Update: When this review was written, I was unaware of who Ed Champion was, and was not aware of his history or allegations made against him.
The Gray Area is an independent audio drama by creator Edward Champion in which each episode is a different story entirely, a la Black Mirror, but it also hops between different genres. Like American Horror Story, The Gray Area has threads connecting each episode together if the listener pays attention; unlike American Horror Story, this is clearly intended from the first episode.
With five full episodes under its belt, The Gray Area never fails to surprise and delight. While the writing sometimes feels a little manufactured, it is always remains fast-paced and engaging. The characters rely on some tropes, but it works perfectly in a show that already hops between genres. The tropes don’t feel like lazy writing when they’re present; they feel like genuine, and very welcome, satire. This is most present in the fourth episode, “Loopholes,” a venture into high fantasy. Meanwhile, in earlier episodes like “Brand Awareness” and “Hello,” the character writing is incredibly genuine, showing the show can play to both strengths.
One of the show’s biggest assets is how it shifts pacing for each story and genre. “Hello,” a story about a surreal morning after a one night stand, jolts between contemplative and panicked, picking up its pace alongside its protagonist. The writing and acting accompany each other to create the perfect tone, even as the storyline shifts. “Loopholes” sprints through its plot at a breakneck speed that can be a little jarring, but just encourages second listens. The Gray Area has an incredible knack for completely changing each episode while also maintaining its identity.
The production of the show, similarly, changes drastically. “Fuel to the Fire,” a comedic Person Is Seen As A God story, starts with an extreme amount of sound effects–something that would usually be infuriating but adds to the hyperbolic feeling of the story. When the episode dies down to a more intimate conversation, those production features drop, and the sound effects work only to create a very elegant, calm scene. Like the pacing, the production mirrors each episode perfectly.
The one problem with this is a tendency for tonal whiplash if the listener binges the show versus listening week to week. Unlike most podcasts, I’d recommend listening to each episode of The Gray Area separately. It may take away from trying to find the connections between each episode, but softening the difference between the tones will be worth it.
3 thoughts on “First Impressions: High-Energy, Surprising Storytelling in “The Gray Area””
Dear Wil: I can’t thank you enough for this extremely generous and perspicacious review. You’re quite right about tropes, which are, to a certain degree, inevitable when it comes to genre (or, for that matter, storytelling). And you are also right to observe that much of this plays into a very understated satire that I’ve done my best to layer beneath the characters and the sound design. Keep in mind that Virginia Gaskell’s story typed at the beginning of the prologue mirrors the beginning of the story at “Hello.” So you’re definitely looking in the right place! 🙂 The connections here will become more self-evident in Seasons 2 and 3. Thank you for being such a close and attentive listener. I truly appreciate it! All best, Ed Champion
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