Podcast Review: ‘Thrilling Adventure Hour’ is as Awesome as it Sounds


Note: this article was also published on Project Quinn (website no longer active).

Thrilling Adventure Hour, written by Ben Acker and Ben Blacker; directed by Aaron Ginsburg. Released monthly, with an approximate running time of 30 minutes. Started November 2010. 

It all started because I’m a fan of Nathan Fillion.

I’m admittedly a fangirl geek, although it’s only recently that I’ve taken hesitant steps into the world of fandom, no thanks to being trolled a few times about a decade ago. I loved Firefly, the sci-fi western one-season wonder from Joss Whedon. Over at Whedonesque, a blog dedicated to not only news of Whedon but to cast and crew of the various Whedon blogs, there was a notice about Fillion guest starring on a podcast called Thrilling Adventure Hour (TAH).

As their own description states, TAH is written in the style of old time radio, and I was immediately sold on the concept. I’ve always been a fan of radio drama, ever since my brother got a cassette tape containing the episode of Abbott and Costello that had the “Who’s on First?” routine. This love transferred easily when I was first introduced to podcasts back in the mid-2000s, as I found productions such as the Atlanta Radio Theatre Company, The Radio Adventures of Doctor Floyd, and most recently Welcome to Night Vale.

A good chunk of the cast. Photo by Liezl Estipona, courtesy Thrilling Adventure Hour's website
A good chunk of the cast. Photo by Liezl Estipona and used courtesy Thrilling Adventure Hour’s website.

But the show, written by Ben Acker and Ben Blacker, is not your average ‘old time radio show’. Both an homage and a parody of the various shows written for radio, it’s got a very modern aspect — very aware of itself, filled with humor and poking fun at the various tropes that make up these stories. It’s filled with a sort of winking acknowledgement of how absurd doing a radio drama in the world of Web 2.0 is, and is smartly funny as a result. It reminds me of Mystery Science Theatre 3000, filled with pop culture reference and so many jokes that it doesn’t matter if you don’t get them all.

The podcast, typically updated weekly, is only one of many segments that the show has, and is between 20 to 30 minutes long. The full show is multiple segments, intertwined with old-style radio ads for fictitious products that exist in the TAH world.

My favorite segment (and one of the show’s most popular) is “Sparks Nevada, Marshal on Mars”. A combination of the futuristic Buck Rodgers/Flash Gordon-style serials with westerns (with more than a nod to The Lone Ranger), it’s the only segment that has an ongoing storyline, with each episode building onto what came before. As with any performing arts, it’s the chemistry between Sparks Nevada (played by Marc Evan Jackson) and his ‘sidekick’, Croach the Tracker (played by Mark Gagliardi). However, Nevada is not your average hero — and, in fact, if this wasn’t a comedy, the real hero would be Croach. The humor comes from the fact that Nevada doesn’t quite realize he isn’t the hero of the segment.

Paul F. Tompkins and Paget Brewster in "Beyond Belief". Photo by Liezl Estipona, courtesy Thrilling Adventure Hour's website
Paul F. Tompkins and Paget Brewster in “Beyond Belief”. Photo by Liezl Estipona and used courtesy Thrilling Adventure Hour’s website.

The other popular segment is “Beyond Belief”. Written in the style of the 1920s Nick and Nora Charles The Thin Man movies, it follows Frank and Sadie Doyle (played by Paul F. Tomkins and Paget Brewster), socialites who delve into the world of the supernatural (in between their martinis, that is). The primary humor to this segment is that if it were up to the Doyles, they wouldn’t get involved in anything that took them away from their booze or the apartment that houses it.

The rest of the segments range from the superhero cliched “Captain Laserbeam” (voiced by John DiMaggio, most famous as the voice of Bender from Futurama) to the anti-Nazi “Jefferson Reid, Ace American” (played by Fillion) to several other occasional pieces.

Performed here in LA at Largo, another fun aspect is the various guest stars the show is able to use. Everyone from Clark Gregg (Agent Coulsen from the Marvel movies) to “Weird Al” Yankovic have made an appearance on the show, and inevitably, whatever they are most known for gets a joke or two in the script.

TAH just finished a Kickstarter campaign to expand into the world of a graphic novel, as well as producing a DVD of a recording of the show (full disclosure: I donated $55 to this Kickstarter). I hope to be able to attend a performance before I graduate.

If you love funny and goofy, and are willing to delve into the world of podcasts, TAH should be required hearing. For more information, visit them on their website.

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