bestof2014-15

Every day between now and Christmas morning, we’ll share the twenty-five stories that engaged, enchanted, amused and amazed us the most in 2014. If you missed them, now’s your chance to catch up; if you’re looking for a gift for the wonk in your life, then these are our most enthusiastic recommendations!

Today, The Thrilling Adventure Hour.

Ben Acker and Ben Blacker have been producing podcast versions of their Thrilling Adventure Hour stage show for almost four years now, and 2014 was undoubtedly their strongest year yet. If you haven’t heard it yet, imagine short comedies in a pulp style, performed by an impossibly talented troupe of actors and some surprisingly high-profile guests.

It isn’t easy to talk about The Thrilling Adventure Hour without just descending into hyperbole and quotation. Their take on old-time radio drama allows for a beautiful melding of irony and sincerity — with the emphasis on the latter — and a certain porosity of the fourth wall that allows the audience to simultaneously invest in the story and celebrate the performance itself. There is, always, a sense that the writers and actors are letting the audience in on the joke, and that creates a warm, inclusive atmosphere.

That have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too dichotomy found at the heart of The Thrilling Adventure Hour is the reason that I can’t settle on a favorite story. I adore and admire the pulp sci-fi of Sparks Nevada: Marshall On Mars, in which Marc Evan Jackson and Mark Gagliardi somehow manage to combine the fantastic visions of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom with sit-com banter and soap opera relationships. Depending on my mood — or, more often, on the most recent episode — I sometimes prefer the fast-paced, sharp-edged wit of Beyond Belief, in which Paget Brewster and the brilliant Paul F. Tompkins play hard-drinking supernatural sleuths in the style of Nick and Nora Charles. The two stories offer very different takes on the idea of old-style radio drama, but they — along with other serials like Amelia Earhart: Fearless Flyer and Jefferson Reid, Ace American — form a cohesive whole that is enchanting, effervescent and endlessly inventive.

Get it now: The Thrilling Adventure Hour.