In 2012, the year we were all supposed to die, I was just getting into podcasts.
I was in college at the time, and I found that listening to podcasts while I worked on various art assignments — projects which involved a lot of work with my hands and little to no work with my brain — helped not only to keep me awake through many an all-nighter, but also reduced the stress I felt when I was working up against a critique deadline.
During that time, I was also exploring an interest in cinema that would eventually bloom into a pretty serious passion, one that deepened significantly when I started listening to a podcast out of Chicago called Filmspotting. It was the first film criticism podcast I had ever listened to, and I was hooked. Within a few months of discovering it, I was eager to find more movie talk to fill my poorly-planned hours. Luckily, it was around that time that the hosts of Filmspotting began to promote a new spinoff of their podcast: a show that would specifically feature content available to stream. Much like legions of Law & Order fans who flocked to its sister show Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, I immediately became a diehard fan of Filmspotting: SVU.
Today, more than six years after it began in January of 2012, Filmspotting: Streaming Video Unit dropped its final episode. When I learned that the show was ending a couple of weeks ago via Twitter, it was a gut punch, and I even resisted listening to the episode on which the announcement was made for SEVERAL DAYS (imagine) because I just didn’t want to believe it was true. Unfortunately, with today being the last episode, I am yet again forced to accept that it’s true what they say: all good things must come to an end. What follows is a messy and overly sentimental love letter to one of my favorite podcasts ever.
First, a little bit about Filmspotting SVU, if you’re unfamiliar:
Part of the Filmspotting podcast family and the Panoply network, Filmspotting: SVU is a biweekly podcast from New York City focused on the world of streaming movies and, occasionally, TV. Hosted and produced by BuzzFeed film critic Alison Willmore and ScreenCrush managing editor Matt Singer.
Alison and Matt were formerly the co-hosts of the IFC News Podcast, so when they began SVU, they already had years of experience working together — and it showed. From the very first episode, one of SVU’s greatest strengths was the dynamic between the two hosts. They have my favorite kind of co-host chemistry, the kind you can find on any of the Filmspotting family of podcasts: a lot of playful ribbing and feigned annoyance which never truly overshadows the immense respect they have for each other as critics and friends.
Matt and Alison both brought different things to SVU, their personalities and niche interests different enough to keep things exciting without them having to bite each other’s heads off during disagreements. Listening to the final episode today, I was surprised to hear them posit the theory that perhaps they’d have been more successful as a podcast if they disagreed more often and more aggressively. It’s true that the two of them have similar tastes, their opinions on what they’re discussing and reviewing generally in sync, and that when they disagree on something, neither of them seem particularly up-in-arms about it — but personally, I admire them for their restraint.
I’ve always been the type of overly-opinionated person who tends to tell people who disagree with me about things that I love or hate that they’re ‘wrong’ for thinking differently, and I can’t recall a single time when the co-hosts of SVU fell into that kind of unproductive arguing. I really loved the open-mindedness with which they hear each other out, how they never speak (or yell) over each other, and how they sometimes even admit to feeling or thinking differently about something they watched after hearing what the other has to say. It’s been so incredibly refreshing to hear, and it’s a methodology I’m trying my best to carry with me in my own podcasting endeavors.
Another thing that made this show unique was its structure. Unlike many film review podcasts covering new releases or specific genres, SVU’s only requirement was that title needed to be streaming — which meant that the options, if sometimes obscure, were pretty much endless. This allowed for something all listeners love: listener’s choice reviews! Each episode, Matt and Alison gave three options for the following episode’s review, and listeners had one week to cast their vote. Then, based on what was chosen, Alison and Matt would recommend other related titles that fell into sometimes painfully specific categories, including such gems as “Movies About Nameless Protagonists” and “Unromantic Romantic Comedies.” These categories also served as a jumping-off point for each episode’s intro, wherein Alison and Matt would present an even more ridiculously specific category option that they “almost” went with — one of the many fun in-jokes they developed over the years. (Insert -my list- joke here.)
I greatly appreciate the way SVU managed to incorporate and accommodate what the listeners wanted, from the main review to their inclusion of several listener recommendations at the end of every episode. Alison and Matt really went out of their way to engage with their audience both through the show and through social media, and there’s something nice about listening to a podcast where you feel like the hosts don’t just say ‘let us know what you think,’ but actually want to know what you think. That engagement made me feel closer to them, and thus made the podcast closer to my heart.
It’s funny how you get to know podcast hosts through years of listening to them, establishing a bizarre one-way kind of friendship that exists only inside your own head. How a podcast can, for a time, become a soundtrack to your life. I remember listening to SVU’s discussion of Margaret while my hand ached from inking something for class, and their Eddie Murphy episode while I cleaned the bathroom of my college apartment. They listed some of their favorite cold war movies during one of my many drives along the Florida turnpike, and in 2015, while I packed up my things in boxes in preparation to move to New York, they talked about Faults and recommended a few other movies about cults. Just recently, on one of the first warm days of the summer, I was listening to their episode on Wild Wild Country, and I walked the long way back to work so I could listen for a little bit longer.
Filmspotting: SVU has been a huge influence on me, and thus a huge influence on BSG (whether or not our other three hosts know it). It’s definitely part of the reason I wanted to get into podcasting in the first place, probably because Matt and Alison made it sound like so much fun. They proved that it is possible to provide thoughtful, intelligent critique paired with silly voices and bad jokes, and that even if it’s your job, movie-going can and should be a pleasure. On their final episode, Alison called podcasting a “labor of love,” which I can confirm it absolutely is — and I don’t blame them for deciding that it’s time to move on and focus on other things, namely family and their individual careers. But I will miss this podcast with all of my heart, and I’ll never forgive them for taking it away from me.
Jk lol, I forgive them.