The week in audio: Case 63; Scott Mills; Disaster Trolls
Case 63 (Gimlet) | Spotify
Scott Mills (BBC Radio 2) | BBC Sounds
Disaster Trolls (BBC Radio 4) | BBC Sounds
There was a while, back there, when podcasts were waiting for big celebs to join in: not as giggling presenters, interviewing their mates, but as actors, boosting tightly written, sharply directed dramas into unmissable binge listens. Only a few stars were early adopters, such as Catherine Keener, David Schwimmer and Oscar Isaac; all brilliant in 2016’s Homecoming, a paranoid whodunnit that focused on disturbing patient-doctor psychiatric sessions and shifting what-is-reality scenarios.
And now Isaac is back, in Case 63, a paranoid whodunnit focused on disturbing patient-doctor psychiatric sessions and shifting what-is-reality scenarios. More similarities: Case 63, like Homecoming, is a Gimlet production. But in Case 63, seductive patient-with-a-secret Isaac is up against someone different: Julianne Moore, as his cynical (and equally swoonsome) psychiatrist. They make a powerful double act, lifting an already interesting script into something subtler, sexier and more gripping.
Peter Roiter (Isaac) is a patient who seems sane but talks madness: he says he’s from the future, and he needs his psychiatrist, Eliza Knight (Moore), to help him stop something devastating happening. Not an unusual premise, and, in fact, Case 63 isn’t exactly an original: it’s a remake of Caso 63, a Chilean podcast that’s been a massive success across South America. And the new Isaac-Moore version, out for a week, is already top of the charts. No doubt it’ll be made into a prestige telly series before long.
That wouldn’t be a mistake, exactly, but both Homecoming and Case 63 are far stronger as audio. When you listen, undistracted by images, you pick up on mysterious anomalies: did Roiter really get his dates mixed up? Why are certain numbers repeated? All is (partly) explained as the series goes on, but the final episode delivers such an almighty twist that you may well find yourself listening to the whole thing all over again. Caso 63 had two more series: judging by the rabid fan chatter on Reddit, listeners to the new version can barely wait for Case 63’s sequels.
And here’s another remix of an old success: Scott Mills has stepped into Steve Wright’s weekday afternoon Radio 2 slot. Actually, that’s not fair. Mills shares only certain aspects of Wright’s style. Luckily, it’s the good bits: the technical smoothness, the welcome-all warmth. Gone, thank the Lord, are the embarrassing “hi, love the show” intros to every listener letter/email (Wright always insisted on reading those bits out, ugh). On Wednesday, when Mills encountered a genuine all-the-bells fan – a groom whose best man told everyone how much the groom loved Scott Mills – he didn’t dwell, but was sweet about it and quickly moved things on to discuss the bride. Other changes? The music is more 90s ravey (Black Box’s Ride on Time? Yes please), the pace is slightly quicker (less chatting with on-air producers), and the show is more genuinely listener-focused. The new feature in which a listener chooses a single that was out on their birthday is so obvious it’s almost local radio, but Mills handles it, and the whole programme, with great charm. Plus, there’s still something touching about how he gets everyone to end their phone calls with “love you, bye!” Wright fans may disagree, but to me, Mills seems perfect for this slot.
I mentioned local radio: there has been much upset about the BBC’s proposed cuts to local radio in England, with several well-loved presenters and their backroom teams due to be sacked. The idea is, of course, to save money, and the BBC seems to be looking to Global’s management of its smaller radio stations. In 2019, Global replaced various local breakfast shows on Capital, Heart and Smooth with a national programme, hosted by Jamie Theakston and Amanda Holden, as well as amalgamating several local stations into one. The BBC is proposing to do something similar, replacing local shows after 10am with a smaller selection (so, say, Manchester, Merseyside and Lancashire get the same one), and with a fully national programme from 10pm on weekdays, 2pm on Sundays. In this era of specialist tastes and Nextdoor chatter, this seems cloth-eared. Do Manchester and Liverpool really share the same concerns?
Just room to mention the doggedly brilliant Marianna Spring and Disaster Trolls, once again. The BBC’s disinformation correspondent has a new Radio 4/BBC Sounds show about the revolting losers who target people who have been through a disaster such as the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing. Not only do victims have to live with their trauma, they have to deal with online trolls insisting that they’re acting, that none of it happened and it’s all a conspiracy. Spring confronts one such conspiracy troll, Richard D Hall, who staked out the house of a Manchester Arena victim – a teenager! – to see if she really was disabled from her injuries. I hope Spring’s dedicated journalism shuts Hall up for good.