clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The Rise of the Celebrity TV Recap Podcast

Actors from ‘The Sopranos,’ ‘Scrubs,’ ‘The West Wing,’ and others have all grabbed the mic and dished about the shows they starred on. The podcasts have proved to be more than just opportunities for sharing inside baseball—and they could be a sign of things to come in the industry.

Ringer illustration

“Probably lots of people right now are going, ‘Oh, shit, let’s start a podcast,’” says actor Zach Braff, who just started a podcast. Braff’s podcast, a collaboration with former Scrubs castmate Donald Faison, launched on March 31. The show, a weekly iHeartRadio production called Fake Doctors, Real Friends, is an opportunity for the titular friends to rewatch the sitcom they starred in and relive the period when their guy love began. Scrubs started almost 20 years ago, so when I call the cohosts, I ask them how well they’ve recalled the series so far.

“I’m going to be honest with you,” Faison says. “So far, I don’t remember anything.”

“That’s not true, Donald,” Braff protests.

To settle the dispute, I point out that on the podcast’s debut episode, Faison professed to remember what Braff was wearing at the first table read for Scrubs: brown corduroys and a T-shirt.

“I don’t know if I’d trust that,” Braff says. “I don’t think I would have rocked brown corduroys to the table read.”

“I really believe you did, man,” Faison says. “You always wore brown corduroys.”

This second dispute sets off an extended exchange.

“Now that you brought up the corduroys, I have a memory of you making fun of me for wearing corduroys in the summertime.”

“Yeah, you used to do that. I’m sure it’s pretty clear that corduroy is winter clothing.”

“I didn’t know that corduroys in the summer was a fashion faux pas until you laughed at me.”

“Just think about it. It’s an extra layer to protect you from the cold.”

“I wouldn’t do it now, but probably because my brain goes, ‘How about those? No, Donald will laugh.’”

“Well, I’m glad I taught you something.”

As I listen to the tangent—and vainly try to interject with a question about something other than pants—I can almost hear George Costanza saying, “See, this should be the show!” Like the sitcom George and Jerry pitched on Seinfeld, Fake Doctors, Real Friends is sometimes talk about nothing. That’s the “real friends” part. But because “fake doctors” comes first, it mostly is about something: Scrubs. Week by week and hour by hour, Braff, Faison, and friends like Scrubs creator Bill Lawrence and costar Sarah Chalke are reminiscing about every episode of the nine-season series—or at least the first two seasons, after which, Braff says, the two will take each other’s temperature (presumably with a fake thermometer).

Braff is right: A lot of cooped-up people are starting podcasts. Some of those podcasts cover the coronavirus, but others, like Fake Doctors, Real Friends, offer their audiences an excuse to focus on something other than the pandemic that’s disrupted their routines. Many other cooped-up people have looked to TV as a source of solace, causing massive upticks in traffic to streaming services. Starting a podcast about TV, then, is the ultimate in pandemic distraction. Judging by a sampling of listener reviews, the escape is appreciated.

iTunes

Fake Doctors, Real Friends just happened to appear at a time when people were especially primed to revisit Scrubs; the show had been in the works for a while. It’s not the only TV recap podcast featuring former stars of a classic series to launch in the past month. This spring has also seen the debuts of dueling Sopranos podcasts, Talking Sopranos (hosted by former Sopranos stars Michael Imperioli and Steve Schirripa) and Made Women (cohosted by another Sopranos pro, Drea de Matteo), as well as The Darkest Timeline, a Ken Jeong– and Joel McHale–hosted podcast about Community (which isn’t actually recapping every episode). The Sopranos pods are the latest additions to a burgeoning genre that began with The West Wing Weekly (featuring Joshua Malina) in 2016 and grew to include Battlestar Galacticast (featuring Tricia Helfer) in late 2018 and Office Ladies (featuring Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey) in late 2019. The pace of celebrity recap podcast premieres seems to be accelerating, and there may be many more on the way.

