Sarcastic Voyage - Contentment Corner - season 1
The town of Contentment Corner has a real-life geographic counterpart in the town of New Rockford, North Dakota. My dad grew up in New Rockford, and we visited there at least twice in my youth. (It’s possible we went more times than that; but I have a clear memory of two visits.) It was very much the “quaint small midwestern town with a town square and an actual soda shop” that you saw in movies but didn’t expect to see in real-life in the mid-1980s. I was a big Back to the Future fan as a kid, and I very much felt like I was visiting 1955 Hill Valley. True story: on our first day there, probably tired of being cramped in my parents’ van for three days on the drive out from Maryland, I took a walk through the town. And promptly got lost. I walked up to a house where someone happened to be sitting out on their front porch and asked if I could use their phone to call my grandmother. She said yes (of course), but also knew my grandmother’s phone number because this was actually the kind of town where everyone knows everyone. Also true: we returned to New Rockford for my grandmother’s funeral in 2000, and the town was about half the size it had been when we’d last visited in 1987. Apparently young people there tend to grow up and move away, and not a lot of new people move there to replace them. When a business folds, it just stays closed and the building remains empty. I poked around in Google Maps in 2015 when I started this project and it seems that things have turned around a bit since then… but that odd notion of a town actually getting smaller (which I’ve never seen before or since) really stuck with me.
Opening the first episode with a very sane Aaron Faucet served a few purposes. First, it informed Sarcastic Voyage listeners that we were indeed in the same universe that our sketches and radio plays inhabit, and that we might learn what turned this earnest young go-getter into the raving lunatic we’d see in his chronologically later appearances. Second, several long-running soap operas that I watched as research for this project (most notably Peyton Place and Dark Shadows) opened with an outsider coming to town on a train. And, broadly speaking, it always helps to have a relatable audience identification character to take the audience into an established setting. Though he wouldn’t remain relatable for long, admittedly.
Randall Cleveland plays both the train conductor and, later in this episode, Mayor Oskar Tyrannus. Randy is one of several local (Seattle) comedy performers that joined our expanded troupe with this project, and he’s an absolute delight to work with. Later in this season, we’ll discover that the train conductor was actually an undercover government agent. Which I totally planned from the beginning. Yup. Sure did.
Case Kutchington (played by Mark “Bob” Boszko, in possibly the finest performance we’ve wrangled from him to date) isn’t based on any one soap opera character, though most of them seem to have that rugged older dude who’s always into some shady business.
The Tordovians began as Frank and Sandra on Sarcastic Voyage — two deliberately ill-defined foreign people whose accents were patterned on other ill-defined foreign people like Tommy Wiseau and that one guy in Ghostbusters II. They have since become our catch-all “weird people from a different country,” which nicely gives us a way to write those sorts of characters without actually being culturally insensitive to any specific real-world culture.
“Dutch Concierge” was on a long list of soap opera characters I consulted for reference. (A year into this project and I am still ridiculously amused by ridiculous soap opera names.) I thought that was the actual character’s name and not just a description of his nationality and job. Further Tordovians continued to follow this naming convention: Swiss Hotelier, French Envoy, Norse Porter and Serb Skycap.
We had intended to feature Jason Wallace’s Alistair Eventide a bit more, but we were overtaken by events. He will definitely be taking on a greater role in season 2.
I still don’t think “ornamental” is the correct word for a picture of something on a public sign. Usually dialogue where a character questions something like that is the direct result of an argument amongst the co-writers.
The phrase predatory gazelle ended up being prophetic, in light of the fact that our Big Bad this season was named Giselle. Intentional? SURE!
Nicole Santora is another Seattle-based performer that we were very pleased to add to the cast of Contentment Corner. Vatican St. Corby could be such a standard precocious child character, especially since I’ve had some trouble finding her comedic center. But Nicole brings this earnestness to her performance that transforms her into a sort of Hitchcockian Everyman, as personified by a 12 year-old girl.
Felicity the demon was played by Kristy Brannon, who is another new addition to our troupe. Kristy has a fantastic comedic sensibility, which skews quite dark. It’s very compatible with the sort of thing we do, especially where Amanda is concerned. Felicity and Candida the librarian do not appear to know one another in this scene, but it turns out they used to be best friends and at this point had “broken up” so they were pretending not to know one another. Also completely intentional!
Terry “T-Dro” Drosdak (the librarian Candida Prim) is a very close personal friend, and had made some occasional vocal contributions to Sarcastic Voyage in the past. She was excited to join this project and has, unsurprisingly, been a lot of fun to collaborate with. Yes, we know what “Candida” really is. That was T-Dro’s idea. Honest.
I really wanted to emphasize the idea that this town is full of weird people and things, but nobody talks about it because they’re all too polite to say anything out loud. I think that came through here, but I feel like I could have made it more clear.
Randy’s Mayor Oskar Tyrannus is another character we fully intend to explore further in season 2.
It wouldn’t be a soap opera without a ruined wedding. (I have a giant list of things it wouldn’t be a soap opera without. This is only the first of many.)
