Still Lives Podcast
Reviewed by A.L. Kersel
May contain slight spoilers, especially pertaining as to whether or not the hens are better…
Well, having listened to the first two episodes, I have to say that Still Lives, a new, pastoral apocalyptic podcast, is a gem of a discovery. The episodes so far are short and sweet, around the twenty minute mark, and therefore perfect to squeeze into a commute or any other spare moment.
Written and directed by Colton Flick, James Currie, Ríoghnach Robinson, and Sarah Schnebly, Still Lives is a succinct and well put-together radio drama about five survivors living in an isolated farm thirteen years after the collapse of civilisation. The arrival of a sixth person destabilises the little household and raises the age old apocalyptic questions of kindness versus pragmatism.
I was impressed right away by the opening music—a snippet of piano, composed by Ríoghnach Robinson. Variations of this continue throughout, discordant and haunting at times, more upbeat at others, giving the podcast a bit of a feel of an old-timey radio drama. I described the podcast to a friend and colleague as “cosy post-apocalyptic”, and that is exactly what it is. Episode one opens with the Archivist, voiced by Devon T. Leaver, whose goal is to create records of the past, before the fall of civilisation, as well as a log of life on the farm.
This is a wonderfully effective conceit, affording the listener a comprehensive glimpse into the setting and an introduction to the characters, as well as some very relatable, wry humour from the Archivist. The sense of danger, at least in episode one, is insidious, barely there, revealed through cleverly timed pauses, conspicuously withheld information, and what is not said. We learn that the four adults, referred to by occupation rather than by name, are keeping details of what happened hidden from the Kid, voiced by Hailey Kenning, a thirteen year old girl who was born around the time of the disaster.
In many ways, it is the quaint-seeming, pastoral details that betray the threat most clearly. A sick hen is cause for concern (though thankfully, we learn that the hen is BETTER). We discover in a montage of recording clips that the goat’s milk has been looking thin and that the Soldier, voiced by Arnold Coleman, has been obsessively trying to mend the henhouse, dismantling it completely. Leaver’s upbeat tone in the recordings creates a feeling of cosiness, while the subject matter—scarcity, isolation, the threat of winter—brings in a disconcerting sense of juxtaposition.
The dialogue throughout is smooth and realistic, wonderfully acted in a natural, low-key manner by the cast. Each character has a distinct voice, and I found that even in the first episode, I quickly had a solid grasp of who is who. We get a great sense of character through the underlying conflict in the house—whether or not the adults should tell the Kid about what came before. Again, there is no shouting, no overt drama, but a steady tension that allows gradual, well-incorporated exposition without dumps of information. The Archivist’s optimism contrasts well with the slightly more acerbic tone of the Scientist, also known as “Doc”, voiced by Allison McGrath, and the blunt pragmatism of the Soldier. We even get a good sense of the Cook, a largely silent character voiced by Sarah Golding, through clever use of sound effects and the reactions of other characters.
The Traveler, voiced by Bayliun, is marked as different straight away by his accent. Polite and pleasant mannerisms again lull the listener into a false sense of security, while the debate that suddenly escalates within the household throws us immediately off-balance. The blizzard rages outside; inside, a fire crackles and soup bubbles on the stove. Simple and effective sound design by Colton Flick and James Currie convinces the listener that the house is a warm haven against the dangers of the outside world. However, we are constantly reminded that we are in a post-apocalyptic society, where people must fend for themselves, nobody is willing to talk about “The Sickness”, and the greatest threat of all comes not from wolves, coyotes, or even aliens, but other humans.
All in all, Still Lives is a hugely enjoyable and well-executed podcast, and I very much look forward to what the next episode reveals! (And what’s the deal with that mushroom quest?)