Welcome to the first installment of Buds Worthy, the Geekade Podcast review column. I am not sponsored by Blue Apron, Nature Box, Square Space or Mail Chimp. I can’t even offer you a 10% discount using the promo code “buds.” What I can offer is to be your spirit guide into the world of podcasts to help you through those rush hour commutes. The only thing I love more than discovering a great podcast is sharing that podcast with others. Over the months to come we’ll take a look at ongoing podcasts, single season podcasts, fictional, and non-fictional, educational and of course, the absurd.
Let’s dive in with a new pod that just this past Monday completed its first season, Crimetown. Crimetown is a podcast from Gimlet Media. Gimlet is one of the best and most prolific podcast producers out there with several home runs to their credit. If you haven’t listened to at least season one of Start Up, or the ongoing show Reply All, do yourself a favor and check them out. They have such great content and production quality; it’s hard not to at least check out a Gimlet show. Back to Crimetown, another great selling point for this show is its hosts, Zac Stuart-Pontier and Marc Smerling. Smerling and Pontier are both behind the MTV show Catfish (the apex of guilty pleasure TV) as well as the award winning HBO doc The Jinx. When I found out these guys were behind The Jinx, I was totally onboard.
The format of the show goes like this: Each season, Smerling and Pontier examine a city and its criminal history. Another thing that intrigued me upon listening to episode one was that we weren’t looking at New York, LA, or Chicago. We were going on a deep dive into the seedy underbelly of Providence Rhode Island, a city which I know very little about. The bravery and genius of the podcast lies in its willingness to tell the story with an audible wide lens as well as feature some stories and episodes under a magnifying glass.
True to a culture that celebrates the exploits of the fictional Tony Soprano, Walter White, and Philip and Elizabeth Jennings, we follow the real life tale of the real life anti-hero Vincent Albert “Buddy” Cianci, the former DA, Mayor, Felon, and radio talk show host (yeah all those things) from Providence. While Buddy ties the show’s through line together, we hear fascinating exploits from lots of Providence’s most celebrated and notorious citizens.
The season starts with a description of Providence. “Providence is essentially two hills on either side of a river.” Smerling and Pontier take that comparison and masterfully weave a tapestry of 18 episodes showing just how true it is. We see both the genius as well as the greed of Cianci. We feel our blood run cold as hit men, master thieves, and drug dealers describe their crimes, but we also feel pain as their family members recount how their lives were affected. We marvel at the great accomplishments the city of Providence achieved, but at the same time shake our heads in disbelief when we hear about the back door deals it took to get it done. I certainly don’t want to give too much away, but Buddy’s story alone is stranger than fiction, when you add in the rest of the city…. There’s a drug dealer that keeps pet wolves in a house he refers to as a castle, c’mon!
Another reason why I loved this podcast so much is that Smerling and Pontier let the players themselves tell most of the story, with only brief commentary and narrative to keep you fresh on the names and their roles as the web gets very tangled and the same names keep popping up. The storytelling is masterful and up there with This American Life, Serial, and S-Town.
Crimetown is totally buds worthy. It’s perfect for a commute that’s about forty minutes long, but even if you have a twenty minute jaunt to work, you can bang out an episode a day. There’s a great commercial break about twenty minutes in that offers a nice pause point. The only frustrating part of completing season one is that you’re dying to find out where season two will take place. C’mon Atlantic City…