Radio drama isn’t a complete anachronism. It just sounds that way because the only outlet left for this once-great art form is public radio. And NPR is mainly interested in dredging up material from the stagnant depths of Lake Wobegon. That’s a big reason for my attraction to the first three episodes of Wiretap, an eccentric audio series created by author Mark Leyner (Tooth Imprints on a Corn Dog; My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist) and available in MP3 format from Audible.com (audible.com/wiretap).
Wiretap tells the story of an agoraphobic, Vicodin-addicted electronica virtuoso and hacker named The Kid, who is currently holed up in the penthouse of a New Jersey Hilton. It turns out The Kid has found the home phone number for North Korea’s ”Dear Leader” Kim Jong Il, a hip-hop despot and movie buff who has a weakness for Courvoisier and bears a vague resemblance to Roy Orbison. With us so far? It just so happens their conversations are being surreptitiously recorded by an ambitious local police captain named Vinnie Mastrobono, who is leaking the tapes to Leyner, who, in turn, is peddling them to the Web’s mother lode of downloadable audiobooks, Audible.com. And that’s just the back story…
When The Kid (ably voiced by Leyner himself) isn’t listening to his dictator friend (played by High Fidelity coscreenwriter Steve Pink) opine about the Crystal Method, The Sopranos, and Apocalypse Now Redux (”It’s just an inaccurate story!”), he’s coaxing drugs out of his doctor. Or flirting with Kate (100 Centre Street’s Jenny Kravat), a Princeton theater grad student and Mastrobono double agent who is ”a mask of blithe fecklessness concealing a Mariana Trench of fathomless wiles.” After that, it’s back to forging a 4 a.m. alliance with the Hilton concierge (played by Whose Line Is It Anyway? regular Greg Proops), who fetches everything from Tropicana laced with Cipro to a satellite map of Princeton graduate housing to soothe The Kid’s paranoia.
The episodes, which come out every three weeks, have a haphazard, lo-fi quality that makes you want to believe the conversations are Leyner’s own illicit recordings. That pseudo-voyeuristic thrill, Leyner’s overactive imagination, and the snatches of musical electro-babble that serve as transitions make up for the lack of a coherent plotline. It’s not that Leyner doesn’t know how to tell a yarn (he’s currently scripting the big-screen version of his book Et Tu, Babe, along with John Cusack), he’s just decided not to. And I can’t help wondering what Kim Jong Il would say about that.