There are a ton of podcasts out there, but finding the right one can be difficult. In our new column Pod Hunters, we cover what we’ve been listening to that we can’t stop thinking about.
Imagine life in Brooklyn, Portland, or any other fast-growing, hip metropolis, where people are obsessed with things like brunch, have a side hustle, or want to extoll the merits of Die Hard as a Christmas movie. Now imagine that city under a dome on an alien planet, and the threat from alien monsters. This is the world of Bubble, a science fiction comedy podcast from podcast studio Maximum Fun.
Bubble just wrapped up its first, eight-episode season, and follows an unlikely group of friends who come together thanks to an Uber-like app for hunting monsters called Huntr. This is a type of story that really rests on the shoulders of its main characters, and Bubble delivers that nicely in the form of one unlikely group of friends. Morgan is a hard-working young woman who grew up outside of the dome in the Brush, while Annie is her absent-minded, messy roommate who makes drugs from the planet’s wildlife and who can’t hold down a relationship. They eventually run into and team up with mild-mannered Mitch, who’s trying to survive in the gig economy and Van, a dudebro who’s become a viral star by live-streaming his hunts on the Huntr app.
Life in the “Portland-ish town of Fairhaven,” is a self-obsessed hipster utopia of craft beer bars and jogging paths, and is protected from the Brush by a literal Bubble set up by a corporation called Tandem, which has its own ulterior motives. Along the way, the four deal with their personal hangups and contend with some of the nastier plans that Tandem has in store for the world.
Comedian and TV writer Jordan Morris (co-host of Jordan, Jesse, Go!) created Bubble, and told The Verge that he had been “thinking for a while about how difficult it is to live in a cool place, and how many sacrifices people make to live in a Brooklyn, or a Silver Lake, or a Portland ... unless you’re a rich person, it’s a special kind of little hell to make ends meet in those kinds of places. We make these excuses for the places we live because we like them and because of how awesome and fun and alive they can be.” With that observation, he imagined that sort of existence in a sci-fi world, where alongside the high rents, roommates, and hipsters, the residents of his world also had to deal with monsters, the threat of mutations, and corporate drones.
He first scripted the idea as a TV pilot, and did a stage reading with some of the people that he met through the comedy world. The reading was a hit and while there was some interest from the TV world, Morris noted that the general discussion went along the lines of “Hey, we really like it, where’s the story going? Okay cool, well, we’ll never make it, it’s too weird.” He noted that the story and mashup of genres was a weird idea, and that after releasing the stage reading, people began asking for more, which led him to the idea that it would work as a podcast.
This coincided with Maximum Fun’s own interest in branching out into narrative audio storytelling. Morris had worked with the company for a while — he had gone to college with owner Jesse Thorn, and they co-hosted Jordan, Jesse, Go! together. Morris notes that the jump from the unscripted to scripted market was a “difficult and costly” one, because they were aiming for a product that was more polished than a typical radio show or unscripted podcast. The network brought in additional writers to replicate a TV writer’s room “as closely as possible,” as well as Nick Adams, a producer for Netflix’s Bojack Horseman, to turn the idea into a longer story. The writers scripted individual episodes, and worked with outside comedians to punch up the episodes with new ideas, jokes, and character moments. After that, they brought in experienced audio book directors and editors to turn the podcast into a polished story. That effort appears to have paid off — the podcast climbed the charts on iTunes shortly after it was released — it’s currently in the top 100.
Morris notes that he feels that there’s a lot more experimentation going on with podcasting as a form of entertainment. “It’s not just two white guys behind two microphones remembering Star Wars to each other,” he says. “I think we’re in a time when people are fine with genre and comedy mashing up against one another, and a lot of people who grew up with Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel, and comics from Gail Simone and Brian Michael Bendis, where the genre stuff lives next to the comedy comfy way.”
The show takes a comedic look at life in places that are a bit like Brooklyn or Portland: hip, expensive, and sometimes in a bubble of their own. Morris notes that he wasn’t specifically going after Silicon Valley culture, but that he “kind of wanted it to be an amalgamation of America’s hip, white gentrified, expensive-to-live-in places,” he says. ... It just seems like everybody there has a side hustle or everyone is trying to make ends meet by doing it with an internet or app-based way, [and it’s] just kind of funny to overhear people talking about these things in serious ways, people talking earnestly talking about their personal brand or disrupting — they’re buzzwords that didn’t exist give years ago.”
“You know it’s funny, while we were in the writing sessions, at some point, everyone had a joke that made them go ‘hey...’, in a ‘I do that’ way. Mine came in episode 3, where there’s a line about an office drone guy who thinks that he’s interesting because he’s barrel aging his own whiskey. I remember reading that and going ‘hey!’ because I have recently begun barrel aging my own whiskey. I hope this is something where people can laugh at themselves a bit. I want people to see the silliness around them.”
The show’s first, eight-episode season just wrapped up its run, and Morris says the world of Bubble is a huge one, and that he has “a lot of cool ideas” for where the show can go after this first season.