Wooden Overcoats Season 2 Premieres With a Seance Scam
Gotta drum up business somehow!
“Rudyard Funn runs a funeral parlour on the island of Piffling. It used to be the only one. It isn’t anymore.”
So go the opening lines of Wooden Overcoats, a seasonal podcast about the business of death. And a string of murders, unrelated to the more common and acceptable amount of death. And a mouse, who is also our narrator. It all makes rather more sense in context.
First off, I should tell you that this is one of those Very British-feeling shows; the humor is by and large very droll, delivered either with perfect deadpan seriousness or in the form of blithe endearing idiots who are completely oblivious to that deadpan, with most of the cast acting either awkward or antagonistic to one another for a good chunk of the time. We’re in the neighborhood of a Jeeves & Wooster or Father Ted, teetering now and then on the edge of absurdism that makes fellow Terrible People show Always Sunny entertaining to watch. It’s a storied approach done well here, but it’s also a genre that’s not for everyone. So, take this as your heads up.
The other axis around which Wooden Overcoats turns is the archetype of “the ridiculously handsome, effortlessly charming man who’s so used to winning over everyone he meets that he’s completely oblivious to the malcontent of our protagonist.” As the opening lines up there say, Rudyard ran the only funeral home on a tiny island village. It was also a pretty unaccountably awful funeral home which people had no other choice but to use, until Eric Chapman came swanning into town to open up a competing business and immediately scoop up all the business. Even Rudyard’s sister, co-owner and professional embalmer Antigone (who is an utter delight, played as a bundle of morose neuroses and repression by Beth Eyre), is smitten with him.
And so, the first season follows Rudyard’s attempts to sabotage Chapman’s funeral home, accompanied by the aspiring author (and mouse) Madeleine, while everyone else is too busy being excited about the new growth to Piffling to notice the local grumpy business owner slowly falling apart at the psychological seams. Until, that is, those murders I mentioned before start cropping up.
Season one of Wooden Overcoats is a strong ensemble comedy, with every player bringing energy to the game. The interplay is strengthened by a more traditional production setup than a lot of podcasts are able to get–the cast gets to read everything through together, and a season is written beforehand and recorded all at once rather than the as-we-go method that’s wound up being germane to the medium. It gives the show the feel of a more traditional radio drama over the course of its eight half hour episodes, and while the climax of the season suffers a little bit from trying to stuff a little too much in at the last moment (a fairly common pitfall for a whodunit), that doesn’t detract from the overall appeal.
When the sudden demand for narrative stakes has come and gone, the status quo has shifted but the characters retain their basic shape, changing their tactics and building on new circumstances without losing the initial dynamic that made the series endearing. The show’s real strength is in the small things: individual verbal tennis matches honed between actors, and sly wordplay that knows the appeal of both being under-the-radar clever and gloriously stupid (an example: a self-help series partially titled “How to strike a happy medium by becoming one yourself”). The show made something of a splash the first time around, including being nominated as one of iTunes’ Best of 2015.
After a Kickstarter campaign that included a few audio shorts visiting various townsfolk around Piffling, Wooden Overcoats’ second season kicks off today with “The Ghost of Piffling Vale.” While Chapman is a little too scrupulous to pretend that he can contact the dead as an incentive to bring in customers, Rudyard has no such compunctions. It’s a solid season opener, getting one up on the initial premiere by being able to jump straight into the farce of it while only having to dedicate minimal time to reintroducing the show’s premise.
That familiarity leaves the team a lot of room to stretch going forward, as well. It’s almost impossible to tell from the premiere where this season is heading. It could double down on the attempt at a weightier narrative a la the end of season one, retreat into a more overtly episodic tone, or focus on a character-building narrative. If nothing else, it seems set to maintain a small story, which I don’t mean as a derogatory descriptor but an indication that it’s found a place to zero in where it can spin stories about small place and small lives, writ large for the individuals who’re living them. Maybe that concept of a mouse working as the biographer is a fitting one after all.
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Vrai is a queer author and pop culture blogger; part of them could possibly use a break from coming up with things to say about this show. You can read more essays and find out about their fiction at Fashionable Tinfoil Accessories, listen to them podcasting on Soundcloud, support their work via Patreon or PayPal, or remind them of the existence of Tweets.
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