Tea in the Sahara
Kev – Fiction Podcast Critic
Hello podcast people I start this week’s review with a bit of a self-made confession. I actually listened to about five episodes of ‘Archive 81’ a few years ago, however back then the show never really gelled for me so I just stopped listening. A schoolboy error on my part!
Fast forward to 2022 and Archive 81 is enjoying a Herculean renaissance having recently been converted into a triumphant Netflix series. This streaming frenzy has in turn helped connect new fans to the original podcast making it climb the fiction podcast charts on both sides of the pond.
If you haven’t already guessed it this week guys my review is not covering new ground, more a stroll down memory lane revisiting a classic horror podcast which I hope that you will enjoy.
Launched in 2016 by Dead Signals Archive 81 is a camera-based Blair Witch-style horror podcast that follows two lead characters separated by twenty years time difference, demonstrating time is not linear in this fiction drama. Dan (Daniel Powell), is a temp archivist working in a private outpost restoring severely damaged videotapes retrieved from the Visser building fire.
The Visser building went up in flames in 1994, and in the present Dan is charged with restoring the tapes which were originally filmed by missing joint lead character Melody Pendras (Amelia Kidd). Melody was employed to record & document residents of the New York Visser building. It is these very tapes, Melody’s tapes that Dan is employed to restore, view, and catalogue for the secretive Mr Davenport.
Through Dan’s historical restoration of Melody’s found footage from 1994, we discover that all is not as it seems within the Visser building. Odd residents live on its eighth floor, and hypnotic music plays in the background of the building, and that’s before we chat about the sadistic cult led by its weirdo leader Samuel (Austin Mitchell).
If I do compare some of the actings between both the Netflix show and the original podcast some characters in the podcast outshine its contemporary version. For example, the podcast version of Samuel is ten times more menacing & narcissistic than the trendy bespeckled, cardigan-wearing counterpart within the TV show. And that’s the beauty of pure audio my friends!
Vibe-wise if you are the type who desires your podcast dopamine fix to have a Twilight Zone-style energy to it then congratulations you have just found your next podcast. Be that as it may, the rhythm and pace of Archive 81 can be considered frantic & obscure within certain episodes. Therefore all of this means if you like podcasts to have a simple route-one plotline Archive 81 really won’t be for you. Harsh, but true.
So should you listen to this podcast?
The show’s theme is genius, let’s start there. What the writers (Dan Powell & Marc Sollinger) did back in 2016 was visionary, and lightyears ahead of the horror podcast curve. For me where this podcast excels is listening to Dan unravel like an isolated lighthouse keeper losing his mind within the madness of the tapes. These scenes are awesome making you feel that you can actually hear the cogs turning within Dan’s mind.
The idea to have two characters from two separate timelines interacting within the same podcast space on paper sounds like insanity. I am here to tell you it undeniably works, and you know what the saying is about that short distance between insanity and genius right?
So what made me take an early bath on this podcast back in 2016?
If this podcast’s theme is revolutionary, then sadly it is also its curse by being extremely abstract. The narrative dives back & forth, in & out, and all over the shop making it hard to follow & focus on. At times I found myself rightly confused, losing my place, and constantly trying to work out what was going on! Please don’t hate me podcast lovers, but having viewed the series on Netflix the visual form actually helped with some of the podcast’s more confusing scenes.
Dan’s character within the podcast appears too goofy, naive, almost gullible less introverted and a recluse as he is portrayed in the big-screen version. And don’t even get me started with the rat chasing & befriending scene, the rats squeaking was agonizingly cringe-worthy.
However, (with a capital H) for all of my destain Archive 81 does have all of the hallmarks of a cult classic. I regrettably did not hear this when I first listened back in 2016. But armed with hindsight, a more open mind and Netflix, I have a newer appreciation for this podcast, and by Jove, I now get it.
Scoring time; I will be awarding ‘Archive 81’ a steady-Eddie score of 4/5. Archive 81 will not be everyone’s cup of tea whatever way you slice it. The concept broke new ground, hence Netflix adapted it into a series years later. The bumps in the road for me are within the show’s execution, muddled audio, and confusing scenes which led me to shave off one point. Savage perhaps? Let me know if you agree with this week’s scores.
Thank you for taking the time to read my review of ‘Archive 81, which can be found on Spotify & Apple Podcast, or from wherever you get your podcasts from.
I would also like to thank all of the readers who made January 2022 the highest-ever viewed month since Tea in the Sahara was established. From me to all of you who have read one of my reviews from Bermuda to Japan, and everywhere in between thank you!
For podcast submissions email me directly at email@example.com, via my socials, or follow my newsletter. Cheers, Kev.