“Heavyweight” may be the funniest show ever about humanity’s deepest regrets. Hosted by Jonathan Goldstein, a wildly funny writer and radio producer who has contributed to “This American Life” and his own show “WireTap,” this program examines the moment where it all went wrong. In each episode, Goldstein interviews a person, some he knows personally, others he doesn’t, about a pivotal aspect of their past. The first season included a fractured sibling relationship, a father’s strange deathbed wish and a surprising connection to a famous musician. Goldstein works with these people to make sense of these events, acting as something between middling therapist and ineffective vigilante detective. Goldstein’s quest for resolution sometimes leads to surprising conclusions, but each episode is more about exploring the subject’s motivations than solving narrative mysteries.
Goldstein is an alumnus of the influential radio show “This American Life,” and many of that program’s trademarks are adopted by “Heavyweight.” Both shows have an interest in mundane stories from ordinary people, vary wildly in tone and subject matter from episode to episode and are journalistic pieces that use fiction techniques. The best episodes of “Heavyweight” use real human experiences, but the end results feel like perfectly paced short stories.
Previous Season Recap:
“Heavyweight” is not a serialized narrative, and you can start any episode without background knowledge. In general, the first season was about Goldstein’s family and friends, while the majority of the second season took stories from listeners of the show. The show’s website recommends listening to the first, second, seventh and 12th episodes to get a feel for the series.
To Binge Or Not to Binge:
Most podcasts tend to live or die based on their host, and luckily for “Heavyweight,” Goldstein is one of the best. He is a witty writer and storyteller, and each script is aided by his wry, self-deprecating narration. The chief delights of “Heavyweight” lie in Goldstein’s inventive turns of phrase — many of the series’ dry, clever one-liners have made me laugh out loud in my car like a crazy person. The show has little, recurring nuggets of joy, like a hilarious cold open starring Jonathan’s friend Jackie and sponsored advertisements disguised as goofy comedy sketches. Goldstein’s often-foolhardy insistence on digging up the truth transforms seemingly banal experiences into rich tapestries. He has an eye for the absurd and the sublime. In each episode he pulls off a neat trick: while telling a story about someone else’s experience, he quietly reveals more about himself.
Goldstein has a gift for finding humor in seemingly tragic situations and vice versa. Without reaching the point of melodrama, “Heavyweight” can be nakedly emotional, even existential in its observations of regret and resolution. Goldstein’s depictions are messy, complex and deeply human in a way that becomes deeply moving in unexpected moments. By the end of the series, I had felt deep compassion for a former drug addict, a sorority dropout and a man who almost killed a biker with his car. “Heavyweight’s” subtle power is its use of podcasts’ intimacy and immediacy as a means toward unguarded empathy.
If I have to quibble, I will say that the second season’s subject matter was a notch less compelling than the first, if only because Goldstein had such a natural penchant for picking apart the people closest to him. Even still, the format of “Heavyweight” is rock solid. I could easily listen to dozens more of Goldstein’s misadventures. I finished the show already hungry for more episodes. The creative team is currently working on the third season, which will likely be released by the end of this year.
Best Episode: Episode 15, “Dina,” is a truly remarkable episode, and is both uproariously funny and genuinely heartfelt. Episode 2, “Gregor,” is another standout and an entertaining example of the strange direction that Goldstein’s stories can go.
Similar Shows: “This American Life,” “Mystery Show,” “Love + Radio,” “Missing Richard Simmons,” “Home of the Brave” and “Millennial.”
Trigger Warnings: Some episodes contain strong language and occasional crude humor.
Rating 4.5/5 stars
Available to stream or download on most major podcasting services, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play and Soundcloud.
15 episodes, Approximately 10 hours. This podcast is a good companion for long commutes or walks to class.