Sam and Ross Like Things E54: In this column I’ve written a few times about the various waves of podcasting and how that has shifted the general style of shows. We’ve had the shows where people gab in front of mics. We’ve had the high concept shows were people breakdown media or play games. Right now, the wave seems to be creating podcasts that are backdoor TV pilots. Sam and Ross Like Things is a first wave podcast but it’s parallel is PBS’ This Old House – it’s pleasant and comforting to listen to. Hosts Sam Davies and Ross Catrow get together every two weeks to hang out and talk about something that brings them joy. There’s no hedging allowed, and neither Sam or Ross play devil’s advocate or try to turn the conversation into why the thing the other one likes is bad. The end result is a earnest if a little disposable chat about spontaneous hangouts versus planned hangouts, upright Ms Pac Man machines, and learning and loving Rage Against the Machine for the first time. In addition, Sam and Ross make sure to have a sincere chat – the funny moments are genuine rather then desperate, and they both are curious about each other’s topic. There’s a bit of me that wonders what Sam and Ross Like Things would be like if it was ever made into a TV series (cue the cries that the magic is gone!) but shows like this are what the medium of podcasting is made for.
Death, Sex & Money E153: What it means to be male in modern society is a topic that has came up a few times in previous episodes of Death, Sex & Money, indeed it was the focus on its first episode. In double episode “Manhood, Now”, the topic is less an interview of one person but a collection of chats that came from the results of a survey conducted by the show and website FiveThirtyEight. The overwhelming results this show concludes are: confusion, loneliness, and insecurity. Host Anna Sale shares a number of interview clips from survey respondents and listeners – Charles talks his realization that his large frame is responsible for others fear of him, Father and Son combo Fredrick & Freeman discuss seeing their father’s as role models and the missing gaps caused in wanting to pursuit non-manly activities, Alex talks about the influence of the internet on whether he is succeeding as a man. Death, Sex & Money never tackles something half-way – indeed this is seen in the survey results obtained for this episode. But as a show, the pace is always snappy, the interviews are frequently interesting, and the experts aren’t trying to push product. If there’s a secret mission behind Death, Sex & Money, it’s making a show that is worth the listeners time. That really comes across in “Manhood, Now”.
Armchair Expert E23: In the cold open for Armchair Expert, Dax Shepard makes it clear up front that he’s not the host. He’s your friend. Or probably more accurately, he’s a friend to his guest whose conversation you happen to be overhearing (complete with mattress ads). Don’t expect Armchair Expert to reinvent the wheel – this is an interview podcast where Dax and a guest share stories, plug each others projects, and laugh at each other – I’d put it somewhere between WTF and The J.V. Club. In a lengthy episode that runs a tad over two hours, we get guest Mae Whitman’s near-life story – from being a voiceover as a baby, schoolyard bullying, choosing acting over music, and a whole lot of stuff about how Mae and Dax are best buddies and have cute nicknames for one another. Dax asks good questions and there is a lot of joy in this chat. But all I could think while listening to this is “This is sooooooo long.” Less could be a lot lot more when it comes to Armchair Expert, and while this may change the show from being a straight up interview podcast to something different, it would be a change for the better.
Remade in America E03 & E04: Bassem Youssef was a surgeon in Egypt turned satirical YouTuber turned banned television star. Now, he’s in the United States interviewing people who have made a name for themselves by being on society’s fringe. Remade in America is CAFE’s second podcast and while the guests have opportunities to tell their stories, this show is really more about its host. Part of that is down to how the show is edited. Very rarely do we hear flowing conversation between the host and the guest. Instead, post-interview recorded set-ups and reactions from Bassem lead us into clips of the guest speaking. On episode 3, Maria Hinojosa of NPR’s Latino USA talks about racist narratives in the mainstream media and Hollywood, while on episode 4 Cameron Esposito discusses the loneliness of being a road comic and having her dad come to terms with her coming out. Each time on both of these episodes, Bassem pokes in to relate his guests experiences to his own in the Arab world, delivering monologues that sometime last as long as the interview clips. Bassem himself says that he is “just getting the hang of this podcast thing” and I believe there is a diamond to be found in this rough. As of right now, Remade in America is trying to be both a conversational chat show and a place for Bassem to present himself, and it’s failing to do either of these well.
Pod News: Welcome to Night Vale is going on tour! The youth like news podcasts. Podcasts are movies now? Google’s new podcast app is out for Android (and is designed to make it easier to listen to podcasts). Amy Schumer’s podcast 3 Girls, 1 Keith launches Thursday on Spotify. This is good satire.
The Final Question: Over at Slate, Rebecca Onion discusses falling in love with Chris Hardwick due to his podcast, then out of love due to allegations from a past relationship. Are there any shows you have stopped listening to for things the hosts or shows have done outside of the show itself? Something I have read (and felt) often is that podcasts are fake intimate – it’s like they are your friends, but they definitely are not. How do you do?