Podthoughts by Colin Marshall: "Experts and Intermediates"

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The best thing about writing Podthoughts isn't just having justification for listening to homemade radio when I should be working, it's holding the title of Podcast Kingmaker: I wield the awesome power to anoint certain ventures with a slight audience boost, and to cruelly withhold a slight audience boost from others. This week I crown Experts and Intermediates [iTunes link], an arts-and-culture gabfest for which I've got high hopes. High-apple-pie-in-the-sky hopes. Why "high hopes" rather than straight-up "high praise"? Because, while I already enjoy the program, I think it's got big untapped potential. Before getting into what the podcast could be, however, let's talk about what it is.

Of all the new kinds of shows the Podcast RevolutionTM has loosed upon our unprepared society, perhaps the most visible format — or, I guess, audible one — is the Two Twentysomething White Guys. I am forever in the debt of erstwhile Podthinker Ian Brill for introducing me to Battleship Pretension, an excellent weekly film discussion that might also be titled Two Twentysomething White Guys on Movies. There's another swell show called Jordan, Jesse, Go! &mdash perhaps you've heard of it &mdash whose alternate title could easily be Two Twentysomething White Guys on Being Two Twentysomething White Guys... Hilariously!

Experts and Intermediates could fly under Two Twentysomething White Guys on Convergences in Cultural Opinion, which is marginally less catchy but could probably land a public radio grant. B.J., Jason and sometimes a designated "expert" take on different works of popular culture each time, including:

  • Shakespeare, especially the problematic nature of The Merchant of Venice
  • The best Spider Man and Batman story arcs
  • Hip-hop duo Atmosphere
  • High School Musical
  • 20th-century dystopian literature
  • Night of the Hunter
  • Christian rock

Looking at that list, you'd think the guys make their selections at random. But while the show is informed by a hearty spirit of randomness, there's actually something of a throughline, at least to the best episodes. I would submit that B.J. and Jason are primarily interested in works about which (a) one's experience or opinion differs sharply from the other's or (b) both of their experiences or opinions differ sharply from those of the work's fan base.

This is borne out by two of the show's regular features. The second-best, "Will We Be Infected?", has the guys pick out something popular yet, to them, unsavory — the aforementioned Disney franchise, or some thrashing for Jesus — and mainline it to see if they, too, will get on the bandwagon. The best is when the hosts give each other assignments. Typically, the item assigned is something the assigner believes the assignee hasn't consumed enough of; for example, B.J. assigns the comic-bereft Jason a Spider Man series. I love hearing and experiencing reactions to something out of one's own cultural sphere. If the podcast consisted entirely of assignments, that'd be fine by me. It might solve the show's slight focus problem, too.

What else does Experts and Intermediates need before taking the podcasting world by storm? First, regularity; a month between episodes isn't unheard of. (In all fairness, B.J. and Jason acknowledge the inconsistency, not that that makes it any easier for the fans.) And the guys shouldn't even bother talking about music without including clips for the audience; I won't utter that old "dancing about architecture" line, but come on, we gotta hear the stuff before you dissect it. These, however, are mere issues of polish, ones that a deserved kingship should provide the impetus to address.

[Direct all correspondence to colinjmarshall at gmail. Podthoughts discussion thread available here.]