Our current weird state of affairs is dragging on and I remain unable to come up with anything interesting to say about television. I mean, Westworld Season 3 just wrapped and it’s maybe the most bonkers reinvention of an ongoing series I’ve ever seen and I didn’t write a single recap. It’s real good, though. Maybe we can talk about it one day.
But let me tell you about what’s getting me through the day. Podcasts. They’re great. Frankly, they’re what get me through most days because I don’t like my job and so I listen to 50 hours of podcasts a week while I’m at work. They’re my rock. And I think podcasts are the last really personal form of mass entertainment. You usually listen to them on earbuds or headphones, so you literally listen to them alone. You listen on your own schedule – as much as DVRs and streaming are taking over the landscape, when an episode of Better Call Saul hits, a significant hunk of the audience is watching it at the same time I am. And while I think most people listen to new podcast episodes on release date (Unless it’s Tuesday or Thursday – there are just too many shows on those days!), I’m not listening to Comedy Bang! Bang! at the same time as anybody else. It’s going to take a few hours or a day before those references make their way around. Besides that, there are a million podcasts and as much as I’ve cultivated social media and real life friends who have similar preferences, I have favorite shows that nobody in my life ever hears. It’s a flashback to being the only kid in school who reads comics.
And there’s plenty to say about parasocial relationships, but that’s above my pay grade. But on a normal week, the Boys, the ‘Boys, the Good Good Boys, and the Bois get me through my day. (In order, that’s Hollywood Handbook; Doughboys; My Brother, My Brother & Me; and The Worst Idea of All Time) Now, when the weeks are anything but normal, podcasts are the form of entertainment that I think is most reactive to our changing situation. Rather than watching things that were made back when we were still able to spend time in person, podcasts are an almost real time document of how the hosts are dealing with our nightmare times.
Sometimes it’s just the fact that everybody is recording from home and they’re dealing with Zoom. Technology issues and dropped audio are common problems that people are working to solve. Those first few Doughboys are hilarious messes with even more overtalking than usual and Mitch’s Internet going out regularly. Off Book, an improvised musical series, has had to switch up its format because even the tiniest lag makes that cooperative aspect impossible. That was a show that I thought would just have to take a break, but their new format with more conversation and solo songs (with prerecorded tracks) is really fun. I just wish we could find out what sound the wooden frog makes, you know? The difficulties of recording in four locations is a regular theme on Never Not Funny these days, and anybody who’s even tried to get three friends on a video call can relate. The guys on Teacher’s Lounge have justified the lower audio quality by releasing their new episodes as recordings from an early 2000’s spring break. (A conceit that some of them tend to forget. Not naming any names, but Drew Tarver. “Just a reminder, all the apps are out now.”) Hello from the Magic Tavern magically separated the main cast so they have to communicate by runes. I’m on board for all of this.
(Speaking of, how jarring is it when you hear something clearly recorded much earlier? We’ve gotten a couple of CBBs, for example, where everybody is in the same studio and it was definitely recorded in February.)
Some favorites are stepping up their games and providing extra content because, man, we need it. Maria Blasucci and Amanda Lund are releasing daily episodes of The Big Ones and that’s a little shot of joy every day. An emergency season of The Worst Idea of All Time has Tim and Guy watching Home Alone 3 every three days until the quarantine is over. Comedy couples like Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon or Paul F. and Janie Haddad Tompkins have their own homebound shows. And it’s nice to know that every Saturday I can hear the Tompkins family be funny and charming and deal with some of the same nonsense that we’re all dealing with.
And that’s really what I’m getting from podcasts these days. People I’ve been listening to for years are trying to process how the world is different and whether it’s ever going to be normal again. They’re still doing their jobs as the world changes around us and processing what that means. And to be honest, most of the podcasts I like are about dumb stuff. So they’re still talking about video games or bad movies or episodes of Bonanza or chain restaurants while confronting how little any of that actually matters now. None of it ever mattered, but we had the luxury of pretending it did because everything was cool.
It may not surprise readers of this site that I, a man who once wrote a 4,000 word essay about a single episode of Venture Bros., am not great at expressing emotions. I recently had to email a couple of friends to explain something in my life and ask them if it’s OK to be sad. I’m a robot boy. But there are so many podcasts that I’ve been listening to for years. A decade in a few cases. And there’s something incredibly therapeutic about hearing these people who’ve been part of my life for so long working through loneliness and confusion and fear. And on most of my favorite shows, they’re still turning that into something funny. I’m lonely and depressed and when Doughboys’ Mitch bought eighty-five dollars worth of delivery at Pizza Hut, boy, that made me laugh and also made me feel less alone because I get it. (Sidenote: A dear friend of mine is also friends with Mitch, and this is very intimidating because I am, in all respects, Worse Mitch. I’m freaking Hydrox over here.)
It’s different from a bunch of big names showing off their amazing houses and singing “Imagine”. These are people I listen to every week dealing with things in the best way they can and more than anything, that helps me get through the day. Whether it’s Wiger’s gallows humor, Hayes and Sean’s tenacity, Rachel and Griffin’s boundless enthusiasm, Paul and Janie’s absolutely adorable conversations, Dr. Sydnee McElroy’s infinite patience, Jesse Thorn’s honesty, Judge John Hodgman’s deep well of kindness, or any of a dozen of others, it’s all helping and I appreciate all of them.