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Podcast / Sporadic Phantoms

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Sorry, we can't really tell you too much about ourselves. For this investigation we have to be careful. Really careful. Just know that we care about our planet, and we have some experience uncovering corruption- though it's never been quite like this.
— The About Us page on their website

Sporadic Phantoms is an Animorphs fanfiction podcast with light Alternate Reality Game elements. It follows a trio of environmentalists from California — Robin, Stevie, and Kyle — who are protesting against the Dapsen Lumber Company's logging in the national forest. However, what starts as a standard look into an environmental scandal changes completely when they discover Dapsen has ties to not just a weapons development company known as Matcom but a shady organization called The Sharing. Realizing The Sharing is the bigger mystery the trio decides to shift the podcast's focus to investigating its suspicious activities and go undercover- unaware of the horrors waiting for them...

The show is notable for its attention to detail, density of Mythology Gags, and aversion of Functional Genre Savvy, and the culture around the show - the characters and listeners all maintain kayfabe as if this was really happening.

This podcast contains examples of:

  • Accidental Truth:
    • In episode 8 Kyle claims that the only reason one of the Phantoms would side with The Sharing over each other is if they'd been taken over by mind-controlling space worms. After a beat he claims he was just trying to lighten the mood.
    • Similarly he comments that whoever told Robin her last name was someone called Girmas and makes an offhand comment they could be close to Nicole. Sure enough he was right. Girmas is the Yeerk controlling Stevie, Nicole's sister.
    • In Crazy Helen's ad for her pit stop, she finds out people are buying Ivermectin (a horse-dewormer infamously believed by some to be a COVID-19 cure) to use on themselves, she declares that "the worms must be taking over!" before being informed of their real motivation.
  • Agent Mulder: Kyle is the most likely to believe some of the more crazy explanations for what the Sharing is up to. Most of the time he's only half right, as seen in Entertainingly Wrong and Right for the Wrong Reasons.
  • Agent Scully: By contrast, Robin tends to be the one who tries to think of more logical explanations for what the Sharing could be.
  • An Arm and a Leg: Stevie gets a call at the end of episode 4 that her sister Nicole has been taken to the hospital after a car accident caused her hand to get severed. But considering Nicole is a Full Member of The Sharing, it's more likely that it was severed by Ax in a fight.
  • Animal Lover: Kyle is a massive one. Even before they found evidence of the Animorphs activities he was convinced animals had to be involved somehow because he's that obsessed with them.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Kyle has this happen to him twice in the Emergency Live Stream. The first time is when Elizabeth is about to infest him but he's saved by a member of the Yeerk Pacifist Movement named Nancy. And the second time is when the Animorphs themselves save Kyle from getting captured by an infested Stevie.
  • Break the Cutie: This happens to all of the three main characters. Going from wide eyed excited environmentalists ready to investigate what seems like a standard illegal logging operation to being paranoid broken messes desperate to find out what's really going in The Sharing unaware of how horrible the truth actually is. Robin gets by far the worst of it. The stress, paranoia, and lack of any real answers cause her to push all her friends away until all she has left is the Be You Now Course she's investigating. It culminates in her becoming so broken she becomes a voluntary controller.
  • The Cameo: The Animorphs make occasional appearances in the series.
    • Tobias appears in Episode 4 and while he's not named it's pretty obvious the tiger Kyle hears in the sharing basement is Jake.
    • Rachel and Cassie are mentioned in episode 5 with Cassie's mother making a major appearance.
    • Jake and Ax are in episode 7 at the Sharing event, Jake stuck with his family and Ax undercover as a waiter.
    • In the Emergency Livestream, Kyle is rescued by a gorilla (Marco).
  • The Cloudcuckoolander Was Right: Kyle walks a fine line between this and Entertainingly Wrong - he's wrong that the Sharing is an animal trafficking ring, but anyone who's read Animorphs knows he's right that birds are surveying them. He's just wrong about them being from The Sharing. It's practically a Running Gag that he'll say something unsettlingly accurate about the books... and then undercut it with an Entertainingly Wrong claim.
  • Darker and Edgier: A strange case where much of the darker tone comes from how selective it is with the source material. As Sporadic Phantoms focuses on the Original Characters of Robyn, Stevie, and Kyle, much of the Early-Installment Weirdness (and regular weirdness) of Animorphs has no presence within the narrative. The show also takes inspiration from real-life cults such as Synannon in its portrayal of the Sharing, and rarely shows characters that are obviously infested by Yeerks, distilling much of the silliness of Animorphs into an atmosphere of pure paranoia.
