QCODE is a Los Angeles based audio production studio who develop innovative and immersive scripted narrative stories. Normally what would occur in the Point of Entry series is episode recommendations, however QCODE now have 13 different shows. Instead, I will recommend some of my favourite shows, as I feel if I recommend individual episodes, I will be giving away spoilers.
For people who enjoy watching television but don’t always have the time to sit down, narrative fiction podcasts are great – you can listen to the drama unfold on the go. If you are already an avid podcast listener who enjoys an interview style show, you may enjoy scripted audio because there is still an interesting back and forth, chemistry between people and great audio design – it is just at a bigger scale because the visual aspect is taken away.
The first QCODE fiction podcast release was a drama starring and executive produced by Academy Award winning Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody). BLACKOUT tells the story of a local radio DJ named Simon Itani who is based in small town Berlin, New Hampshire. One of those small towns where everyone is in your business and something shady is going on. One night a blackout occurs and Simon gets fatally shot, whilst his son Hunter Itani’s (T.C Carter) camping trip with his friends takes a disastrous turn. The whole town is turned upside down – food, medicine and essentials are in low supply.
In the midst of this Simon is determined to keep the community spirit alive with his show and continues to play selected rock tunes with his signature “Look out for each other” thrown in for good measure. A fascinating thriller where the listener is moved through the Berlin woods into the back garden of the Itanis through a random field with a crazed neighbour with a shotgun. This can only be done by a meticulous sound department team – where every detail is thought of, the eerie music is just as important as the cereal during breakfast. Along with most podcast recommendations, this is best listened to with earphones. However if you want to avoid jump scares in public, I recommend it on a loud volume at home.
With all this being said, with what has happened in the past year, perhaps indulging in an apocalyptic thriller about modern civilization falling apart, may not be the best choice for a form of escapism. The characters explore themes like control, authoritarianism, freedom of speech and justice.
With a second season of BLACKOUT featuring How To Get Away With Murder star Aja Naomi King just announced, if you choose, now it the perfect time to catch up with the first season.
The second series I would recommend is Soft Voice – a psychological drama that delves into the dangers of the mind. Soft Voice (Bel Powley) is a voice inside Lydia’s head (Naomi Scott). Soft Voice is a blunt and no-nonsense entity that values perfectionism – it controls every aspect of her life down to Lydia’s diet and love life – Lydia doesn’t know any different so she goes along with it as it comes with a peace of mind and much success. It is not until one day Soft Voice stops talking and Dark Voice enters (Olivia Cooke) and Lydia’s life takes a turn in the most dramatic manner.
What it does well in the same way the TV show Black Mirror does – is it makes you question ‘what would I do if I were in that situation?’ and then it makes you sit and wonder maybe I am closer to being in that situation then I would like to admit. Think the ‘Nosedive’ or ‘White Bear’ episodes – it may seem dramatic, however if you get to the heart of what issues are being explored and take away the hyperbole – they hit closer to home.
Listening to Lydia navigate her inner thoughts is unnerving and unpredictable. She faces the same insecurities that many others do, acted brilliantly by Naomi Scott, you can hear her cleverly switch from moments of panic, uncertainty and relief – perfectly depicting the trials of the mind.
After you indulge in two intense podcasts you can have a go at an action-comedy. Unwanted is about two 30-year-old best friends Ben (Lamorne Morris) and Grant (Billy Magnussen). They are strapped for cash and unwilling to get a job. One day while driving they accidentally hit a woman who bizarrely just walks it off. It is not until later they find out the woman was a hard as nails runaway convict, named Shelley O’ Keith (Jamie-Lee O’Donnell) worth a million pounds if found.
After much deliberation both Ben and Grant go on a mission to get that prize money. With a fun back and forth between the two main characters as they have their hand at the bounty hunter/good cop bad cop persona, this podcast series packs plenty of laughs. We are treated to our favourite movie clichés like a good old catchphrase, they opted for “LET’S DANCE!” and the evergreen “we’ll ask the questions here!” followed by silence and fumbling to develop an actual helpful question but a random debate over buying and renting whilst someone is tied up in the basement (a few episodes in and this will make sense).
Shelley is frightening and shows no mercy to anyone who crosses her path. Her no nonsense attitude is balanced well by a hilarious ex-convict named Darko (Flula Borg), an old friend who owes Shelley a massive favour after his betrayal led to her six years in jail. He runs an electronics store and seems to be more interested in leading a quiet life with the occasional trip to TGI Fridays.
With a catchy 80’s synthwave-style theme song sung by the legendary Rick Astley, and the constant mention of Arnold Schwarzenegger, for those who want their movie clichés with a fun script, this is a great introduction into scripted audio because it is still familiar but with a few twists and turns.