Like reboots and revivals, rewatch podcasts hosted by actors from once-popular shows have become a booming business that continues to grow with each passing year. In 2021 alone we’ve seen the launch of podcasts covering The OC, One Tree Hill, Friday Night Lights, and Parks and Recreation. And they’re all attempting to do the same thing: mine a long-concluded series for more content while promising listeners inside information they can’t get anywhere else.
These new shows join other successful podcasts like The West Wing Weekly, which ran from 2016 until 2020 and was hosted by West Wing star Joshua Malina and Song Exploder’s Hrishikesh Hirway. Meanwhile, Scrubs stars Zach Braff and Donald Faison host a show about revisiting their Bill Lawrence-created comedy. Gilmore Girls’ Scott Patterson, who portrayed the gruff Luke Danes on the charming WB-turned-CW dramedy, is watching the show for the first time and chronicling his adventures with his I Am All In podcast. And Jennie Garth and Tori Spelling are still milking Beverly Hills, 90210 for everything they can with a podcast that is titled 90210MG.
This is just the tip of the podcast iceberg, though. If you’re a fan of The Office, The Sopranos, Sons of Anarchy, Saved by the Bell, or pretty much any TV series from the last 30 years, there is a decent chance there is or will soon be a rewatch podcast hosted by the star(s) of the show exclusively for your listening pleasure. But with an ever-growing slate of celebrity-hosted TV rewatch podcasts, one has to wonder what, exactly, makes them worthwhile for TV fans? For not all podcasts are created equal.
For instance, a podcast is only as good as its hosts, and not everyone is a natural who can keep a conversation flowing or steer participants back on track when tangents inevitably happen. Rachel Bilson and Melinda Clarke, who host Welcome to The O.C., Bitches, often struggle to transition from one topic to the next because there is little rapport between the two women, either because they lack a real-life friendship or natural chemistry. And depending on an episode’s guest—who may or may not be connected to the show—the conversations can feel stilted.
When you compare this to Drama Queens, the One Tree Hill podcast hosted by Hilarie Burton Morgan, Sophia Bush, and Bethany Joy Lenz, nearly two decades of friendship makes for a natural and free-flowing conversation as the women break down each episode and talk about what they do or do not remember from their time filming the show. Office Ladies—hosted by Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey, who are best friends in addition to The Office co-stars—is similarly strong in this regard, even though the podcast is far more structured.
Parks and Recollection
, the Parks and Recreation podcast hosted by Rob Lowe and Alan Yang, already shows a lot of promise. It benefits from the fact its hosts had different roles in the creative process and thus different experiences (Yang was a writer, producer, and director who was involved from the start). And since Lowe didn’t join the NBC comedy until Season 2, he is the perfect listener surrogate as the show finds its feet because he asks plenty of questions in addition to offering his insights based on his experience later on.
But decades of friendship and easy rapport don’t always lead to an excellent podcast. Fake Doctors, Real Friends with Zach and Donald doesn’t lack camaraderie—the duo’s friendship comes through in every episode—but the podcast can suffer in terms of episodic discussion. There are times when the two appear to be more interested in shooting the sh— than covering Scrubs. This is a problem that also plagues 90210MG, the podcast from Garth and Spelling, which is their latest attempt to cash in on the iconic teen series that made them famous in the ‘90s. But it barely scratches the surface of what can be considered episodic analysis, which is a key component of any rewatch podcast. Episodes regularly feature the two talking about their lives and plenty of other things, but it’s gotten off-track to the point that some listeners believe that Garth, who struggles to recall much about 90210, doesn’t even rewatch the episodes they’re discussing in advance.
In comparison, podcasts like The West Wing Weekly—which is considered by some to be the gold standard of rewatch podcasts—and the far-too-long-but-still-intriguing Talking Sopranos—hosted by Michael Imperioli and Steve Schirripa—offer deep analysis and next-level episodic analyzation. And Drama Queens regularly stands out for the way its hosts react to the One Tree Hill’s storylines from the perspective of grown women in 2021 versus twenty-somethings in the mid-2000s. Specifically, they have called out the way the men were written versus the women, characters gaslighting other characters, and the costumes they all had to wear.
This is the level of in-depth analysis that listeners want from celebrity-hosted rewatch podcasts, as it gives them a front-row seat and an insider’s perspective to every level of the creative process. So while anyone can host a rewatch podcast, it’s often only those directly involved in the creation of a show who can give fans the first-person, behind-the-scenes access they crave. On the just-launched Friday Night Lights podcast titled Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, hosts Derek Phillips and Stacey Oristano come armed with stories that shed light on how various scenes could have been much different. For instance, Phillips revealed he was cut from the now-iconic scene in the pilot in which Taylor Kitsch as Tim Riggins gives his “Texas forever” speech. Phillips’ Billy originally made fun of Tim in that moment, which would have completely changed the dynamic of the scene, not to mention its legacy.
But while behind-the-scenes stories from the hosts keep things fresh, the key to success also lies in the variety of content available, and the way to achieve this in a weekly podcast that could run for more than 100 episodes is to bring in high-quality guest stars who can offer a new perspective and bring a new dynamic to the podcast. The West Wing Weekly seemingly featured everyone who ever worked on the show, from actors like Allison Janney and Alan Alda to creator Aaron Sorkin and composer W. G. Snuffy Walden. And they all brought with them unique insight into the series, its story arcs, and the characters, like how Janney was nervous about C.J. becoming chief of staff in Season 6 because of how it would affect not just the character but her own life on set.
Some of the best episodes of rewatch podcasts are those that feature conversations with non-actors or those who only had supporting roles and thus had different experiences than series regulars. Actress Barbara Alyn Woods portrayed one of the parents in One Tree Hill, which gave her a totally different perspective on the show and its storylines. On Sons of Anarchy, Ally Walker portrayed a villainous ATF agent and one of the few women to exist in a hyper-masculine world. Because of this, and despite the character’s longevity, Walker had a different experience from much of the cast, which she dug into in detail when she appeared on #ReaperReviews w/ Theo Rossi and Kim Coates, a weekly podcast that talks about FX’s popular motorcycle drama.
So while quality, rapport, and passion play a significant role in the success of any celebrity-hosted TV rewatch podcast, the guests and the depth of conversation ultimately determine which shows are worth tuning into week after week and which are not. And with so many popping up every year, everyone should keep this in mind and remember that there are no harsher critics than TV fans starved for new content about their favorite series. Because if one fails to hit the mark, another is bound to appear soon enough.
Kaitlin Thomas is an entertainment journalist and TV critic. Her work has appeared in TV Guide, Salon, and TV.com, among other places. You can find her tweets about TV, sports, and Walton Goggins @thekaitling or read more of her work at kaitlinthomas.com.
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