We talk a lot of shit about ‘X of the Year’. It’s a title that’s thrown around so often and frivolously that it’s starting to lose a bit of meaning. But even when it came to our own list last year, there were only 12 podcast episodes that we felt worthy of the title.
It may only just have turned March, but we’re pretty sure we’ve found 2017’s first real contender for the title of Podcast of The Year. And it’s in new show Missing Richard Simmons.
Even if you’re not American, chances are you know who Richard Simmons is. For decades, the eccentric weight loss guru has been whipping people into shape all around the world, in a way that’s relentlessly fun and flamboyant.
Through videos, diets, media appearances and teaching a class at Slimmons, Richard Simmons was rarely out of the public eye. That is until February 2014, when he disappeared.
Enter Missing Richard Simmons, a new podcast from filmmaker Dan Taberski. Dan was a regular at Slimmons, and friend of Richard’s. This show follows his quest to discover what happened to Simmons, and establish why and how such a public figure would just up and vanish.
— Missing R Simmons (@MissingRSimmons) March 1, 2017
In listening to Simmon’s old media appearances and conversations with those who know him, Missing Richard Simmons is a bit more than just a new journalism podcast. It’s a masterclass in storytelling, and perhaps the finest example of a podcast investigation since Mystery Show.
Gimlet’s Mystery Show, hosted by Starlee Kine, was a painfully short podcast series from 2015 that rekindled our love with the audio mystery. It consistently topped ‘best of’ podcast lists, and remains a firm favourite of many to this day. In fact, episode 2 of Mystery Show remains, at least in our opinion, the greatest podcast ever released. An interesting parallel between Mystery Show and Missing Richard Simmons is in storytelling style.
What made Mystery Show great wasn’t the actual mysteries, it was how Starlee worked towards finding an answer. And despite the fact that only three episodes of Missing Richard Simmons have been released so far (Mar 1), the yearning for more isn’t for an answer to the mystery, it’s instead a need for more of Dan Taberski’s storytelling style.
Sure, the conclusion of Missing Richard Simmons is likely to be a great moment in podcasting, but the current listener experience is one of enjoyment, not frustration. The story is told in such a careful way that it never feels like Taberski’s withholding information, or needlessly teasing to keep us coming back.
As well as being a great mystery, one of the factors that makes Missing Richard Simmons so exciting is a sense of taboo. It was hinted at in a great interview with Willam Belli in episode two of the show, but a recurring theme in the podcast is that of privacy. Richard Simmons obviously doesn’t want to talk, so is it weirdly prying for Taberski to dig so much?
Maybe, but it hardly matters. Despite occasional twinges of guilt, modern celebrity journalism is kind of built on an invasion of public life. And to the credit of the podcast so far, Taberski seems to have the perfect knack for knowing how far to push the line without crossing it.
It’s hard to properly review Missing Richard Simmons without spoiling the show for potential listeners. It’s almost painful to have such a great show be released on a weekly basis, but there’s something scintillating about the slow drip of information. We’ve no idea how the story will end, or even if it will, but every episode so far feels like it’s peeled back one more layer of the mystery.
Exploring ideas ranging from illness to kidnapping to black magic, there’s something for everyone in Missing Richard Simmons. It seems like the perfect package- a show that’s inherently interesting on its own merits, but one that’s told in such an incredibly well crafted way.