This podcast took me on an emotional journey

Recently, while browsing for new podcasts to listen to, I found a show called Pregnant Pause, in which journalist Zak Rosen and his wife Shira Heisler discuss whether or not they want to have children. I decided to subscribe because I was personally interested in exploring the same question.

The show is well produced and tackles a variety of aspects of child-bearing with thoughtfulness, honesty, and sensitivity. While I found the standard podcast bumpers to be a bit jarring when applied to this situation (e.g. “Stay tuned next week to hear what happened with my wife’s hospital visit!”), overall I’d highly recommend this show. Without spoiling anything, I can tell you that “Pregnant Pause” took me on an emotional roller coaster ride that I won’t soon forget. I’m grateful to Rosen and Heisler for their willingness to share themselves with the world in this way.

Listen to all 8 episodes here. They’re only about 30 minutes long each.

The new 30 for 30 Podcast is great

ESPN has recently launched the “30 for 30” podcast, based on its 30 for 30 documentaries. Hosted by Jody Avirgan, each episode explores an untold side of a popular sports story.

The first episode chronicles the trials of Reebok’s once-ubiquitous “Dan and Dave” ads. As someone who was a kid when these first came out, I was fascinated by the backstory of Reebok’s bold marketing campaign, and the consequences that befell them when they put the cart before the horse.

I wasn’t as crazy about their second episode about the Yankess Suck phenomenon — not because the podcast wasn’t well made (it is) but because this particular story sums up a lot about what I dislike about American society and sports fandom in general.

Nevertheless, it’s a really strong start to what I hope will be a great podcast. I’m subscribed for the foreseeable future. [Apple Podcasts link]

Season finale

After a multi-year absence, Stephen Tobolowsky and I re-united to put out another 12-episode season of The Tobolowsky Files over the course of the past few months. While we will have more projects together, they will be somewhat infrequent until the next season of the show, likely not coming until 2018.

After publishing the last episode this year, Stephen emailed me and said, “We did it, David. Congrats. It was tough with the book tour and the travel and no internet and no time…but we did something good.”

As I’ve started refocusing on what is important in my life, I’ve realized that this has been my only goal with The Tobolowsky Files: to make something good. It is of paramount importance, beyond ad dollars or listenership numbers. It’s rare to be able to be involved with something whose quality you can believe in. This season of stories, which in my opinion represents some of Stephen’s best work, fits that bill for me.

Here’s a link to the season finale. If you like that episode, you can also subscribe to the show in Apple Podcasts or via RSS.

Homecoming: Season 1 review

I finally had a chance to listen to the Homecoming, Gimlet Media’s first narrative fiction podcast. Spanning six episodes, Homecoming is a psychological thriller that tells the story of a Heidi, a caseworker at a government facility that uses an experimental method to treat soldiers coming home from war. The show stars Catherine Keener as the protagonist, and a pretty amazing supporting cast that includes David Schwimmer, David Cross, Oscar Isaac, and Amy Sedaris.

I was impressed by Homecoming and would recommend anyone interested in podcasting as a storytelling medium. Here are a few specific thoughts:

  • The story is told using recordings of conversations between Heidi and other characters. While some of these recordings are diagetic, meaning there’s actually a reason for them to exist in the world of the story, some of the other recordings have no explanation. I would’ve been interested to hear a more “found footage” approach to this story, as I think it would’ve increased the immersion.
  • The performances were extremely strong all around. The highlight for me was David Schwimmer, who played Colin, Heidi’s boss. The interactions between Colin and Heidi illustrate a lot of the challenges common in the modern workplace — namely, how management separation from problems on the ground can lead to suboptimal decisions. Schwimmer plays Colin as both threatening, cunning, and oblivious in a performance that really surprised me with its subtlety.
  • The overarching story of this podcast could basically be a Black Mirror episode (In fact, there was an episode from the newest season that has a very similar story). This is meant as a compliment. Homecoming presents troubling truths and possibilities about the current state of our medicine and technology, and how we apply those things to our citizens in times of war.

You can listen to Homecoming here. The show is being developed as a TV series by the guy who created Mr. Robot.

R.I.P. Gen Pop

This month, Gen Pop — my pop culture podcast with Joanna Robinson — will come to an end.

