The Radio Adventures of Eleanor Amplified is an excellent podcast and a Jula Family favorite, but it didn't start out that way. While I was instantly impressed by the production value (layer upon layer of sound effects!) and I liked that it was an old time radio show set in the present, I found the plot-line to be tired... crazy professor with an evil mind-control serum and a laser? That's been done. I found the character’s voices to be tired... rocket-scientist Dr. Gordon sounds just like Professor Frink from The Simpsons and the voice of Mr. Richmond, the newspaper editor, was so stereotypical it hurt. Both, so done. Maybe I was being overly-critical now that I critique podcasts. Maybe... I was just tired. Regardless, I had downloaded the Road Trip Edition (which is a brilliant feature I wish every podcast would adopt) and there’d been nary a peep from the backseat so who was I to complain?
As we drove west on I-70 toward the Georgetown Loop Railroad for my nephew’s 4th birthday celebration, I found myself chuckling. Wait, what? Did I just laugh at the podcast that I had resigned myself to disliking? I sure did, and I didn't even know I'd been paying attention. Back up.
I had to pause the show to ask the kids what had happened, which they totally appreciated. After some mom-shaming on their part, and an insincere apology on mine, they caught me up on what I’d missed and gave me their blessing to skip back to the beginning anyway. This time around, I appreciated the jokes, especially when Eleanore tells Professor Ignome that his plot to bore into the city reservoir and fill it with mind-control serum was “boring, all right,” because I'd just had that same thought! I love Eleanor's mom, who sounds just like Charlie Brown’s teacher, and I was totally won over when in episode 2 they introduced Conn Seanery and his shatellite phone. Instantly, I was transported to a nostalgically hilarious place—the SNL skit where Sean Connery (Darrell Hammond) and Burt Reynolds, a.k.a. Turd Ferguson (Norm MacDonald), antagonize Alex Trebeck (Will Ferrell.) That image, combined with the dialogue from the actual podcast, made me so happy. I had done a full 180, and ironically I had gotten lost on the way to the train and had to make an actual u-turn, but in the end I'd arrived at two conclusions: Eleanor Amplified was awesome, and do not blindly follow Siri because she is a fickle friend who will betray you at the worst possible time.
If, like me, you're a huge nerd fan of NPR and their shows and podcasts, not included in the Road Trip Edition but worth a listen to, is the Extra Episode where Terry Gross from Fresh Air talks with John Sheehan, a former Fresh Air producer and winner of the in-house contest that WHYY conducted to encourage a new and original podcast. John created the winning podcast at his desk during his lunch break, and Eleanor Amplified spent five weeks in the #1 spot for Kids and Family and #23 overall on iTunes, and spent about a month in the top 100.
While doing my research, I came across a review on Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls. “The father of now two daughters (one who is 2 and the other 11 months old), knew from the beginning that his main character would be a young woman — 'I didn’t need another male hero in the world.' The four major lessons he hopes young listeners will pick up from the project: don’t be greedy, ambition has its limits, commercialism can have side effects, and seeking truth and speaking truth is important in and of itself.” Based on the conversations the kids and I have had, I'd add that questioning the motivations of others and how they drive their actions is also a prominent theme (and given the current political climate, maybe adults need to learn these lessons, too.) I'd also like to draw attention to the fact that the most devious, ambitious and greedy bad guy in the show is actually a woman! CEO Ms Angela Brandt sounds a lot like Donita Donata (for you Wild Kratt fans out there) and is really good at being really bad.
Suitable for kids of all ages, The Radio Adventures of Eleanor Amplified is available for download on iTunes and for Android.
BONUS: Cincinnati Public Radio has this wonderful little podcast called Classics for Kids. There's not enough to it to warrant an entire review (each episode is only six minutes) but it is totally worth downloading. Did you know that Bach had 20 kids?!? And some of them were also famous composers? Full of historical facts, beautiful music and charming stories of the composers as young children, struggling adults, and mentors to other famous composers, these podcasts are perfect. While not a serial podcast, I do recommend you listen to each composer’s series in order.