“There’s obviously a ton of celebrities who were in a show having their rep shop them around going, ‘Hey, do you want a recap show of this or that?’” says Colin Anderson, an executive producer at podcast network Earwolf, which snagged Office Ladies. “I think there’s likely to be a huge glut of them.” This year’s Comic-Con is canceled, but some of the staples are a recap podcast away.

It’s not surprising that Peak TV has produced Peak TV Podcast. In addition to TV-centric podcasts that flit from show to show, like The Ringer’s The Watch, TV viewers can choose from a vast selection of podcasts devoted to their series of choice. Countless shows feature fans and cultural commentators recapping and critiquing old or ongoing series one episode at a time (like The Ringer’s The Recappables, Binge Mode, and Way Down in the Hole). Then there’s the growing array of official companion podcasts produced by TV networks, which often feature interviews with creators and cast members. On some series, actors do double duty on screen and behind the mic: Actor Marc Evan Jackson, who has appeared on both Brooklyn Nine-Nine and The Good Place, has hosted companion pods for each. If Comic Book Guy took to the internet today to pronounce the latest Itchy & Scratchy the “worst episode ever,” he might find his opinion competing with a podcast produced by Itchy and Scratchy themselves.

It’s one thing for fans of a show to obsess over a series, or for actors to make promotional appearances or cameos on the convention circuit. It’s another for actors to let their superfan flags fly by diving into their old IMDb entries with the same zeal as the fans who’ve committed them to memory. The trend toward celebrity recap pods reflects the cultural ascendance of TV and podcasting, the accessibility of old series via streaming services, the direct connection to stars enabled by social media (and unmediated by mainstream media), and, perhaps, the shifting power balance between creators and consumers. “If you told me a year ago I’d be doing this, I wouldn’t have thought so,” Imperioli says.

In 2018, my colleague Alan Siegel chronicled the creation of the 1986 SNL sketch in which William Shatner chewed out a convention crowd of Trekkers, most memorably exhorting them to “Get a life!” The sketch employed geek stereotypes to draw a contrast between the star for whom the show was just a job and the fans for whom it signified a fantasy existence more exciting than their own. For them, the most minute aspects of Star Trek were worth exploring; for Shatner, they weren’t worth remembering. As the on-screen Captain Kirk ranted in the skit, “You’ve turned an enjoyable little job that I did as a lark for a few years into a colossal waste of time!”

“The six-minute segment endures because of what it’s poking: the strange relationship between the diehards and the people behind their favorite television shows and movies,” Siegel wrote. “In those days, it was one-sided. Hardcore fans held little sway. Now, emboldened by the internet and their own purchasing power, they’ve gained leverage.”

As Siegel noted, that leverage ranges from wholesome to toxic, depending on the people and the platform. Through user ratings, petitions, troll campaigns, and other forms of feedback, fans can shape both the direction and the perception of certain series in an organized way, whereas once they would have been passive appreciators who could only vote with their remotes. When SNL’s comic excoriation aired, Shatner’s satirical stance wasn’t far removed from how he felt in real life. Now it wouldn’t be a shock to hear him recapping Star Trek: The Original Series via a podcast provider near you.

The celebrity recap podcast capitalizes on the communities that coalesce around shows, both basking in and endorsing fans’ affection. It also offers creators and actors a chance to expound at Liptonian length, correct the record, or reassert ownership over the products they’ve put out into the world. And thus far, the fans have been friendly, although some of the hosts admit to being a bit daunted by the prospect of speaking to listeners who know their shows better than they do. Helfer has been in the fictional Shatner’s place: “I get that all the time,” she says, “and certainly on panels as well you’ll be asked something and you literally go, ‘I just do not know.’” Thus far, though, the fans have been forgiving of her occasional lapses in lore, perhaps because Helfer has been open about not rewatching the series since she was on it, or because podcasts are free and the audience appreciates the unparalleled access to the person who played a favorite character.

