Tea in the Sahara
Kev – Fiction Podcast Critic
It took a sound truck in Islington to make me write this review. Yep, you heard me right, sound truck & Islington. But more on that later.
‘SOLAR’ has finished its inaugural run of season one, and although I’m late to the party, I do bring a six-pack. Don’t get it twisted, that’s the alcoholic reference, not the six days a week gym type metaphor.
This week’s review is more of a reader’s signpost for those hunting down a new, stylish, scripted audio drama which is enhanced by glorious Dolby Atmos. Sounds inviting right? Let’s dive in!
SOLARS surface-level plot follows the crew of the ill-fated Atheon on its expedition deep into the heart of the solar system with satnav coordinates locked onto the sun. Things don’t quite go to plan, and by that, what I mean is there is a freak solar flare, things go Pete-Tong, people die, and the crew loses all communicative contact with mission control. A fine time to be floating about in a giant cigar tube hurtling towards the sun wouldn’t you say?!
With an A-list cast, CurtCo Media Production brings us a premium survival sci-fi podcast which offers a powerful examination of humanity. With joint protagonist leads Wren Guerrero (Stephanie Beatriz) and Jamal Davies (Jonathan Bangs), both desperately trying to survive being trapped on separate sides of the ship. For a touch of HW glamour Alan Cumming & Academy Award winner Helen Hunt also stars as part of the crew. But let’s have it right, IMO the podcast belongs to Jonathan Bangs’s remarkable performance as Jamal.
Within SOLAR there are countless scenes which showcase the calibre of acting on display, however, so far one scene that I rate highly came within episode three where Jamal is receiving stitches from the medical officer Jesse Aquino (Anne Yatco). Not to give too much away, but that scene was so powerful, and brutally honest, yet acted with the greatest display of morality a human being can give when everything is sadly taken away from you. Call me a soppy sod if you may, but this show is interspersed with deep & meaningful moments which deserve a mention.
Away from the acting, here’s the interesting part about the creative writing of this podcast, created by Chris Porter. I love a good sci-fi that gives the listener not just high-octane drama to evoke tension, but also a bit of a Cluedo, who-done-it aspect. Add in a dash of potential corporate espionage, a twist of ghost sightings, shake, and what you have is a genius storyline set in space, directed by Jenny Curtis & Chris Porter. Oh, and did I forget to mention that Jamal is running out of oxygen?
In terms of pacing, this audio drama does require you to focus on events, well maybe that’s just me. Within some dramatic action sequences including multiple actors, the listening did require my fullest attention in those heated do-or-die type scenes. There is also a lot of event timeline buffering as we shift from pre to post-solar flare which helps include layers of context to gain storyline latitude, but could also confuse the slightly zoned-out listener.
Okay, this week’s review was easy, personally, I thoroughly enjoyed SOLAR for many simple reasons. Starting with a solid theatrical storyline, its ace acting, and its truly exquisite cutting-edge sound. In an abridged roundup, SOLAR is a psychological space journey which warps reality, showcasing the true extremes of human nature, good & bad. I will very quickly mention that Alan Cumming does an absolutely blinding job of an American accent voicing commander Alex Tawley.
Pinch of salt time, there are a few nanobot flaws in what is otherwise a master blueprint of space-themed audio fiction. The Aethons AI system ALI (Jenny Curtis), glitching out IMO was a tad cliché. As a fiction critic, I do tend to see that ‘ghost in the machine’ theme used quite frequently. When in doubt blame the unexplained on the computer right? The average runtime per episode is about forty mins, which is just the sweet spot for this podcast critic writer, however, if you are new to podcasting you might find SOLAR just a smidgen lengthy.
This week’s scores
Overall score 4.9/5 – audio quality 5/5
Remember that Dolby Atmos sound truck in Islington I mentioned at the top of this review? My recording below showcases a taster of the cacophony of sound Dolby Atmos delivers within SOLAR.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t allowed to record the SOLAR trailer clip live possibly due to copyright I can only imagine, but either way, the Dolby Atmos team were super friendly, knowledgeable, and helpful.
I was however able to record the below clip from another podcast. If any of my readers know what the podcast clip is that I managed to record, please get in touch as I have brain fog with regards to its name.
Customary cheers of the glass to Imran over at Greatpods, and Stephanie Arakelian from CurtCo Media Productions for this awesome podcast recommendation. Stephanie originally reached out to me because of my reviewing focus on sci-fi podcasts, and my recent review of ‘Archive 81‘.
And that’s that guys. Thank you for your eyes and open minds, it is appreciated that you have taken the time to read this review of SOLAR which can be found on Spotify & Apple Podcast or any other podcast platform. For your podcast submissions email me directly at email@example.com, via my socials, or follow my newsletter (details of which are below). Cheers, Kev.
Starring: Stephanie Beatriz, Alan Cumming, Helen Hunt, Jonathan Bangs, Jenny Curtis, Colin Ford, Danielle Pinnock, and Anne Yatco.
With Nikhil Pai, Julia Henning, Dana Gourrier, Micky Shiloah, Jake Millgard, Joe Reitman, Tom Choi, Emily Goss, Joy Brunson, Jenny Curtis, John McCormick and Mari Weiss.
SOLAR is produced in association with Workhouse Media
Created by Chris Porter
Directed by Jenny Curtis and Chris Porter
Produced by Jenny Curtis, Chris Porter, and Bill Curtis
Executive Producers: Bill Curtis, Paul Anderson, Nick Panella, and Helen Hunt
Sound Design, Mixing and Mastering by CJ Drumeller
Music by Chris Porter
Recorded at Shane Salk Productions
Production Manager, Darra Stone
Assistant Sound Designer, Allison Ng
Casting Consulting by Mormon/Boling Casting
Consulting Producer, Val Nicholas
Marketing & Promotions, Stephanie Arakelian
Marketing Coordinator, Monica Kelly
Original Art by Marischa Becker
‘You Are My Sunshine’ was Arranged and performed by Kait Dunton
SOLAR was recorded under a SAG-AFTRA Collective Bargaining Agreement.
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