You may be wondering when I’m going to get back to the old stuff, since this post is about another newer audio drama, and the two posts before this were also about modern audio dramas. Worry not, dear reader, you will hear more about old-time radio when the time is right. But I couldn’t skip over this one, especially since it’s brand new and needs all the support it can get. It’s a fantastic show, and I don’t know when I’ve heard a modern audio drama this refreshingly old-fashioned. That doesn’t make sense, I know, but let me try to explain as we take a look at “The Orbiting Human Circus of the Air”.
“The Orbiting Human Circus of the Air” (OHC for short) premiered in 2016, and at the time of this writing, only six episodes have been released, but the first season will have eight episodes when it’s finished. OHC comes from the same team who created the wildly popular “Welcome to Night Vale”, so it has the tinge of strange otherworldliness that is so singular about “Welcome to Night Vale”. OHC follows a janitor named Julian, whose grandfather was part of a live variety show in the days of old-time radio. Julian now works for the same show, but he’s never allowed on stage. Nobody really likes Julian, whose goal it is to be a performer on the air like his grandfather, but he’s tolerated because he’s a nice guy. Julian mostly tries not to mess anything up while watching as much of the show from backstage as possible. The series follows his ups and downs as he tries to fulfill his dreams of being a stage and radio performer.
In 2016, the team of “Welcome to Night Vale” started a network of podcasts called Night Vale Presents, and OHC was the last of three new podcasts that were released just in 2016. The other two were called “Alice Isn’t Dead” and “Within the Wires”, and I didn’t really like either of them, so I didn’t expect much from OHC. But boy was I blown away. Let me explain why.
As I explained in the last Stories for the Ear post, “Welcome to Night Vale” does the backwards thinking and art of storytelling stuff pretty well, so when the same team put out “Alice Isn’t Dead”, I was expecting something different. But it was just like “Welcome to Night Vale”, but it was just one character talking about one event in her life and mixing it in with the strange monologue storytelling technique. So, in other words, it was exactly like “Welcome to Night Vale”, just with less to talk about. “Within the Wires” was exactly the same as well, only this podcast (at least as far in as I heard) doesn’t have any story at all; only the wierd philosophical monologue stuff. So it was an even more bare-bones version of “Welcome to Night Vale”. But OHC is quite different.
OHC has mastered every form of storytelling, as far as I can hear. The show itself is in fact an actual audio drama, rather than a monologue like the other three Night Vale Presents shows. The characters are unique, each one exotic, bringing an incredible blend to the show. Julian has imagined for himself a 40s-style radio narrator, so the episodes are actually narrated by a character who also interacts with Julian. The jokes and style of the actual radio show are exactly like something out of the golden age of radio, which is fantastic, but the listener still feels like the show is interesting, even in the 2010s. A prominent feature of the show is what the characters call the feature presentation, in which they’ll bring someone on the air, and they’ll tell an awesome story, which incorporates that famous Night Vale monologue/narrative technique that the showrunners are so good at. It’s a satisfying half-hour that still leaves the listener wanting more. It incorporates everything that I love about audio drama.
“The Orbiting Human Circus of the Air” takes the best from all ages of radio and audio drama, it takes multiple completely different styles of storytelling, and it brings them all together, blending them carefully in such a way that would make anyone want to listen again. Try it yourself! All of the episodes are available on iTunes podcasts and YouTube. Give this show some support, being that it’s so new. And if you do listen to it, let me know what you think of it in the comments below. Happy listening!