Servant of Pod Dream Second Season Bonus Episode
Sun, 1/31 10:53AM • 13:07
people, series, anthology series, episodes, picks, podcast, dunk, documentary, laughter, objects, hear, grouse, love, film, premise, habitat, washington state, upstairs bedroom, portrait, caroline
Ashley Ahearn, Caroline Crampton, unknown, Amy Nicholson, Vince Carter, Adnan Virk, Nick Quah, Halloween Dialogue, Lynn Levy
Nick Quah 00:08
Hey, everyone! This week we're doing something a little different. Instead of a full-length episode, we're giving you something more bite-sized, based around a fun theme: a dream second season of a podcast that only had one season. I spoke with Hot Pod contributor Caroline Crampton about it, and we each narrowed it down to three picks.
Lynn Levy 00:26
So, it was a hard-fought contest, but I think this spot goes to a series called Finding van Gogh, which was made... this is actually from 2019. The five episodes of series one came out September 2019. It was made by the Städel Museum in Frankfurt, and it's about a painting called The Portrait of Dr. Gachet, which is supposedly the last portrait completed by Vincent van Gogh. And it was sold mysteriously into private hands about 30 years ago. And this museum was running an exhibition, I think, of van Gogh's portraits and they wanted to be able to include this. So the curator started going, "Okay, well, maybe we can find out who has it and get them to loan it to us for this exhibition." Turns out there was quite a lot more to that process than just, we'll find out who has it and ask them.
It was dynamic. It was full of motion. It seemed to suggest the exposure of something that wasn't entirely observable on the surface.
Not a particularly pleasant man, but something makes him interesting.
In fact, one could argue that this is the most extraordinary portrait of all that he made in his short life. It's a very moving object to stand in front of.
Lynn Levy 01:47
They did five episodes, but I just feel like there's so much they didn't cover about van Gogh, about his relationship with Gachet, who was his doctor who was treating him for some of his mental health problems, and also about this sort of private art world in general that I would love to hear them maybe give this treatment to another Van Gogh painting, or indeed a painting by another artist that's in the museum's collection. I think there's loads of scope for where they could go with it.
Nick Quah 02:12
And it's bilingual. It's both in German and in English.
Caroline Crampton 02:14
It is, yeah.
Nick Quah 02:15
That's fantastic. More bilingual stuff would be really cool. Okay, so pivoting pretty hard into my full OCD nature away from art into sports, ESPN's Dunkumentaries, which is actually one of their very first podcast projects that came out a couple years ago, I want to say it's 2017 or 2016. It was pretty early on in the post-Serial podcast boom. It's basically an anthology series where different producers were given the opportunity to tell different stories about the nature of dunks in basketball.
Adnan Virk 02:47
When it's his turn, Carter is prowling the center of the court. And after about 10 seconds of pacing up and down, he sets off towards the basket.
Adnan Virk 03:05
It's an amazing reverse 360-degree dunk. The crowd goes nuts. And Carter is just strutting around and puffing out his chest.
Vince Carter 03:20
Because I was just, oh, I felt like I had wings. And when I did that dunk right there, I said these guys don't have a chance. [Laughter]
Nick Quah 03:28
What I like about it, in addition to just being a basketball nerd myself, is this notion of getting an anthology series, and you get different producers to approach the topic in their own way, and to think about the kinds of stories they want to tell off the theme, or off the topic, in this case it was dunks. I don't think anybody listened to it. [Laughter] I vouched for it really hard, in whenever it came out, like 2016 or 15, or whatever. And the thing is, is that I love this notion of just getting a ton of all-star hitters together and just making stuff about a random topic. I think that's a really interesting thing that I would love to see more of in podcasting, simply because we are in a place where we have a ton of all-stars right now and I would love to see that cross-pollinate. Okay, so what's your second pick?
Lynn Levy 04:10
So this is a series called On Things We Left Behind, which was actually the winner of a competition that I helped to judge in 2019. It was with LaunchPod and it was an acast-backed sort of "find the next hit podcast" thing. And then the winners got production support and budget to make their full series, and their full series finally came out in August-September 2020. It's made by the daughters of Somali refugees who are now all living in the UK. And it's about the objects that people who have to flee their country, for whatever reason, and move somewhere else, about the objects that they leave behind, and what those things end up meaning to them. And so the pilot episode that I heard as part of the judging process was about letter tapes, cassette tapes that families would record, and post back to people elsewhere in the world, and exchange and pass around communities. And that turned into a two-parter that is the beginning of the series.
It allowed for communicating important, factual things about people's lives, what's going on in people's lives. But also, what I love about them is that they also become like diaries, where people record the daily life, the family gossip, you can hear snatches of life captured in them. Whether that's goats bleating, or people conversing or laughing in the background. And I love the giggling--I think on many of the tapes I found from between my family, people giggling in the background, or you can hear children's voices.
These were slow-moving, long-distance, one-way conversations.
Lynn Levy 05:46
And I just think that concept has got such great legs. There are so many objects and so many communities that you could give that treatment to and they made some really, really moving and quite political stories out of it. So yeah, I would 100% listen to more of that.
Nick Quah 06:01
Wow, Caroline, some serious picks, I feel so fluffy with my... [Laughter] With the rest of the picks I have on my list. Okay, let's go to bat for this one. This, I kind of feel like, this is a pick that I'm gonna get some **** for. So I really, really liked Lynn Levy's The Habitat, which she made for Gimlet a couple years ago.
Caroline Crampton 06:18
I did too.
