The Cambridge Geek

Mission to Zyxx

This is one I've been meaning to listen to for a while, as it's fairly famous, but haven't really had the opportunity to fit it in around everything else I've been doing recently. The issue with listening to podcasts with the intention of reviewing them is the need to really pay attention, rather than simply enjoying. It's surprisingly tricky on occasion. Anyway, enough of my woes.

Like Stellar Firma, this is an improvised science fiction comedy, following the adventures of Pleck Decksetter, a rookie ambassador for the Federated Alliance. He's on a mission to the Zyxx Quadrant (hence the name), advancing the causes of the Alliance in the wake of its rebellion against the evil Galactic Monarchy. He's also a farm boy. Any resemblance to any Skywalkers is entirely coincidental.

Supporting him, by which I mean 'also there', are Dar, the enormous security officer, C-53, a diplomatic and protocol droid, and The Bargarean Jade, the ship on which they all travel. Each episode, the team are assigned a task by Junior Missions Operations Manager Nermut Bundaloy, in some form of resource rights acquisition, conflict resolution or bringing new colonies into the Alliance.

In reality, what that means is about thirty minutes of improvised plot-based silliness. There's a good amount of character work, building Pleck as a rather pathetic individual who tends to get bossed about by his more competent colleagues, and resulting in him only ever succeeding by accident.

The acrimonious relationships between the crew members form the backbone of the show, but the missions add flavour. They often reference common cultural sci-fi touchstones, eg the "fresh" and "whack" sides of the The Space, which Zima warriors can channel, but also go a bit further, for example the X-marse episode containing an appearance by the Tiny TM bot and a version of A Christmas Carol. You might also spot a few troubles the crew have with Tribble-like creatures. Each episode also has a guest who plays a major character on that episode's planet, who I assume are mostly pulled from similar theatrical companies around New York.

One of my favourite "nods" is the music, which has that certain quality Trek often shows, with ethereal-sounding wanders through space. Some of the pieces are remarkable evocative of eg the Voyager opening.

Perhaps the most important contributor to quality however is the editing. Unlike live improv, jokes that don't quite land can be altered, and some of the more obvious corpsing can be trimmed out. It still occasionally creeps in, but not so much as to be annoying. (Compare with the also semi-improvised Capital, though that was a bit more tightly controlled.)

All of that means that there is a fairly consistent set of canon and plot progression through the first series, that can make it quite a satisfying listen in sequence. Hints like the Clone Light Infantry Nomadic Trooper (CLINTs) suggest that the Alliance (run by the Seven Best Friends) isn't perhaps as friendly as it might at first seem, and the CLINTs have the added advantage on saving on acting costs, as being clones they can all be played by the same person. What matters, of course, for a comedy show is whether it is funny. It is.

I'm lead to believe that the show changes significantly as it proceeds into the second and third series, but I'm carefully avoiding spoilers. Amusingly, the new Alliance has a Rebellion of its own, in the form of the adverts sprinkled throughout the show. The usual suspects (mattresses, underwear) offer support to the burgeoning Rebellion in their attempt to take down the Federated Alliance. Even if the adverts are (as always) annoying because I really have no interest in buying underwear on subscription, I appreciate the effort to make them in-universe (and even part of the plot).

As it stands though, it's a relatively easy show to enjoy, being able to dip in and out in a relaxed manner, instead of an intense punch that you have to focus heavily on. There's definitely space in my listening for this style, usually occupied by shows like Rusty Quill Gaming and The Monster Hunters.

Take a listen to the first episode:

Score 5

Tagged: Audio fiction Comedy Cast Dramatised Science fiction Serial