  • Downer Ending: Season 1 ends with Stevie and Robin infested, everything suspicious about the Sharing successfully covered up, and the podcast turned into Sharing propaganda. On top of that Kyle is still missing and Robin is preparing to locate and find him along with the Share the Truth hackers...aka the Animorphs.
  • The Dulcinea Effect: Kyle immediately throws his lot in with Elizabeth shortly after meeting her, getting highly defensive about her and her methods in The Sharing, and is convinced that other Full Members are trying to oust her. It's what starts driving a rift between him and the others. It also turns out to be legit - despite evidence to the contrary, he was never infested and really was that crazy about her.
  • Dramatic Irony: The trio don't know that The Sharing is a front for an alien invasion, so the listeners are able to put the pieces of the mystery together before they do. Kyle doesn't learn the truth until the Emergency Livestream.
    • The argument Kyle has with Stevie and Robin that results in him being ousted from the group is built on this. Robin is angry at Kyle because she feels they've been wasting time on his "animal fantasy" instead of focusing on the actual mystery of The Sharing. However, the viewer knows that Kyle's outlandish theories are the closest the group has gotten to finding out the truth about the Yeerk Invasion.
  • Enemy Civil War: Kyle believes there's one going on in The Sharing between the rich donors and Elizabeth's Be You Now course. As usual, he's Right for the Wrong Reasons: Chapman and Visser Three want to get rid of her and her followers, while Elizabeth claims to be working under direct orders from The Council of Thirteen. Episode 10 adds another layer to this: Nancy is confirmed to be a controller, but she attacks Elizabeth and is implied to be a member of the Yeerk Peace Movement.
  • Enforced Plug: Every episode has a ridiculous advertisement for something from the Animorphs universe. The first episode has one for Dealin' Dan Hawke's car sales, and the trio complain that it goes against their environmentally-friendly values, but they need the money.
  • Entertainingly Wrong: Understandably, the trio don't immediately realise that The Sharing is a front for mind-controlling aliens. From the information they do have, they come to the conclusion that they're either some kind of cult (based on a recording of a Be You Now meeting where Elizabeth probes a girl about her problems until she breaks down in tears) or an animal trafficking ring (based on Kyle hearing a tiger roar from the Sharing building's basement).
  • Evil Is One Big, Happy Family: Very much an Averted Trope. It is quite clear from early on that Elizabeth is at odds with Chapman and Stinton/Visser Three, with her commitment to the Be You Now program being viewed as at best an annoyance and at worse an obstacle. They do still have to cooperate until Elizabeth's failed attempt to make Kyle a host allows the rest of the Sharing to throw her under the bus and make her the scapegoat for everything unsavory the podcast uncovered about the Sharing.
  • First-Episode Spoiler: Someone going in blind would figure out early on that the show is about a conspiracy theory rather than environmental scandal, but it's not until The Sharing is namedropped that the world the show is set in becomes clear.
  • Frame-Up: In order to cover up the very incriminating Livestream the now controller Stevie and Robin claim it was an act of slander by a vengful Kyle who vandalized their studio.
  • Funny Background Event: While the Phantoms are discussing their next move at the gala during episode 7, Nancy Candleton's speech can be heard in the background...which mostly consists of variations on the phrases "we should treat owls like children" and "sometimes, children are owls".
  • A House Divided: After discovering one of them is working for the Sharing the Phantoms start to turn against each other. Robin in particular gets fed up with Kyle's ridiculous theories and his affection towards Elizabeth.
  • Hope Spot: After the brawl with the Animorphs in the Emergency Live Stream, Robin shows up and Kyle tells her the truth about the Sharing. For a moment it looks like the two will reconcile... and then the new recording Kyle has reveals that Robin has become a controller after willingly joining the Yeerks.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Every episode is titled "The [Word]", just like the Animorphs books.
  • Innocent Bystander Series: The podcast is about three normal people who unwittingly discover the Yeerks' suspicious activities, and occasionally have run-ins with the Animorphs.
  • Internal Reveal: Kyle finally learns the truth about the Yeerk invasion and the Animorphs in the Emergency Livestream.
  • Kayfabe: The podcast presents itself as real, to the point that the website has no information about the creators and the characters encourage listeners to talk to them on their social media accounts. The only acknowledgement that this is an Animorphs fanwork is K. A. Applegate being mentioned in the "special thanks" at the end of each episode.
  • Meaningful Background Event: After a live-streamed Sharing event is sabotaged by the Animorphs, Chapman can be heard muttering "bandits" under his breath.
  • Missed Him by That Much: The Sporadic Phantoms always come close to running into the Animorphs but never quite make it there.
  • Modern AU Fic: Sporadic Phantoms takes place in the 2020s instead of the 1990s, when the original Animorphs books were set. This is apparent from the many references to COVID-19, Donald Trump, and social media. This is done in order to fit the podcast format which for obvious reasons couldn't work if it was set in the 90s.
  • The Mole: Episode 7 reveals that one of the trio is a controller reporting to the sharing. Episode 10 reveals it was Stevie.
  • More than Mind Control: Elizabeth's Be You Now classes are meant to do this. She convinces the members that true peace can be obtained by giving up control of their lives and leaving behind their hobbies and loved ones, eventually becoming voluntary controllers.
  • Mysterious Benefactor: From the perspective of Sporadic Phantoms, the Animorphs are this. They've helped them out, such as when where Ax gives Kyle a recording device with a message that one of the trio is a Controller in episode 7, but they know nothing of the overall goals, size, and structure of the Animorphs.
  • Mythology Gag: Filled to the brim with them. Standouts include:
    • The ads, referred to as These Messages (itself a mythology gag to what Ax called ads) are always this - from the Barry and Cindy Sue show, to the "Happy Meal with Extra Happy."
    • Robin orders a cocktail called the "kandrona sunrise" in episode 7.
    • Kyle's ringtone is the TV show's theme song.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: The Animorphs give the Phantoms a flash drive with a recording of Visser 3 and Chapman, in order to warn them they have a mole in the group. It backfires because Robin becomes suspicious of the wrong person instead of who the actual mole is which causes the group to fracture and indirectly leads to Robin getting infested.
  • No Full Name Given: Every episode begins with Robin saying that the trio can't tell you their last names out of fear of retaliation, as a mythology gag for the books' tendency to do this. It's later mocked and lampshaded when Robin and Cassie's mother describe how using first names only makes the podcast untraceable.
  • Not Hyperbole: Elizabeth eventually explains to Kyle that her true, inner self is a creature that disgusts many, and cannot see or hear or touch, like a slug. He thinks this is just another Be You Now metaphor until she pulls out a yeerk in a glass and asks him to let her put it in his ear.
  • Reality Subtext: The Sharing explored in this fic is shown to explicitly play on the feelings of isolation that people felt during the COVID-19 pandemic, touting their safe in-person gatherings and feelings of community to draw people in.
  • Red Herring: When it's revealed in episode 7 that one of the Sporadic Phantoms is a controller all evidence initially points to Kyle. He disappeared for 2 hours at the end of episode 2, and when he reappeared he said they should give the Sharing a chance; he's obviously infatuated with Elizabeth (who the audience knows to be a controller) and is highly defensive of her; and is the one willing to play Devil's Advocate for the Sharing. However, in the Emergency Livestream, it's revealed Stevie was the mole. In fact ironically Kyle is the only Sporadic Phantom to not get infested.
  • Retool: In-Universe, the podcast was supposed to be about investigating illegal logging practices before the trio realize The Sharing is a much bigger threat and shift their focus to them.Happens again at the end of Season 1. As Robin mentions season 2 will focus on the search for Kyle and the Share The Truth hackers.
  • Rewatch Bonus: The revelation that Stevie was the mole in the Phantoms puts a lot of her actions in a new light. Particularly her trying to persuade Robin to let someone else handle the investigation in Episode 9.
  • Right for the Wrong Reasons: Kyle is convinced after hearing a tiger roar in the basement of a Sharing community center that animals are a major part of Sharing activities and that it's possibly a front for either animal smuggling or genetic manipulation. Robin and Stevie aren't so sure especially after animal services investigate said basement and find it empty. However, the viewer knows that Kyle is 100% correct about animals being involved with the sharing, he's just wrong on why they are involved.
  • Setting Update: Moves from the source material's 1990's setting to the 2020's. The Covid-19 pandemic is a part of the backdrop of the podcast's events-it's even a minor plot point that the hosts notice The Sharing somehow is able to circumvent restrictions on pubblic gatherings that have been put in place due to the virus. Passing references are also made to current events (for instance, Joe Biden's victory over Donald Trump in the 2020 election).
