Over the last couple of months, I’ve gotten several press releases about the Blackout podcast (presented by Endeavor Audio & QCode!), produced and starring Rami Malek. A number of friends have also told me that they’ve been listening to it. Clearly, the press team behind the podcast is doing a great job of marketing it. However, whenever I asked those friends, “How is it?” they have all remained noncommittal. “It’s OK,” or “I haven’t finished it yet. I’ll tell you when the season is over.”
Having now listened to the entire season, I understand why they’d be noncommital. It’s one of those fictional storylines that provides the impression that something interesting or revelatory is right around the corner, or in the very next episode, but the big shocking, mindblowing moment never really arrives. The podcast, however, does an exceptional job of stringing the listener along, and even now — having completed the first season — I have every intention to listen to the second season, because I still feel like, “It’s about to get really good!”
The story itself has echoes of Limetown, but it’s performed more like one of those old radio shows. It’s like a television series being performed audibly with a big cast of characters. In fact, Scott Conroy originally wrote a pilot with a lot of the same ideas for television but ended up translating it into an audio show. Basically, when it opens, the town of Berlin, New Hampshire, has lost power and — after a guy shoots out a cell phone tower — the ability to communicate with the rest of the world, which also appears to have lost all power. However, a radio DJ (played by Rami Malek) still has access to the small town’s radio station, which works on a generator. The DJ provides the town with basically the only information it receives.
The story quickly morphs into a sort of a post-apocalyptic Lord of the Flies meets The Village (maybe?). People quarrel over the limited resources; some townspeople lose it in what is something of a lawless community; and there are outbreaks of violence. Some of the events, coincidentally, are strikingly similar to what’s going on in Netflix’s The Society, including the fact that one woman — who runs the general store — anoints herself as the leader of the town and holds a trial after a murder. She also tries to control the flow of information through the radio station in order to bend the townspeople to her will.
The bigger and far more interesting story, frankly, is the conspiracy behind the blackout. Why did the country lose power? Who is behind it, and to what end? The show provides very few answers to those questions in the first season, which is how it so successfully strings us along. Although, based on the rest of the storytelling, I feel like we might be in for an inevitable letdown.
Rami Malek and the rest of the voice cast are phenomenal. Scott Conroy does an admirable job of putting the listener into the scene without providing a narrator (although Malek, as the DJ, is able to use the radio station to provide some exposition). I don’t deny, however, that the periodic commercial breaks to advertise Sonos are annoying. Sonos is a wireless speaker company, and the ads will break into the action to remind us repeatedly that listening to Blackout on a Sonos will “intensify the overall listening experience,” which might be true if the ads didn’t grind the listening experience to a halt every seven or eight minutes.
Still, it’s worth recommending, if only for the novelty of this kind of storytelling done in the podcast format, which allows you to basically listen to a TV show while you’re cooking dinner, even if it is a TV show you’re more likely to watch on CBS than FX. The first season is relatively short, too; it’s eight episodes at around 25 minutes each, and much of that is either ads, previously ons, or credits — a second season could be significantly improved by releasing it all at once, as a continuous episode.
Header Image Source: Endeavor Audio