Well, almost unparalleled. Podcast zero in the celebrity recap podcast movement was The West Wing Weekly, which completed its journey through The West Wing’s seven-season, 155-episode library in January. From the first episode on, the involvement of Malina, who played Will Bailey on The West Wing beginning in Season 4, gave The West Wing Weekly an insider’s perspective and cultural cachet that other recap podcasts couldn’t match. “Unlike others of its ilk, the show, which began last March, features a cohost who was actually a participant in the piece of pop culture being discussed,” marveled Robert Ito of The New York Times in a June 2016 story that pronounced The West Wing Weekly “not your typical pop-culture podcast.”

The West Wing Weekly was the brainchild of cohost Hrishikesh Hirway, who had previously started the acclaimed music-making podcast Song Exploder in 2014. Hirway and Malina first came into contact when the younger Hirway emailed fellow Yale alum Malina for career advice. The two later teamed up for a live charity event, which turned into a TV pilot. The pilot frustratingly stalled amid network restructuring, but the podcast represented a project that the two could control.

Hirway had guested on Gilmore Guys, an every-episode recap podcast cohosted by longtime Gilmore Girls fan Kevin T. Porter and first-time viewer Demi Adejuyigbe. Although Gilmore Guys, which launched on the day in 2014 when Netflix started streaming Gilmore Girls, eventually incorporated guest appearances from members of the Gilmore Girls cast—including Lauren Graham, who’s hinted that she may be planning a Parenthood pod—it remained a mostly outsider endeavor. With The West Wing Weekly, Hirway had a new model in mind.

“I thought that the show would be really different, something closer to Song Exploder, which is about first-person accounts of how something got made,” Hirway says. The West Wing Weekly would combine the friendly banter of Gilmore Guys with the Song Exploder–esque insights of someone who had been in the room. It would also give Hirway a professional reason to bombard Malina with fanboyish questions about his favorite show. “I would’ve never wanted to do this show without the imprimatur of legitimacy that Josh brought to it,” Hirway says.

Malina had multiple misgivings about being a TV podcast pioneer. “The truth is I wasn’t enthusiastic about any of this in the first place,” he says. Because he wasn’t on the series from the start and hadn’t watched it since it aired, he was worried that he wouldn’t be enough of a West Wing scholar to satisfy the series’ hardcore fans. He also felt some trepidation about rewatching his work as a younger actor, and about offending old friends if he found fault with the show they’d helped make. After repeated pestering from Hirway, however, he decided to rewatch The West Wing’s pilot, which was all it took to convince him. “I watched it again and I remembered how much I loved the show for the three and a half seasons I wasn’t on it,” he says. “Just the fan in me was reawakened.”

The pair’s perspectives and skills proved complementary. “Initially it was, ‘Oh, they got a guy from the show. That’s kind of cool and that’s new,’” Malina says. “Then pretty quickly it’s, ‘Oh, they have an incredibly great interviewer and superintelligent superfan of The West Wing who’s also got another monster-hit podcast.’” Malina describes Hirway as the driving force, and himself as the color commentator. (“I contest and object to all of this characterization,” Hirway says. “He’s totally wrong, but very sweet also.”)

The show’s reception easily exceeded Hirway and Malina’s modest expectations, garnering (Hirway says) more than a million downloads a month from the get-go. “It didn’t occur to me that we would be on the radar in as big a way as we were pretty quick,” Malina says, adding, “I was certainly surprised and delighted both by the public’s embrace of the podcast and, I would say, by cast members and writers buying it.” When Malina invited creators and cast members to appear on the show, he learned that some of them were already regular listeners.

As the series proceeded, the friends fine-tuned the format. At first, Hirway followed his Song Exploder instincts, keeping the conversation on track and editing it tightly. “But then there were moments where we were just having so much fun and I was laughing so hard,” he says. “It’s stuff that Josh would say that it felt like a shame to leave it out even though it was a digression. So we started leaving some more of that stuff in, and people responded to it.” That taught Hirway that there was more to the recap podcast’s appeal than nostalgia for the subject matter. “The podcast is about The West Wing, but that’s not all that it’s about,” he says. “There’s also some element of the podcast that is just about the relationship between the two of us.”

