Political Podcast makes TV Debut

Angela Tricarico, Contributing Writer

In a time where finding ways to blend humor with actual, smart insights in political commentary is becoming increasingly difficult, HBO struck gold by bringing the popular podcast “Pod Save America” to television for a series of four election specials.

In its podcast form, “Pod Save America” strikes a balance between comforting and moments of genuinely funny banter between hosts, that translates well to the television.

“Pod Save America” was born out of a need for more liberal voices in the conversation directly after Election Day 2016. Hosts Jon Favreau, Jon Lovett, Tommy Vietor and Dan Pfeiffer are alumni of the Obama White House. Favreau and Lovett were members of the speechwriting team, while Vietor and Pfeiffer held different positions within the communications department. Before “Pod Save America” premiered, the foursome were co-hosts of The Ringer’s political podcast, “Keepin’ It 1600.”

Since its first episode in January 2017, “Pod Save America” has been downloaded over 300 million times, and has inspired listeners to actually get involved in local politics by canvassing, phone banking, and general activism.

The first of the four specials, aired from Miami, Florida, (a battleground state for the midterm elections), and showcased exactly what the podcast is about. The hosts were joined by Erin Ryan, a frequent collaborator and host of the podcast “Hysteria.”

If regular listeners closed their eyes, it wouldn’t sound like much had changed from the podcast to the television specials. That’s because it hasn’t. “Pod Save America” on HBO follows the in-studio podcasting format with only a few exceptions. While this was a point of contention for some fans and critics, it was clear that the episodes were being structured this way for a reason: familiarity, and the intention to stay authentic in their presentation of information.

Like always, they began with a rundown of the biggest news stories that happened since their last podcast (in this case, they released a podcast on Wednesday, so most of the focus was on Thursday and Friday’s news), where Favreau served as a leader of sorts, giving the majority of the background and yielding to the other hosts to comment. They also played a regular game: “OK, Stop,” in which a video clip plays, and the hosts can say “OK, stop” when they want to comment. Favreau interviewed activist Demetrius Jifunza, who talked about a Florida ballot initiative that would restore voting rights for convicted felons, as well as a pre-recorded interview, where Favreau and Pfeiffer talked to three young activists about the work they do.

A big part of “Pod Save America’s” charm was on display during the episode. The appeal of the podcast, for some, is the banter between co-hosts that is noticeable in all of the less-heavy bits, because they’re not just co-hosts, but best friends.

While they were all good, Lovett particularly stood out; it’s no surprise that he’s funny as a former stand-up comic and television comedy writer, but he shined in this special by balancing his own thoughts with biting commentary about the news, and a few f-bombs for good measure.