We’ll probably make at least half of an attempt to keep the podcasts of the week spooky around here until Halloween has come and gone, so up next is DEADLY MANNERS, a new, star-studded, comedic murder-mystery podcast that also doubles as an audio drama, which we’ve highlighted before in this section. And while it’s not “horror,” and therefore might turn away some of October’s most hardened veterans, it’s a murder mystery set in a large, stuffy mansion with a mysterious fortune-teller holding court, so it’s certainly adjacent. Only two episodes deep unless you’re also keeping up with it through streaming services Sundance Now and Shudder, DEADLY MANNERS feels like a big, bold step forward for the medium, the kind of thing buzz-worthy enough to revitalize the entire concept of mainstream audio dramas in general.
Our tale takes place in the winter of 1954. The Billings family is hosting their annual dinner party, filled to the brim with quirky, contentious, rich, and powerful guests. However, the mood begins to sour as a massive snowstorm strikes, effectively trapping everyone there for the night. That is soon proven to be the least of their worries, however, when a killer begins cutting their night short one by one. A classic, Agatha Christie-reminiscent murder mystery kicks off as everyone attempts to get to the bottom of the gruesome events and figure out how to stay alive.
Right off the bat, the fact that Sundance Now is taking a risk on podcasting should tell you that this is something a little different (and special). Narrated by LeVar Burton and starring the voice acting of Kristen Bell, this is the first podcast I’ve come across that feels like a cinematic and immersive narrative experience. The characters constantly bicker, snipe, and make snide remarks, creating the atmosphere of a catty high school cafeteria if everyone was drunk off scotch and discussing the social politics of post-McCarthyism. Everyone feels like a living, breathing caricature, and the fact that it feels like a TV miniseries presented entirely through audio speaks to its pedigree and effect. The first episode leaves a little room for improvement, mostly just due to the fact of getting situated within the world of story and its atmosphere, but by the end of the second, you’ll be ready and raring to know how things develop further.
While Kristen Bell firmly holds court, RuPaul also turns in a stellar performance as a fortune teller that begins sowing seeds of doubt and discontent amongst the partygoers, and yes, David Cummings of THE NO SLEEP PODCAST, whose voice acting I’ve always been a little iffy on, fully comes into his own as a haughty, washed-up former silent film actor. DEADLY MANNERS does an excellent job of subtly but steadily increasing its tension; characters squabble about race, the proper way to cook Beef Wellington, the film industry, and anything and everything in between, weaving a twisted web that continues to get tighter and tighter as accusations begin to fly. But don’t worry, DEADLY MANNERS is also quite funny, with a wry and dry sense of humor in the narration writing, perfectly delivered by Burton’s familiar warmth, a chuckle always just barely held back.
You’ll be able to sleep at night after diving into DEADLY MANNERS, so don’t go in expecting a spookfest, but if you honestly just want a standout installment in podcasting history, look no further. Remember, get to the end of the second episode; but if you can do that, you can confidently say you were ahead of the zeitgeist that will leave this one as something to be remembered. I hope to hear more audio dramas of this caliber in the future!