Braff says he and Faison are aiming for an atmosphere midway between a radio show featuring friends shooting the shit and a DVD commentary—an almost-extinct streaming casualty, and a spiritual predecessor to the recap podcast. Faison appreciates that the show allows more time for slightly off-topic talk than commentary tracks did. “I find that way more entertaining than being like a surgeon and going through each and every aspect of the show,” the fake surgeon says. Anderson adds that he’s encouraged Fischer and Kinsey to call audibles and stray from their episode outlines, which culminated in Kinsey talking Fischer into trying Game of Thrones. “Their friendship, I think, is something that’s creeping into it, and that’s something that I was really keen that we have more of,” he says.

Every celebrity recap podcast thrives on the real-life relationship between hosts. Braff and Faison, Fischer and Kinsey, Imperioli and Schirripa, and de Matteo and her cohost Chris Kushner all claim to be close friends, and Braff and Faison foregrounded their friendship by sticking it into the podcast’s title. “It was really an opportunity for Donald to get to talk to me, because I don’t accept his calls normally,” Braff jokes, but Faison soon supplies the sincerity. “When we started talking about it, it was like, ‘Even if the fans don’t like it, just to be able to have a conversation with you every week is worth it,’” he says to Braff, adding, “I genuinely love this man.”

Helfer and writer Marc Bernardin, who host Battlestar Galacticast, didn’t know each other well when the podcast started; they met at occasional panels for Battlestar and Lucifer at conventions and decided to do the podcast on spec after Helfer mentioned that she might want to rewatch BSG for its 15th anniversary. They’ve developed a friendship over dozens of recording sessions. They, too, stress the importance of rapport, especially at a time when a lot of self-isolating listeners are deprived of human contact.

“I hear it a lot from listeners of this podcast, like, ‘I just want to kind of feel as if I’m hanging out with people again,’” Bernardin says, sounding as if he’s invoking the “how it feels to listen to podcasts” meme. “If we’re going to do this over the course of a couple of years and get to be friends and get to share things, then it should feel that way. It should be a couple of people hanging out talking about something that you happen to like also, and that is the key, I think, for why it works.” In other words, we’re probably not going to get a Star Trek pod hosted by Shatner and George Takei, a Sex and the City pod hosted by Sarah Jessica Parker and Kim Cattrall, or a Good Wife pod hosted by Julianna Margulies and Archie Panjabi (although if we did, I would instantly subscribe).

Despite the easy interplay between The West Wing Weekly’s cohosts, Hirway believes the show would have been better if he’d taken a backseat to a second West Wing star. “Strongly disagree,” Malina says. More popular, at least? “Well, if we could have gotten Ariana Grande to host, it would have been even more popular still,” Malina says. “It wouldn’t have been better, necessarily.” Hirway’s outsider status and Bernardin’s background as a TV writer and a Battlestar blogger at Entertainment Weekly set up a stimulating contrast between actor and non-actor cohosts; sometimes the sports analyst’s opinion is more interesting than the athlete’s postgame quote. But the appeal of Office Ladies, Real Friends, Fake Doctors, and Talking Sopranos hasn’t seemed to suffer from their hosts’ more homogeneous histories.

Just as some celebrity recap pods mix cast members with non-cast members and others unite two figures from their shows, some of the actors-turned-podcasters differ in their TV tenures and prominence. Braff, Faison, Fischer, Kinsey, Helfer, and Imperioli spanned the entire runs of the series they’re recapping, while Schirripa, like Malina, wasn’t present for the early episodes. (He joined The Sopranos in Season 2.) Malina didn’t relish the prospect of morphing from a fan to a dispenser of behind-the-scenes stories, but when The West Wing Weekly sailed into Season 4, he found the format change refreshing. “It ended up being a nice trip down memory lane for me, not just in terms of watching the show and discussing it with Hrishi, but also bringing on people who were involved in the making of the show that maybe I hadn’t seen or spoken to in a while,” he says.

