Brow Beat

In Praise of the Best Part of Grantland: Its Podcasts

Photo illustration by Slate. Logos courtesy Grantland.

Photo illustration by Slate. Logos courtesy Grantland.

In the little time that has passed since ESPN announced that it was shutting down Grantland, there’s been an outpouring of appreciation for the site and the gonzo-ish sports and pop culture writing that was its specialty. Here at Slate, Justin Peters put together a list of eight Grantland stories worth reading or rereading, just one of many tributes that surfaced over the past few days. Now, I’d like to take this moment to pour one out for something else I’ll miss about Grantland: its podcasts.

I was an avid listener of Grantland’s pop culture podcasts: The Right Reasons, Do You Like Prince Movies?, Hollywood Prospectus, and Girls in Hoodies, among others. For the most part, each one took the form of a weekly 45-minute-or-so discussion between a couple hosts on a few recent cultural developments: new movies, TV episodes, music, etc. The number of topics varied from episode to episode, segments bled into one another, and tangents were numerous. (Grantland also had several sports podcasts, and they were probably great too, but I didn’t listen to them, which is why I’m not talking about them here.)

Some podcasts tell me stories I find moving, interesting, or funny; some help me feel like I know what’s going on in the world; some expose me to cultural topics and ideas I wouldn’t otherwise know about. Grantland’s, more often than not, just made me feel lucky—like the funniest, gossipiest, smartest conversation between old friends was happening nearby and I just happened to have the good fortune to be around to overhear it. When Wesley Morris and Alex Pappademas talked about the latest movie they both saw, I let their crazy reserves of film knowledge wash over me. When Chris Ryan and Andy Greenwald went on a riff about, say Hollywood ne’er-do-well Miles Teller, I was that weird person in your subway car cracking up alone. And when David Jacoby and Juliet Litman talked about Vanderpump Rules and its revolving cast of heroes and villains, I died of cackling and glee.

The “eavesdropping on a conversation among friends” feel might be a common podcast dynamic, but Grantland took it up a notch. Morris and Pappademas were friends for years before they ever recorded any of their podcasts (check out their origin story in the last episode of Prince Movies), and maybe that’s why listening to them talk felt so intimate. Ditto for Ryan and Greenwald making fun of each other/each other’s fandom of Christine Baranski. On Grantland’s podcasts, hosts never acted official and businesslike, as if they were representing the institutional voice of their website or any entity but themselves, and so they ended up sharing personal anecdotes and oddball opinions and going on all kinds of digressions.

Some people might be bored by listening to inside joke-filled friendly bullshit sessions for 45 minutes. But I think this is the ideal form of conversation, especially when it’s really honest and really blunt. This is why I was especially devoted to The Right Reasons, Grantland’s podcast about reality television. (Its title is a reference to a common reality-TV utterance: “I’m here for the …”) As I see it, one of the chief joys of reality TV is that it gives you an excuse to gossip about real people in a way that is not socially acceptable past high school. Litman and Jacoby are the unparalleled masters of this art form. They dissected The Bachelor franchise with Talmudic precision. By listening to them, I learned about the shocking antics of people on MTV’s The Challenge, Survivor, just about every show on Bravo, and more. I also discovered little-discussed gems like Amish Mafia and Eat, Drink, Love—which I enjoyed hearing about even when I didn’t watch the shows.

Listening to an extremely opinionated podcast about reality television is, I would argue, better than actually watching reality television—I got to know all the characters, their dramas and betrayals, who looked weird and kind of sucked and whose sound bites were brilliantly dumb, who hooked up with who, plus the hosts’ conspiracy theories about what went down really when the cameras were off and tidbits about who was doing what on social media. Thanks to The Right Reasons, I still can’t believe what Kaitlyn did last season of The Bachelorette. Which I didn’t watch. It’s hard to imagine another publication allowing two of its staffers to go so far down the rabbit hole as The Right Reasons hosts did every week, and that is a credit to the Grantland’s best impulse: to let its writers go forth and do their crazy thing.

Though I know they’ll go on to do great things, and maybe even podcast again, it’s unfortunate that the plug was pulled on Grantland’s podcasts suddenly enough that a few of them weren’t able to say goodbye. Really enjoying a podcast generally requires building an ongoing relationship with it, so it’s harder to point to a specific podcast episode as one you should listen to than it is to recommend an article. That said, here are a few recommendations for some of my favorite, transcendent bits from Grantland podcasts: