It's not a new frontier. English wit launched into space is as traditional now as the novel of manners, well mapped by the likes of 'Red Dwarf', 'Hitchhiker's Guide', and Tom Baker era 'Doctor Who', all of which notably have been adapted for radio. Likewise, the cast of characters are hardly unusual in aligning to familiar and compatible cliches of the workplace sitcom: the straight-man boss, the gullible ray of sunshine, the unfeeling insufferable genius, and the blissful idiot. The characters are practically premade to play out the usual wacky misunderstandings and emotional run-ins with each other, and in many cases they do perform formulaic sitcom standards.So consider it praise of the utmost order that 'Oblivity' can feature so many choices you'd expect and still whip around grin inducing surprises on an episodic basis.
No one deserves singular credit because of the interwoven talents of the entire team visibly coming to bear in every episode. Episodes usually start with familiar sitcom set ups, but the author Rob Stringer has a particularly powerful talent for set-up and pay-off, scattering episodes with non-sequiturs or running gags that serve ultimately in unexpected ways to the plot's resolution. Great care is also given to utilize the audio drama format itself to its fullest, creating a fully realized imaginative space with the power of the assembled performances and the right amount of audio engineering to land some jokes that practically feel like sight gags through sound alone.
And what an assemblage of performers. The main cast has a warm and thoroughly believable chemistry, fully formed after only a few episodes of the very short six episode season. Every character gets moments to shine, the scripts giving room for the performers to show dimension to what would otherwise be stock workplace comedy archtypes. Hannah Wilmshurst imbues her adorable ditz Christy with genuine humanity, lovable beyond just as written because of the sincerity she takes to the part with. Max Windich's Burney largely remains in the comedic wheelhouse of a practically mechanical know-it-all, but has powerful comedic timing and the challenging job of hanging a lot of his best moments on precision of delivery, particularly impressively demonstrated in the latter half of episodes. Ashley Hunt's performance as the impossibly dopey Lowell is practically visual in his big-grin characterization making it hard to imagine the character being played by any other performer. And last but not least my surprise fan favorite, Commander Falconer as played by Cate Nunn who from the very first episode is the character least bound strictly to the archtype they are modeled after. Originally worried that the character would be a one note military hardass perpetually exhausted and annoyed by the buffoonery of her frequently juvenile crew, almost immediately Falconer gets to take a different route. She can be affectionate, maternally naggy, insecure, undaunted, and other states too fun to be spoiled here, all made to feel part of a single unified character by the performance of Nunn. While Falconer doesn't star in every episode, many times she steals the best surprises of the show simply by being so flexibly and fully written and performed.
The faintest criticism I have of the show thus far, considering there isn't a genuinely bad episode in the lot, is that the isolating premise of the show being the most remote research station in the solar system, lending to the closed box cabin fever you'd expect, is completely ignored by the constant presence of guest characters. Nearly every episode is built upon the disruption of the ensemble by a third party through some contrivance visiting this supposedly lonely research station. The quality of the events contained within make this a relatively minor problem, but it did occur to me as the season was wrapping up that we almost never got an episode which relied on the very strong ensemble relying on the interaction of just each other to result in drama, requiring third parties to segment A and B stories to allow parties of the ensemble to interact with each other. While episode 5 might be my least favorite in the season, it did at the very least force the whole cast into a scenario where they alone had to shoulder the weight of the comedy and drama together, and did so marvelously. While I wouldn't cut any of the wonderful guest characters from the show, it did seem to undermine the sense of isolation and made the appearance of outside characters conventional to the structure instead of an unexpected dramatic treat.
Overall, I can't recommend it enough. It's clever, it's surprising, it's performed with genuine energy and humanity and makes a solid case for its right to participate in the storied history of English space comedies and I can't wait to see where they take this next.