The way The West Wing Weekly evolved is apparent in its first and last episodes. The inaugural episode of the podcast—which launched as a DIY endeavor and joined the Radiotopia network in September 2016—was a dialogue between Hirway and Malina. The finale featured 30 guests—including Aaron Sorkin, Martin Sheen, and other core cast members—on the same stage. Reflecting on the sold-out live events, the line of podcast merch, and the thousands of emails the hosts received from grateful fans, Malina says The West Wing Weekly “was a roaring success beyond my wildest dreams.”

thewestwingweekly.com

One constant in every celebrity recap podcast—along with references to real friendship and actors exclaiming about how young they used to look—is an emphasis on the importance of preparation. “I’m gathering my notes, because I want the fans to know I did a lot of prep for this,” Braff said on the first episode of Fake Doctors, Real Friends, audibly shuffling papers to prove how prepared he was.

“I don’t want to just phone this in,” he reiterates after phoning into our interview. “I want to take this seriously.” Faison can confirm. “He really did have notes, by the way,” he says. “That wasn’t just a comedy bit when you heard the paper shuffling.” Braff adds, “We didn’t even get to all my notes,” sounding disappointed that some of his work went to waste.

Braff and Faison one-upped the other celebrity recappers by co-composing and singing their podcast’s theme song. The friends serenaded each other over the phone and sent the resulting tracks to Braff’s friend Charlie Puth, who helped them make a mix that sounded like the theme from The Jeffersons. “I was on the treadmill yesterday, and I was like, ‘All right, no one’s looking, I’m going to quickly just play our theme song,’” Braff says. “If you need something to get your ass moving on the treadmill, it’s not too shabby to play your own theme song.”

Imperioli says some Sopranos scenes have stayed so fresh in his mind that he feels he filmed them yesterday. Sometimes he still remembers his lines. Other scenes are missing from his memory, so he has homework too. “It’s a lot of paying attention, taking notes, watching the episode, and also doing the research behind it,” Imperioli says. “It’s quite a bit of work that goes into it.” As Braff explains, “When you do a movie, you can remember the movie. When you do 180 episodes of a TV show over 10 years, that’s a lot to ask of one’s memory.”

Braff, Faison, and Imperioli have just embarked on their recap-podcast odysseys. Malina, the only celebrity recapper whose task is complete, warns that while the recording remained fun for him to the end, the homework got old. “It was almost a running gag where my wife would say, ‘What are you doing?’” Malina recalls. “I’d say, ‘I’ll tell you what I don’t feel like doing. Watching The West Wing and taking notes.’”

Although some celebrity recap shows are initiated by the actors or their reps, the process sometimes works the other way around. Imperioli says he was approached by three different production teams that pitched him on a recap podcast, possibly because he, Schirripa, and Vincent Pastore have hosted live Sopranos conversations at various venues. Anderson says Earwolf hasn’t invested in additional celebrity recap podcasts partly because the combination of BFF hosts from popular series is rare, and partly because he’s concerned that some TV veterans wouldn’t take it seriously.

“I think there’s a lot of people that are going to come into this market thinking that they can come and sit down for an hour a week and rake in the money,” he says. “And that’s not a partnership I’d want to get into.” Fischer and Kinsey are among the most industrious of the recappers; before social distancing forced them to record remotely, the Office ladies lived up to their billing. “Jenna and Angela have been kind of viewing it as a job, and they’ll come in and they both bring their packed lunches and reheat their lunch in the microwaves, and the other people in the office are a little bit awestruck by them,” Anderson says.

