Jon Favreau, former Obama speech writer and co-host of “Pod Save America,” has started a new podcast. “The Wilderness” departs from the style of other podcasts in the Crooked Media suite in its format, being told like a documentary rather than a talk show, or in the case of “Lovett or Leave It,” a game show.
It tells the story of the Democratic party in discrete episodes on different topics. Four episodes have been released so far, having dropped all at once on earlier this week.
The show is mostly driven by several interviews that Favreau has conducted over the past year. Just like in most documentaries, the voices of historians and politicians fade in and out of the storyline in the same way that interviews with ordinary American voters do. The effect is a story that evokes the spirit of democracy that Favreau talks about a lot in his narration, producing a lot of frustration.
The podcast opens with Favreau asking, “You ever say something on national television you wish you could take back?” (which, no, most people haven’t said anything on national television). The story proceeds with a recording of Favreau himself saying what everyone was saying around the 2016 election: that Donald Trump wasn’t going to win. For Favreau, the story starts with this mistake, and rightly so since that mistake essentially rocketed himself and his colleagues into popularity.
The opening’s drama sets the tone for much of “The Wilderness,” which is much more emotional and better produced than other podcasts about the election. Its stance on politics is clear (Favreau is a lifelong Democrat and worked for Obama), so it’s almost as though this podcast, unlike others about politics, permits itself to feel the emotions of the losses of the party without preamble.
“The Wilderness” is in search of answers for the Democrats. In Favreau’s narration, his deep concern with the issue comes through clearly — he wants to know how to get the Democrats winning again, but he’s not sure how. He is a man in search of an answer, and though he guides his listeners to certain points of view, he does so nimbly and without a sense of surety.
The value of the show as a podcast rather than a visual documentary, then, is perhaps a greater sense of process. Although it has the dramatic musical interludes of a film, it can also be viewed like a project rather than a finished product, at least, until it ends.
Right now, there are four episodes released, focused on the history of the party, the Obama years, the 2016 election and the voters. Episodes are scheduled to drop every Monday until about a month before the midterm elections when all Crooked Media podcasts will likely be at a fever pitch. The midterm elections, for Favreau and his colleagues, are the party and the country’s reckoning.
With “The Wilderness,” Favreau has shown that he wants to move beyond that election and fix the Democrats for the future.