  • The Scapegoat: In episode 11 both Elizabeth and Kyle are turned into the fall guys for all the Sharing suspicious activity over the course of the podcast. With the official story being that Elizabeth was trying to start her own cult and unwittingly roped Kyle into it.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Kyle leaves in the middle of episode 8 because Robin and Stevie blame him for compromising the investigation.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The tiger at The Gardens is called Hobbes, as in Calvin and Hobbes.
    • In Episode 5, when Robin says the trip to the Gardens will "probably be a normal field trip", Kyle says "With the Frizz? No way!"
    • Crazy Helen's advertisement in episode 9 includes a soundbyte of a Dalek saying "EXTERMINATE!"
    • "Philips," the person who wrote the cryptic email warning to Sporadic Phantoms, namedrops the movie Disturbing Behavior when describing The Sharing.
  • Significant Anagram: The title is an anagram of "Animorphs podcast".
  • Sound-Effect Bleep: The trio's surnames are beeped out, as are the surnames of minors in The Sharing's visit to The Gardens, though you can hear the first syllables of "Chapman" and "Berenson".
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: The podcast often takes aim at how profoundly weird the actions of the Animorphs and the Yeerks look from an outside perspective. After all, someone would notice all the animal sightings, and the paper trails to Visser Three's scheme of the week.
  • Stockholm Syndrome: In episode 9 it's implied Robin is starting to get this toward the Be You Now program though she denies it. It's later revealed in the Emergency Livestream that she willingly became a controller because of it.
  • Take That!:
    • Crazy Helen's ad in episode 9 has her express delight at how well her stock of Ivermectin has been selling, and assumes there must be some kind of horse-worm epidemic. When her assistant informs her that some people think it can cure COVID-19, she scoffs at it.
    Helen: And they call me crazy?
    • Robin and Stevie take some time to lean on the fourth wall and describe the events of the infamously loathed Animorphs book #37 as "truly, truly an awful episode," and refer to it with terms that make it ambiguous whether they're describing the book.
  • Title Drop: Towards the end of the first episode, Stevie calls their concerns about The Sharing "a sporadic phantom of a thought".
  • Wham Line: In episode 7, Chapman says that "one of the Sporadic Phantoms is already one of our people." This is later backed up by the "Share the Truth" hackers, who say that one of the trio is already a Controller. The Emergency Livestream reveals that the mole was Stevie.
  • Wham Episode: The Emergency Livestream. We cannot stress just how much of a Wham Episode it was at the time. For starters, it was actually livestreamed to the viewers late at night on Sporadic Phantoms' youtube channel, making it much more of a Wham moment by virtue of so jarringly changing the format, and ensuring that absolutely nobody listening in real time had any idea what happened next. The livestream was then deleted as part of the show's Kayfabe, (presumably by Robin and Stevie) forcing one of the users to videotape it and release an incomplete version, before it was uploaded by Robin and Stevie to the podcast feed with some of their ...commentary. To explain the actual events: Kyle finds out the truth about the Sharing and how it's a front for an alien invasion when Elizabeth thinks she's won him over and tries to infest him. Stevie is revealed to be The Mole in the group, Robin is revealed to have willingly joined the Yeerks, and Kyle is saved by the Animorphs and taken to safety.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Stevie and Robin finally get fed up with Kyle's obvious bias towards Elizabeth when she's clearly up to something and call him out on it in episode 8.
  • Wild Card: Two examples:
    • The Animorphs (aka Sharethetruth) are this In-Universe to the Sporadic Phantoms, at least in season 1. S.P know that they're against the Sharing, and little else.
    • Sporadic Phantoms themselves are this to the Animorphs (and to a lesser extent, The Sharing) because routinely exposing the Sharing's dirty laundry threatens to make the fight between Animorphs and Yeerks less predictable.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: The main characters' speculations haven't gotten close to what's really going on - which is fair. You wouldn't suspect aliens, would you?
  • You Have to Believe Me!: Robin confronts Kyle in episode 8 all but accusing him of being The Mole in the trio. Kyle insists this isn't true but the fact he can't give a proper explanation as to how he knew the password to the flash drive the Animorphs gave him(Ax transmitted it to him via thought speak.) results in this trope.