Life with a disability is tough. There is no getting around that. Whether it’s physical or mental; whether you need a cane to get around or a wheelchair, whether you’re in constant pain or merely intermittent that comes up at the worst possible times, society is not built to accommodate people with disabilities. People don’t listen to you when you try to tell them your concerns; people maybe glance over you, or take pains to be courteous but don’t actually engage with you as a person. I’m disabled myself — cerebral palsy since birth — so this is life, every day, for me.
Realm‘s Power Trip is must-listen streaming!
But what if you could get them to do that? What if people couldn’t not listen to you when you told them to listen to you when you tell them you know the way to your own apartment, or stop a train you’re desperately trying to catch because everybody able-bodied has been able to get on it quickly and you haven’t? What if you finally had some measure of control — of self-autonomy — over your life and body? Being disabled, what then, finally given a boost up to be able to deal on a more-equal footing with the non-disabled, would you be able to do?
Power Trip, a new podcast from Realm, takes you into the mind — quite literally, in fact — of a young woman who’s now able to do just that. Jane has had end-stage kidney disease from childhood, and is so used to having to navigate the world with the disadvantages of being a disabled person that suddenly receiving a metaphorical leg-up comes almost as a shock to her whole identity.
She has just received a new kidney on the black market — the dark web, to be precise — and with that kidney comes the magical power to command — to command people to do what she asks them to do, when she asks them.
In real life, obviously, there is no such magic inherent within a kidney, but this show’s introduction of the use of powers (and not just Jane’s) allows a heightened depiction of a reality that’s all too common to people with disabilities — and the possibilities that come to a disabled person when you give them just a sprig of magic.
Jane is played by Tatiana Maslany, the Emmy-winning star of Orphan Black (which, if you haven’t seen, see it now); Maslany also executive-produces the show, and so a lot of her own creative talent (and improv background) registers strongly in Jane’s POV and the fleshing-out of characters around Jane, from the depiction of a date night going sideways to unforeseen circumstances and a hedge-fund bro at a bar, to a familiar feeling of kinship with outsiders (reminiscent of Orphan Black) as Jane joins a group of fellow black-market organ receivers who now also have powers — and Jane is still wary of the group, at first, being someone who naturally keeps to herself.
The only person she reliably spills to is us, the audience, as we hear her stream of consciousness tell how she’s actually feeling about the situations and people she bumps into. It’s an interesting twist on the audiobook format that Realm is known for — particularly since the text of this series is formatted in script-form rather than prose form; no “he said”, “she said”, and other descriptions of action, allowing the dialogue and situations to flow naturally in between Jane’s mental parenthetical comments.
Maslany’s Jane is such a strong personality that she takes you right along with her without you even thinking twice about prose descriptions — seemingly let loose from the life she’s led beforehand, she’s become a force of nature; her cynicism and low expectations of where she’s going in life broaden into a confidence in her abilities and a desire to see that she gets what she wants out of life.
Power Trip Episode 1: “Love Me”, introduces us to Jane’s situation an to her love life, particularly the beginning of her relationship (slightly encouraged by her power) with a man named Bruce, voiced by Maslany’s real-life partner Brendan Hines. Bruce is a blind date of Jane’s who doesn’t show for the date despite living four floors up (and Jane subsequently has to trudge up all four floors, with a cane, in order to reach his apartment), leading to an awkward assignation that Jane resolves (for the moment, to her favor) with magic.
Following Power Trip Episode 1 is the second episode, “Listen to Me”. This one introduces Jane (via a chatbot DM) to the “Power Hour” support group for people in the same magical situation she’s in; these include Christian, who has the power to become almost invisible when he’s uncomfortable, Mateo, who has the ability to (almost accurately) predict the future, and Leah, who has the power to make plants thrive with her magic.
Everyone except Jane, however, is able-bodied, and so Jane already feels at something of a distance from this new group; even if they all have something in common, Jane’s own life experience makes her uneasy going in, much less trying to open up to them. Further episodes introduce Jane’s mother, played by Grammy-winner Lisa Loeb, who has worked as Jane’s carer practically Jane’s whole life — but from whom Jane desperately wants independence and autonomy, as so many real people with disabilities do — I know that feeling (and situation) all too well.
The depiction of a disability rings nothing less than true to me; I’ve lived so much of what’s depicted in the show, even if I don’t have a magic kidney — people ignoring what you need, trains and buses not stopping or being unable to accommodate to you, locations being incredibly difficult to access due to being designed entirely for the non-disabled.
All of it is exactly as I’ve experienced, right down to Jane’s cane, customized to be bedazzled like a disco ball — I don’t own a bedazzled cane myself (nor even a bedazzled wheelchair), but I do know someone who does. Representation is particularly important for marginalized folks, whether they be LBTQ+, Black, Asian, First Nations, or the disabled — and as a disabled person, I really appreciate this depiction.
I know Maslany cares deeply about using her platform to lift up voices who might not have that opportunity, or ability, to be heard for themselves, and she does that again here, admirably.
What I appreciate most is that, above all else, Maslany’s Jane is human — not flawless, not a marble statue representation of a person with a disability; she’s a real person, magic kidney or no magic kidney, who has bad nights, awkward dates, and tough, hungover mornings just like everybody else — and, despite her foibles, and despite all the guff she has to put up with in her life, she knows exactly what she wants to do with it and how she wants to achieve it.
That’s the life of any disabled person (barring, of course, magic powers) — and I’d say it’s high time it got properly depicted.
This is the second podcast that Tatiana Maslany has been involved with for Realm, the first being the audiobook continuation of Orphan Black in Orphan Black: The Next Chapter, two seasons of which have been produced; the first featured Maslany portraying every character, the second brought back much of the original cast of Orphan Black to reprise their roles.
Similarly to Next Chapter‘s second season, Power Trip also features a full cast portraying its characters, with Maslany, Hines, and Loeb being just its first three-billed members, and the whole cast absolutely shines on audio. Power Trip‘s writing, by Mary Hamilton with additional writing by Cara Horner, is just as strong as Orphan Black‘s, with a slightly-less-dramatic, more comedic edge, but with no-less compelling and fully-realized characters, and the direction, by Kailynn West, makes the most of the audio format for its actors; there’s never moment that flags for a listener.
The sound design, in particular, is remarkable — there’s a very clever use of reverse-echo to depict Jane’s power to command, and it’s never unclear whether Jane is thinking something to herself or speaking it out loud. I am hard of hearing, myself, and need hearing aids, so clarity and differentiation between voices is essential for someone like me to be able to follow, but I had absolutely no difficulty — and, what’s more, for those unable to listen to the audio, full scripts are provided to be able to read, featuring stage direction and character description.
Not every audio company provides the scripts of their work to read, much less for free with each episode, so I really appreciate Realm taking the time and effort of doing it.
This is the first podcast we’ll be reviewing at AndersonVision; we’ll be posting weekly reviews of this series until the end of the season, as episodes release for free to the public every Thursday, but subscribers to Realm Unlimited get access to the whole series all at once, so if you’d prefer to binge, rather than wait weekly, I suggest you subscribe.
Each episode runs to between 20 and 30 minutes, so binging the first two (if you want to get the whole effect of my review here) produces nearly an hour of top-notch content.
Power Trip is available on Realm.fm, or wherever you listen to podcasts.