Surprisingly [not so] Awesome: Making the Boring a Little Less Boring

Surprisingly [not so] Awesome: Making the Boring a Little Less Boring

Caitlin LambSaturday,23 January 2016

The latest Gimlet Media podcast series, Surprisingly Awesome, aired last November with a part humor, part informative, but mostly awkward show titled simply “Mold.” With a promise to explore the boring aspects of our lives and “uncover their inner awesomeness,” the idea seems interesting, and the hosts carry a heavy load of prior accomplishments. Adam McKay co-wrote comedy hits with Will Ferrell, including Step Brothers and Talladega Nights, and was a writer for Saturday Night Live for two seasons. Adam Davidson is an award-winning journalist who writes for NPR and co-hosted their podcast, Planet Money. But the “Mold” episode started as a basic high school science lesson and ended in an odd dialogue between the Adams as one revealed to the other that in their research of mold he discovered that the two were very distantly related.

The second episode, titled “Free Throw,” began just as awkwardly as the first one left off, with the hosts discussing Davidson’s father’s need to make him play sports despite his hatred in a way that makes the listener feel as though they’re eavesdropping on a personal conversation. It then launches into a scene of them at a gym shooting hoops with no real description of what is going on and a lot of background noise, which is definitely off-putting for an audio-only podcast. It doesn’t end there; later in the episode, they forgot to narrate as they watched videos of NBA players shooting free throws.

Surprisingly Awesome has had four more episodes to date, including “Concrete,” “Tubthumping,” “Interest Rates,” and “Broccoli.” These episodes could have potential; they definitely are boring topics, as they promised to deliver. What they don’t do is reveal that “awesomeness” they mentioned. There are entertaining elements; “Tubthumping” explores how the song of the same name was was “an anarchist slash socialistic collective” that sought to “empower the working class to overthrow the status quo of England.” Even the less entertaining episodes are sprinkled with interesting, if not random, details (Did you know that penicillin kills guinea pigs but not rats?).

In terms of sound quality, the recordings are clear, but the balance isn’t quite there. The theme music at the beginning of each show is often too loud, and at times it sounds as though the two Adams are sitting across the room from one another, with one too loud and one too quiet. This was especially bad in the first episode, but later episodes have shown some improvement. The earlier shows also had some serious problems with conciseness; both Davidson and McKay have a tendency to talk off topic, wander into personal conversations, and laugh too long at their own jokes. The more recent episodes are a little better, though unless you have a personal interest in one of the subjects (I’m not judging any concrete fanatics out there), I doubt you’ll find any of the episodes overly engrossing. As for the “Je ne sais quoi” factor of Surprisingly Awesome, I don’t know of another podcast that will spend a half hour trying to convince you that broccoli is cool, but then, maybe there’s a reason for that. However, with the hosts’ backgrounds’ and the improvements that were made from the first episode to the sixth, with time and a little more practice (and some better topics), this show might still take off. My advice: listen to a show or two and stay tuned for future episodes.

Criteria Scores: Entertainment Factor: 5/10. Sound Quality: 8/10. Conciseness: 5/10. Engrossing: 4/10. “Je ne sais quoi” factor: 7/10. Overall score: 5.8/10.

Surprisingly Awesome podcast review - 5.8 out of 10

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