Lord Gordon of Nick Hall was most recently seen in The Omce and Future Nick. Actually, that’s the only place he’s been seen. Anyway, he’s Nick’s father and also the owner of the SVN TV network and the SVFM radio network. His appearance here was a combination of world building and “I need someone difficult to abandon Aaron at the radio station so this piece will fit nicely.” Quite a lot of this project has been an exercise in creative puzzle solving. It’s honestly one of my favorite aspects of writing it.
If you listen really closely at 15:55, as Aaron’s tape recorder unwinds, you can hear the tiniest bit of foreshadowing in the words Winchester Tires. I don’t expect anyone to actually pick up on that. That’s for me.
One of my goals with Contentment Corner was to create something that was completely mine. All of the music (both the score and the pop music you hear at the radio station) was composed and performed by me and the other writer/performers I have on staff. I ended up doing a bunch of ca. 1987 pop songs for season 1. This episode features “If You Kiss Me, I Shall Surely Cry” by the Melancholy Dandies. Complete tracks for all of the original music I produced can be found here.
Even the baseball game is audio that we produced. It was never meant to be heard in the episode, but I amused myself making the announcer a nihilist. Circles within circles.
I didn’t want to do a lot of fourth wall stuff, but having Aaron turn to the camera (the microphone) and say IT SURE IS 1987 was my way of ensuring the audience was aware of this so I didn’t have to keep re-establishing that later.
Initially, the idea was to present this very much the way a soap opera is done, with five or six plots running parallel to one another and a huge cast of characters moving in and out of the story. I thought it might be a bit much to lay all of this on the listener in the first episode, so we were going to introduce a new storyline in each of the first several episodes. That’s why episode 1 features Aaron, episode 2 features Aaron and Case, and so on. By episode 5, though, some listeners had let us know that they were having a little trouble following everything. So we did some mid-stream retooling and, after wrapping up the storylines we had in work, started focusing on one character or small group of characters per episode. So that’s why these early episodes have a bit of a different flow than the later ones.
Robert Cooper is a real-life friend whose natural voice has always rather impressed me, much in the same way Dave Fields’ voice did back when we started Sarcastic Voyage. Some people are just natural narrators. I’ll take, like, 10% of the credit for spotting that, but, like Dave before him, Robert really took the role and ran with it, delivering substantially more than I would have expected based on the sound of his voice alone.
Nathan LaJeunesse as amnesiac werewolf Flace Carousél is… almost nothing like the character that Nate and I conceived together. This is entirely my fault. That said, Nate delivered a great performance for a character whose entire purpose is to stand there and look cute while the more colorful character (Bob as Case) does his schtick. I’d use the phrase straight man, but Nate might object.
That said… one thing I talked to Nate (and other people) about was the idea that everyone in Contentment Corner was bi- (or even omni-)sexual. Representation is important to me, but I’m a middle-aged white dude, so it’s not always something that comes naturally. The solution ended up being good on two fronts, though: first, we don’t end up with one or two token LGBTQ characters. Second, from a plotting standpoint, it increases the romantic possibilities exponentially. Which, when you’re writing a soap opera, is kind of a big deal! I don’t know why more soap operas don’t just go for the “everyone is cool kissing everyone else” model.
I could write (and nearly have written) an entire episode of Case badly lying to people. It’s such low-hanging fruit, but no less delicious.
Duncan Boszko has been a key cast member of the Sarcastic Voyage Unpaid Voice Acting Players since 2012, and he continues to bring some really great performances to this project. Here he plays our version of Sting, whom we cleverly called Prick. (Get it?)
We’re Too Clever part 2: Sting was the original visual basis for the comic book character John Constantine (of whom Duncan is a fan). Constantine first appeared in the comic “Swamp Thing.” Swamp Thing would occasionally talk about trouble in the green. Prick’s old band is called The Green, and he quit when there was trouble in it. Wow, now that I spell it all out, I can’t imagine how I ever expected anyone to pick up on this stupid reference.
Actual intentional foreshadowing: Vilkistan is the country that Flace is from, and we’ll find out about what’s going on there in episode 12.
The old radio plays that Vatican finds at SVFM include: The Neckbolt Farms Variety Hour, J. Edgar and the Junior Hoovers (sort-of referenced in this) and The Rick Threefold Show. And then, of course, there’s the unnamed show featuring a character called Dottie.
The whole bit about Vatican not being into love and then suddenly being into love is lifted from Peyton Place (the book), which was a huge influence on Contentment Corner. I wanted to go with an obvious auditory cue with this gag, and I don’t think we quite nailed it with the gong.
Falcon Crest (one of the many soaps I watched for research) is ostensibly about a vineyard, and actually had a character refer to the setting as a “grape farm.”
I’ve been trying to do that stupid “glove compartment full of gloves” joke for like, 25 years. There’s going to be a lot of “I finally found someplace to put this idea” in this project. That’s by design.
“Pronsius Crotchman” is, of course, the secret identity of Prominent Crotch Boy Junior. “Justin Time,” on the other hand, was Nate and Amanda’s brilliant attempt at creating a soap opera name.
