Introducing Thing of the Week (and a bit about the Blank Check podcast)

TL;DR — Each week I’ll talk about a thing what I like

Total Nerd is a blog born out of positivity. Sure, sometimes I’ll bemoan something, but the very existence of this domain is due to our love of things. Things can make us think, laugh, cry and love. Things can teach us other things. There are many wonderful things and they deserve to be celebrated. So, welcome to a new weekly feature about those very things: Thing of the Week. Like all good titles, this one is catchy and specific. Each week (probably on a Friday, but could be a weekend (I mean, today is Sunday, obviously (perhaps not obvious if you are not reading this on a Sunday — trust me, it’s Sunday))) I will highlight something that I have enjoyed from that week.

We don’t discriminate at Total Nerd, so that thing could be anything. A movie, a comic, the book I’m reading, a game, an album, a podcast (as is the case for this inaugural entry); anything. The style of post could vary as well. Perhaps I’d like to share my thoughts in a considered review. Or I might take an idea from that thing and discuss it more conversationally. Or I might just want to quickly point you to something I think you should check out and be on my way. I’m also not limiting this feature to new things. It really is just a way to celebrate anything I find worth talking about that week. In the case of older or more well-known stuff, I will try to add some insight though. Don’t worry, I’m not going to be posting something like “you guys really need to check out this film I just found. It’s called The Godfather and I think it’s pretty good.” Anyway, with that out of the way, let’s move on to this week’s Thing of the Week:

Blank Check with Griffin & David

So, yeah, I’m a bit late to the party on this. About two years and two months late, actually. But until earlier this week, I didn’t know anything about this podcast, so I guess it’s possible there are some others out there who also haven’t heard of it. If so, this recommendation is for you: go and listen to Blank Check with Griffin & David. Perhaps you haven’t boarded the podcast train yet (although I feel like Serial got pretty much everyone on board, right?). Well, what better way to see what all the fuss is about than listening to two guys spend over ten hours talking about Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace?

That’s where this podcast started. In March 2015, Griffin Newman (comedian and actor) and David Sims (film critic) sat down to answer a (seemingly) simple question: what is The Phantom Menace about? The concept is straightforward enough. The Phantom Menace is not seen in a positive light by Star Wars fans. Or film critics. Or people who have eyes. And true enough, the film sucks. But the easy answer to this is that it was a huge disappointment for fans of Star Wars and is terrible compared to the original trilogy. But what about as a film in its own right, extricated from the expectation and wider context of George Lucas’ behemoth franchise? This is what The Phantom Podcast was about (the name when the podcast first started — they later re-branded to Blank Check). Each week, the pair would examine, in-depth (like, a lot of depth), one element of the film and each episode would conclude with them trying to answer the question ‘what is this film about?’ Once they wrapped up their ten episode stretch on The Phantom Menace, Griffin and David moved on to each of the other Star Wars films in order (but not after a palate cleanser about 2014’s The Judge). I am just getting to the end of the stuff about The Phantom Menace but I’m assuming the fundamental idea of not recognising any subsequent Star Wars films will continue as they progress through.

Once they were done with Star Wars, the pair decided to change up the podcast slightly and this was when the Blank Check name came in. Forgive them the spelling of cheque, they are American and don’t know any better (although David grew up in England so maybe he should know better) and I suppose it wouldn’t share its name with a 90s kids film if they spelt it properly. A ‘blank check’ (ahem -cheque-) movie is when a director has proved themselves as bankable and are given the chance to make the movie they want to make. Griffin and David are interested in how these movies turn out. The podcast is essentially a string of mini-series, each about a specific director. Every episode is about a new film in the director’s oeuvre. When they’ve run out of films, they move on to a new director.

TC-14. I mean, can you blame him? Look at her. With Lindsay Duncan’s voice? Christ.

Like I said, I haven’t finished The Phantom Podcast. I discovered it earlier this week and I’ve listened to eight episodes so far. It’s possible everything after The Phantom Menace stuff is terrible, but I seriously doubt it. The real reason the podcast works isn’t because of its concept, or even the source material, it’s Griffin and David. Long standing friends, they have a wonderful rapport. With a clear love for film and a depth of knowledge to match, the two bounce off each other incredibly well. Griffin, being the comedian, provides most of the (abundant) silliness. This usually comes in the form of talking about fast food toys or how much he wants to fuck TC-14. David is there to provide more grounded (but still mostly silly) film analysis. What’s great about it is that despite being very, very funny, they still levy a lot of legitimate and well-reasoned criticism. These two clearly know their stuff and have a really entertaining way of delivering it.

Blank Check with Griffin & David. Listen to it. It’s really good. If you’re not too much into podcasts yet, I recommended picking up Pocket Casts for Android or Overcast for iOS. Unless you hate yourself, of course, in which case iTunes will do nicely.

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