One Pod, Two Pod
For those few who are unaware, I wrote something about this many months ago on this blog about my problems with the TANIS podcast. Things could have been better with just a few small changes and some awareness, and for a “scary” podcast, it wasn’t scary. The first episode was amazing and interesting, but as soon as characters start to become important, Things Fall Apart (Chinua Achebe).
But damn it I didn’t want it to be good. Take something vague and spooky and make it into some kind of overarching mystery about the nature of the universe. Sign me up. Thus, I found myself looking for something to fill the void that TANIS left in another podcast. This was what steered me to Rabbits.
It had all the right moves. Kinda weird show icon, weird premise, a solid first episode. Couldn’t hit that subscribe button fast enough, hoping it wouldn’t take a downhill turn.
But there was something else bothering me about Rabbits. It’s pretty early when I’m driving to work in the morning, but I’m sharp. There was just something so familiar about the show, and I had a hard time putting my finger on it. I knew that the premise sounded a little like TANIS, which had been the point. There’s a centuries old game played by people around the world that involves solving some great puzzle. Win, and you become part of something much larger and gain hidden knowledge. Lose… no one ever hears from the losers again. Sounds great to me.
But the opening felt the same. The narration was better, but that kinda felt the same. There didn’t appear to be any sign of the PNWS logo anywhere on the podcast, which is the studio that connects The Black Tapes and TANIS in the same canonical universe.
So imagine my surprise when Carly, the main character for Rabbits, describes how her company, APR, was an off shoot of PNWS, and they had forgone using the logo on the podcast’s icon…
I got catfished, which was made even more apparent when Nic Silver, the main character from TANIS, made a cameo on the show.
It’s not the worst thing to ever happen – honestly I thought it was hilarious. I just can’t get away from it, you think you’re out and they reel you right back in. Many things about the two shows are similar, including their shared universe. Yet, so far, I have enjoyed Rabbits far more than TANIS in almost every way. How could that be, when the two are just so similar?
First thing’s pretty easy.
TANIS was so complex it’s almost impossible to listen without having a spreadsheet open, detailing all of the character names and their connections to the plot. There are just so many threads only tangential to the plot, and all of their voices sound the same its hard to distinguish between them.
On that front, Rabbits has proven to be a little bit better. Carly is a much better narrator flat out, her voice acting is much easier to listen to. She sounds like things can affect her, and even when she’s having conversations, it at least sounds like she’s trying, rather than the two emotions Nic Silver tried and failed to portray on his own show. There’s a range, and it’s obvious she cares, and that really helps.
So far, the plot hasn’t been bogged down with too many threads. Of course, they love threads in this universe, so that could change, but the voice actors seem to be pulling their weight more than they ever did on TANIS. That alone is enough to make it better.
The Fatal Flaw
Listening to Rabbits helped me realize the one true weakness in the plot of TANIS. Because they wanted the idea of TANIS, a sort of universal truth or forbidden knowledge, to be anything or anyone, everything felt too vague. True, it made the thought of finding TANIS that much more difficult, which works in the show’s favor, but it also means you can be bogged down with all of these other ideas that don’t go anywhere. If they had some kind of idea for where they were going with the plot, it feels like they lost that a long time ago. It seems like they wanted the show to generate interest and have the audience crowd source a solution they could write into the show later. Essentially, they could crowd source the solution for TANIS, which they didn’t know from the outset of the show. Not the best play.
But Rabbits is something more tangible. It’s the same rub – an esoteric game, played over many centuries through different iterations, that uses the real world as its playing field and people as its pieces. Just with that, we have something more than TANIS ever gave us, there’s structure. The idea of a game is something we can relate to, something we can follow. And by listening to the podcast, you’re essentially playing the ARG with the characters in the show.
What’s more, there are actual stakes from the outset. Carly is actively looking for someone whom she lost playing the game, someone she cares about. All Nic wanted to do was solve a mystery he thought was interesting, since apparently he was an expert on esoteric internet mysterious and yet somehow he never makes any connections for himself or makes any of his own progress. It defies the description of his own character. Carly has to find someone – that much we can understand.
What’s more, she’s not some genius. She’s a reporter, but she’s learning things as she goes. She also seems capable of solving puzzles on her own, or with only a little bit of help, which was more than Nic could ever do. It makes her character feel intelligent, which was the whole point.
Rabbits has yet to screw itself up in the way TANIS did. Check it out and hope they don’t start pulling the same stupid crap they did with their other shows. Don’t screw me, Nic Silver. Don’t do it.
The Other Pod
The other reason I actually wrote something for the blog was the other podcast I listened to. S-Town, or Shit-Town, as it’s actually called (I’m not joking or making a point, that’s really what the show is called) released all of its episodes at once so people could binge listen to them. It comes from the same people who did Serial, which for those out of the know, kinda changed things in the podcast world. There was pre-Serial, and we’re now living in a post-Serial world. It was so engaging and refreshing, a real show of what you could do with the medium and how you could get people to listen. Hell, both of the previous podcasts are playing off of her style, just in a place where conspiracy theories are real. Thus, if Serial was going to make something, you’re for damn sure I was going to listen.
Was it as good as Serial?
A Different Beast
Short answer, no.
But that’s okay, it’s hard to beat what Serial had to offer. Sarah Koenig is a tough voice to beat; her writing was what made the show so wonderful. That, and there was actively a mystery trying to be solved.
S-Town is narrated and written by Brian Regan. He’s no Sarah (who could be), but he does an excellent job for the show. He has emotional stakes in what’s happening, and there’s a great hook. An antique clock maker calls him from Shit Town, Alabama asking him to investigate a murder.
You have my attention.
But when you think the show is going to be about another investigation, it ends up being more than that. The only thing I can really say is for people to listen to it and see for themselves. All of the episodes are out, there’s an interesting story there with emotional stakes that actually had me a little misty eyed. I didn’t have a bunch to say about the show, but I wanted to say something. I didn’t think it would fit into its own article without spoiling things, so thank you to Rabbits for providing the body here.
Listen to them both, tell me what you think. Hell, listen to TANIS and see if you find something there. You can only get a sense for the failure if you experience it for yourself.