Welcome back listeners and readers to another dose of the latest and greatest in free modern audio drama. The subject of this weeks review is Pendant Production’s Once Upon a Time in Vegas, and it most certainly is not your grandmas radio show. In fact, this particular audio drama might make her faint!
Once Upon a Time in Vegas has been voluntarily rated “R” by Pendant Productions for strong language and scenes of sexual content. While overall, this show is non-offensive, it does have some profanity and intense scenes that could be hard to explain to co-workers or innocent young ears. Folks who listen to this show on open speakers, should consider themselves warned.
This show is released once a month, and could be described as a “maxi-series”, with a planned run of 5 seasons and a definite ending. Like any good fairy tale, once its over, it will be over for good. However, there’s plenty of time for new listeners to catch up and enjoy future episodes as well.
Despite its female-centric bent, this unique show almost defies categorization. Is Once Upon a Time in Vegas really just a romance? Is it a steamy “not for innocent ears” sex comedy? Is it a fairy tale retold for the modern world? or is it a story of the supernatural, where no one is who they appear to be? Or is it all of these things? Its time to decide for yourself.
I have always found the Pendant Audio website to be well laid out. As with all Pendant shows, Vegas lists the current episode first, with older episodes in chronological order below that. I find this format remarkably easy to follow, as there is no scrolling needed to find the older shows. Once Upon a Time In Vegas is just one among ten other shows that Pendant offers. Even if Once Upon a Time in Vegas is not for you, check out the other shows; you may find one you do like. As with all Pendant productions, Once Upon a Time can either be listened to directly from their website for free, or subscribe to their iTunes feed for free, or your use your favorite podcatcher program (again, at no cost).
As with other Pendant shows, Once Upon a Time has cover art that accompanies each new episode. These “book covers” offer a nice visual tie-in to a completely audio based show. Unfortunately, episodes 1 through 9 are missing artwork. Pendant is already trying to catch up on cover art for some of their other shows and I hope the producers will consider making a complete set of cover art for the entire run of “Vegas” as well.
Each season of Once Upon a Time in Vegas consists of 12 episodes. While the show is currently in its third season, I have chosen to focus on season one for this review. The plot revolves around four main characters: Chloe Ashton, Teri Snowden, Tessa Woodsman, and Ginger Carlyle who all work at Premiere Advertising Agency in fabled Las Vegas, Nevada. On the surface, the main characters lives are filled with the usual angst and toils such as sales reports and idiot boyfriends. However, we quickly find the fairy tale subtext in each of them, and begin to see that Chloe Ashton represents Cinderella, while Tessa Woodsman represents Little Red Riding Hood. Teri Snowden stands in for Snow White and Ginger Carlyle represents the evil queen.
While not exactly aimed at an action/adventure “lets blow stuff up” guy like me, Once Upon a Time in Vegas definitely exudes an undeniable charm. Despite the heavy emphasis on romance and “hyper-cute” guys (Chloe Ashton’s words, not mine), I still found the overall story entertaining and quite unlike any other audio show I had ever heard before. At times the story feels like an episode of Sex in the City, with the girls all bantering about the men (or lack there of) in their lives. Being a guy, the romance plotline didn’t interest me much, at least until things got steamy, but more on that in a minuet.
What I did find intriguing was the story of Tessa Woodsman; or more precisely the story of Jeff, her boyfriend. Tessa represents Little Red Riding Hood, and in this version of the classic tale, Red Riding Hood ends up falling in love with the wolf, or more accurately, wolf-man. Jeff, is part of a werewolf pack that just moved in to Vegas, when the story begins. To make matters worse, Tessa discovers that she too is becoming a wolf. She finds herself craving raw meat and becoming short tempered. The slow transformation of Tessa is well handled, being both “realistic” and “fantasy” all at once. Its also a nice contrast to the romance in the rest of the show. Clearly, Pendant is trying to make “Vegas” appeal to both men and women.
Which brings us to the steamy, juicy parts of the show. There are several steamy scenes that work amazingly well. To even attempt serious love scenes in an audio drama is unbelievably risky and Pendant pulls it off with style, in my opinion. It would have been so easy to make these scenes smutty or even funny. Yet somehow they manage to stay serious and not “trashy” while still being steamy. “Vegas” succeeds admirably in appealing to men and women in a “date movie” sort of way while taking some very big risks, in terms of story.
Voice Acting & Casting
The voice acting is strong in Once Upon a Time in Vegas and for good reason. Most of the cast consists of seasoned voice actors and that shines through even from the first episode. Unlike other series where actors grow into their roles over time, few if any of the lines felt fake, forced, or like they were simply being read aloud.
Given all the veteran voice actors in Once Upon a Time, its only natural that listeners of other shows will spot a few familiar voices. For example, fans of The Byron Chronicles over on Darker Projects will immediately spot David Ault as Jeff in Once Upon a Time. Its always nice to hear actors in new roles, and it helps demonstrate their versatility.
Sound Effects & Music
I first realized how different this show was from everything else I had heard, in the first episode. The girls are all gossiping while Chloe works out on an exercise bike, then moves to a treadmill. I never questioned it, I could tell what the sounds were right away and it just drew me into the scene. Whether the sound effects were recorded or purchased, it was this attention to seemingly mundane details that impressed me. Someone put real thought into the sound effects, even for a deceptively “simple” show like this. Once Upon a Time in Vegas’ production values, tend to be subtle, even simple (but no less impressive) with their sound effects. The sound work for Vegas, stands in contrast to other shows that have big, elaborate, sound effects.
I thought the music in this series was a surprisingly good fit. I noticed no less than three distinctive musical themes. The main theme sounds like something from a little girls music box, there’s a nice little score for the funny light-hearted moments, and a romantic theme as well. Considering the fairy tale elements of the show, the music choices are very appropriate.
Overall, I loved the risks this show takes, it certainly did not sound or feel like any audio drama I had heard before. While Once Upon a Time in Vegas has a clear appeal to women, I think guys will find it interesting too, if they give it a chance.
But, don’t take my word for it, always listen for yourself…