Review | Everything Is Alive
Everything Is Alive is a podcast that’s hard to describe without it sounding incredibly weird. But then it is incredibly weird, so maybe that’s not a problem. An interview show in which the interviewees are all inanimate objects. A podcast in which everything – cola cans, lampposts, pillows, soap – is alive. And available for interview.
It is in turns surreal and playful, thoughtful and whimsical, and it is certainly nothing if not original. It could almost be a parody of the many self-important interview podcasts out there, except that it treats its subjects so lovingly and with such obvious respect.
Four episodes in, the show has remained as intriguing as its opening interview with Louis, a somewhat dejected but ultimately sanguine can of generic cola. In it he weighs his conflicted feelings about being consumed by a human against his fear of dying.
Episode 2 sees Maeve the lamppost, voiced by Irish comedian Maeve Higgins, discuss her dreams of appearing on screen like that most famous lamppost of them all: the one from Singing in the Rain. Episode 3 is an interview with Dennis, a pillow frequently influenced by the dream-logic of the people who sleep on him. He discusses his close, if sometimes difficult, relationship with his “person” before the episode veers off on a wild tangent describing a dream.
Episode 4, with Tara the bar of soap, is the most intimate of the four episodes to date. Tara is dealing with a similar existential crisis to Louis: what does a bar of soap leave behind after its slow, inevitable consumption? Other than soap scum, of course. Unlike Louis, Tara is somewhat distracted from these questions by the “tall person” who sometimes uses her in inexplicable ways, and her bitterness at a world where soap has fallen out of favour and been replaced by contemptible bath wash. The sound design and use of music in this episode are particularly effective and set up a poignant ending which is then playfully undermined by a terrible pun (I won’t give it away).
The interviews are all unscripted, but there is quite clearly a huge amount of work put into the questions and the research around the topic, not to mention the production itself. You find yourself wondering where exactly the lines are between fiction and non-fiction, improvisation and scripted dialogue: do Thai people really leave out red Fanta as an offering? Did the King of England sleep in the same bed as the King of France as a gesture of trust? (Apparently so, in both cases).
The show, produced and hosted by Ian Chillag, is a member of Radiotopia, the well-known American podcast network. The network’s flagship show is 99% Invisible and, in many ways, Everything Is Alive serves as a companion piece to Roman Mars’ podcast on the designed world. Where Mars’ show investigates those often obscured aspects of the world that we frequently interact with – from curb cuts for wheelchair users, to film props, stethoscopes, or emojis – Chillag actually talks to them. This format allows for more humour and there are some great one-liners. Having earlier discussed the merits of different types of pillow, Dennis ponders who we really are as people, and then adds: “you don’t have to be foam to have memories”.
The show is hugely original, beautifully produced, and a great addition to the more standard line-up of interview shows. Roll on episode 5.