Gen Pop is a podcast focusing on the latest and greatest topics of interest to pop culture aficionados. Hosted by David Chen, the editor-at-large at slashfilm.com, and Joanna Robinson, senior writer at Vanity Fair, the two tackle everything from abstract topics at large to specific shows that are debuting. They cap off each episode with pop culture recommendations. But let me rip the band-aid off right now, the podcast is essentially over.
I first stumbled upon David Chen and Joanna Robinson with their excellent Decoding Westworld podcast, which upped my enjoyment of the HBO show greatly. If you want to be suitably impressed, rewatch Westworld and listen to the corresponding podcast episodes. Joanna correctly predicts most of the story beats before they’re revealed. Together, David and Joanna’s insight and analysis of the show was entertaining and engaging. It was during this podcast that they launched Gen Pop. Naturally, I followed them over.
The first episode of Gen Pop dovetailed nicely from Decoding Westworld. Titled “A Theory of Online Theories,” it focused on online theorizing and whether or not that hurts television shows. Naturally, Westworld was a big focus, but they talked about plenty of other shows too throughout the course of the discussion, including Mr. Robot.
Other topics that they’ve tackled include sexual assault in film and television, grief policing, superheroes, Donald Trump and late-night television, whitewashing, homophobia, and more. These all sound like heavy issues that might not be for everyone, but they’re real issues in the pop culture world and it’s nice to hear their thoughts. The issues that are approached with careful consideration and thoughtfulness. Nothing ignorant or offensive is said thanks to their extensive preparation for episodes.
Not only do they cover larger abstract concepts, but there are also episodes dedicated to breaking down specific popular media like American Gods, The Handmaid’s Tale, Big Little Lies, S Town, The Lost City of Z, and more. I’ll be the first to tell you that I loved the pilot of American Gods, but neither Joanna nor David were quite as charmed in episode 21, titled “American Sods” — and only one of them had read the book beforehand (Joanna I believe). Still, they had insightful commentary on things like the pacing and the camera choices that were valid concerns.
As a listener, I found myself disagreeing with some of their assessments from time to time, but Joanna and David also tend to disagree with each other on a regular basis. Their abilities to express and acknowledge differing opinions makes it possible to see more than one viewpoint on their chosen episode topic and really explore things in depth.
More often than not, they also invite guests to share their expert opinions on the podcast topics. These are some heavy hitters in the pop culture world and at least a few names should sound familiar. The most recognizable names might be Alan Sepinwall from Uproxx and Matt Zoller Seitz from Vulture, but other guests from Vanity Fair, Slashfilm, and a slew of other publications make appearances. My favorite guests were definitely James Poniewozik of The New York Times from the online theories episode and Megan Garber from The Atlantic in the grief police episode.
The pop culture recommendations at the end of each episode are like getting tips from your friends. Joanna and David share what they’re currently enjoying and the longer you listen to the show, the better you’ll be able to judge whose tastes yours line up with. I can tell you I consider David’s recs a little more than Joanna’s after getting a feel for what they like.
There’s one final episode of Gen Pop left to air, rounding out their podcast to a solid 24 episodes plus a few extras. Based on their Patreon promises, they have a few episodes of Better Call Saul to discuss and they also have plenty of other podcasts where you can find them. Yes, the silver lining is that you can find David and Joanna continuing to podcast on many of their other shows, including Decoding Westworld, A Cast of Kings, A Storm of Spoilers, Little Gold Men, The Filmcast, soon Peaks TV, and so many more!
I’m sad to see Gen Pop go, but happy for the other opportunities to catch Joanna and David still podcasting. Gen Pop truly was one of my favorite podcasts that really had its finger on the pulse of pop culture. It delivered a weekly interesting conversation that was topical and well-informed, often times giving me new insight and perspective.
Episode 4 “The Rise of the Grief Police” was recorded after Carrie Fisher’s and Debbie Reynold’s deaths. It’s still a little raw to think about Carrie Fisher, but the discussion is focused on how the digital age is changing grieving and who says what’s an acceptable way to grieve.
Episode 23 “Where Is The Line” follows Episode 17 “Major Issues” as it delves even deeper into appropriation and whitewashing issues. Episode 17 looks at the recent offenders Ghost in the Shell and Iron Fist, while Episode 23 takes the questions further. Should able-bodied actors play handicapped individuals? Should straight actors play gay or trans characters? What about Koreans playing Japanese characters?
The show notes usually include further reading links on the topic at hand.
I can’t even fathom the amount of research, time, and energy was put into each episode, but it shows and was highly appreciated.
It’s a perfect snapshot of the pop culture landscape from December 2016 – May 2017 because of how it was set up. I’d love to revisit the same episodes this time next year to see what’s still relevant.
The most anticipated movies and television shows episodes, 5 & 7, are pretty spot on in terms of what’s been well-received so far this year.
Technically, they’re both minorities (David is Asian and Joanna is a woman) and I’m all about more minority voices in pop culture.
I like the topical episodes over the television, movie, or other media-focused articles because they allowed for more room for discussion.
The community built around Gen Pop was also fantastic. When people wrote in and their emails were read, it was with respectful discourse and knowledgeable input. The Patreon that had been set up for the show also lent to the sense of community and gave Joanna and David more opportunities to get in touch with the niche they’d carved out.
Seriously, they didn’t like the pacing of the pilot episode of American Gods… and they’re not suuuuuper wrong about that observation as much as I am loathed to admit it.