These are the final lines from the first season of the audio drama Bronzeville. Jimmy Tillman, a young man who has traveled north from the Deep South to Chicago in search of a better life, becomes a soldier in the Copeland family, who controls the numbers game in the Bronzeville neighborhood. Jimmy’s just been in a gunfight alongside Everett Copeland when he is reunited with Everett’s sister, Lisa (I promise I’m not giving anything major away):
Lisa: “Jimmy … you okay?” Jimmy: “I’m ok, but …” L: “Shut up! Just hold me.” J: “I need to tell you something.” L: “Whatever it is, it can wait.” J: “No, I need to…” L: “Let it wait, Jimmy. Please. Let it wait.”
Oh my gosh. I can feel the tension just reading the words – imagine it, and the amazing story that unfolded prior to this scene, being performed by phenomenal actors like Laurence Fishburne, Tika Sumpter, Tracee Ellis Ross, Larenz Tate, Omari Hardwick, and Lance Reddick. The Copeland family controls the numbers game in the 1940s Chicago neighborhood of Bronzeville, which is able to thrive as a community in large part because of the racket. But of course, there will always be a power struggle when money is involved, so the series follows the Copelands as they struggle to maintain control, facing resistance not just from rival families or gangs but from the government. Jimmy Tillman shows up in Chicago looking for work and winds up helping out the Copelands in various roles. He ultimately proves his worth to the family, but starts to fall hard for young Lisa Copeland.
Lisa Copeland (played by Tika Sumpter) is a badass protagonist. She is undoubtedly the smartest member of the Copeland family, and I love a good strong woman showing the men up. Her character is slowly unfurled from the first episodes where she reveals her education and role as the “little sister” in the family who is definitely taken care of by her brothers, and then in the middle of the show, we start to realize what she’s truly capable of. Here, after she is kidnapped, she cons her captors from a rival family into turning on each other:
Lisa Copeland is out for blood after this. Who’d suspect her of anything nefarious, the sweet, beautiful, educated “little sister?” I love it. I also enjoyed hearing her relationship unfold with Jimmy.
Each Bronzeville episode lasts 30-45 minutes and the sound design, production quality, and thought put into how each character will sound is phenomenal. In some episodes I had a little trouble following who was talking – maybe I needed some more show notes or a diagram showing all the characters in the story. There are actually 50 actors who took part in the production, so there’s a lot to keep track of, but the main characters are consistently easy to identify.
The series ended in episode 10 (for now at least!) with a tremendous climax including a fight scene and a mystery. This episode in particular (as well as episode 5, in my view) is a master class on how to convey a fictional story in audio form. I loved not having a picture to go along with the audio. My heart was racing during the fight scene; I couldn’t wait to hear how it ended.
I’m a tough critic of audio dramas, so I hope the trend continues of having well-known, accomplished actors take on audio projects. In Bronzeville and Homecoming, I noticed a stark contrast when compared to shows with less experienced actors reading scripts – in Bronzeville, you almost don’t want to see how the story would play out visually; it’s so much richer using your own imagination.
Bronzeville deserves a bright future. On the Bronzeville FanCast podcast, Bronzeville series writer Josh Olson said he thinks it’s most likely the next step for the series would be something on TV, that nothing has been inked yet (as of this date), but that fans may see a TV production of the first season of Bronzeville. If that happens I’ll be so curious to see what is embellished or changed for a screen version – hopefully not much since most of the episodes are 30-45 minutes long already. I’d love to see it on FX or even HBO. The main voice actors for the podcast are all screen and stage actors already, so it wouldn’t be a stretch at all to see this on TV. As long as I get to hear the audio first!
I haven’t heard much buzz about this show via the traditional podcast channels, and I wouldn’t say the show is necessarily underrated, but it seems to be somewhat unknown still (which I can’t believe). Do yourself a favor and check it out now, and then tell all of your friends to check it out too – this production deserves a listen.
What do you think of this podcast? Leave a comment below and let’s discuss! Also subscribe to my twice-monthly newsletter!
Audible Feast Ratings
Educational Value (3 / 5)
Pop Culture Value (5 / 5)
Host Listen-ability (5 / 5)
The actors are totally top-notch. Each voice gave me a picture of the character in my mind.
Flow & Production Value (5 / 5)
Bronzeville moves fast, which is perfect for an audio drama.
Humor (3 / 5)
Storytelling (5 / 5)
Makes Me a Better Person (5 / 5)
Overall Audible Feast Rating: (5 / 5)
Start with These Episodes:
Gotta listen to this one in order-start with Episode 1!
You May Also Like …
Homecoming, Limetown, The Bright Sessions, Rex Rivetter: Private Eye, You Must Remember This, Home Front, Welcome to Night Vale, Rabbits
Bronzeville on iTunes
Bronzeville on Stitcher
The Numbers Game (Wikipedia)
Global Grind Article: Here’s Why the ‘Bronzeville’ Podcast Series is a Must-Listen