The zombie apocalypse story “We’re Alive” is a bit of an oddity. Scripted fiction podcasts are rare in and of themselves, but even when they do crop up they usually keep the cast in the low single digits. “We’re Alive” by contrast has a cast of dozens with unique voice actors.
There are a lot of technical hurdles to overcome just to put this kind of show into production, from hiring and scheduling voice talent to maintaining audio quality. “We’re Alive” producers Wayland Productions overcame these challenges and stuck to a surprisingly consistent schedule over the initial series’ run from 2009 to 2014.
While that might be impressive as a sort of case study, it wouldn’t mean much if the writing and acting weren’t good enough to carry the show. Admittedly, “We’re Alive: A Story of Survival” does have a rocky start. The writing for the first several chapters is aggressively amateurish. Characters often verbally explain their personalities and motivations to each other, sometimes more than once as new characters get introduced.
The voice acting in the early episodes is also pretty underwhelming. Actors frequently stumble over their lines and their delivery oscillates between far too flat or far too emotional. This may have been an attempt to portray some sense of realism, as the first season centers around a group of strangers forced into living together by the apocalypse. While dramatic, this would also be a naturally awkward situation. However, if this was the goal it really doesn’t work and the end result could push a lot of the potential audience away.
By the end of the first season, most of these problems have been worked out – at least to the extent that they aren’t deal-breakers. The writing and acting continued to improve throughout the series. The first season finale is where the series really comes into its own. Most critically, it establishes genuine stakes for the story, which to that point had focused more on petty squabbles than delivering on the series’ subtitle, “A Story of Survival.”
After getting through these initial growing pangs, “We’re Alive” brings to mind stories like Robert Kirkman’s “The Walking Dead” or Naughty Dog’s “The Last of Us.” For the most part, the story isn’t doing anything new or surprising, but even though it’s lacking in novelty the execution of these familiar story beats is still enthralling.
That’s not to say that the series doesn’t do anything new though. Towards the end of the final season, “We’re Alive” puts a twist on the typical zombie apocalypse formula that is largely uncharted territory for the genre. The final episodes pull off this gear shift without losing the show’s identity and brings the series into a cohesive and satisfying conclusion.
Despite the initial problems plaguing “We’re Alive,” all of the artists involved improve throughout the series. The result of this hard work is that the series starts out as a barely noteworthy technical achievement and grows into a pristine work of zombie fiction.