Friday, November 6, 2009

Road Trip Album Picks: "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Primary Phase"

WHAT: The first-ever anything in the popular Douglas Adams franchise
LABEL: BBC, 1978
GOOD IF YOU LIKE: Monty Python, science fiction, non-standup comedy albums
WHERE TO FIND IT: iTunes, BBC, better book stores
LENGTH: 4 hours, give or take

Depending on how much research you've done, you may be surprised that The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy started as a BBC radio program, and not as a novel or a TV miniseries. A generation of kids has been handed these by their dads, and a bunch of people have discovered it on their own-- but the radio show is where it all got started, and it's one of very few comedy/sci-fi radio shows out there to be made with any real significance.

If you're on the internet, odds are you've heard some dork come at you with the number 42. This is where that came from. The six-episode series is very similar to the book and TV show as far as plot is concerned, and many of the actors on this radio drama would go on to be stars of the television series. (Peter Jones, Simon Jones, Mark Wing-Davey, for example.) But enough of that-- is this thing worth listening to?

Ultimately, yes. This is a pop cultural milestone well worth searching out, mostly because the author Douglas Adams hung out with the boys from Monty Python and this feels like something of a spiritual successor to that form of humor. The episodes are extremely frantic, jumping between the main story and whatever strange tangents the author comes up with, be it the ins and outs of designer planets, the banality of the "B Ark," or even the notion of infinite improbability.

It's possible you're already sick of Marvin the Paranoid Android or jokes concerning the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything... but if these are new to you, you positively need to check out this show. (And be sure to get the BBC Radio Drama, and not the audiobook. The extra actors make for great entertainment.)

Additional phases of the radio series were produced after this one, coinciding with the first five books of the series. (To date, they haven't done one for And Another Thing. The first two were made in 1978 and 1979, with the others coming in 2004 and 2005.

This series should be some sort of standard issue for young nerds of all sorts-- comedy nerds, sci-fi nerds, and so on. It's clever, fun, and goes by far too quickly. (It does get a little less fun by the fourth phase, where they adapt So Long and Thanks for All The Fish.)

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