Sometimes I’ll create a podcast that lasts 10 years (and counting). Other times, a show will last 6 months. Unfortunately, Gen Pop was one of the latter.

Out of all my podcasts, Gen Pop was probably the show that I worked the hardest on and stretched myself the most on. And while it didn’t have the largest audience, it had a really impassioned fan base. I’m so grateful to people who donated to the show and who supported us every step of the way.

The folks at Nerdophiles wrote up this lovely retrospective on the podcast, and it’s awesome:

I’m sad to see Gen Pop go, but happy for the other opportunities to catch Joanna and David still podcasting. Gen Pop truly was one of my favorite podcasts that really had its finger on the pulse of pop culture. It delivered a weekly interesting conversation that was topical and well-informed, often times giving me new insight and perspective.

I’m glad that people got something out of the show. It makes me feel like all the work we put into it was not ill-spent.

You can listen to the entire back catalog of Gen Pop here.

The podcasts I fall asleep to

I often have difficulty falling asleep at night without the assistance of podcasts. Left to my own devices while lying in bed, I’ll start planning my next day, thinking about the future, or worse, pondering every terrible decision I’ve ever made.

So I listen to podcasts to lull me into a peaceful slumber. But not just any podcast will do. These “falling asleep” podcasts need to have certain characteristics:

  • They must be interesting. It can’t be a boring podcast, or I will get irritated by how boring it is and that irritation will keep me awake.
  • The hosts must have soothing voices. I’m trying to fall asleep here, folks. The hosts can’t have extremely grating or piercing voices, lest I’m jostled awake while I’m drifitng off.
  • The subject matter must be inessential. I don’t mean “inessential” to be a slight here. Pretty much all of the podcasts I host (with the possible exception of “The Tobolowsky Files”) I consider to be “inessential.” All I mean is that I can’t listen to important news about the world presented in a straightforward fashion, since that will likely upset me and prevent me from sleeping.
  • It’s a conversation between people, vs. a highly produced show. I don’t go for the long-form, intense storytelling podcasts while I’m falling asleep, because I want to listen to these shows while I’m awake. In the past, when I’ve tried listening to shows like Planet Money or Radiolab while in bed, I will fall asleep during it, then get annoyed later when I need to wake up and re-listen to the entire thing again.

So with all that said, what are the shows that I fall asleep to? Before I list them, I want to make clear: Just because I listen to these podcasts in this fashion, it doesn’t mean that I think any of these podcasts are “boring” in any way. They simply fulfill all of the curious and extremely specific characteristics I listed above.

Here they are:

Battleship Pretension — Tyler Smith and David Bax have been hosting this podcast for longer than I’ve been hosting the /Filmcast. They are extremely well-informed, articulate movie geeks, but they also speak with a lovely, calming cadence that I find ideal for provoking thought and also falling asleep to.

The Flop House — Elliott Kalan, Dan McCoy, and Stuart Wellington discuss films that are critical and commercial failures in an engaging and funny way.

The Accidental Tech Podcast — Marco Arment, John Siracusa, and Casey Liss cover weekly tech news from the perspective of those who are power users and skilled reviewers. My favorite component of this show: Siracusa’s and Arment’s extended rants.

The Bugle — Hosted by Andy Zaltzman and a rotating list of co-hosts, this podcast covers the week’s political news with a sense of humor that is drier than the Mojave. The show isn’t quite the same after John Oliver left to host Last Week Tonight, but Zaltzman himself is still a great talent.

**

I realize that many people listen to the above podcasts without falling asleep to them. I’d encourage this! But for me, they fulfill a very specific purpose in my life and I’m grateful for that.

The rise and fall of American Apparel

I’ve been catching up on a lot of old podcasts recently and finally had a chance to listen to the StartUp podcast’s 7-episode arc on American Apparel (originally broadcast in late 2016).

It begins as a profile of Dov Charney, the founder and former CEO of American Apparel, who is trying to launch a new clothing business. But as it dives deeper and deeper into Charney’s history, it provides a level of detail and insight that goes beyond the headlines. Charney comes off as enterprising, sharp and hard-working, but also completely self-delusional and self-destructive.

