Author: Alison Kaitcer Photo Courtesy of Lauren Shippen
In November 2015, Los Angeles-based actor/singer/writer Lauren Shippen began recording a little passion project in her bedroom with some friends, not really expecting it to be anything but fun. Three years, 48 episodes, and almost seven million downloads later, her hit science fiction audio drama The Bright Sessions has garnered recognition and praise from everyone who listens––it even earned Shippen a spot on the 2018 edition of Forbes’ “30 Under 30” list.
Photo Courtesy of Fictitious Podcast
I first encountered The Bright Sessions last spring–the tagline, “Therapy for the Strange and Unusual”, immediately drew me in–and I’ve been a devoted listener and evangelist for the series ever since. Between the compelling storylines, diverse cast of characters, and refreshingly frank portrayals of mental illness, there is so much to love. The podcast follows therapist Dr. Joan Bright (voiced by Julia Morizawa) as she interacts with four patients who have “abilities” (what laypeople like you and I would call superpowers): Chloe, Sam, Caleb, and Damien.
Without the fear of possible HIPAA violations, this audio drama is a great way to indulge your impulse to listen in on someone else’s therapy; the patients know they’re being recorded, but because the tapes are only for Dr. Bright’s use, listeners get an intimate portrait of young adults struggling with everything from depression and anger issues to involuntary time travel. Throw in a vaguely menacing organization called “The AM” (or Atypical Monitors) and you’re left with an audio drama that has been described by writer Tanya Pai as “if the X-Men, instead of becoming superheroes, decided to spend some time in therapy.”
The cast of The Bright Sessions, courtesy of Lauren Shippen
In crafting this smart and extremely well written podcast, Shippen uses the supernatural and unattainable abilities of her characters to illustrate complex problems that every non-atypical person faces. Sam, voiced by Shippen herself, is a time traveler who is unable to choose when or where she goes, and she can only time travel when she’s having a panic attack. Painter and college student Chloe (Anna Lore) is a mind reader whose ability makes it impossible for her to think or work in spaces with other people, and damages relationships when she knows more than others want to tell her. Caleb (Briggon Snow), a stereotypical jock and high school football star, feels others’ emotions so acutely that he can hardly tell which ones belong to him. Even Damien (Charlie Ian), who is often rendered unsympathetic by his ability to manipulate people into bending to his will, suffers from his own personal demons.
In each case, the characters have isolated themselves almost to the point of despair. This, more than anything else, causes them to turn to therapy in the hopes of finding some sense of community. Sam, in particular, suffers in her loneliness; one of the conditions of her ability is the she can’t interact with anything or anyone when she travels, she can only observe. This, paired with a lack of control over her destination, forces her to constantly relive and experience traumas both familiar and alien, and she is unable to share this burden with anyone else.
Although most who deal with depression and anxiety probably won’t claim to have superpowers, there is something undeniably recognizable in Sam’s feelings of helplessness and not being a part of her own life. I had my first panic attack in middle school, and while I didn’t time travel to the scene of a tragic accident from my youth, I can attest to how utterly alone and terrified you can feel when you can’t control how your body reacts to a given situation.
Bright provides practical advice for dealing with the more realistic issues, as well as the fantastical ones, and the sense of community between the patients serves as a reminder of the power of finding people you can relate to and holding on to them as tightly as you can. Whether you’re battling a mysterious shadow organization, or just trying to find the will to get out of bed in the morning, this podcast helps to remind you that you are never as alone as you think, you just have to reach out.
The Bright Sessions is currently in its fourth and final season, and Lauren Shippen is developing the story into a book series. It is available for free on Apple Podcasts, Soundcloud, or wherever podcasts are available.
ALISON KAITCER | Living on a latte and a prayer | KXSU Arts Reporter