An update, as of 8/9/17: The Strange Case of Starship Iris is currently on hiatus.
The Strange Case of Starship Iris is a new fiction podcast with 5 episodes released at the time of writing this review. The show focuses on Violet Liu, who has reluctantly become part of the crew on a smuggler ship. The show lies somewhere between Firefly, EOS 10, and Wolf 359, and has quickly become one of the podcasts that excites me most upon a new release.
The shows blends several genres in ways that have been done before but have yet to feel cliched. Starship Iris is one part space adventure, one part found-family renegades, one part political thriller, one part seemingly slow-build enemies-to-friends-to-lovers trope, one part conspiracy mystery, one part character study. It has the comedic sensibilities of EOS 10 without the camp but with all the charm. It has the shiny veneer of Wolf 359‘s production quality and its feelings of isolation in space, but balances the coldness with the warmth of its characters. Certain episodes feel more akin to the intensive character study of The Bright Sessions without the device of literally having a therapist to analyze the characters. This show brings new life into the medium without even needing the “Stick with it; it gets better” disclaimer so many shows have.
Starship Iris‘s first episode is one of the most impressive pilots I’ve heard from a podcast. The tone and characters are both established with the same immediacy and grace as the first episode of The Bright Sessions, which has been unparalleled until now. Violet and Arkady have a tangible chemistry from the moment they start interacting, and both are believably three-dimensional characters without much need for exposition. Jessica Best either has an innate understanding for character or an innate understanding for making character writing seem easy. As more characters are introduced, they don’t suffer from feeling less whole than the two (arguable) protagonists; the introductions feels seamless.
Starship Iris also understands its medium in such a refreshing way. I’ve written about writing dialogue for podcasts as well as forcing a show into the medium, and while the show does toe the line for both, it does so inventively. The writing can come across a bit over-written and overtly quirky, but it’s believable given the characters’ personalities–it’s much more Brian K. Vaughn than, say, Diablo Cody. It also pulls back when necessary, lending itself to some genuine drama. Take, for instance, the beginning of Violet’s conversation with Kay Grisham from Episode 1:
Okay, Science Officer Liu, I’m guessing you’re very freaked out right now, but if you stay on the line, I can talk you through getting your system running again and—
There’s no need. We were carrying our reserve fuel externally, and I think a piece of debris from the blast must’ve—cracked one of the tanks, I mean I guess I should be grateful the ship didn’t explode, too. But we’re down to three percent. And even I know. That’s enough to get back to the station in—eight days, maybe, if we burn careful? Or it’s enough to keep things in here livable for—god, six days, something like that. But not both.
Are you sure?
It’s a big ship. Airy. Jasper hates it, calls it a waste of—Um.
If you could just, if you still had that escape shuttle—
Yeah, believe me, the irony’s not lost.
The acting in the show is usually very good, but is admittedly a bit forced with some of the supporting cast. The actors who play Violet and Arkady carry much of the show, but the forced acting does sometime detract from the overall quality. With only five episodes out, though, the acting is already far better across the board than many fiction podcasts I’ve heard.
Starship Iris is also a comforting beacon of hope in the ways of representation. The characters are racially diverse, which is something I think many creators find “difficult to do” in podcasts for reasons unknown. Listeners might not be able to see what race a character is (unless there’s official art), but this show understands that, shockingly, it’s difficult to interpret a character named Arkady Patel as white. It’s that easy, creators. Not only is there a diverse set of characters, but it’s clear that very few of them are cis and straight: the main romance is one between two women, and there’s a nonbinary alien who thinks the concept of the gender binary is hilarious. Like with the often-quirky dialogue, the representation never feels forced or like it’s trying to go through a checklist. These characters simply are who they are, and their identities paint their experiences like any marginalized identities do.
Overall, Starship Iris is one of those rare podcasts I’d recommend to most people, regardless of their usual taste in genre. If someone is interested in any fiction podcasts, Starship Iris has landed itself on my list of must-listens.