The Miami Device (an electric razor that leaves a Don Johnson-like level of stubble on one’s face) was a real thing.
At this point, Nicole and Maggie (Vatican and Aaron) hadn’t even met one another in actual life before, let alone performed together. They didn’t even record their parts for this episode at the same time. And yet… I still think they have a really good chemistry in these scenes.
Thelma Stanwyk (played by the original Sarcastic Voyage Unpaid Voice Acting Player, Sabrina Snyder) came from a much earlier project, though pretty much in name only. The character from that project wasn’t so much a character as a person who said some things. Thankfully (with Sabrina’s help), this Thelma is a bit more interesting. More about her in episode 6.
Kara O’Connor (Zyzzyx Jones) was the last of our new additions to the cast and she is so good. Zyzzyx turned out to be a fairly easy character to write (watch a bunch of Joan Collins in Dynasty and then change the dialogue enough that I can’t be sued for plagiarism), but Kara truly elevated her to my Top Three Characters I’ve Ever Created list. I really did want to give these characters some depth and complexity, but at the same time, there’s something irresistible about someone whose entire existence hinges on petty cruelty and grandiose declarations of same.
“Fondella Ember” was another ridiculous soap opera name. It’s a riff on Caressa, an actual name from, I think, Dynasty. The character (played by Nicole) is your typical long-suffering man-servant type. We visualized her as Mercy Graves from the Superman animated series, if Lex were kind of an idiot and needed his hand held to perform basic tasks.
Caitlin Obom (here as the operator, Crimson Glory) came on near the end of Sarcastic Voyage. I saw her performing with her troupe, Drop the Root Beer and Run, and I was absolutely astounded at her vocal range. After a little time getting acquainted, I approached her to gauge her interest in voice acting and was delighted to find that she did, in fact, possess an interest! She has since become one of our most valuable utility players. Throughout this season, she managed to play some incidental characters, a hero and a villain. And she nailed every one of them.
Mary Madison was, of course, the protagonist of three of our radio plays: Bury the Lead, Kill the Front Page and Citizen Crotch. This is Mary in her 70s, who has retired from the hectic life of a field reporter and settled down in a small town to run a local paper. She’s still very much Mary, though Amanda had to teach herself how to deliver that rapid-fire banter at a level slightly below “rapid-fire.” I love what she ended up doing with it.
Geroux Electronics is actual foreshadowing for Giselle Geroux, who will make her grand entrance near the end of the season.
Duncan originally pitched “Crazy David” as a hard-boiled detective who was actually an alien from the sun, and honestly, I had no idea how that was going to fit into this story. Now he’s one of my favorite characters in the ensemble.
This ending with Candida was meant to convey the escalating feeling that everyone in the town had a bone to pick with Case. It was supposed to turn his eventual murder into a big mystery, but I suck at writing mysteries so that didn’t last for very long. Still, T-Dro really delivered on the comedic premise here, of a librarian sounding threatening.
The title of this episode makes absolutely no sense if you think about it for even a second. So I urge you not to do that.
Whenever I go back and listen to this episode, I think “why isn’t the narrator in this beginning bit?” We pay it off pretty quickly. You’d think I’d remember that. I forget a lot of stuff, as it turns out.
Amanda pitched Ravina to me as a “lighthouse widow,” like that’s actually a thing. (This is the same woman who insisted the “lovesick nun” was a trope.) Eventually she explained the actual premise to me and it seemed like a great idea. Essentially Ravina is the “dame” from every private eye story, only now she’s like 50 years old and she’s (probably) killed several husbands and she’s not really sure what to do with her life now. Also she’s in charge of a lighthouse for some reason.
For no particular reason, Ravina’s surnames (after her maiden name, Donovan) are all Axis powers: Italian, Japanese, German.
Jad Cortland is very loosely based on Lance Cumson (the character’s actual name) from Falcon Crest. Lance is occasionally seen with an actual falcon, presumably the mascot of the Falcon Crest grape farm. Like, sometimes he’s just hanging out in the background of a scene that has nothing to do with him, with a falcon on his arm. Jad’s flamingo is only a tiny bit more ridiculous than that.
Joe Conklin debuted, as a child, in this Sarcastic Voyage sketch, and then this sequel to that sketch. I felt like there was more life in the idea of a guy growing up with the ghosts of all the US Presidents following him around, so here he is.
I have, to date, played more than half of the US Presidents over the course of Sarcastic Voyage and this project. Continuing to use Joe Conklin is also a way for me to work more Presidents off that list. That’s also me as Reagan because why the hell not.
Cyborg sheriff Metalious Steele is named after the author of Peyton Place, Grace Metalious. Which might be the coolest name anyone has ever had in the history of names.
Sheriff Steele is a bit of a horndog, but I really wanted to create a sex-positive middle-aged female character, because as we were initially conceiving the character and trying to think of examples of one of those… we came up with, like, one (Lwaxana Troi from Star Trek). So, yeah. Maybe throwing another one of those out into the world isn’t a terrible idea.
