In the new Chucky series on SyFy, one of the show’s main characters investigates a series of brutal murders by hosting a DIY true-crime podcast — a fact I found out while listening to a podcast myself.
If you listen to podcasts, you may already feel like they’re everywhere, but this year, they really were: podcasts popped up in non-podcast spaces like television time and again in 2021. True-crime podcasts drive both Chucky and the new Hulu show Only Murders in the Building, and Carrie Bradshaw co-hosts a podcast in the revival of Sex and the City. In non-fictional spaces, a certain controversial Spotify host got plenty of broadcast news coverage throughout the year, and Hot Pod even made an appearance on Today. Podcasting abounded within both fictional depictions of our world and the institutions that document it, despite there still being tons of non-listeners out there — and maybe even because of that.
TV’s fictional-but-realistic characters reflect the parts of our world that are prominent enough to capture, and 2021’s media showed that podcasting has made it. It’s a realistic, timely move for relationship columnist Carrie Bradshaw to transition to a newer, digital medium, and it mirrors the real-life media institutions that have added podcasting to their repertoire. It’s also nearly identical to the trajectory of similar real-life columns, like Meredith Goldstein’s Boston Globe column Love Letters, which became a podcast a few years ago, and The New York Times’ column-turned-podcast-turned-TV-series Modern Love.
At the same time, podcasting getting top billing in TV shows may also signal that many people still don’t fully understand it, and it needs longer, sustained plots to make sense. In the first episode of And Just Like That…, the logistics of Carrie’s new gig are very much in focus. We hear the podcast. We see her receive feedback on her recording. We get a glimpse of her writing a rough script at home. In Miranda’s case, the idea of a parent going back to school is commonplace enough to not really need explaining; viewers can instead focus on what it serves to tee up (i.e., the cringey exploits of a white woman navigating a human rights class in 2021).
Maybe this time next year, podcasts will be shouted out even more often, with fewer explainers needed; media with a faster turnaround is already giving a glimpse of what this could look like. This year, Saturday Night Live took at least three stabs at podcasting, first dedicating a whole skit to the dynamic between Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen on the podcast Renegades, then referencing a viral Joe Rogan quote. When they came for Joe Rogan more recently, it was much more subtle. And so it begins.