“Solutions to Problems” Podcast a Witty, Timely, Sci-Fi “Dear Abby”

Solutions to Problems is a science fiction audio drama framed like an advice radio show that takes place in future space:

Solutions to Problems is a Dear Abby style podcast for the problems happening in YOUR little corner of the universe. Ever wish you knew what to do about your annoying human coworkers? Is your girlfriend acting a little robotic lately? Is your boyfriend suddenly your boyfriends? We have answers. Well, no, we don’t. But we do have 15 minutes of talking about your problems. Join us every other week for a new episode.

Solutions to Problems is a welcome addition to the comedy audio drama family as well as the science fiction audio drama family. Solutions to Problems is to The Once and Future Nerd what Mission to Zyxx is to Hello from the Magic Tavern–which essentially means Solutions to Problems feels like the Futurama audio drama that fans deserved. At times, Solutions to Problems even feels more akin to a lighthearted Black Mirror; while the jokes fly, the social commentary lying underneath is as biting as it is timely.

The podcast follows its hosts Janet and [Dolphin Noise]/Lavender/Loaf, as they try to help listeners with their problems. As soon as the show begins, it’s clear that the jokes are going to roll out just as easily as the commentary. Take, for instance, the way that Janet answer’s the show’s first question, sent in by an alien concerned about the facial expression their human coworker is making:

Janet: I think there’s a very simple explanation for this. This is an action that most humans refer to as “smiling.” Humans have been doing “smiling” for thousands of years, and use it as a way to express joy, contentment, or amusement.

[Dolphin Noise]/Lavender/Loaf: Are you content or amused right now, Janet?

Janet: Oh, no, as a human woman I’m required to project an aura of vague pleasantness at all times in order to work as a talk show personality.

Or take, for instance, the tone change (and, in the audio, voice change) in this listener’s question about his frustration with his new phone making edits to his contacts, texts, etc.:

 I also think [the phone’s Siri parallel, Peggy] been deleting texts, and maybe also sending a few  for me. Similarly, I know she’s editing my documents without asking me first.Usually the edits are helpful, but sometimes they are–[voice change]–extremely helpful. Peggy is always extremely helpful. Steve does not have a complaint. Steve just wants everyone listening to get their own Samsung-Apple-Android Multiverse 4007 GSBIQTTL so they, too can live their best possible lives. Sincerely, Very Happy with My New Device Please Disregard.

Or, for instance, Janet’s constant sponsorship deals, all of which she tries to blend seamlessly into the advice given:

Janet: The days when all you have time for is fast food are the worst, aren’t they! Personally, I like to start my day out with a nice big bowl of barbabrababs, the latest super food. They have all the amino acids without the acids!

Loaf: Janet, I think we’re getting a little off track.

Janet: Sorry, it’s just been so hard to focus without a good breakfast of Barbabrababs!

Loaf: You’re not cutting me out of an endorsement deal, are you Janet?

Janet: Of course not. Why would someone pay me, Janet, 20540 currency units for a specific number of name drops on the show? It’s preposterous. Barbabrababs are just the food of the future, the future we are living in right now.

Each episode has a wallop of critique driving its humor, which largely sets Solutions to Problems aside from other podcasts in the genre. The jokes don’t come at anyone’s expense except society’s at large, but they also don’t just make a shot for easy, empty humor. This podcast is an easy, funny listen, but it doesn’t have quite the brain-numbing effect of comedy podcasts with less critique in their writing. That isn’t to say those podcasts don’t have a place–you could not tear Hello from the Magic Tavern‘s Flower even from my cold, dead hands–but Solutions to Problems is a midway point between sugary comedies and dramas-with-comedy that the podcast world could do more with.

The production and editing work in Solutions to Problems is exactly as over-the-top as the show merits. Callers are given voice filters to sound more alien or robotic or more traditionally evil-sounding. The callers also actually sound like they’re calling in, and I would expect the audio taken for them does come from phone audio, whether called or recorded on a phone. When Loaf gives a word in an alien language, the audio is edited in, but the edits are quick enough to keep it from sounding obnoxious. Otherwise, the production work is restrained to simple bed music, allowing the focus to lie on the hosts instead of being intrusive. In a podcast with a short runtime–each episode is just about 15-20 minutes long–the choice is wise, allowing the dialogue to be quick and punchy instead of being lost in an overly ambitious mix.

The acting from Janet and Loaf often comes across as a bit detached and forced, but this seems like an intentional choice. As shown in the quote above, it’s clear that the emotions conveyed by Janet and Loaf aren’t genuine; they’re personalities on a show, and they need to market themselves. The callers carry most of the “authentic”-sounding performances, though given most are trying to convey alien species, robots, or otherwise, “authentic” is a bit harder to pin down. The performances across the board are somewhat broad, but they feel at home in the hyperbolic universe the show weaves together.

Solutions to Problems is currently on a break between its first and second seasons, making this the perfect time to catch up. This podcast is a great listen for anyone who wants a dose of astute humor without having to commit to a show with hour-long episodes, and it’s a great listen for anyone who craves science fiction audio drama that doesn’t rely so heavily on the drama.

You can find Solutions to Problems on their website, which has full transcripts of each episode, or on any major podcast platform.

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