There’s a thread connecting the most volatile of hurricanes to bird songs — can you see it?
This tentative relationship, centered around humanity’s seemingly overwhelming need to personify nature, is one of many connections explored in the first season of “The Stuff of Life,” a new podcast from How Stuff Works. Working as both a substantial departure from previous podcasts and as a perfect continuation of their brand, the first season of this show promises a future where it sits in the top 40 podcasts on iTunes with the rest of the How Stuff Works shows.
“The Stuff of Life” follows the basic premise of all How Stuff Works shows — to explore a misunderstood or rarely thought about topic in an in-depth and thorough way. But instead of presenting a singular topic like “How Soccer Works” the way the podcast “Stuff You Should Know” does, it pushes past events and individual people and tackles the narratives we use to construct our world. How do you exactly map yourself and what would your map look like? How do we build for eternity and are we getting any closer to it?
In addition to pushing the envelope for what topics are approachable in 17 to 30-minute episodes, this podcast differs from other How Stuff Works ventures by including soundbites to help narrate the topic. In a particularly poignant example in the finale episode, “Life the Game,” which looks at the pros and cons of the ‘gamification’ of life, the soothing music of the Minecraft video game leads the listener into the topic. In between this music and shorter ambient noises, the host Julie Douglas brings in professors, researchers and other experts to more fully explore the topics.
Yet, for all that it is different from previous How Stuff Works podcasts, “The Stuff of Life” never feels as if it ventures off course from the company’s brand of teaching their viewers how the world works.
As a treat for avid listeners of other podcasts in the How Stuff Works family, other hosts from other podcasts join in, giving their commentary on the show’s varied and eccentric topics. But while hearing the familiar voices of people such as Holly Frey and Tracy Wilson (“Stuff You Missed in History Class”) may be comforting for those already familiar with their shows, they can seem like random additions to a show otherwise populated by experts and other pertinent soundbites.
Despite this small hiccup for those who are unfamiliar with this company’s slew of podcasts, the show presents a solid first season. Unlike other How Stuff Works podcasts, which have upwards of 600 or even 800 episodes out, “The Stuff of Life” only has 10, a much more manageable amount of content to tackle and get caught up on.
The Stuff of Life starts again this summer.