This massively successful podcast achieves the rare quality of hitting the mainstream, whilst allowing its listeners to feel hat they are part of a select or cult following, described in-show as “the Church of Wittertainment.” ‘Wittertainment’ being the term given host’s bantering approach.
Simon Mayo, radio presenter and DJ chiefly on BBC Radio’s 2 and 5, and Mark Kermode, leading film critic, are perfect foils. Kermode is all urbane, sophisticated wit, and Mayo the baffled straight-man. The podcast, which takes their Friday film show on BBC radio 5 and bookends it with a special introduction and closing extra’s, is available weekly on the same day, and runs for on average 1 hour 30 minutes. It takes the format of said introduction which sets the show up, a run down of the top 10 films in the UK box office, Kermode’s reviews, an intreview of film star/s, or producers or directors or any combination of these involved in a current release, more reviews and banter, and podcast extras including ‘dvd of the week,’ a review of the show, and possibly more reviews of films they did not have time for.
What works so well is the strength of Mark Kermode’s film criticism, which is very good indeed. Informed, insightful, intelligent, and impassioned with that reviewers strong value base. He’s a self confessed “old Trot” (Trotskyite / socialist / left winger). His reviews can be categorised as; the good ones, and you feel you trust his judgement to give a reliable quality mark (indeed the phrase “Mark Kermode says…is used up and down the UK by the film-going public when assessing exactly what to go and see next); the films he says are “ok” or “are what they are,” you get what you pay for and they do what they say on the tin; those he dislikes because they are bad technically or lazy; and those he hates, with a passion, because they are bad technically and also embed values he sees as hateful, be it the consumerist porn of the “Sex and the City” films, or the misogyny and empty over-long vacant spectacle of a Michael Bay film. This latter category can produce a “Kermodian Rant” which are celebrated and often very funny, although Mark Kermode himself says that he is wary of such rants, not wanting to be known or reduced to a ranting critic, although he sometimes can’t help himself.
Simon Mayo, as said, is the perfect foil to all this. He plays a baffled Everyman when his critical companion disappears verbally up his own backside through an overuse of erudite terms, or will playfully antagonise him in an number of ways. That he is able to do this has been earned in their many years broadcasting together (the show is over 10 years old and stated on Radio 1). He serves as the conduit to the listeners emails and reactions and is a good interviewer to boot.
The show is in danger, though, of becoming too self-referential and smug, too pleased with itself, to the point when the in-show wittering, bantering and in-jokes becomes a bit leaden and threaten to pull down or overshadow the criticism. The opening “Wassup’s” are getting wearingly jarring to this reviewer. The show feels like it needs a better editor to trim some of this stuff down to make space for more reviews or film talk.
However, all the looser stuff fits in with the pod-cast brief of sounding more informal and “unplugged.” And although the wittering can be occasionally wearing, it can be more often very funny, and gives the show that character of a well known friend in whose company you are both very comfortable and very entertained.