The cover art for this episode is based on the cover of a Lovecraft paperback I thought looked rather cool.
The original idea was to gradually slide Aaron into madness, slowly transforming him into the Aaron we know from SV. Then I got bored with that idea and just made him Full Blown Aaron in this episode. I stand by this decision.
This Oskar/Ravina scene was the first time I felt like we had established two characters enough to bounce them off of each other to see what happened. I was pretty pleased with the result.
I’m not sure if there actually is a Thigh Bone of St. Corby. Certainly Case knew absolutely nothing about it if there is.
Mrs. Conklin calls it Contentment Corners just so I could officially have someone correct that in-universe. Because a bunch of people in actual life have called it that. And that’s not its name.
What is Winchester Tires? An excellent question. And one we will never answer, probably.
Thelma and Joe were one of the only real romantic relationships we featured in season one. It is my intention to correct that in season two, given that we are a soap opera.
Jim the security guard appeared in a couple of Sarcastic Voyage sketches probably because Jason was starting to run out of voices and we thought it would be funny. I didn’t really intend to bring him over to CC from SV, but the story keeps requiring a security guard and we already have one established, so… might as well.
As promised, here’s the deal with Thelma Stanwyk: she was the protagonist in the frankly awful 20-minute “film” I made in high school. During my senior year, I managed to convince The Powers That Be to allow me to work on an Independent Study project in which I would write, direct and edit my own short film. Bob was, as it happens, also involved. (We go way back.) We didn’t know what we were doing, but we somehow managed to get a decent grade for the barely competent, barely legible thing we produced. And for several years after graduation, I had it in my head that I could redo the idea bigger and better. (First this took the form of sequels. Then a prequel. Then a reboot. It was all seriously ill-conceived.) I finally abandoned this notion in favor of literally anything else, but I still have tons of notes for possible reboots of the project and I decided to incorporate them into Contentment Corner. Partially because it fit in with the other stuff we were doing, but mostly so I could finally cross that off my list once and for all.
No, you can’t see the original film. It was terrible.
I mean, I guess if you really tried, you could probably find it somewhere. We had it on the Internet for awhile and things never truly disappear from the Internet. But I’m not going to help you find it, certainly. Trust me: the only salvageable bits from it were fairly nicely incorporated into this episode. (Also, rewriting High School Me was a singularly surreal experience.)
This marked the beginning of our “follow a single storyline in each episode” approach, as we officially transitioned out of the earlier soap opera model.
Using a narrator always feels a bit like cheating, even though I’m working in an auditory medium and it’s kind of expected. In The Adventures of Nick and Willikins, we did our best to make the narrator part of the story, and that made it seem more okay. Contentment Corner’s narrator is cut from the same cloth. Though, I hope, he’s a bit of a different sort of character. What his actual deal is has yet to be revealed.
The character who quickly runs by Thelma will later be revealed as Professor Ace Kutchington. Since that reveal doesn’t actually happen until episode 9, it’s highly possible the listeners didn’t pick up on that.
Generally speaking, Thelma & Joe’s adventure was supposed to have a Doctor Who vibe to it, and I think we pulled that off. The specifics of the aliens and what they’re getting up to is pretty incidental, though we might actually come back to them at some point.
That’s my old pal Jason Ellis as Captain Salami, reprising the role he originated in the aforementioned terrible high school film. (Captain Salami, believe it or not, was another guy we both knew in high school. He chose that nickname, for reasons that were never entirely clear to us.)
Although episode 6 was our first “focus on one thing at a time” story, this one came closer to establishing the formula we returned to a few subsequent times: backstory to get you caught up on how the character got here, then a bit more moving them forward in the present. I do feel like we sold Ravina a bit short in this one, if only because a decent chunk of her story is distributed throughout the preceding couple of episodes. That, unfortunately, was the danger of switching formats in mid-stream like we did.
This flashback rather neatly explains why the town has a lighthouse but no train station. It also gave me an excuse to get yet another President under my belt. (If I weren’t on my weird quest to play them all, I would have loved to cast Randall Cleveland as Grover Cleveland because that’s the stupid sort of thing I love doing.)
The character of Melvin in this opening flashback is named for my grandfather (my stepdad’s father), who is from the aforementioned North Dakota town on which Contentment Corner is based. I never knew the guy very well, but I thought it’d be nice to name one of the town’s founders after him.
Pairing up Crazy David and Ravina was another “throw two established characters together and see what happens” situation. Given her status as a dame, it seemed only right to give her some time with the hard-boiled PI.
Man, what is the deal with the narrator??
Clinton Fisher, the town contrarian, is very loosely based on Clayton Frazier from Peyton Place. He’s a super minor character in that book (I don’t think he made it into the movie or the TV series), and his role was essentially the same as it is here, albeit framed a bit more realistically. I love the idea of a retired old-timer who devotes his entire life to contradicting and shooting down everything he can, just for the sake of doing it.
