Friday, February 02, 2018

Podcast Roundup Week #5

This week I listened to 53 episodes.  For non-podcast listening people, my recommendation is that you read Glen Wheldon's introduction to "It's All in Your Head: The One-Way Intimacy of Podcast Listening." Basically, the advantage of podcast listening is just how much you feel like you're friends with the people on the podcasts. You develop relationships with them. It's absolutely one-sided, of course, but that love, that friendship, it feels real. It's also a reminder that there are smart people out there who actually talk to one another.

Today, I'm going to look at the good, the bad, and the ugly of my podcast roundup for the week.

The good:

The podcast Deliberations is a strange semi-scripted audio drama. The creator, Chelsea Cox, writes a hypothetical legal scenario and some courtroom scenes to go along with it. She then gives actors short bios about characters they should play and we listeners spend most of our time in the "jury room," listening to the jury attempt to arrive at a verdict. The first season centered around the death of man who was role-playing for his dominatrix girlfriend as the girlfriend was charged with murder.

I like the bits of the podcast that deal explicitly with the jury. I do not much care for the interviews or jury breaks (especially with this oddly obnoxious lawyer Jessa Nicholson Goetz), so I would recommend just listening to the full-length episodes and skipping the rest. 

It's an interesting look inside the jury box. I have served on a jury, but it wasn't a particularly thorny or interesting legal question. It's fascinating to hear the "jurors" on this podcast grapple with language and analogies and really try to get into the minds of the people involved in the case. It was also a really good look at group dynamic and shifting allegiances. Listening to people have to really question (or not!) their own values and assumptions was surprisingly intimate.  You sort of forget that the actors are playing characters.  I haven't yet delved into season 2, but the first season was quite good and I do highly recommend it.

The bad:
The first season of the podcast Suspect Convictions was quite good. It looked at a case of child murder from the 1990s. It was tightly told and held my attention quite closely.

This second season is a mess. It's terrible. It feels like it's attempting to be like Serial, full of tangents and dead-end roads, but instead, after an initially awfully confusing attempt to explain the case, it's just rehashing the same five facts all the time. This season is also full of episodes with roundtables with other podcasters (some of whom I like on their own shows!) who have absolutely nothing to add to the case, letters from people that are incredibly boring, and it just seems loose and unscripted in a disorganized way. I think you can easily skip this season.

The ugly:
Generally speaking, I think Fresh Air is the podcasting equivalent of Old Faithful. It's not necessarily the most exciting podcast, but it's usually mostly interesting, respectful, and well done. Terry Gross is maybe just a bit more preoccupied with death than I am and Dave Davies is obviously not actually interested in many issues not related to being a white man, but overall, the guests are interesting and the hosts get out of the way. 

I think there must have been some incredibly bad editing for the episode "Little Rock Nine Member Melba Pattillo Beals" because whoa boy did Davies come off looking like a major jerk. At one point, he asks Beals about the physical abuse she suffered as she was one of a few black students integrating Central High School in Little Rock. When she starts to talk about how the emotional abuse was actually worse, the day to day wearing down on her, he cuts her off and goes back to the physical abuse line of questioning. As I was listening, I wanted to scream at him to let her talk. I was interested in her responses about the emotional impact it had on her, but far less interested in the stories of hair pulling, glue on the seat, and things being thrown at her. It sounds like the emotional stuff was more important to her, too, but not to Davies.

I'd like to think this was just a poor editing decision and that Davies did not actually do it this way.  I like to imagine he let her tell her stories and explored her feelings and then rerouted the questioning back.  This is actually why I didn't immediately unsubscribe. But, be forewarned, Fresh Air, I've got my ears on you and I will stop listening if this becomes a pattern (like Fresh Air, which has to be one of the top podcasts in the galaxy, cares if I stop listening).

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