Galacticast sessions sound slightly looser, with a little less involvement from producers at Syfy Wire. “In a perfect world, we are at Tricia’s house surrounded by cats that are trying to kill me because I’m allergic to them,” Bernardin says. Sometimes wine is involved. “There was one particularly drunk episode,” Helfer says. “It was a doubleheader, and it was the second of the two that we taped. And I listened to a little bit of that one, and I think it scarred me from listening to more.”

According to Anderson, Fischer and Kinsey review edits with Earwolf’s engineer and producer before every episode posts. “If they did it right, they could see it being a big success, and maybe being something that would replace an out-of-town acting gig a year, with that meaning they were able to spend more time with their families,” Anderson says. “So I think they came into it going, ‘We need to treat this like a serious bit of business and give it our best shot and make it a huge hit.’”

Their efforts appear to have paid off. Listenership has been “between four and 10 times what we had forecast,” Anderson says. “It’s been a huge, huge hit for us.” Fischer and Kinsey share in some percentage of the revenue, and Earwolf benefits further from the fact that a significant subset of their listeners were previously podcast virgins. “Something like 20 percent of the people that downloaded the first episode hadn’t listened to a podcast before,” Anderson says. “So from the perspective of someone running a podcast network, that’s really exciting, that we’re reaching this maybe more mainstream audience who haven’t come to podcasting yet.”

Hirway acknowledges that The West Wing Weekly’s popularity has been surpassed. “At least from the outside and from iTunes charts and stuff, I think we’ve already been absolutely dominated by Office Ladies,” he says. But he and Malina remain the form’s first masters, and a significant influence on their podcast progeny.

“I just shamefully stole the format of The West Wing Weekly,” says Bernardin, who appeared on an episode of the series and consulted with Hirway when he and Helfer were starting out. Anderson was so receptive to the idea of Office Ladies partly because he knew The West Wing Weekly had done well. Office Ladies, in turn, helped inspire Fake Doctors, Real Friends: Braff listened to the show and was aware of its success, and he asked Fischer for podcast pointers. When I mention Battlestar Galacticast in passing on the call with Braff and Faison, Faison cuts me off excitedly. “Wait,” he says. “They’ve got a Battlestar Galacticast? Oh, boy.” Braff chimes in: “Consider Donald a subscriber.”

For now, at least, the celebrity recappers are happy to help each other. When Imperioli learned that de Matteo would also be hosting her own Sopranos recap podcast, he called her. “I said, ‘I’m cool with it if you are.’ She said, ‘I’m cool with it if you are. There’s plenty of room for everybody.’” Now that their podcasts have started, Imperioli says, “We’re doing an exchange program. I’m going to be on her show and she’s going to be on mine.”

One might imagine that there’d be something sad about actors revisiting every second of a signature series or role, like aging ex-jocks recounting high school successes or Alan Rickman’s Galaxy Quest character forever repeating, “By Grabthar’s Hammer.” “Donald and I, everywhere we go, Scrubs fans want us to do something together: some incarnation of Scrubs, a Scrubs movie, a Scrubs anything,” Braff says. An actor could come to resent that.

For the actors who’ve chosen to enter the recap game, though, it’s not really a sore spot. For one thing, it’s not as if the hosts haven’t moved on. “I obviously don’t sit here and watch the show,” Braff says. “Even when it was on Comedy Central nonstop for a while, I would scroll past it.” For another, they’re spending quality time with friends, not signing glossy photos for strangers. And although the actors’ performances are old, the way they’re watching them is new. “I’m trying to watch it really critically, trying to see the method behind the madness,” Imperioli says. “I’m able to look at it with really fresh eyes.”

What’s more, there’s no notable bitterness: The hosts haven’t used their podcasts to settle old scores. “They’re both just such fans of the show,” Anderson says of Fischer and Kinsey. “So when they watch an episode or they recap a thing, they keep reiterating, ‘Oh, we can’t believe how lucky we were to get to be part of this incredible show,’ and that’s a fun energy to have in the mix.” For similar reasons, Helfer had no qualms about looking back at her breakout role. “Because of the quality of it, I’ve never looked at it as, ‘Oh, I’ll always be known as Number Six,’” Helfer says. “And I continued to work and do other things. Even when we were starting it, I was shooting Lucifer, so it wasn’t like it was something that was taking up all my time and prohibiting me from carrying on with my acting career.”