I used the “two separate stories converge at the same ending” trick a couple of times this season (in episodes 6 & 7, then again in episodes 10 & 11). This is almost certainly because my two favorite Venture Bros episodes (Bright Lights Dean City and Everyone Comes to Hank’s) did the same trick and I adore it. I don’t think I’ve managed to pull it off quite as well as they did. Not yet, anyway.
Was this our best episode title? No, that’s #9.
Sheriff Steele wasn’t really meant to be a main character, much less the primary protagonist of two episodes in a row. But by this point the story was starting to dictate its needs to me, rather than the other way around. And you know, if I’m so invested in a project that this sort of thing starts happening, I call that a win. Thankfully Caitlin made this fairly one-note character worth following.
Agent Poole began as a pitch that Randy brought to me at the beginning of the project. That version of him was a bit too similar to what I had in mind for Aaron, but I try not to let anything to go waste and I ended up finding a use for him. I love the voice Randy gives him as well.
The Ministry of the Unconventional for Canada and the United States (M.U.C.U.S.) goes all the way back to The Radio Adventures of Matt and AAlgar. As the SV universe grows and we definitively establish that it’s crawling with all manner of supernatural what-nots, it makes sense in this world for the government to have an X-Files-type organization to investigate that stuff. “What a terrible acronym” is a callback that everyone but me is probably very sick of by this point, but I don’t really care.
Caitlin and Randy know one another in real life — they often perform in the same spaces, and they’re actually friends. But to this point, they hadn’t performed with one another. I suspected they’d have decent chemistry together, and I was correct in this suspicion.
This episode marks the first appearance of Niff and Clorm, our working-class Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in the soap factory. Duncan, who plays the guy I don’t play (we never remember which of us is which) did not get the reference in their names. Because he is very young. Or, alternately, I am very old. In any case, I enjoy writing and co-performing these two tremendously. It’s super-easy comedy (bantering schlubs), but not everything has to be a reference that takes an entire paragraph to clarify. Sometimes having two tough guys talk about fancy scented soaps is enough.
You can tell how much I really liked Case because I killed him off. This is a thing I do, apparently: I create a character that I really like, I get carried away writing a lot of stuff for them, then I realize that they’re becoming a crutch and I find a way to get rid of them before I start repeating myself. It happened in SV with Mustache Charlie, and it’ll happen again in CC with a character who appears in this very episode!
No, really: what is the narrator’s deal?
Said it before and I’ll say it again: best title ever.
I kinda wanted to do an entire episode with just these guys in a jail cell. That would have felt very Twilight Zone, in a very good way. But I also wanted to keep things moving. So this was the compromise: about 50/50.
Caitlin and Randy (and Bob near the end of this interminably long scene) really save this endless exposition from feeling like endless exposition. Still, I feel like I can do better than this sort of info-dump. Maybe this is just what happens when you put your narrator in jail?
“Going into someone’s mind” is a thing I hate in science fiction — particularly in Star Trek, which I watch a lot of. But it’s kind of fun in a pseudo-sci-fi comedy soap opera, honestly.
Josef Ravenson (who has, thus far, played a handful of supporting characters and was a major part of Sarcastic Voyage before that) taught me how to do the eerie effect on Ghost Case, and it makes me wish I’d learned it years ago. I don’t often pat myself on the back for feats of editing, but I really love how this sequence came out. And that’s due in large part to Joe, so really I’m patting his back as much as I am mine.
I had no idea what Steele’s actual arc was in this story. She was mostly there to facilitate the story. But then I hit on the idea that she was really angry about these secret agent guys crawling around in her town without telling her. Which worked out nicely and set up something that we paid off in the finale. TOTALLY INTENTIONAL!
This is the first of three similarly-structured episodes: mostly flashback, dealing with a supernatural entity of some kind (Candida the witch in this one; Felicity the demon and Flace the werewolf in the subsequent two). I think we may have taken the show a little too far into anthology territory with these episodes, in that they feel fairly unconnected to the main story we’d been building so far. I’m still very much pleased with how they turned out. I just wish they didn’t feel quite so much like an extended intermission from the larger ensemble plot.
I had no idea that we’d be coming back to this cornfield scene three different times in this season, but it really amused me to do so.
Kara expressed some disappointment in her performance as Ljiljana. I don’t say this very often about our performers, but Kara is objectively wrong.
Candida’s lost umbrella is a reference to this one time when T-Dro left her umbrella behind on a visit to Seattle and literally everyone I know tweeted at me to send it back to her at once. Because obviously you should bring an umbrella to Seattle (it always rains here!) and obviously it’s nigh impossible to replace one if you lose it.
Ljiljana is a magical person who enjoys science fiction. This was meant to contrast me, a sci-fi fan, who found himself writing a bunch of magical fantasy stuff. I never exactly intended for Twilight Zone references to turn into a runner this season, but Twilight Zone: The Movie was the only sci-fi movie big enough to be playing in a tiny town in 1983. (Apart from Return of the Jedi, which we’d already mentioned here.)
That’s Josef Ravenson as the cat-dog, in a performance that should nab him whatever the most prestigious award for serial podcast comedy/drama excellence is.