There is some tape in this series that blew me away — several gut punches that I did not see coming. It was riveting. I think I enjoyed this series more than I did S-Town, which is widely regarded as a game-changer in terms of long-form podcast storytelling.

Producer and host Lisa Chow should be proud of what she accomplished here. I’ve linked to all 7 parts below.

Listen to Part 1 here. 

Listen to Part 2 here.

Listen to Part 3 here.

Listen to Part 4 here.

Listen to Part 5 here.

Listen to Part 6 here.

Listen to Part 7 here.

You can also subscribe to the StartUp podcast on Apple Podcasts.

Radiolab’s “Nukes” episode

During my recent drive down to Las Vegas, I had a chance to catch up with dozens of podcasts. Radiolab in particular has been on a tear, with some of their most important and powerful work coming out in the past few weeks. Among these: their “Nukes” episode, which I’d recommend for anyone who cares about the fate of the world.

TL;DR – It’s as bad as we all think it is; there are essentially no checks on the U.S. President’s power to launch nukes; the decision can be unilateral; and no easy path exists to change that. Enjoy.

The upsetting implications of the “Missing Richard Simmons” podcast

Amanda Hess, writing for The New York Times, has written a thorough takedown of the new (and apparently very popular) “Missing Richard Simmons” podcast:

The relationship between journalists and subjects shouldn’t be confused with friendship. Journalists have power over their subjects and a responsibility to try to minimize harm. But Mr. Taberski leverages his claim to friendship to reverse the equation, arguing instead that it’s Mr. Simmons who has the responsibility to speak to him, and to explain himself to his former acquaintances and fans. He compares Mr. Simmons’s relationship to them to the responsibilities of a licensed therapist. Mr. Taberski says he took care to ask Mr. Simmons’s manager “if there was something serious going on, like illness, so I could just let it be.” But is depression not an illness? Is a person’s gender identity not sufficiently serious to leave alone? Having decided that Mr. Simmons’s reasons for withdrawal are not “serious,” Mr. Taberski feels freer to pursue the guy.

“Missing Richard Simmons” speaks to both the possibilities and the limits of the emerging prestige podcast form. Many of the podcast’s tropes — the mystery framing, the crowdsourcing of clues from the audience and a format that focuses on the narrator as much as his subject — are borrowed directly from “Serial.” By turning a journalist into a friend and casting a man’s personal life as a mystery, “Missing Richard Simmons” has retooled the stale Hollywood documentary as an addictive media sensation. But it’s also turned it into a morally suspect exercise: An invasion of privacy masquerading as a love letter. Mr. Simmons is a public figure, and that gives journalists a lot of latitude to pry. But a friend who claims to want to help Mr. Simmons should probably just leave him alone.

Many recent true crime and mystery podcasts/shows have exhumed details from the lives of private citizens for public entertainment. While shows like Serial and Making a Murderer are ostensibly about correcting some systemic or institutional injustice, they still wreak havoc on the lives of those who are its subjects.

If we take “Missing Richard Simmons” at face value, then it appears to have all the devastating impact of other similar shows, only without the journalistic value — just the veneer of it. Truly upsetting.

Asgar Farhadi and the Oscars

This week on Gen Pop, we talk with Siddhant Adlakha from Birth Movies Death about Trump’s Muslim ban and how it may impact art in the U.S.

We received this email about the show last night, and it really meant a lot to me (I’m sharing it anonymously, with permission):

Hi Joanna and Dave,

I just needed to tell you how much I love this podcast. I listen to A LOT of podcasts and this is quickly becoming my favourite. Every episode has been fascinating with brilliant discussions and interviews.

Your conversation with Sid Adlakha actually brought me to tears. I’m an interracial woman (my dad is half Somalian and half German and my Mum is a mix of Norwegian and Italian) but both my parents were born here in the UK. So I of course feel British through and through. With the horrors of Brexit and the rise of the Rightwing (everywhere it seems) I have had things said to me that I haven’t heard since the 90s. I felt we had moved past me being told to “Get back to the Paki Market” or being asked “What actually are you though?” But here I am crying at a podcast because it is so beautiful in its diverse voices and open discussion.

You should be so proud of yourselves for the outstanding work you are putting out.

I hope you enjoy the episode.