I’m starting to feel like I’ll never stop talking about this stuff.
I know I’ve railed on and on about Tanis and its numerous problems, even sworn to stop listening once or thrice. But there’s just something about the material that always pulls me back. Even the occasional subpar writing, the full phonebook of forgettable side characters, and a sometimes hard to listen to narrator can’t keep me out for long. It always reels me back in. At this point, Nic Silver and the gang at PNWS just feel like siblings – insufferable at times, but family nonetheless.
So when PNWS said they were coming teased a new show with the same characters, but for a different story unrelated to Tanis, I was already interested. Unlike the other shows the studio has produced, The Last Movie released all of its episodes at once for maximum binge-worthiness, for which I applaud. I listened to the whole thing in two days, and couldn’t help but the thing about the relationship between the two shows. Is one better to listen to than the other? If so, why?
For the purposes of talking about these two shows, a short history lesson might be necessary to talk about both shows with confidence. Pacific Northwest Stories, now the Public Radio Alliance, began making shows out of the Pacific Northwest about strange happenings out there. Headed by the narrator, Nic Silver, and his various teammates, the various shows produced by the studio all inhabit the same fictional world, with some of the characters making cameos in the other shows as various characters work to solve their own mysteries. Tanis was the second show produced and follows the Nic as he tries to discover what exactly is Tanis, a sort of final frontier of mystery in the modern world that may either lead to salvation or insanity.
One of the episodes in Tanis wanted to connect the titular MacGuffin to something referred to as The Last Movie, an internet urban legend about a film so horrific, it drove anyone who watched even parts of it to acts of brutal violence and suicide. One can only surmise that the premise of that was so interesting that they wanted to make a spin-off entirely devoted to that premise, which I can’t fault them for. It really is interesting stuff.
So, are there benefits to one over the other?
Immediately, I can say for those who didn’t like Tanis for the many reasons I’ve discussed in the past, there is a much better chance that you would enjoy LM(Last Movie). The first season of Tanis is arguably the best and LM feels very much like that first season. Tanis has been going on long enough to have a phonebook’s worth of side characters, many of them forgettable. LM’s characters all seem to fit together for the narrative and there are substantially fewer threads to piece together by the end of the season.
It may even be better than the first season of Tanis, for now the team at PRA have already hit their stride. The production quality is consistent and the voice actors have been portraying the characters long enough to have a thorough understanding of who they are and how they will react in stressful situations.
Tanis feels like something a group of people came up with together, with a lot of various ideas and threads that all had to get played out later. It’s not a bad thing by any means, but because there’s no analog for something like Tanis outside of the fiction, the nebulous nature of Tanis becomes its greatest weakness, as well as its strength. Working with established internet lore, however loose, allows for a more consistent set of goals for the team to pursue. It makes the show easier to follow when the stakes are set out so clearly and it shows just how much the studio can accomplish when they have something more concrete to chase after.
A Horse is a Horse
That being said…
Though the show is certainly more consistent than Tanis, LM does follow some of the same conventions as its predecessor, for better and for worse. This includes narrated action, which always pulls me out of what’s happening, even when I see it coming. When the characters are explaining some verse in a book or creepypasta style article, the writing really sings. When something strange happens to the characters in real time, however, there’s always a cutaway/mic failure/strange occurrence that KOs the audio equipment, leaving Nic to narrate what it was that happened at some later time, after the danger’s already passed. I understand it involves work and time and budget and more expensive actors to make those scenes, but when compared to shows like Limetown or Alice Isn’t Dead, the quality and performance really come through. I hate jumpscares as much as the next person who likes scary things without being startled, but sometimes, it’s necessary. There should be stakes for the audience listening as well as the cast – it’s pretty creepy and when it’s not overused, having people get real and act actually terrified of what’s happening around them ensures a constant state of dread as well as enforces the legitimacy of the threat.
LM makes a point of telling the audience they don’t need to have listened to Tanis to understand and enjoy the show, and they’re not wrong. But if you’re like me, there is something to be said about spending more time with characters you’ve already been invested in for a while. MK steals the show once again, securing her title as perhaps the best actor/actress the studio has on payroll. Her character is always consistent, she gets the best lines and can actually make the audience feel nervous for her when some serious stuff starts to go down. If Tanis were written more with her in mind – Hell, even with her as the main character – I could see a lot more people liking it.
Despite my misgivings for either show, I can’t help myself anymore. There’s just something endearing about the whole project – no matter how I feelt about PRA, it’s clear that the team really cares about the work they do. There’s something to be said there. Listening to LM gave me a new respect for the studio. When they have some concrete peice of lore to work with, its inspiring what they can create. It certainly managed to give me chills, always a good sign for me.
It’s not perfect, but if you get chills from abandoned cabins in dark, misty woods – or a legend about a mysterious tape that drives the viewer insane – there really is no better game in town than PRA and The Last Movie, even if you don’t like Tanis.