“Incense is Best” continues to build the case that I missed my calling as the guy who comes up with terrible pun names for businesses.
Does anyone know what the narrator’s deal is?
This episode was written around the time I discovered Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and promptly blew through its entire first season. So I very much had “women with supportive friendships” on my mind, which is more or less what led to Felicity and Candida being friends. I feel like we leaned a little too much on their backstories in these two episodes, but I’m very much interested in exploring their continued friendship in subsequent episodes.
Kristy did a fantastic job of playing Felicity as this sort of petulant poseur. She knows she’s a demon. She wants to impress everyone with her demon-ness. But she’s just not very good at it.
Caitlin based her performance as Bazalakesh on someone from Jupiter Ascending, which I haven’t seen. Based on her description alone, it sounds amazing. I obviously put a little treatment on her voice, but honestly it was pretty great on its own.
The “pushing away the overbearing mother figure” stuff at the end of this episode was almost certainly also drawn from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. That show really made an impression on me! Also I very much wanted some fundamental, relatable thing to bring these two back together. And I ask you: what’s more universal than parental issues? Nothing. The answer is nothing.
I mentioned this before, but I’m a little disappointed that Flace didn’t end up being quite the character that Nate had originally pitched to me. On the other hand, we did a Disney-style musical in which a werewolf prince falls in love with another prince, and I’m not sure that there’s a more Nathan LaJeunesse premise in all of fiction.
We watched a bunch of Disney musicals for research, and I learned two things: first, Sleeping Beauty is a gorgeous movie. Second, most of the protagonists in these stories are kind of wet dishrags who just sort of let the plot happen to them, rather than making it happen themselves. That was the main reason that Flace ended up being a bit weak — every time I tried to give him a bit of agency, it felt completely at odds with the vibe we were going for.
Nate absolutely fucking nailed the song we wrote for him. That 30 seconds is one of my proudest moments in this or any project. Also: oh man, remember Garbage Pail Kids?
Major props to Brian as well, who had asked me if he could play a Tordovian at some point. He pulls off some serious tightrope walking here, as he manages to breathe life into our typically one-note cartoon-accented people. He comes off as a viable love interest: charming and compassionate, while also being, in no uncertain terms, into bestiality. Also he sings, but I’m not sure that “She’ll Be Comin’ ‘round the Mountain” should count.
I had no idea what the connection was between Zyzzyx and Flace initially. I mean, THIS WAS ALL PLANNED. TOTALLY PLANNED. Actually, I’m fairly pleased with how this turned out. They were initially intended to be old friends from college, but the timeline didn’t really line up. Being a test subject for a cruel cosmetics company definitely fit the bill.
Nearly everyone I have collaborated with on this project has, at some point or another, mentioned the woods. A character fleeing into the woods, or lurking just outside the woods. But here’s the thing: there aren’t any woods. North Dakota — at least, the part of North Dakota I’m referencing in this — is flat. Mostly treeless. The closest thing to forest they have is fields of crops, like wheat and corn. Corn is funnier than wheat, so that’s why we end up in a corn field every time a story would otherwise demand that we go into the woods. (Interesting side note: apparently Twin Peaks was originally meant to take place in North Dakota, but woods and trees were a pretty essential part of the imagery, so they moved it to Washington.)
I’m super pleased with how this ending sounds. This is 98% the music (which I own, but did not write — I bought it from a site that licenses independent music) and the performers, and maybe 2% my editing skills. And that’s being generous in my favor.
Not gonna lie: I was pretty excited when it was time to write and produce this episode. Zyzzyx quickly became the breakout character of this season, which (as discussed in earlier annotations) is why I felt the need to kill her off. Yes, she’s really dead at the end of this episode. Though, through the magic of flashbacks and such, this will probably not be the last time we hear from her.
“A major character lying helplessly in a coma” is another item on my “this wouldn’t be a soap opera without…” list.
Dr. Chag Laeknir is one of my better soap opera names. Laeknir is Icelandic for doctor. Obviously.
I very much want to bring back Dr. Laeknir. We haven’t had nearly enough Sexy, Square-Jawed Soap Opera Doctor in this thing yet. Nor have we had nearly enough Joe yet.
I think I made it clear in the story, but at least one person asked me to clarify so maybe I didn’t: Agnes Jørgensen is Zyzzyx Jones. She cheated her way to a college scholarship on Ottawa St. Corby’s dime, went to England, adopted a fake accent and made-up backstory for herself, returned to Contentment Corner to discover that the trip to England wasn’t covered in her scholarship and swore revenge. Sometimes I feel like I over-explain things and I end up overcompensating for that by not explaining enough. But that’s the deal.
It would also not be a soap opera — specifically, a soap opera with a “Joan Collins from Dynasty” homage character — without a catfight. She and Linda Evans fought, like, once per season in mud, fountains and similar. So a giant pool of soapy runoff felt very much in that same vein.
This is another instance of not planning to use Security Guard Jimmy Stewart, but somehow ending up with a script with a Security Guard Jimmy Stewart-shaped hole in it.
