Tell me my favorite college football team will finish 10-2 and then they end up 6-6, I’ll be disappointed. If you tell me that same team will finish 2-10 and then they end up 6-6, I’m pretty happy with how things turned out. In either case, it’s the same team with the same outcome, but the power of expectations dictates how I feel about the end result almost as much as the end result itself.
I found out about the Limetown podcast via a Vox article that proclaimed it as my “paranormal Serial replacement.” I was intrigued. More than that, I immediately had expectations. Serial is the podcast that took the format mainstream and listeners have been searching for a show to fill the vacuum left behind after its first season ended. So if you’re telling me this is the new Serial, I’m in.
Now I wish I hadn’t been told that because when I started listening to Limetown and realized what it actually was, I was disappointed. Disappointed because it’s not, in fact, my new Serial replacement. It is, however, an intriguing tale with the potential to kickstart another podcast genre’s ascension into the mainstream.
Limetown is a seven-part podcast that tells the story of the eponymous Tennessee town/research facility where, about a decade ago, more than 300 people up and vanished without a trace. The true purpose of Limetown remains shrouded in mystery to this day and no one will speak about it’s nature or what happened. The podcast is American Public Radio (APR) journalist Lia Haddock’s pursuit of the truth that seems to be leading her down a rabbit hole she may regret even approaching.
At this point you’re probably asking yourself, “300 people went mission…why do I not remember this?” And this is the point where I tell you that you don’t remember it because it never happened. Limetown is a fictionalized tale, a radio play, broken up episodically.
The Serial comparisons are drawn from the fact that it’s presented as an investigation of a mystery from a dogged female reporter’s point of view. In between discoveries, Haddock will openly question what she’s thinking and doing, the same way Serial’s Sarah Koenig did.
So far, only two episodes have been released but already we’ve been taken deep into the mystery that the events at Limetown have left behind. We’ve met enough curious characters and heard enough shocking revelations to hook us in for the long haul. It’s easy to follow Haddock down the rabbit hole and start making your own guesses as to the true nature of what happened here.
“But it’s fake, why should I care?” Well, why do you care about True Detective, The Walking Dead or Marvel movies? Good storytelling is good storytelling. Radio plays might sound like the kind of medium that went out of style with the advent of the television but podcasting is breathing new life into this kind of entertainment. Podcasts like Welcome to Night Vale, SAYER and now Limetown remind us that the potential for podcasts goes beyond investigative reporting and bad movie discussions.
If I have a quibble with Limetown so far it’s that sometimes it sounds a little too neat, tidy and scripted. We want our entertainment to transport us to a world that feels real and the acting doesn’t always completely take us all the way there. Performances are all over the place and many moments that should feel real instead feel very staged. It’s obvious that most if not all of the podcast is taking place in a recording studio. “Dirtying up” some of the interactions and asides would go a long way towards upping the authenticity of what we’re hearing and helping us disappear into the reality.
If you’re telling me that Limetown is supposed to scratch the Serial itch, I can’t say that it does, and to expect so will leave you disappointed. But if you’re going to listen to Limetown for what it is, a mysterious piece of entertainment meant to keep you guessing, then you’re much more likely to enjoy it.
The less you concern yourself with expectations, the easier it is to concern yourself with the creepy Limetown movie theater they keep mentioning…what’s the deal with THAT place???