“Adventures in New America” is absurd. The podcast is listed on Spotify as “the first sci-fi, political satire, Afro-futuristic buddy comedy,” and, according to this definition, it doesn’t disappoint. The world of New America is a strange one — a land culturally stuck in the 1950s with the technology of today and the politics of the future. The podcast radically comments on racial tensions, the meaning of the black experience, and the healthcare crisis while concurrently introducing the hidden value of 1982 pennies and Tetchy Terrorist Vampire Zombies from outer space. With all of these elements competing for space, it’s easy to see where the show could fall flat or overwhelm its audience. However, creators Tristan Cowen and Stephen Winter, who also voices character IA Olivier, funnel these divergent themes into an engaging podcast that has the potential to make a powerful social commentary.
The podcast follows two characters — IA Olivier, a black man who simply cannot get arrested despite his impassioned attempts, and Simon Carr (Paige Gilbert), a lesbian self-described sneak-thief — as the pair work together to collect the money for IA’s medical expenses. The premiere introduced the characters and established detailed world-building for later episodes. While we are given hints about how New America differs from our own America with the strange penny commercials, Techty Terrorist Vampire Zombie attacks, and oddly behaved policemen, these elements aren’t present enough to distract us from the character driven episode plot of the two personalities meeting. Winter and Cowen stretch our belief but don’t break it, keeping the rules within the world consistent, promising more information as the series continues and maintaining an immersive experience throughout the first episode.
However, the pilot of Adventures in New America surpasses absurdity into discomfort at times. Right after a strange penny commercial at the start of the episode, the listener is thrown into a scene where a few Tetchy Terrorist Vampire Zombies ambush and devour a black vocalist. The scene is made all the more disturbing by the overt racialization of the attack. One Tetchy Terrorist Vampire Zombie refers to their victim as “society’s trash” because of her blackness and remarking that by eating her they would be “doing the world a favor.” New America may be a different world but its creators drew inspiration from the inequalities, societal tensions, and racism within our own and blew it up to a disconcerting scale. While Cowen and Winter certainly make their point in this and similar scenes, they straddle the line between necessary and gratuitous hyperbole.
“Adventures in New America” will turn heads and start conversation, not only because of the show’s embrace of the absurd but also because of its desire to make a clear social statement and explore the black identity today. It has a lot to cover, but from the first episode it is clear that Cowen and Winter are masters in worldbuilding who can pull the discordant aspects of New America into one unified story as the series unfolds.