I will posit that The Incomparable is the best podcast for in-depth discussion of geek-centric pop culture including movies, TV shows, comics, novels, etc… I’ve long been a fan and I feel it doesn’t get the attention it deserves. For those unfamiliar, each episode of The Incomparable tackles a different geeky pop culture topic, usually centered around a specific property or franchise. While they will sometimes discuss current properties, such as the latest Dr. Who episode or Iron Man movie, they also tackle random older geeky properties such as The Watchmen graphic novel or Ghostbusters. It’s a podcast that lends itself to scouring the archives and picking episodes that interest you – they currently have 143 episodes over the past three years.
The main host of The Incomparable is Jason Snell, and I think his presence makes the show. He has a very friendly and engaging way he guides the conversation. When discussing a movie, he usually will lead the listeners through the plot, adding his own opinions and allowing the guests to seamlessly interact. Usually I hate podcasts with more than two or three guests, as they begin to talk over each other and the conversation becomes incomprehensible. However, Snell seems to be able to manage large panels of guests with ease (the Star Wars: Episode I episode had 6 guests), and the conversation always seems to flow.
In addition to Snell as the main host, there is a rotating cast of reoccurring guests. After listening to a number of episodes, you begin to get to know the guests and their personalities. Most of the guests are from the tech world, many writers at Macworld, in which Snell is a senior editor. Some regulars include John Siracusa, Dan Moren, Serenity Caldwell, Lex Friedman, Scott McNulty, Glenn Fleishman, and Steve Lutz.
The beauty of The Incomparable is that it doesn’t usually dwell on the negative and it’s more a celebration of these pop culture properties. Of course, they will point out plot holes and how certain things don’t make sense, but they usually are not tearing into the things they discuss, because these are things they love. The few episodes where they do go fully negative on something are usually amongst my least favorite, especially the infamous Avengers episode. In that episode Andy Ihnatko completely trashes The Avengers movie, leaving the other guests rather dumbfounded. Yet, most of the time the episodes are positive discussions on why a particular thing is great, despite any flaws it might have.
There are a number of episodes I would recommend to someone who has never listened to the show before. I’d start with “Greyskull Anonymous” and “Flitting Is In” in which some of the regular guests have a TV character draft and then use those characters to create imaginary TV shows. It’s a rather brilliant idea and some of the TV shows that they create are pretty great, especially Steve Lutz’s show. Another series of episodes I love are their take on the original Star Wars trilogy, in which they spend close to eight hours discussing all three movies, broken into six parts( 1,2,3,4,5,6 ). It’s pretty amazing and you can tell the guests are all tremendous fans. I’d also recommend the episodes discussing Raiders of the Lost Ark (with special guest John Gruber), Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Pixar movies.
While they’ve tackled a tremendous amount of geeky pop culture, there are still some topics I’m hoping they take up in future episodes. Number one on my list is the Twilight Zone, which seems right in their wheel house as they have mentioned the show many times on past episodes. I’d also love to see future episodes about the X-Files, Planet of the Apes, and War Games. Hopefully these will eventually happen, but until then I’ll keep listening and enjoying their take on the wide world of geeky pop culture.