Bells in the Batfry is a periodic (usually once a month sometimes twice a month) comedy show that is written, produced, and acted by John Bell. The setup is that Mr. Bell runs a regular radio show with a number of segments and characters. The chief characters are Arny, Brad, Miss Schmackleheimer (Miss Sadey Shmackleheimer), Mr. Wizzr'd and a few other "guest" characters that pop in and out depending as needed.
John Bell keeps the website very clear of clutter. There are a few links- beginning with the Show Notes and Shows, Forums, Cafe Press Store, downloads of extra songs, and contact information.
Just the basics and that's a good thing. It's easy to find either RSS feed- with commentary notes or without and an icon for being a Parsec Award Winner. In fact, the only complaint I have about the website is that it has an extraordinarily large Twitter pic. That bird looks it could eat the other show bits. Rating 4.5/5
Audio Drama Type- Modern Theater/OTR
While using the set up of an old time radio like that of Jack Benny, Mr. Bell uses professional and modern production values to his show. His style is practiced and polished, and there's no doubt he understands what kind of show he is presenting for his fans.
Acting Type- Solo Professional
While not knowing if Mr. Bell is actually a professional actor or not, I will state for the record that if he isn't he should be. His control in front of the microphone should be an example to be studied in production schools. His ability to switch characters is astounding, and his range is rich and seemingly endless. When I first heard this show, it took me some time to actually come to the realization that he was the lone actor in the studio. His comic timing is the best in audio drama today, and would give some of the greats of the past a run for their money. His characters are distinct and iconic. They round out an important cast and produce a number of archetypes that Bell uses for foils against his main persona. The actress who plays Miss Shmackleheimer is marvelous. The two of them could read the phone book together and keep their audience riveted. The only disconcerting acting I found was the actress who plays the Cookie girl. Her interactions with Mr. Bell sometimes come across as a little creepy. I'm not sure if it's her tone, or the way she approaches the character, but I shudder a little (involuntarily) when she has too much air time. As an actor, John Bell would certainly have his own show were he to have grown up with the early days of radio. Rating 5+/5
Production Type- Detailed to Minimal
Depending on the setting, Mr. Bell's sound effects can range to none at all to a rich sound. Mr. Bell knows how to paint a picture. There has never been a time that I have been confused as to where I am in a Batfry show unless Mr. Bell is painting a scenery of confusion. Mr. Bell understands exactly what is needed to tell an audio story. There are few if any need to narrate what is going on, unless Mr. Bell who acts as the defacto straight guy needs to explain. Mr. Bell's production makes me want to believe that any story, produced right, could be done in audio. That's no mean feat. He understands the power of compression, proper positioning of a microphone, and reverb within a recording. I'm not certain if Bell in the Batfry is recorded in a professional studio, but it certainly has that quality. Rating 5+/5
While there are the occasional shows that do not measure up, there is little doubt that Mr. Bell is a comic genius. After completing 100 shows, he's been able to keep the plot of the Batfry constantly in motion, his characters constantly in turmoil, and build a strong background to the entire Batfry universe. He's writes the fast talking comedy, made popular by old stars like Abbott and Costello, naturally and with impeccable flare. His shows, for the most part, move quickly from segment to segment, and his opportunities for comedy seem inexhaustible. Comedy is harder to write than drama, but it would be interesting to see Mr. Bell's writing in other genres too. Rating 5/5
Recently the Batfry has hit its 100th show (quite an accomplishment for an unpaid podcast)! Mr. Bell was threatening for some episodes before hand that he would "change the format". The running gag had a number of other podcast shows "call in" to the Batfry to express their dismay or support for some of the more outlandish format changes. When the centenary hit, the Batfry went "on the road" in an RV to discover adventure. Mr. Bell has an uncanny way of drawing his fans in to help him with ideas, and has asked folks to write to him about places he should come visit. Great idea!
Over All Rating
After listening to other shows, its exciting to delve into a professionally produced, written, and acted comedy podcast. Doing comedy right is infinitely harder than doing any other genre, and maintaining such a standard is a herculean task. Mr. Bell is a standard in modern audio drama today. He is a must listen show. Get through his archives now before he goes professional because, Mr. Bell is what audio drama could be and should be today. Rating 5+/5