Pod-Canon is an ongoing tribute to the greatest individual comedy-related podcast episodes of all time.
As readers of this column are well aware, I am something of a crazed super-fan of The Complete Woman, Amanda Lund’s podcast-miniseries masterpiece take on the fascinatingly anti-feminist, anti-woman, anti-human advice manuals of Marabel Morgan, a mostly forgotten figure today but a woman whose terrible counsel was once so popular that her manifesto, The Total Woman, was the bestselling non-fiction book of 1974, selling over ten million copies despite being total garbage. The book that made Morgan’s name was published at the start of the tumultuous 1970s but it’s so aggressively, purposefully backwards in its take on gender roles and, well, everything else, that readers could be forgiven for assuming it was some Pat Boone-and-The Pope-sanctioned housewife manual from 1952.
On The Complete Woman Lund and collaborators like Matt Gourley, Lund’s real-life husband as well as the voice of Freck, her character’s fictional husband here, took something that was so insane and devoid of self-consciousness that it’d seemingly be beyond parody or comic exaggeration (not unlike Donald Trump’s candidacy and presidency) and created a transcendent, definitive satire not just of one batshit insane relationship manual (although reading The Total Woman made me appreciate the series on a whole new level) but of the stifling, poisonous conformity of 1950s and ‘60s American suburbia and its rigid, soul-crushing adherence to impossible gender roles and ideas of female perfection.
Like Beyonce, Lund surprise-released a sequel to her novelistic exploration of domestic ennui in the form of The Complete Joy, which I similarly covered for this column, as I did the next unexpected installment in the series, The Complete Man, a spin-off that found Marabel’s husband Freck taking center stage in his trademark avuncular yet gently sinister fashion to provide a man’s-eye view on the terrible damage Eisenhower-era sexism inflicts on men and women alike.
Now the audio-miniseries returns with yet another new batch of six more or less twenty-minute episodes further filling out the tragicomic and often just plain tragic universe of Marabel and Freck May and, to a much lesser extent, their children, in The Complete Wedding. This time the focus is on the most important day in every young woman’s life, when the world still radiates promise and they have not yet had their spirit completely demolished by everyday life.
The various entries in The Complete Woman saga are defined by their sadness as much as their humor. For fans of the series, there’s an unmistakable element of melancholy in host/anti-heroine Marabel investing all of her hopes and dreams and neurotic energy in a marriage that we know all too well is a waking nightmare, albeit of the poignantly banal variety.
The Complete Wedding benefits from a diversity of comic tones that never feels jarring or inconsistent. The overall tone is one of caustic, pitch-black social satire about the way societal conditioning destroys both people and societies, but there’s also an unmistakable love for silly wordplay, goofy puns and deadpan, Airplane! style silliness like when Freck reflects that he got down on one knee, and then two knees, and then somehow a third knee, while proposing marriage to Marabel.
Satire on this level doesn’t necessarily have to be funny to be successful. Like the previous entries in the series, The Complete Wedding is going for much more than laughter, but it sure doesn’t hurt that The Complete Wedding is consistently hilarious and laugh-out-loud funny even at its grimmest and most dystopian.
Weddings prove the ideal subject for Lund’s satire. They’re the ultimate act of conspicuous consumption and unapologetic materialism, a seemingly “perfect day” for the bride and groom (but mostly the bride) with a whole lot of ugliness, judgment, tension, and toxic emotions bubbling just underneath the surface. The Complete Woman franchise is about the ugliness behind the perfect white picket fence facade, about American life as a sad charade with the impossible institution of marriage at its rotten core. It’s almost unbearably dark underneath but funny and human enough to be much more than just a glib exercise in retro misanthropy.
Sometimes The Complete Woman is spectacularly silly and achingly sad at the same time, like during yet another showcase for some of these series’ breakout characters, the kitchen appliances Marabel has imbued with the personalities of male suitors all competing for her out of a soul-deep sense of loneliness and a need for companionship so strong it veers unmistakably into madness. Having these anthropomorphic kitchen helpers participate in a Dating Game-style game show for Marabel’s affection is funny, but it also highlights just how desperately alone our anti-heroine is, and how desperately she pines for any kind of connection, even with a convection oven she’s pretending is sentient.
On a fundamental level, the Complete Woman cycle is about conformity and homogeneity as a not only socially condoned but enforced form of madness and oppression, something that separates people from their true selves and turns them into Stepford People doing what everyone else is doing because that’s the way things have always been done.
The Complete Wedding is about the feverish mania for the perfect wedding as a quintessentially American sickness, a heartbreakingly banal suburban insanity.
These six new worthy additions to the increasingly epic The Complete Woman saga delve even deeper into domestic hell yet constitute even more satirical heaven.
Nathan Rabin is a father, the author of 5 books, a columnist and the proprietor, owner, Editor-in-Chief and sole writer for Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place, which can be found at nathanrabin.com.