Welcome to “Should I Listen To This?”, where we deep-dive into a podcast to find out what it’s about, what works, what doesn’t, and whether or not you need to make the all-important decision to hit subscribe and add it to your rotation.
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Network: Gimlet Media
What Is it?: “A podcast about journeying back to the moment when everything went wrong.” Each episode deals with one person and a situation that they’ve either come to regret or can’t let go of and then takes them on a journey to find some semblance of closure. If you’ve ever lost touch with someone or wondered what happened to a person you knew fleetingly, this is the podcast that attempts to put you back in touch in order to heal whatever wounds might exist.
Who’s The Host?: Jonathan Goldstein, whom you might have heard at some point on NPR’s This American Life or CBC Radio One’s WireTap. If Ira Glass and Larry David had a lovechild, it might be Goldstein.
What’s A Normal Episode Like?: A running bit begins each episode as Goldstein calls his sister to check in and see what’s going on in her life. She is often exasperated, dealing with her kids or daily life, and seems wholly uninterested in anything Jonathan wants to talk about or is trying to accomplish. It’s hilarious and she’s one of the best parts of each episode.
But, that bit’s over quickly and then it’s on to the point. In some episodes, Goldstein himself is trying to dig into an unsolved mystery from his own past. Other times he introduces another person who we get to know and soon understand the driving mechanics behind why they’re here. Goldstein then begins the process of tracking down the person or persons needed in order to facilitate a meeting and, hopefully, find some catharsis. Along the way he peppers the interactions with humorous inserts and pushes people to confront the key issues when they start to stray.
Who Is It For?: People who want This American Life to have a little bit more Jewish neurosis running through it. Less specifically, it’s for listeners who like the kind of radio stories that are all about digging into the human condition and ultimately coming out the other end feeling good about our potential to care about one another. Things may not always end in the best-case scenario but the journeys that each episode indirectly remind us that human beings are fascinating, complex creatures. Even your emotionally-distant uncle.
Who Is It Not For?: The kind of people who don’t like early Woody Allen movies, Curb Your Enthusiasm, anything on NPR, really. You’ll probably hate this.
How Many Episodes Are There?: There have been four episodes released to date. Seems like the season is keeping to roughly one-a-week though it’s unclear how long the season will last.
Any Special Guests?: Moby shows up in one episode as it just so happens to revolve around a CD that one of Goldstein’s friends had given him before he became famous.
Can I Jump Right In?: Absolutely. The episodes are not tied thematically together. You can listen to them in any order or just start with what’s new.
What’s Not Great?: The only quibble so far is that all of the episodes are based around a person who is either friends with Goldstein, related to Goldstein, or Goldstein himself. And while that plays into the neurotic nature of the host and allows him to dig in to the inside information he has at his disposal, the hope is that future episodes and seasons will cast a wider net to involve people outside of his sphere in order to broaden the potential for great stories.
Gimme Some Great Episodes to Get Started:
Buzz – The first episode is also a great intro to the series. Jonathan’s father Buzz and uncle Sheldon are brothers in their eighties who have been estranged for decades after one too many squabbles. Goldstein convinces his father to go visit Sheldon to see if there’s still a relationship left to salvage and they end up revealing a complex history that reveals all of the shades of gray that make up a family.
Tony – Goldstein’s friend Tony is a recovering addict who screwed up his relationship with three different godchildren. Now divorced and childless himself, he attempts to reconnects with all of them, but it’s not going to be that easy.
So, Should I Listen To This?: If you’re already the kind of person who listens to podcasts such as This American Life, Radiolab, or Invisibilia, this is absolutely in your wheelhouse. Each episode is basically like one chapter from any of those shows so it’s easily-digestible and brings both the humor and the pathos you’d want.