Naming a show “Wonderful!” was a bit of a called shot, but in its two year run this podcast has lived up to its name and then some.
The “Wonderful!” podcast is hosted by wife-and-husband pair Rachel and Griffin McElroy, of the family known for “My Brother, My Brother and Me” and “The Adventure Zone.” Since its creation in 2017, each episode has showcased two topics that the hosts are particularly enthusiastic about, ranging from the abstract (finding a new staple restaurant, musical ability), to the unique (Junji Ito, kinetic sculptures) to the mundane (pumpernickel bread, Bud Light Orange).
The message that these topics suggest is that you don’t have to limit your excitement to shiny, new things that your peers have never heard of — it’s totally acceptable to wonder about the everyday things in your life. During the podcast, each host shares their topic, basic history of their topic, more extended research and personal anecdotes about why they personally value the topic.
What makes “Wonderful!” even more endearing is the sheer excitement that one host displays in the other host’s choice of topic and shared stories. This podcast is not just a safe space for sharing delights, but a framework that actively encourages you to explore the joy in simple things.
While the “Wonderful!” hosts often rely on lower-quality facts from Wikipedia and How Stuff Works, getting any sort of background information on strange topics you would not normally investigate can be compelling. For example, I’ve never thought about the origin of the word “mall,” but in Episode 66 of “Wonderful!” I learned that the first shopping center to be referred to as a mall was in Paramus, New Jersey, in 1973.
The relationship between Griffin and Rachel is heartwarming and often very intimate. While many listen to podcasts for the off-the-cuff banter between hosts (the McElroys do engage in improv work themselves), the conversations between Griffin and Rachel stand out as not only humorous and informative but supportive too. Even when one host is not as enthusiastic about a certain topic, they still genuinely attempt to understand why the other partner enjoys it.
But “Wonderful!” wasn’t always this way. In fact, Rachel and Griffin’s podcast began its life as “Rose Buddies,” an after-show for “The Bachelor” and its family of television products. For this early version of their podcast, the hosts used their talents to discuss reality-TV shows, earning their initial audience from such antics.
Perhaps uniquely in the podcasting world, when they stopped enjoying producing “The Bachelor”-related content, Rachel and Griffin decided to simply switch and take their audience and podcast feeds into the new world of “Wonderful!”
The McElroy’s podcast is therefore a unique blend of supportive conversation and interesting facts on unexpected topics, bucking the traditional podcast framework. In these ways, the quirky show sets itself apart from other podcasts and forms of entertainment. But what truly distinguishes “Wonderful!” as a product of its time is its wholesome, uplifting brand of upbeat comedy.
“Wonderful!” fits into a recent trend that rebels against the established nihilistic sense of humor. Rather than laughing at ills that have befallen bad people, the podcast’s humor actively fights against irony and apathy to celebrate enthusiasm.
Are you a 31-year-old man who unironically loves the music of Carly Rae Jepsen? The podcast preaches that not only is that perfectly acceptable, but it’s worthy of celebration with a five-minute segment! Do you enjoy the collective nouns used for flocks of birds? Tell the hosts your favorites!
It’s a particular application of the improv comedy rule, “Yes, and … ” that builds upon a conversation. While in improv this leads to a collaboratively built world, in “Wonderful!” it generates a feedback loop of enthusiasm — you can hear the hosts’ animation about even the smallest of topics.
But “Wonderful!” is not alone in this trend. Other popular television shows celebrate the uplifting and the good that can be found in human nature. “The Good Place,” which just concluded its third season last week, is actively about the pursuit of goodness and the benefits of a community in such a pursuit. “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and “Parks and Recreation” both demonstrate the benefits of a community and highlight the importance of fighting against apathy.
In a moment of meta-commentary, Episode 3 of “Wonderful!” finds Griffin discussing how
“Parks and Recreation” is so enjoyable, as it offers such feel-good, wholesome content. He describes the main characters of this show as “a group of people who love each other and would do anything for each other, and that is so rare in comedy.”
This brand of wholesome comedy showcases that: loving someone or something doesn’t make you weak; fighting for something you value doesn’t make you lame; and even in a setting of enthusiasm and love, we can still find the comedy we crave.
It’s easy to view the wholesomeness movement in contrast to intense dramas, where shows like “Game of Thrones,” which are reliant on shock and extremes to motivate viewership, wantonly show violence and the destruction of characters.
But many comedies also run counter to this methodology. Much of “The Office” sees its cast of characters pitted against each other, but it’s perhaps best on display in shows like “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” “The League,” “Workaholics” and “Rick and Morty.” In these shows, bad choices aren’t punished; good choices aren’t made; love doesn’t win, and the unhappy side of human nature is explored in depth. Griffin himself even describes the much beloved comedy “Arrested Development” as “people being fucking miserable to each other.”
The wholesome content found in “Wonderful!” might be easily found in other genres, but this feel-good component is relatively rare in the realm of comedy. This is not to say that other comedies do not have genuine moments of happiness, but rather that such moments do not define these shows.
And while many podcasts and television shows that don’t match the wholesomeness of “Wonderful!” are still popular, this good-natured content is increasing in popularity. Shows of this ilk are not only being created, but are ranked as some of the most-watched television shows.
Perhaps the rise in popularity of wholesome, feel-good content is a response to some of the recent political and social turmoil. Comedy can be used not only as an escape but to demonstrate that compassion, collaboration and engagement can help society fight against its current situation. No matter their impact or inspiration, shows like “Wonderful!” are, at their heart, entertainment. They make us laugh, and in the end, that’s plenty wonderful.