What do you do with the mad that you feel — or, at the very least, if you’re disabled, the lack of control? The inability to fit “neatly” into a slot in the able-bodied world? The constant having to already work at a disadvantage to get anything done, and then dealing with obstacles from the patriarchy to a boss ghost-firing you to realizing you’re attracted to someone, but they might not feel the same way?
If you were Jane, the protagonist of Power Trip, you might do what she does — or, at least, what she does when suddenly gifted the ability to command people to do whatever she wants. And that’s break down every single barrier in her way — and it’s exhilarating.
As someone with a physical disability who’s been a fan of Tatiana Maslany’s work for nearly a decade, Power Trip has been one of the best, most worthwhile, and frankly amazing projects I’ve seen her take on. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect going in, even with the trailers and promotional teases given out by the Realm podcast company in the lead-up to the series going live, but I knew, keeping in mind the work Maslany chooses to take on as an actress (not to mention her executive producer responsibilities on this show) that it was going to be bold, unexpected, and heartfelt.
The early synopses compared it to Fleabag and Russian Doll, and promised LGBTQ+ representation as personified in the lead (although it would eventually be more than just Jane)… but, in all honesty, just leaving it at that doesn’t do the show Realm created proper justice.
I reviewed this show in detail, episode by episode, over the summer of 2022; four months after the last episode dropped for Realm‘s free listeners (all eight dropped all at once for Realm Unlimited subscribers), I still think it’s the best fiction podcast of 2022.
My reviews can be seen in this hub, but be warned; at top is the last review and at bottom is the first, so if you want to avoid spoilers, hit the bottom of the page as soon as it loads. For those who want to know a little bit more about the show without spoilers, and with some of the best non-spoilery parts included, let me just roll up my sleeves and briefly summarise:
Jane is a young writer living in New York with chronic illnesses and kidney failure who gets a kidney transplant on the black market. Unbeknownst to her, the kidney is imbued with magical powers — giving her the ability to command anyone to do anything she wants. But she’s not alone; it turns out a group in the city called the “Power Hour” exists, made up of people who have all had organ transplant that have given them each a different magical power, from invisibility to extrasensory foreshadowing of the future to the ability to “bring the party”.
Jane is a little ill-at-ease, at first, but slowly finds her footing with the group — and, in particular, develops a particular closeness with a young woman able to make plants grow, Leah — as she subsequently juggles her attempts at building a relationship through force of (magical) will with another New Yorker named Bruce (played by Maslany’s real-life husband, Brendan Hines, with a genuineness that might floor you) with trying to be retained as a nanny for a publishing editor’s kids through the same means while also desperately trying to avoid her (to her mind, overbearing) mother (played by the brilliant Lisa Loeb).
The New York location is used expertly; an entire episode is set on Coney Island, and the aural landscape depicted by the show puts you right there with the characters as things occur which… well, I wouldn’t want to give too much away.
At eight episodes, you might think what I’ve described would be a lot to fit into just that amount;; you’d be wrong — not only is the pacing perfect, giving everything the needed space to breathe,, there’s also wonderfully unexpected peaks and valleys where you think there might be a turn of events to the bad, that things must somehow go badly for Jane at some point, but then things keep bubbling happily away until the story then brings down the hammer when you least expect it.
It’s absolutely brilliant, and the tone never suffers for what the show’s trying to do — the comedy hits (Maslany is even able to voice different levels of tipsiness!), but never detracts from the dramatic moments, which always feel deeply raw and authentic. It’s a comedy-drama, but it never, ever loses touch with the humanity of its characters — you love them all the more, even if they make mistakes, because they are human and because they make mistakes. But, also? They’re just darned lovable.
For those of you who know Tatiana Maslany from Orphan Black, or from She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, or whom may only just know her from Comedy Bang! Bang! appearances — heck, maybe even if you only know her from her two-episode part in Parks & Rec — I have the distinct conviction that you, if you haven’t already heard this show, will love this show.
If you’re still out there fighting for Warrior Nun to be renewed for a Season 3 by Netflix, this is definitely on your wavelength — it’s not Avatrice, but it’s still damned awesome to hear two women slowly realise the feelings they have for each other even as circumstances and fears and self-denial come between them. It’s lighter than Warrior Nun, but if you loved (and still love) that, I am convinced you’ll at the very least like, if not love, Power Trip, too.
That a show created by two women, Mary Hamilton and Cara Horner, would do a particularly great and intelligent job of tackling women’s issues and masculine insecurities was not a surprise to me, coming into this. Similarly, I had never listened to anything directed by Kailynn West before, so I was really happy to hear the sensitivity and vivacity in which she brought out both the comedy and the drama in the depicted situations and in her actors.
What did surprise me was just how realistic and true to life the depiction of living with a disability and chronic illnesses was — not just the difficulties of getting around, but the coping mechanisms of dark humour and insularity that certain people (like Jane) develop in case disaster might strike. The magic powers become almost a way to bulldoze past any problems that the coping mechanisms might cause — while not dealing with the real underlying problems. That’s not just something Jane deals with — that’s something all of us can relate to. But that specific combination made listening a genuinely emotional experience for me.
There’s a meme that says, “I am in this photo, and I don’t like it”. For the first time ever, I suddenly saw myself exactly in a character — the disability, though not exactly my own (I have cerebral palsy), was close enough to my own experience as a disabled person, coupled with the depiction of Jane’s personality and how she instinctually falls into dealing with people that she’s not sure how to act around yet (she’s not on the spectrum, but as someone who is, that’s pretty damned accurate to certain moments in my own life dealing with that), that the climax of the show almost felt like a self-revelation.
I felt seen in a way I don’t think I ever had before in fiction — I have to assume a lot of disabled folks who listen to this series might feel the exact same way — but, contrary to the meme I quoted, I loved being able to “see myself in this photo”; deeply. It’s one of the best depictions of life with a disability I’ve ever experienced in my life – there was not a false note hit; it all rang amazingly true, to me. So many other writers or programs or actors get it wrong; Power Trip gets it so damned right that it feels a little miraculous.
Of the work Maslany’s been putting out this year — the rather remarkable and biting short Huluween film Snatched, directed by Michael Schwartz, among them — this may be the most slept-on (as the kids say). I’d say it deserves, at the very least, a fair hearing (pun intended) — and, at the most? Another season or several, if that’s in the cards. It’s too damned great, in my mind, to just leave it to one season; there’s still so much potential; so many brilliant things that can be done with these characters, and this world.
Maslany’s already done two seasons of Orphan Black: The Next Chapter for Realm (also available for free to listen to; also written and directed by talented, brilliant women), but with Orphan Black: Echoes, a further continuation, due to premiere on AMC in three months’ time, I’m not sure a third season of The Next Chapter is planned at the moment from Realm. But they’ve already got Maslany and her husband on-roster for another series that just so happened to have a first season this past year — a series I think is maybe the best fiction podcast of 2022.
Power Trip Season 2? For the disability rep, romance potential, and sheer brilliance another ongoing Tatiana Maslany show might bring Realm‘s listeners, we’ve got to hope. Happy New Year, everyone!
Power Trip is available to listen to wherever you get podcasts and on the Realm app.; even more exclusive content can be unlocked with a Realm Unlimited subscription. Listen away.