Nic: The Pacific Northwest?
MK: Yea, that thing I just said. Somewhere in the forest, probably in Washington State.
Nic: Wait, so you’re saying Tanis might be found somewhere in the forest in Washington State?
MK: Uh… Yea. That is what I said.
Nic: O-okay. Cool. Let me know when you find some-
MK: Sure bye now. *hangs up skype call*
Nic: MK? Oh, okay.
(MK will hang up on Nic on almost every call they have together. Why is he always surprised when it happens, like he’s not expecting it???)
If you think that’s silly, try having an exchange like that at least once every single episode, sometimes more. The two of them are supposed to have witty banter, and he’s supposed to be inquisitive as an investigator of this mystery. That doesn’t mean just asking people to repeat everything they say, and then repeating back to them what they said as a question. That doesn’t clarify anything, it just makes you sound like an idiot who isn’t listening.
Furthermore, for claiming to really like mysteries, Nic is really out of his league here. He never makes any assertions of his own, all of the things he comes to learn about Tanis are laid out by other people. There never comes a point where Nick is like, “Oh crap, I made a connection between these two pieces of information! This is what’s happening and this is where I should go next!” Instead, MK gives him a piece of data that relates back to something we learned earlier, maybe in a previous episode. Nic then goes and talks to someone related with that information, and is either denied the info, or someone else just spells it out for him exactly what the connection is because he can’t see it. That’s not good dialogue, and that’s not the way to write a mystery. Figure something out on your own for once! Tell other people what it is you found and make it work for you. What you’re doing doesn’t make the mystery anymore interesting, it just makes it harder to listen to you for the whole season.
Showing some emotion would be nice too. Nic just seems to walk off things that happen in his life, even when they’re mind-bending or dangerous. He’s literally drugged by the cult of Tanis and almost taken hostage when MK saves him, and he just sort of keeps on going like its no big deal and it didn’t really effect him. That’s right, he wasn’t in any real danger, it really wasn’t a huge deal. Even when he finally gets a glimpse of Tanis, something that has driven those before him literally insane, he just kind of talks about it later like he can’t really remember what happened and doesn’t have to change his voice or tone.
Stop being a robot. This is crazy shit and a cool premise. It would be a lot better if I thought it was actually effecting you in some significant way. Be human.
All that aside, I did listen all the way through to the end. Tanis did have its clever moments, so there is definitely some thought going into the production of this show. I like how it ended and I thought the last episode was better than many of the others before. Hopefully, they take a long look at what happened during the first season and make some adjustments. People shouldn’t be walking away from this unscathed. And so I say this to you, Tanis…