Podcasts have been a part of my life for nearing on five years. Nowadays, I listen to a lot of true crime podcasts, or ones about the news. But I still have a deep love for narrative podcasts and a lifetime obsession with weird stuff. So, on paper, I should love the podcasts from Pacific Northwest Stories.
Pacific Northwest Stories (PNWS) is a podcasting production company that created podcasts like The Black Tapes, Tanis, and Rabbits. They are told in the docu-drama style, where the stories are presented as true and the characters are presented as real people, placed in situations that seem to prove to us that the world is much stranger than we all previously thought.
I first started listening to The Black Tapes a couple years ago. I found it by typing in “spooky narrative podcasts” into Google (no lie). I was listening to a lot of comedy podcasts at the time, and some that I don’t listen to anymore, but I wanted more scary stuff in my life. There is a certain amount of masochistic pleasure in being scared but knowing you’re totally safe. I really enjoy that feeling in my media choices. (This was before the true crime obsession really blossomed, because now I listen to enough scary stuff to last me a lifetime.) And The Black Tapes delivered, at least in Season One. It was centered around a (fictional) journalist named Alex Reagan doing a profile of sorts on a man named Dr. Richard Strand. Dr. Strand apparently made his living disproving the existence of supernatural occurrences, and he had a reward to give to people who can send him something he can’t disprove with science. But deeper than that, Dr. Strand is looking for his wife, who disappeared a couple years ago under mysterious circumstances.
The heart of the show was the fight between the ways that we explain things. They dove into mathematical paradoxes, musical theory, the occult. And it was really cool! The way that the story unfolded gave the listeners a real feeling of discovery, at least it did for me. It was fascinating to listen to how they worked through the plot points, how the characters got deeper into the mystery. But I think they bit off more than they could chew. The last season was rushed, with only half of the episodes of the previous two, and it ended on a cliffhanger that made little sense for the characters, in my opinion. The Black Tapes was created before Tanis started, but as soon as Tanis took off, I get the feeling that the producers recognized which podcast was going to do better in the end. They were trying to create too many worlds where these wild conspiracies existed, and The Black Tapes ended abruptly when they decided to put more effort into Tanis instead.
And Tanis is the crown jewel of PNWS podcast lineup. It’s a combination of horror, the occult, science, the supernatural – it’s got it all. The host, Nic Silver (also a fictional character), first appeared in The Black Tapes as the producer, but began hosting this project as he did his own research. The myth of Tanis is the crux of this show – what is it, and how it is affecting the world. It’s interesting, a whole worldwide conspiracy that has apparently existed for centuries and now here we are, getting to uncover it.
The show takes itself so seriously that sometimes you can forget it’s fiction. It’s incredibly well-produced, the voice acting is done well, and there is a certain earnestness to the characters that makes you want to believe them. The world they inhabit is bizarre, and not our own, but it feels like it could exist, if you blink. Maybe it’s there in our peripheral vision.
But, I’m getting a little burned out on the story in Tanis. Call me whatever you want, but when I’m indulging in fantasy, I want there to be neat endings. Sometimes, I like to dive into a world where everything works out and makes sense. But the contract you make with Tanis is that you can’t expect that to happen. That is what makes it feel realistic, even when there is a character who is a hacker who can find any information to act as a plot device. The story is inching closer to understanding Tanis, but as soon as you feel like the characters took a step forward, they start investigating a whole other aspect of the story. At points, the story feels like it’s intrigue for intrigue’s sake. The same problem happened with The Black Tapes. They had introduced so many different moving parts of so-called clues that, at the end, there wasn’t a neat way to wrap it up and finish it, so they didn’t.
This is supposed to be a review, so here is my opinion – I like these shows. They are clever, well-produced, and well-acted narrative podcasts. I listened to the entirety of The Black Tapes, I listened to Rabbits, and I still listen to Tanis. The mystery still gets me, and I still want to see where they take the story, for now. If you like horror, mystery, the occult, or even the Pacific northwest as a concept, these are a great choice. I’ll keep listening, for now. I’m still attached to the idea that maybe they’ll get it right this time and tie all the loose ends together. I would really like to figure out what they have in store.