Nick Quah 06:19
Okay, so the premise is basically it's a documentary, which then Levy follows this group of essentially scientists, or scientist-adjacent people, who volunteered to live remotely in this sort of bubble, and their research of how astronauts, so that basically people can live on Mars, and in whatever colony situation that they're gonna set up there. And so it sets up this premise of a reality documentary series where like, what happens when you put a bunch of smart people, around the same age, in a very small enclosed environment for a very long period of time?
Lynn Levy 06:53
It's early on a Wednesday morning, and the crew has less than 48 hours to go before they get locked into the habitat. They've been together for a few days now, learning all the skills they'll need to pretend to be on Mars. And today, they're learning one more: how to map a new planet. We follow one of the high seas researchers, Brian Shiro, into a lava field not far from the habitat. People are in shorts and t-shirts. It's one of the last times the crew will be able to walk outside without spacesuits on.
Nick Quah 07:23
I'm not saying that I want an extension or a sequel to that specific story. But I, a, want to hear Lynn do more things, I would love to hear her lead another show again, and b, I just like this premise of settling into an extreme situation, and just documenting people. I would love to see someone try that again. Because I think there's a way that is slightly more accessible to do that, which is recording, as opposed to carrying camera equipment. There is a way in which inhabiting these characters, or being with these characters, without knowing how they look like, really sort of created a really interesting relationship response. So that's my second pick. All right, Caroline, last pick.
Caroline Crampton 08:02
The third one I want to mention is perhaps a bit more of a stretch in how I would envision the second series, but it's this series made by--I think local to you, Nick--Boise State Public Radio, Grouse.
Nick Quah 08:16
Caroline Crampton 08:16
Was that gonna be your third, too?
Nick Quah 08:17
That just came out? Yeah, yeah, yeah. [Laughter]
Caroline Crampton 08:19
Yeah. So they made this series called Grouse, I think in association with BirdNote as well. And I absolutely loved it as a kind of combination of memoir and documentary, and ecology, essentially.
Ashley Ahearn 08:33
Michael Schroeder and I stood on that blackened hillside for a while together, just looking around us and talking about the bird the way you might talk about a loved one who's terminally ill. Michael's old enough to retire, and he's been joking about it since I met him. But he told me he's not going to retire right now. Even though this could be the actual collapse of the sage grouse population in Washington state that he's been worried about for so long. He said he doesn't want to go out on a down note. That, to me, is courage. It's the courage to keep doing our small part, whatever that may be, even if we know our individual actions may not solve the bigger problem. The courage to keep loving the hell out of something, even if we know we may not be able to save it.
Caroline Crampton 09:21
It's about a writer who moved to a rural area in Washington state, and became very invested in the way that one species of bird is being affected by climate change, and the political battles over rural life, and all this kind of stuff. And I think it's a fantastic lesson. And I don't necessarily need eight more episodes about grouse. But it's an approach that I would love to see spun out as a sort of anthology series. So maybe it's a different writer in a different part of the world with a different ecological question, and it could sit under the same banner, if that makes sense. I think we have seen a few people attempt that kind of thematic anthology series over multiple seasons, as opposed to within episodes. And Dan Taberski's Headlong comes to mind in that. So yeah, I'd love to see them do that again.
Nick Quah 10:10
I like how both of us ended up responding to this theme with "I don't necessarily want to see a sequel to this, but I want to see something like this," which I think bodes well for anybody who has dreams to build an anthology series. Okay, another fluffy pick, let's do this. I really liked Halloween Unmasked, which is The Ringer's film kind of documentary thing from a couple years ago, about the movie Halloween.
Amy Nicholson 10:36
They think they're alone. Even so, they go upstairs for privacy.
Halloween Dialogue 10:42
Let's go upstairs.
Halloween Dialogue 10:43
Amy Nicholson 10:45
You retrace your steps to the front yard, look up, see an upstairs bedroom light cut off. You go to the back of the house, faster now. Further, inside the back door, is this still okay? And a hand, your hand, slashes into the frame. Your hand yanks open a drawer, you pull out a knife. No. No, this is not okay.
Nick Quah 11:10
The thing I liked about that franchise, or that show, in addition to the fact that was hosted by Amy Nicholson, who is a film critic and a film podcast host that I love to listen to and just consume her work, is that the documentary felt like very "MTV documentary," it was like really kind of fizzy, it was really bubblegummy, it moved really quickly. It was fun, it was enthusiastic, it had a certain energy to it that was very light. And it didn't feel like I was listening to kind of like a work documentary, a heavy documentary. But something about the way that I think The Ringer figured out a tone that I, as a consumer, really appreciate and would like to see more of, because I think traditionally I tend to sort of cluster towards podcasts that are hefty, like podcasts that see themselves and think of themselves as kind of bookish, but I'm also a massive consumer of pop television. And I love seeing those tendencies trickle down into podcasting. And I would love to see another film be taken up with the Halloween Unmasked approach. Okay, so I think that's it. You have your three picks, I have my three picks. Hopefully somebody out there is listening to this and will go like, "Alright, I will make something like this." Caroline, thank you so much for joining me today.
Caroline Crampton 12:18
Thank you very much for having me.
Nick Quah 12:19
And have a great holiday season.
Caroline Crampton 12:21
Yeah, you too, thank you.
Nick Quah 12:30
So that's it for this week. We'll be back next week with a new full-length episode perfect for the end of the year--and the end of the world. Remember that you can check out more episodes at laist.com/servantofpod. Servant of Pod is a production of LAist Studios. Happy Holidays.