Podcast Review: “The Black Tapes”

erick mertz author, the black tapes podcast review

When the voice of “The Black Tapes” hostess Alex Reagan shudders on the brink of a spellbinding reveal, you feel it. At times it’s like listening to someone coming apart through your earbuds.

Alex does not present as the cool-headed skeptic, a la, Dana Scully. She doesn’t effervesce the nerdy smart of Ghostbusters’ Egon Spengler either.

Alex is out on the brink. She is a character that has gone too far, knows this but is helpless to pull herself back in time.

For that vulnerable quality alone she is among the most compelling paranormal investigators in fiction.

First off, let’s run through a quick summary of the overarching story. Created by Paul Bae and Terry Miles, The Black Tapes was a spin-off of the long running program, Pacific Northwest Stories. Episodes consistently run inside of the 28 to 34 minute range, making them bite-sized and its storytelling style is often compared to the wildly popular Serial.

But does a great central protagonist make for a great paranormal podcast? Let’s dive into this review of The Black Tapes podcast to see.

What Works In This Podcast?

Alex Reagan is the podcast’s central character. With her producer Nic Silver, she investigates paranormal phenomenon.

Of particular interest here is Doctor Richard Strand, an “evangelical skeptic” and head of the Strand Institute. The mercurial Strand has offered a million dollar prize to anyone who can prove the existence of the paranormal. What peaks Reagan and Silver’s interest is his possession of “black tapes” containing his interviews with witnesses to paranormal phenomenon.

Reagan dives into the the rabbit hole. This ultimately leads her to look more deeply at Doctor Strand and, in particular, his past. Along they way they confront the disappearance of his wife, encounters with everyday creeps trying to interfere, and an emerging threat from The Order of The Cenophus.

It’s delightfully unsettling stuff.

Found footage has been done and the technique is the central storytelling vehicle in The Black Tapes. This has been done to the point where it has become a bad word. The producers of The Black Tapes are savvy at working in a variety of sources though. They employ sleep studies, phone messages, devilish symphonies to support the titular diaries.

Early on in the show’s run, before the meta-narrative takes over, The Black Tapes focuses on individual hauntings. Reagan investigates Strand’s black tapes one by one and the result is a cool “monster of the week” element.

As noted above, Reagan is a terrific lead. She is compelling and her trials and tribulations are convincing. One of my favorite aspects are the side characters. Cora Lee Strand. Thomas Warren. Percival Black.

These characters make for a compelling cast.

What Doesn’t Work?

There were a few aspects of The Black Tapes I was not particularly fond of.

First off, the performances by the voice actors were sometimes uneven. Especially those of Doctor Strand, the shadowy antagonist, who all too often delivered his lines with too much gravity.

Also, I felt as though the writing often veered off into a bland dialog exchanges between Regan and Silver that went like this:

“Whoa, did you hear?”

“What are you talking about?”

“Just listen.”

This dynamic was effective in smaller doses. After hearing a couple in an episode though, it lost its punch.

What Does It All Mean For The Black Tapes Podcast Review?

After three seasons, in 2017, The Black Tapes was finished. When the curtain dropped it felt abrupt. The final episode, “Into The Black” faded into uncertainty. The end was left up to the listener. It was a kind of “did they or didn’t they” finish.

I was sad that it was done. The Reagan/Strand conclusion was one that I saw coming, but that isn’t a way of saying it was unsatisfying.

The Black Tapes centered on the idea that one can never prove the presence of paranormal things. In that regard, the end was apropos.

A podcast review of The Black Tapes comes down to whether or not it’s worth investing your time in. My answer is yes.

Yes, there were weaknesses in The Black Tapes. But those were far outweighed by its strengths. Fans of paranormal/auditory storytelling like The Magnus Archives or Welcome To Nightvale will love this show.

What did you think of The Black Tapes? Did you like it? Maybe not. Leave a comment with your thoughts below.

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emertzPodcast Review: “The Black Tapes”

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