The rich couple who both despise each other is another soap opera staple — I noticed it most prominently in Passions, but it popped up in several other places in my research as well. Growing up seeing marriage depicted in TV and movies, I’ve never understood why so many people remain married when they clearly can’t stand to be in one another’s company.
Zyzzyx County is a reference that goes all the way back to the first Aaron Faucet appearance. It was, in turn, named for a real place in the world: Zzyzx, California. There is no actual Zyzzyx County in California or North Dakota or, as far as I know, anywhere else. There’s also no such town as Contentment Corner. This is just one of many fictional elements in our story. See if you can spot some more!
“Buying someone’s house without their knowledge and then throwing them out of it when they come home” is another thing lifted directly from Dynasty. I guess rich people can just do that!
Kara suggested that Zyzzyx die at the hands of the poor animals she’s been torturing all this time. It was, as you can hear, an excellent suggestion.
See, “Teen Beat” is a popular magazine, and it’s also a play on the fact that an adolescent is in charge of the police. Also, not the first time we have explored this premise.
The text game that Vatican and Trojan are playing in the beginning of this episode is Beyond Zork, a game I was obsessed with for the better part of a year. (As it happens, Vatican is exactly my age. I was also 12-going-on-13 in the summer of 1987. So it’s super easy to work out her pop cultural touchstones.)
Agent Dottie is a title you’ll probably be hearing again very soon. Here, it’s a stand-in for Transformers: The Movie, another thing I was obsessed with around this age.
The Middle School MacGyvers are based on Olympics of the Mind, a problem-solving club for kids that was actually threatened with legal action by the Olympics. They are now known as Odyssey of the Mind. Until the estate of Homer sues them, presumably.
I’ve worked with quite a few very impressive voice actors at this point in my unpaid career and none of them has been able to pull off that Paget-Brewster-as-Sadie-Doyle mid-Atlantic accent that everyone had in old movies… until Caitlin. As soon as I realized she could do this voice, I knew we had to use it in something. And, as expected, Giselle is an utter delight.
I’m not sure why such a small bar in such a small town would feature such an obviously classy singing act as this one. Then again, I recently started rewatching Twin Peaks and I was reminded that we did not invent the “incongruous musical acts in small town watering holes” trope.
I totally planned for Vatican’s crush on Jad to go absolutely nowhere. Because this was all intricately plotted out from the beginning. Jeez, how many times do I have to tell you that?
My intention, plot-wise, was to get Vatican in as far over her head as we could manage without stretching the story’s internal logic to its breaking point. I feel like we actually pulled that off here.
If I drop dead tomorrow, it will be with the satisfied air of a man who has reached the pinnacle of his creative accomplishments in life. I reached that pinnacle when I did this scene featuring the Beastie Boys. It’s just the most quintessentially me thing I’ve ever done, and I’m so happy with how it came out. All credit to Jason and Joe for that.
Doing the research on the Licensed to Ill-era Beastie Boys was, in a word, painful. Not only were they stupid frat boys (or, as they now want us to believe, pretending to be stupid frat boys), but they gave absolutely nothing to interviewers. Like, extremely difficult, roundabout answers. Or one-word answers that left everyone standing awkwardly, wondering what to say next. That doesn’t exactly make for good radio, so I exaggerated a bit, and gave it more of an anarchic Marx Brothers quality.
I was a bit concerned that having a character who sounded like Sadie Doyle would lead to writing a character that was just Sadie Doyle. Thankfully, Caitlin helped me hash out the distinction. It should, I think, become more apparent in the next episode.
The initial intention, as I mentioned before, was to just keep running on and on, like actual soap operas do. So when we determined that it might be easier for listeners to follow something structured more like a modern TV series, with blocks of episodes constituting a season, I started thinking about how things would all fit together in that context. I am, quite honestly, pretty pleased with what I came up with… though I think we’ll make a much better go of things in season 2, now that we’ll be planning for that structure from the start.
That’s me as perennial old-timey announcer Rick Threefold on Giselle’s radio in the first scene.
Giselle was loosely based on Hedy Lamarr, a scientific genius who also happened to be a glamorous movie star in old Hollywood. No, seriously. She invented the technology upon which modern wi-fi is built.
Caitlin had a lot of fun with the Giselle voice. I kind of assumed the bit of 30s-ish technobabble at the beginning would sound the funniest, but she insists that Fatty Arbuckle was the most fun thing to say.
Tangelo and Tangela Malloy are ancestors of Trojan Malloy, who mentioned in the last episode that she comes from a long line of mystery solving twins. They came about largely because Amanda wanted to do that ridiculous “golly gee” voice like Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. (It's also a bit of an homage to the extremely talented Rachel Feinstein.) She (and Sabrina) totally nailed it, and I think it contrasted nicely with Giselle.
This Zyzzyx scene takes place just after we left her soapy catfight with Ottawa St. Corby in episode 13. But you knew that. I hope.
The villain who’s too oblivious to realize there’s a hero right in front of them, capable of foiling their plans, is hardly an original concept. I’d go so far as to say it’s a bit hack. But it was a concession I was willing to make in order to fit all the characters and jokes I wanted together.