The capacity to squeeze podcasts into busy schedules is one of the selling points that’s made the celebrity recap podcast multiply. Although the pandemic has prevented podcasts from taking place in studio, many of the recap-podcast hosts were already planning to record remotely. Faison was supposed to be shooting the second season of ABC drama Emergence in New Jersey when the Scrubs podcast premiered, and Braff was supposed to be on set in South Africa for the film Tiburon. “It’s very portable,” Imperioli says. “It’s very cheap to produce. You don’t have to have a studio or a network green-lighting stuff. It’s very grassroots.”

It’s also well-suited to the younger audiences that have discovered decades-old shows on streaming services. At past live events, Imperioli says, the audience was roughly his age, composed of people who watched The Sopranos when it was airing and had come to see him and Schirripa for the warm, fuzzy feelings. Recently, he says, he’s noticed new interest among teens and newly minted fans in their 20s and early 30s. “It has a whole other generation following it now,” he says. “They’re a podcast generation.”

It can only help his show that HBO has temporarily made The Sopranos free, as has Syfy with Battlestar. Hollywood’s insatiable appetite for reboots, prequels, and sequels can’t hurt either. Another Battlestar reboot and a Sopranos prequel are coming soon, and rumors of reunions for Scrubs, The Office, and The West Wing never stop circulating. Every revival offers a reason to revisit what’s happened before.

Plus, great TV is timeless. On the first episode of Battlestar Galacticast, Helfer and Bernardin discussed how Battlestar’s post-9/11 ethos still resonated in the time of Trump. Lately, the series’ claustrophobic sets and air of existential anxiety have suited the current crisis. Just recently, the duo watched “The Woman King,” a Season 3 episode in which a virus rages aboard Galactica. “We almost laugh about it, that each one seems to almost have another issue that you’re like, ‘Can this top the last one that we thought was super relevant to today?’” Helfer says.

Not every series is equally rewarding to dissect. “The West Wing, the series itself, is maybe the perfect subject matter for this kind of podcast,” Malina says, noting that each episode serves as a springboard to explore larger topics and engage with the world. Most sitcoms can’t say that. And even the best series sometimes run off the rails. (Scrubs Season 9 has already been the butt of jokes on Fake Doctors, Real Friends.) According to Malina, though, The West Wing’s weaker moments made for some of The West Wing Weekly’s strongest episodes. “There’s almost more to sink your teeth into in a discussion when you feel like, ‘Here’s something that could’ve been done better,’” he says.

Thanks to the rise of the celebrity recap—which has coincided with the streaming- and social-media-driven decline of the written recap—the future of TV viewing is partly podcast-based: After the credits roll, download the official companion pod first, followed by the outsider-analysis episode, and, someday, the celebrity recap. “I didn’t think that it would ever be a genre, but it makes sense,” Hirway says.

Before I say goodbye to Braff, I ask him what TV recap podcast he’d most like to listen to. “Can you think of anything more entertaining than getting everyone from Tiger King to all sit around and watch Tiger King together?” he asks.

“Somebody would get hurt,” Faison says. “I’m sure of it.”

“Well, they’d have to be separated,” Braff clarifies. “They couldn’t be in the same room.”

As Braff, Faison, and their fellow celebrity recap-podcast hosts have proved during the pandemic, sitting in the same room now isn’t necessary. Not when you’ve spent years being buddies on the same set.

TV

‘You’ Tweaked Its Murderous Thriller Format and Became a Marital Drama

The Prestige TV Podcast

‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ Hall of Fame: “Funkhouser’s Crazy Sister”

The Ringer Reality TV Podcast

‘The Challenge: Spies, Lies, and Allies’ Episode 11 With Ed

View all stories in TV