Opinion: Wondery’s Latest Release Disappoints

Podcast production studio Wondery released Season 2 of their series Over My Dead Body on Aug. 24. After the runaway success of the first season, titled “Talla,” their newest, titled “Joe Exotic,” faced a high standard. While this season continues their tradition of detailed investigative reporting, its content is so overly extravagant that one feels they’re listening to the true crime equivalent of reality television.

                Let me clarify: that’s not inherently a bad thing. True crime fans like myself have swayed from more intense, Capote-esque styles to darker comedic takes in recent years. Hit podcasts like My Favorite Murder and Last Podcast on the Left have begun redefining the genre, but many production studios focused on journalistic narratives.

Wondery’s “Dr. Death,” “Dirty John,” and countless others have retained the serious investigative elements that draw many to the genre, but “Joe Exotic” has completely broken that mold. Not quite a tragedy and not quite a comedy, the piece gives off an aura intriguingly similar to shows like “Duck Dynasty.”

This miniseries focuses on Joe Schreibvogel, an aging gay and polyamorous man who operates a combination private zoo and magic studio. In contrast, the “Talla” season of Over My Dead Body focused on a married couple from Tallahassee. Compared to the simplicity of last season’s content, the producers are clearly attempting to give this season a far wilder image.

The transition from serious crime reporting to, well, not-so-serious crime reporting was shocking. I can’t lie; it has been fun. But this new direction is disappointing on a larger scale. Wondery was one of the last holdouts of investigative reporting, and “Joe Exotic” proves that they are now willing to emphasize outrageousness over journalistic integrity.

Wondery isn’t the first studio to take the easy route, and they surely won’t be the last. You can’t blame them for following in the footsteps of so many other newly comedic true crime podcasts. But it’s saddening to watch that original style of investigative reporting fade away.

I can’t say I didn’t enjoy this latest release. It’s a relaxing podcast you can sit back and laugh about. There’s a lot of work that goes into a funny criminal narrative, but it doesn’t always scratch the itch that previous Wondery shows do. It’s not about love, mystery or murder. It’s about zoological magicians.

The change was a disappointment. It’s not the same that I’ve grown to love from them, and it feels like they’re socially caving into the pressures of the new norm. A little change can be good, but Wondery has definitely gone in the wrong direction with “Joe Exotic.”

Wondery has proved that they can contend with modern comedic true crime podcasts, but hopefully they can return to their roots with their next release. The hometown style of their previous series was what drew many of us in. If they can regress back to their origin point, listeners will be satisfied.

(3/5 stars)

By Mo Juenger | Staff Writer