#TryPod : Just in time for Book 2, a review of The Once and Future Nerd

For someone who loves audio as a medium and loves books,the assumption could be made that I love audiobooks. The assumption would be wrong. Audiobooks have always felt stale, poorly-paced, and auditorily unattractive. The closest I’ve come to enjoying an audiobook are the snippets I’ve heard to the full cast recordings of The Bad Beginning (the first book in A Series of Unfortunate Events), and American Gods. The addition of voice actors performing different roles immediately invigorated the recordings to me, but they still sounded terrible. Why go to such trouble and not go the full mile into audio drama? Why stop short of something that actually utilizes the audio format?

This is where The Once and Future Nerd comes into play. Part fiction podcast, part audiobook, The Once and Future Nerd understands both its genre and its medium expertly.

The Once and Future Nerd is a genre-blending drama-comedy podcast that focuses on three high school students–Billy, the archetypal jock; Jenn, the archetypal cheerleader; and Nelson, the archetypal nerd–who are transported to a magical, Tolkein-esque realm. The show begins as a combination of Lord of the RingsGame of ThronesThe Breakfast Club, and The Goonies in a way that likens it to shows like Once Upon a Time or, much more favorably, Stranger Things. (It should also be noted that The Once And Future Nerd came out long before Stranger Things.)

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Initially, the show seems overly familiar with a few exceptions that make it worth trudging through (the elf Yllowyyn’s southern accent, for instance, is a choice that never fails to delight in its subversion). Like many, if not most, fiction podcasts, The Once and Future Nerd takes some time to hit its stride. Unlike most fiction podcasts that come with the emphatic “Stick with it!” caveat, though, this one actually does have a payoff that makes the first string of episodes all the more worthwhile.

As the show develops, subversion becomes a clear running theme. We get glimpses of this with the aforementioned accented elves, but the true champion of subversion in the show comes in the form of Aerona Regan, usually referred to as just Regan. Regan fulfills the trope of the lost royal who will return to her throne to save the kingdom. Regan also, however, fulfills the role of crass, chaotic neutral rogue with a hatred of the upper class. The contrast already provides an interesting dynamic within the main cast of characters, but her role also makes the very large-scale political disruption plot more intimate and tangible.

Regan’s introduction sets the stage for the entire cast of characters becoming elegantly subversive; none of the character intricacies feel forced or tired. Each character develops in a way that feels natural and honest. Jenn slowly reveals herself as a lover of science and study; Billy slowly reveals himself as emotional, struggling with the ideas of traditional masculinity forced upon him. The character writing is on par with shows like The Bright Sessions and Wolf 359, which makes it all the more frustrating that the Once and Future Nerd isn’t discussed more.

The show is also more sociologically astute than any other podcast I’ve come across. Instead of being an easy escapist fantasy, the show lures the listener in with adventure but winds up discussing current social issues like class struggle, racism, misogyny, rape culture, cultural appropriation, and toxic masculinity. While sometimes a little on-the-nose, it’s refreshing to hear a show that doesn’t put itself in a strange cultural vacuum; it’s refreshing to hear a show actually touch on themes instead of having a plot for the only purpose of having a plot.

This isn’t to say that the show is one dark trudge through political unrest and social justice. The show is, more often than not, hilarious. The anachronisms the three teenagers offer strike the rare sweet spot between delightfully referential but not too pandering to the audience. The dialogue feels much more akin to Community than something like The Big Bang Theory, but it also has a wonderful knack for well-timed, well-placed throwaway jokes the listener might not notice on a first listen.

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On March 12, 2017, The Once and Future Nerd premiered its first episode of Book 2, which will be initially released biweekly. The first episode was almost primarily recap of Book 1, summarized hilariously by the resentful, frustrated narrator. Even when only delivering a summary of past events, the show was still mindful of being creative and engaging, always understanding its audience and medium. I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited for more content based only on a summary before.

I’ll likely be posting more episode reviews for The Once and Future Nerd as episodes are released, but I implore you to give this show a fighting chance. I know the genre is a hard sell; I know the initial episodes are lackluster. I promise you that with patience, you’ll become a champion of this show like I am.

  1. […] to Book 2 with attention to detail that’s become a trademark for this underrated show. Read my full review of the podcast here, including a very quick review of this week’s […]

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  2. […] think it would be an issue for new listeners to jump in–but I’d implore everyone to give the full show a listen and not skip […]

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  3. […] Wil Williams writes podcast reviews and obviously has impeccable taste. […]

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  4. […] Maybe what you need is to feel feelings, but not as much as the emotional hospital dose of The Bright Sessions. Maybe you like your feelings to be brought back slowly, with lots of humor and even the distance brought by high fantasy. If that’s the case, The Once and Future Nerd is for you. What starts out as a sort of Breakfast Club meets Lord of the Rings becomes a socially-aware drama comedy with twists and suspense that rival Game of Thrones but without, you know, hating women. The show follows an epic quests while also throwing pot shots at archetypal Nice Guys and delving into discussions of racism and classism. This podcast is the perfect mix of fun, exciting, and hearing stellar takedowns of so many things you hate about the world. You can read more about The Once and Future Nerd in the recommendation I wrote during this year’s #TryPod. […]

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  5. […] The Once and Future Nerd: The Once and Future Nerd is a high fantasy serialized audio drama about a group of American teenagers who find themselves transported to a fantastical realm that, while magical, is not free from societal issues and commentary. You can read my review of the show here. […]

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  6. […] I’ve talked about my love for The Once and Future Nerd before, and I’ll likely say it forever. This show is my go-to pick for “Most Underrated Audio Drama.” The writing is great, it allows itself to be silly while still taking plot moments seriously when needed, and it isn’t shy about being political. The show also has a diverse cast of characters, including canon characters of color and LGBT+ characters. […]

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  7. […] while magical, is not free from societal issues and commentary. You can read my review of the show here, and you can read about why you should be listening to it here. This podcast had some of my […]

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  8. […] four normal American teenagers who find themselves transported to another realm. I’ve talked up The Once and Future Nerd before based on its own merits, but it’s also been a huge asset as […]

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