I also really liked the symmetry of Vatican being the first friendly voice we hear in episode one, and the person who saves the town in the finale.
The ridiculous stage whispers that Vatican (Nicole) and Trojan (Kristy) do in this episode crack me up. Sometimes I like to take a goofy thing I see in TV and movies and just dial it up a tiny bit. I think we’re to the point with these performers now that they get exactly what I’m going for, and they consistently deliver fantastic performances like these.
“Grace’s Past” is a reference to Passions. A character named Grace had your standard-issue amnesia relating to her life prior to a certain point. Other characters began referring to “Grace’s Past” like it was a place. “Who is that woman? Maybe she’s from Grace’s Past.” “Maybe there’s a clue in Grace’s Past.” And so on.
Professor Kutchington was, of course, ordered to leave town back in episode 9. And the device he had scanning for extraterrestrials was tampered with, all the way back in episode 6, by Thelma Stanwyk and Joe Conklin.
I don’t know how the Professor knew the time traveler Vatican referred to was female. I guess he’s just that smart.
Making the Professor “just a general scientist” is a nod to so many TV shows I grew up on, where scientist characters were somehow experts on any subject that might come up in the course of a given story. Except Doctor McCoy, of course. That guy was always only a doctor, and he wasn’t afraid to tell you all the other stuff that he wasn’t.
This may be the last time we visit this Ljiljana scene in 1972. Then again, I kinda like the idea of cramming as many key plot elements as possible into one tiny, seemingly insignificant sequence.
We will definitely be coming back to the D&D game that Candida and Felicity regularly hold in the secret room of the library. I wanted to do a whole scene here, but we just didn’t have time for it.
Also, I instructed T-Dro to play Candida as though she’d had a wine cooler or two during the game and the result was delightful.
I could easily write an entire 30 minute episode of Niff and Clorm sniping at one another. Which probably means it’s time to kill them both.
I did want to include the entire cast in this finale, but I struggled with a way to feature Nate (Flace) without taking things completely off track. He ended up having a single syllable in this episode, which I was able to loop from a previous session. Sorry, Nate. I tried!
What is Giselle up to on these tall buildings?? All we really know for sure is that it’s not a death ray.
I’m sure somebody got the “babel fish puzzle” reference. Somewhere.
Our two named M.U.C.U.S. agents are Poole and Fontaine. That’s… sort of wordplay, right? In fairness, I never claimed it was clever. I’m mostly just happy with the fact that I don’t get stuck trying to think up character names like a lot of writers apparently do. “Hide a dumb barely-a-joke in there and move on!,” that’s my motto.
This Poole/Aaron scene was actually cut from a previous episode. I think it fit better here. Would Aaron even comprehend the naked, unvarnished truth at this point in his sanity curve?
And speaking of Aaron being batshit insane, pairing him up with Ravina was a left-field idea that, once I had it, felt incredibly natural. We will almost certainly be following up with them a bit in season 2.
Honestly: WHAT IS THE DEAL WITH THE NARRATOR?? I guess we’re not going to find out this season.
Duncan Boszko - Prick, Crazy David, Giovanni, Clorm
Mark Boszko - Case Kutchington, Professor Ace Kutchington, Melvin, Rev. Blate Cobalt, Mustache Charlie
Kristy Brannon - Felicity Brimstone, Trojan Malloy
Randall Cleveland - Agent Gary Poole, Mayor Oskar Tyrannus, Jad Cortland III
Robert Cooper - Narrator
Terry Drosdak - Candida Prim, White House Switchboard Operator
Jason Ellis - Captain Salami
Nathan LaJeunesse - Flace Carousél
Brian Lynch - Jad Cortland IV, Prince Serb Skycap
Kara O'Connor - Zyzzyx Jones, Ljiljana Dragana
Caitlin Obom - Crimson Glory, Sheriff Metalious Steele, Bazalakesh, Giselle Geroux
Josef Ravenson - Dutch Concierge, Righty, Velvet Chemise, Dr. Chag Laeknir, Michael Diamond, Agent Fontaine
Maggie Rowbotham - Aaron Faucet
Nicole Santora - Vatican St. Corby, Fondella Ember
Amanda Smith - Ravina, Mary Madison, Deputy Sinder, Queen Claviger, Tangela Malloy
Sabrina Snyder - Quinn Ambrosia, Thelma Stanwyk, Tangelo Malloy
Jason Wallace - Alistair Eventide, Lord Gordon, Joe Conklin, Jimmy the security guard, Admiral Hiram P. Barnácle, Norse Porter, King Farkas, Adam Horowitz
Ron “AAlgar” Watt - President Reagan, President Garfield, President Warren G. Harding, President Johnson, President Filmore, Captain Scuderius, President Cleveland, Clinton Fisher, Niff, Swiss Hotelier, Adam Yauch
Written by Ron “AAlgar” Watt with Kristy Brannon, Randall Cleveland, Terry Drosdak and Amanda Smith
Directed by Ron “AAlgar” Watt
© 2016 AAlgar Productions