It was meant to be a lovely night in the Billings mansion. A dinner party stacked with close friends, and accented by eccentrics like tricky magician and a mysterious fortune teller. But when a man turns up dead, polite conversation and canapés are traded for suspicion and dark gossip. This is the premise of the new podcast Deadly Manners. Created by Alex Aldea and Ali Garfinkel, it’s done in the style of an old-school radio drama, and boasts a talented cast that includes Kristen Bell, LeVar Burton, Denis O’Hare, RuPaul, Michelle Visage, and Anna Chlumsky. This excellent ensemble sinks their teeth into a murder mystery told with verve and whimsy.
Bell leads the cast, playing the host of the dinner party Veronica Billings. Her voice spins from Frozen chipper to Good Place strained as the night’s mounting madness wears on the socialite’s cheerful veneer. O’Hare plays her husband, William Billings, who seems to have a wandering eye. His flirtation with a flustered maid sent chills down my spine as the American Horror Story star’s wandering whisper hit my left earbud, then shifted across my neck to my right. It was so authentically the sensation of someone creeping up that I spun on heel in the middle of the grocery store. (The stock boy looked alarmed and confused.)
Visage brings her RuPaul’s Drag Race attitude to the role of Esther Feinstein, a party guest who quickly becomes a suspect when the cards of a fortune teller seem to turn against her. RuPaul brings his breathy bravado to this unnamed psychic. And as he whispers warnings into your headphones, you may grow dizzy. Three episodes in, the whole cast is sensational. But grounding the story and setting the stage is Reading Rainbow’s LeVar Burton, as the bemused narrator. This makes Deadly Manners a perfect companion piece to LeVar Burton Reads, and its murder mystery unfurled with a charismatic voice cast makes it a macabre but charming must-listen for any true crime fan.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Aldea, who directs, produces, and composes the music for Deadly Manners, said of her and Garfunkel’s creation, “We wanted to do an old school audio drama that was pure entertainment, where the audience can get out of their heads for a minute, relax and enjoy themselves. It’s a crazy world we are living in right now, and people are reacting in extremes. Deadly Manners is like classic Clue fun.”
Frankly, I couldn’t say it better myself.
Listen to Deadly Manners for free here, or anywhere you get your podcasts.