“We’ve been here a while. Do you feel smarter?”
“‘Smarter’ is not the word I’d choose.”
A simple exchange between co-hosts on the enlightening and entertaining podcast Reply All could well speak for the internet culture it covers. As a blogger/entertainment critic/modern human, I spend an embarrassing amount of my life online or pondering the things I’ve seen online. The virtual realm has invaded our reality for better and worse. And no matter how informed you think you are about the world and the World Wide Web, there’s always something new and astonishing to discover. And that’s what PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman aim to bring audiences with each episode of Reply All.
Launched in 2014, the podcast tracks down the answers to internet mysteries both amusing and abhorrent, but always fascinating and deeply humane. I wish I remember why I downloaded a string of eps. I can’t for the life of me recall who recommended it or what they said that got me to give it a shot. But one day, I hit play, and fell fast into the story of “The Boy In the Photo”.
Man. This photo. I mean, we’ve all been that guy, right? And maybe that’s exactly why this random image inspired a creative corner of the web to spin a complex narrative of who he is, how he came to be here, and what his life must have become. The Reply All team seeks out to find the boy the web named “Wayne,” and so unfurls a story that is Serial-level intriguing, full of rumors, strange updates, and dubious “friends,” then a Mystery Show-style finale, complete with a quirky and wonderful reveal.
There’s tales of taxi cab scammers and dominatrixes turned prank callers, and TTW a newly single woman found a Tinder profile pic of a total stranger posing with her dog, in her apartment! Then there’s the bittersweet story of A Perfect Crime, the longest running play in New York City, and probably the city’s most consistently loathed. Each ep unfolds a funny pocket of human experience, humor and occasionally hurt. And sometimes, what seems like it’ll be a WTF explainer on some kooky meme turns into a dizzying ride down the rabbit hole of one of the election season’s most bizarre conspiracy theories. That’s right, Vogt and Goldman tackled Pizzagate, not only spelling out its supposed logic, but also talking to a man behind the pro-Trump Reddit group that spurred its creation.
That episode’s content is so disturbing it should come with a warning label.* Still, part of the joy of Reply All is wandering in not knowing what to expect. With titles like “Vampire Rules,” “Zardulu” and “Baby King,” you hit play ready for the ride, though unsure where it’ll go. With this little risk comes great rewards in great radio. Reply All and their inquisitive team chases down answers to curious questions and Twitter conundrums, and the results are always something to savor.
*Kristy Puchko recommends a crash helmet for the Pizzagate ep. Your head will hit desk often.