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The Hot Pod Review: Esquire Classic

Written by , Posted in Wednesday Reviews

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Esquire Classic (PRX and Esquire Magazine)
Listen: iTunes | Website

On any other afternoon, I’d be tempted to dismiss Esquire Classic as a bottom-shelf idea executed simply, a mere assemblage of different working parts lying around the office. A whole archive’s worth of material here, some voice talent there, a guest, a microphone; elements strung together to approximate the performance of an actual show. As far as concept goes, Classic swings low: it’s a show that revisits prominent articles in Esquire magazine’s long and storied history.

And yet, and yet… whenever I sit down to listen to the thing, it reveals itself to be a more complex piece of work than I ever expected it to be.

Each episode revolves around a different article, with each edition being made up of an interview between host David Brancaccio and a guest that’s interspersed with narrated excerpts. In a way, it’s spiritually analogous to Song Exploder, which trades in similar performances of deconstruction and commentary.

The guest is often the author, pulled into the studio to confront his or her creation. Sometimes the interview involves the picking apart of ideas at play, as in the case of the wonderful Susan Orlean; other times, the interview is an opportunity to marvel and reminisce, evoking a sort of “This Is Your Life” retrospective quality. In the absence of the author (due to death or perhaps some other unfortunate preoccupation), the show shifts into a kind of memorial, with a comparable writer standing-in to provide context, explicate, or simply react.

“Classic” is a show that lives or dies by the quality of its guests — which is why, even though I’m generally positive on the show, I perceive it as deeply uneven. And while it’s far from being appointment listening, it’s a fine example of even the most simplest of setups can lead to an almost infinite amount of permutations.