In the last few years, podcasts–digital audio that you can download onto phones or iPods–have become increasingly popular. It’s definitely an easy medium to consume when you spend a lot of time studying, working or commuting. As a college student, I love podcasts because they help me do everything from keeping up on current events to enjoying a fictional series in bite-size installments while I go between classes.
One of my all-time favorite podcasts is “Wolf 359.” Co-produced by Gabriel Urbina and Zach Valenti, this sci-fi series carries on the grand tradition of 1950s radio dramas and puts any run-of-the-mill audiobook to shame. Each episode is presented as an unauthorized broadcast sent out from a research space station, the Hephaestus, by a chronically bored communications officer, Doug Eiffel (Zach Valenti).
In orbit around real-life star Wolf 359–hence the show’s name–and lightyears from Earth, each episode chronicles the daily life of Eiffel and his coworkers as they struggle to pass the time and solve the problems, both big and small, that arise as their mission to study the star progresses.
There are five main characters in “Wolf 359:” Eiffel, a pop-culture savvy narrator with a few skeletons in his closet; Lieutenant Commander Renee Minkowski (Emma Sher-Ziarko), long-suffering leader of the spaceship; Dr. Alexander Hilbert (Zach Valenti), erstwhile inventor and scientist; Hera (Michaela Swee), a mostly-functional Artificial Intelligence; and Captain Isabel Lovelace (Cecilia Lynn Jacobs), a no-nonsense soldier with hidden strengths. Though the four start out as mere coworkers with little in common, the show does an admirable job of developing each character as an individual while also allowing relationships between the team to flourish.
One thing I found interesting about this podcast is that unlike other fictional podcasts like “Welcome to Nightvale,” “We’re Alive,” or “The Black Tapes,” there is absolutely no romance throughout the series. This was not a bad thing; often when romance is included in media that I consume, my attention wanes once the two characters get together. I think that the choice to focus on friendship is part of why the series remained so strong throughout the duration of its run.
The series, now complete, is comprised of four seasons. There are 61 episodes and various mini-broadcasts available for download, so there’s no danger of running out of content after a few hours of listening the way you would with an audiobook. On average, episodes are about 20 minutes in length, and are parsed out into different “scenes” so you can pause at convenient intervals.
While there were some cliffhangers, each episode of “Wolf 359” has a complete arc. Each individual episode plot builds on another, which results in exciting season finales that kept me genuinely surprised and entertained. “Wolf 359” manages to combine elements of comedy, drama and action that, while they can seem exaggerated at times, create a genuinely touching work.