While I love the high-concept ideas that audio dramas often bring to listeners, I sometimes find myself wanting a smaller-scale story to relax into. In the midst of stories set in space, a post-apocalyptic future, a magical realm, or a shockingly well-conceived world of teeth and puppets, a smaller-scope story is something I’ve been pining for.
When I read the description for Six Cold Feet, that sort of small-scale story isn’t what I was expecting:
Six Cold Feet is a fiction anthology podcast about music, mystery, and the places we escape to when the real world disappoints us. Season one tells the story of River, who is looking for his recently disappeared sister. He attempts to enlist the help of his fellow townspeople, but we soon learn that they have given up hope, that the town in which they live seems to be rather unusual, and that River has plenty of problems of his own…
Written by award-winning author and poet J.M. Donellan and performed by a cast including Melanie Zanetti, Jessica McGaw, and Tom Yaxley this series will leave you pondering long after the final episode sings through your speakers.
At first glance, Six Cold Feet has the trappings of the traditional investigative journalism audio drama genre. To an extent, that does hold: River’s search for his sister is what motivates the plot, and the podcast does use some standard recurring themes for the genre, like interviews with people who might know more and references to fans’ sightings of his sister. What Six Cold Feet winds up being, though, is a slow-paced, introspective, contemplative look through River’s life and what lead him to this moment. Instead of focusing on the drama of his sister’s mysterious disappearance, he focuses on their childhood together, their messy teen years, and the music they went on to create. The tone is more akin to an episode of This American Life than an episode of, for instance, Limetown, and the payoff is incredible. Six Cold Feet manages to convey such an intense, stressful situation with a gentleness and air of nostalgia that makes the podcast so unique and novel.
Not only does this tactic help set such a lovely tone, but it also makes for a hypnotically immersive story. One of my biggest problems with the traditional investigative journalism framing device in audio dramas is how separated from the journalist the final product sounds. While listening, I find myself thinking, “Why would a radio station publish this episode? Why would this journalist, who cares so much about this facet of the story, be focusing on a different, more plot-relevant facet in the final edit?” With Six Cold Feet, River’s narration feels seamlessly, effortlessly River. He’s a terribly unreliable narration, but this is clear from the first episode, and it’s a facet of the story. This is an unreliable narrator done right, one whose focus and feelings are so clear that they drive the narrative instead of a specific plot.
This is also helped by the lovely performances and brilliant sound design in the podcast. Other than a few vocal hiccups, River is completely believable as someone telling a story without a script. Each actor embodies their character with a casual, lived-in sensibility that makes each line read so comfortable and natural. The sound design, too, usually feels hyper-authentic. The podcast features ostensibly older recordings of River and his sister’s time as musicians, and these pieces felt so real. There’s more reverb given to the voices, given they’re playing in more open spaces like bars. There’s a bit of fuzz on them. The applause is enthusiastic but sparse, which feels exactly as it would be at one of their shows.
My critiques of the show are minimal; Six Cold Feet has become one of my favorite recent listens. It could be argued that Six Cold Feet is too slow-paced, not plot-heavy enough, but this only seems to apply to those who aren’t focusing closely. There’s foreshadowing interlaced in every episode leading up to a climax that maybe be small in scale but is borderline insurmountable in emotion. At some points, actors were a bit too close on their mics, leading to some popping plosives, but these occasions were so rare they’re easy to overlook.
Six Cold Feet is a lovely addition to the current audio drama climate, and I hope its slow-paced, introspective, small-scale storytelling signals a new trend in audio drama. While Season 2 will be a completely different story–think of the season setup of American Horror Story–I cannot wait to see what this team brings next.