I do a lot of driving in my life. My kids go to school almost half an hour from my home so there and back to drop them off and there and back again to pick them up is almost two hours a day I'm in my car. While Spotify is always going in my car, one thing you'll rarely hear from my vehicle is music. Instead, I'm obsessive about audio dramas. Spotify has an absolute wealth of them. Stories that, over time I've come to fall in love with. But nothing has hit me with the absolute strength of Midnight Burger.
In this article, I'm going to be doing a lot of writing that is going to come off like hyperbole but as someone who got his start writing and reading by falling in love with everything from Adams to Pratchett to Gaiman, I'm going straight from the heart when I say that Midnight Burger is my favorite piece of science fiction ever.
Created several years ago as a pandemic project by screenwriter and playwright Joe Fisher, alongside Finlay Stevenson, who is not only an audiobook narrator and director, but also the owner of my absolutely favorite voice for pretty much anything you'll ever have to listen to.
The story begins with the character of Gloria (who will be our "Audience Surrogate" through many of the episodes) showing up at the door of a diner called Midnight Burger, having answered a helped wanted ad on Craigslist. It is only during an interview with the very confused manager, Casper, that we find out that Midnight Burger, while it is indeed a diner, is also a mysterious construct that travels through time, space, and occasionally dimensions, that seems to always know where there is someone in need of help. Picture the TARDIS from Doctor Who but with a much more diverse crew of people. As the character Ava explains in one of her excellent monologues, it is, quite possibly, the most unique and improbable thing in existence.
Midnight Burger visits places that are familiar, like journeying into the past to visit with miners, prehistory, and more. They travel to unique places like a planet with sentient plants or places where two realities have merged and half the people are witness to an asteroid strike while the other half are living normally. And some places that, while unique, are horrifically familiar in ways your mind probably doesn't want to spend a long time thinking about. Whether that be a mall in the 80s where a zombie-like group of shoppers, shopzies if you will, are desperately after Cabbage Patch Dolls or a reality in which people have sold their home, clothing, and even their subconscious for ad space. Every episode throws a new and unique piece of science fiction at you that you get to discover with its crew.
And as for the crew, they are perfection. Normally, when I experience science fiction my discussion will go towards thinking about who my favorite character is. But I don't have a favorite character here. From the supporting characters to the main characters they're all wonderfully well-written and interesting no matter how temporary their role may be.
So who are the crew? Well, we have Gloria who we mentioned earlier, who's the best chef the diner has ever had who used to own a restaurant until the pandemic ruined it. There's Casper, who has been with the diner the longest and is quite possibly the first to ever step foot inside. Ava is a chain-smoking, hard-drinking astrophysicist who, at one point, claimed a booth for herself and has proceeded to practically live there. Lief is the former cook slash maintenance man whose technical prowess comes from a backstory so complex they gave him his own spinoff (Young Lief, a show you should also check out as you listen to Midnight Burger). And, of course, an old-timey radio that provides the soothing voices of Zebulon Mucklewain, with his wife Effie Mucklewain. Two Baptist radio preachers that are so complex in their actual origin the more you listen the more uncertain you will be.
These characters all have absolutely nothing in common and yet connect together like pieces of a grand piano, working together to pull the hammers and press the keys into the most beautiful of music.
Midnight Burger is currently 30+ episodes in, having just finished its third season which, somehow, finds a way to add more interesting ideas to the mix than ever before. And while it may sound daunting, it's so good that it feels as if it makes time travel real. Every episode was so enjoyable that I found myself at each episode's end thrust later in my day and desperately wishing for more.
The characters are all different and wonderfully crafted. The stories, whether they tie together or not, all carry significant themes and entertaining levels of wonder. And the dialogue. My god, if a character breaks into a monologue I have to pull over lest I drive with tears in my eyes. It's so good. For example, this is a clip from one of my favorite episodes in which a character laments over his child who has been, more or less, separated from him in time.
And that's the thing with this show. It's funny, it's moving, it's silly, and it's emotional. I love these characters as if they were a family and, as such, I've never had a moment where I felt an episode was skippable or a character that I found unlikeable. Even characters like random officers or robotic thugs are so well-written that it'll usually take all of a minute for you to start caring about any of them.
I can't recommend the show enough. If you want, check it out on Spotify or anywhere you get your podcasts. You can also go to their main site at weopenatsix.com or even check out the first episode on YouTube.
Give it a listen and, like me, learn that if time and tide roil you too harshly or diurnal courses leave you with no safe havens, just remember they're out there somewhere looking for you. (Trust me, that line will mean a lot more to you if you listen.)