First Impressions: “Unplaced” a Haunting Audio Drama Discusses Isolation and Erasure

Unplaced is a new science fiction audio drama by Michelle Nickolaisen, writer of the Woldslip series. The plot centers around a woman who wakes up to find that nobody can see or hear her, and her determination to find out why. Here is the show’s summary, taken from its website:

Unplaced is an audio drama that tells the story of a woman who wakes up one day to find that no one can see or hear her, and everyone she knows is slowly forgetting about her.

If you like your podcasts with a mix of introspection and urban fantasy, with a dash of supernatural horror, check it out. Available now wherever you download podcasts, or you can listen below. Released biweekly.

While most audio dramas have deeper meanings to their writing, the themes driving Unplaced are immediately evident from the first episode. In the first episode, as the narrator starts frantically explaining her day, it’s hard to ignore the themes of isolation and feeling erased by society. Here, the theme is made hyperbolic, turned into a suspenseful science fiction plot. The suspense reflected in the writing closely parallels how living through the reality of the themes actually feels.

Even outside of its clear themes, though, the writing is engaging and invites the listener to think through each decision the narrator makes. If the listener were to wake up invisible and silent, how would they resolve the issue? How would they feed themselves, pay rent, find ways to reach out and stay sane? At first, the situation seems almost like a superpower. The narrator can, for instance, steal just about anything they want–but later, a waiter is yelled at by an angry customer whose food is delayed when the narrator takes theirs. How would the listener, the show asks, handle these moral issues while still staying alive?

The down-to-earth, relatable performance by Cole Burkhardt also makes it easy for the listener to see themself in the narrator’s shoes. The podcast’s audio is almost always only bed music and Burkhardt’s narration, and most of that is conveyed by the narrator reflecting on their day. The show, naturally, couldn’t exist in any other format given; still, having only one voice in an era of lush, full-cast audio dramas is a risk. Burkhardt, luckily, always keeps the show engaging. Their performance moves easily between the narrator’s smarmy sarcasm, panic, and genuine despair at being unseen and forgotten.

As of writing, the longest episode of Unplaced clocks in at a quick twelve minutes, meaning the six episodes that have been released so far make for an exciting and easy binge-listen. With so many audio dramas taking a half-hour or even hour-long format, it can feel so daunting catching up, but Unplaced makes this so easy–and the runtime feels like the natural choice given the framing device for the podcast. Each episode is the narrator’s audio diary as they try to navigate the situation, reported as their only way of communicating with anyone. The ten-or-so minutes each episode feels like a natural amount of time for the narrator to check in, and because of the show’s plot, the framing device doesn’t feel like an excuse for the show to be an audio drama. The plot ties into the runtime, the format, and even some of the minor production complaints (e.g. a rattly mic) that I might otherwise have. Instead, these quirks make the podcast feel more genuine.

A few episodes in, the plot takes more of an urban fatasy turn, mixing what feels almost like an Animorphs vibe with its Things Not Seen plot. As a millennial, I am perhaps biased in how much the plot excites me–both of those came out when I was about a pre-teen, and obviously Unplaced has a much more mature tone–but I can already consider myself hooked to see which directions Unplaced will take.

You can find Unplaced on their website or any major podcast streaming platform. Episodes are released every other week.

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