Yay! Huzzah! Second Shift,one of my favorite dramatic podcasts, is back for its second season. Season One ended with a rip-roaring cliffhanger back in December, so I was delighted to see the Season Two opener appear in iTunes yesterday. Second Shift is a smart, well-crafted, character-driven fantasy adventure that succeeds at what might seem nearly impossiblecreating a fantasy world with real depth and solidity to it that’s truly original and not just a warmed-over, rehashed Tolkienesque universe.
Our story begins when three college students working in a Boston pizza joint find themselves mysteriously transported to another world, a universe of myth and magic, menace, and mystery, a world reminiscent of “Dungeons and Dragons” or Lord of the Rings. In the show’s blog, series creator and producer Andrea Shubert explains that she first conceived of the Second Shift universe as the setting for a role-playing card game similar to “Magic: The Gathering.”
All is not well in the village of Laundi when our heroes arrive. A powerful dark mage, Lord Orin, long believed to be dead, is in fact alive and on the move once again. His Legion is equipped with technology equal or superior to the magic available to the general population. Bands of zombie-like creatures called the Undying roam the countryside. At the end of Season One, the main characters fall into the hands of Lord Orin, but he’s not what they expect. The three travelers from Boston have never encountered anything like this world before.
Katherine fancies herself the feminist and intellectual of the trio. She’s always ready to show righteous indignation at some real or perceived injustice and spout standard leftist boilerplate about oppressed people being exploited or marginalized by the corrupt capitalist system. She wants to appear strong and independent, but in reality she has yet to learn about real courage, trust, and vulnerability, for she is terrified of being alone.
Mike is in many ways the opposite of Katherine. He’s outwardly brash and arrogant, an aspiring NFL quarterback, and a firm believer that the free market can solve just about any problem. There’s more to him than meets the eye, however, as his friend Shauna, the show’s central character, soon learns.
Shauna, who believes herself the most ordinary of the three, in fact discovers she has extraordinary abilities with odi, or magic. She holds the key to returning the group to Boston and apparently has a vital role to play in the future of Laundi as well. She has to keep the peace between Mike and Katherine, learn the magic that can send them all home, and fend off the sinister Herald of Orin, a hideous figure with the body of a vulture and the face of an old woman, that haunts her dreams and tries to seduce her to evil.
Shauna, Mike, and Katherine are soon befriended by several inhabitants of Laundi who become their mirrors, their mentors, and their foils. Fesmer is young and naive, occasionally inclined to be rash and impulsive, but he is goodhearted and fun-loving. He knows something of “natural” or informal folk magic that’s officially illegal in Laundi. Fesmer’s friend Jareth is a bit older, a “task mage” or junior instructor in the “ritual” or legal form of the magical arts taught at the local university. Jareth can be pompous and overbearing at times, but he is brave and loyal. Arkahn, increasingly important as the story progresses, is a young woman with a troubled past and a dark secret. Zana, an older woman, was once a member of a kind of monastic order called the Seekers of Truth, but she is now a tavern keeper and becomes a kind of foster mother of the whole group.
The characters grow, develop, and reveal more of themselves with each episode, thanks in large part to top-notch scripts by principal writers Brandon Crose and Johnathan Tanzer. The writers and directors aren’t afraid to let the episodes run over 30 minutes each, allowing the story and characters to develop in depth at a natural pace without feeling rushed. The young actors have grown into their roles as well. Julia Lunetta gives a consistently excellent performance as Arkahn.
The world these characters live in has real depth to it as well, with its own history, culture, mythology, music, and language.The language of Laundi feels like a real language with consistent grammar, syntax, and vocabulary. The wold of Laundi feels like a real world a world you will want to visit again and again as you listen to Second Shift.