Hey all! ’Tis the pits of winter, and the contraption I’ve designed to cope — strapping three SAD lamps together in a triptychlike arrangement, folded slightly inward, positioned from behind my laptop toward my face — seems to have achieved very little, other than burning out my eyeballs. On the flip side, I have a tan.
But enough about me. We’re here to talk big white cats and tennis.
Wild Things: Siegfried and Roy
Revisiting the Masters of the Impossible.
Available on all platforms. Listen here.
There’s a steady drumbeat of teases scattered across the opening episode of Wild Things: Siegfried and Roy, a new podcast series about the (in)famous magicians. “People don’t really know, and never truly knew, who they were,” says Steven Leckart, the journalist and filmmaker who hosts the series. Later: “I’ve uncovered what is the truth, and what is merely an illusion.”
It’s a gaudy tactic, frankly, made even more so by the fact that the series doesn’t seem particularly interested in being quick with sharing its findings. Based on the first two episodes that premiered last week (out of eight total, with new chapters dropping every Wednesday), Wild Things appears content with ambling through exposition. If this is meant to be the lulling first act of a larger magic trick — the “Pledge,” if we were to use the parlance — then, fine. But they better have something good in store.
Wild Things comes from Apple TV+ and At Will Media, marking the former’s third original-podcast release following Hooked, a bank-robbery epic produced with Campside Media, and The Line, the Dan Taberski–led investigation into a possible war crime in Afghanistan. This one starts out with a strong advantage, as its subjects, Siegfried and Roy — that is, Siegfried Fischbacher and Roy Horn — are inherently fascinating figures. The magicians were so pronounced in their fame as to be synonymous with the lavish extravagance of Las Vegas itself, their personas shaped by a performance of exoticism: big white cats on the stage and a carefully cultivated mystique surrounding their own German origins. They built out a highly lucrative entertainment empire over the decades — up until their careers came to a tragic end in 2003, after an incident in which one of their white tigers, Mantacore, viciously mauled Horn onstage. The duo never performed again, receding from the public until their deaths in recent years: Horn in 2020, after contracting COVID-19 early in the pandemic, and Fischbacher in 2021, due to pancreatic cancer.
Questions abound: Who were Siegfried and Roy? What exactly happened that night in 2003? And how could it have happened, given the duo and their team’s decades of experience? These appear to be the fundamental queries driving Wild Things forward, but the production itself should be subject to its own line of questioning. What is the justification for Wild Things to pursue this story now? And do they have enough genuine material to warrant an eight-episode structure, or will it mostly be filler?
No Challenges Remaining and The Tennis Podcast
Completely avoidable and chaotically bureaucratic, the so-called “Djokovic Affair” has come to an end, leaving absolutely no one looking good.
ICYMI: The Australian Open — the first major competition in the tennis circuit — kicked off earlier this week, but the lead-up to the tournament had been overshadowed by a big ol’ controversy when Novak Djokovic, one of the sport’s biggest stars, was held up at the Australian border earlier this month over a dispute surrounding the status of his (improperly filed?) exemption to the country’s strict vaccination requirements. That’s how things started out, and the situation eventually devolved into a sprawling mix of courtroom drama, international incident (Djokovic is Serbian), morality play, Australian electoral intrigue (the country’s prime minister, Scott Morrison, is up for reelection in the summer), and a hyperfocused window into the current state of tensions between vaccine skeptics and everybody else (Djokovic is, among other things, unvaccinated). I’m leaving a lot of narrative threads off the table here, but to quickly sum up the resolution: After a short detainment, an Australian court allowed Djokovic to enter the country on his medical exemption, only for the Australian government to revoke his visa again less than a day before the start of the tournament. The tennis star has since returned to Serbia, but his unvaccinated troubles might not be over yet. At this writing, his entry to the French Open now also appears to be in question.
Now, you might not care one iota about tennis, but you have to admit: This is a hell of a yarn. I’m only a casual consumer of the sport, and so when the whole Djokovic situation began, I did what I always tend to do whenever an intriguing controversy pops up in a corner of culture I’m not well-versed in: dig around for podcasts that specialize in said cultural corner. Over the past few weeks, two podcasts in particular hit the right spot: No Challenges Remaining and The Tennis Podcast.
Hosted by Ben Rothenberg, tennis contributor to the New York Times and senior editor of Racquet magazine, and Courtney Nguyen, senior writer at WTA Insider, No Challenges Remaining is a long-running operation, and Rothenberg’s two-part interview with the Australian political reporter Paul Sakkal — the first was published on January 7, when Djokovic was initially detained; the second came out on Monday, after he was deported — offered, by far, the most comprehensive look not only at the specific beats of Djokovic’s immigration saga but also the broader context of how the controversy fits into the state of the country. If you’ve been reading up on the story and found yourself yearning for more detail, these exceptionally wonky interviews will satisfy you.
The Tennis Podcast offers a perhaps more Establishment viewpoint, having generally handled the Djokovic Affair with bemused exasperation and vague regret as to how this legal brouhaha has distracted from the actual tennis of it all. But now that we are back to the actual tennis of it all, I’ve layered this show into my listening diet. Amidst the courtroom chaos, it’s been nice to catch up on the story lines around the many players who will be competing in the tournament. It’s hosted by veteran British broadcast tennis presenters Catherine Whitaker and David Law, along with the younger Matt Roberts, listed on the podcast’s website as “podcaster and social media editor.”
➽ If the phrase “the Pepperwood chronicles” means anything to you, rejoice: There’s a New Girl rewatch podcast on the way, called Welcome to Our Show, with cast leads Zooey Deschanel, Hannah Simone, and Lamorne Morris featured as hosts. This is the latest addition to the growing (and presumably lucrative) trend of state-sanctioned nostalgia-casts, with the more popular entries being, among others, Talking Sopranos, Office Ladies, and Fake Doctors, Real Friends. Here’s what’s a little different about Welcome to Our Show: New Girl wrapped up its final season comparatively recently, in 2018. That’s some quick turnaround for nostalgia-baiting, but hey, can’t fault the game.
➽ The Julia Fox–Kanye/Ye West situation is pure content extravaganza, and you can bet your ass there’s a podcast angle here. Probably surprising no one, Fox has been publishing a podcast, Forbidden Fruits, which she co-hosts with actress Niki Takesh, and in a recent entry, she briefly discusses the whole thing. Well, sort of. The episode isn’t quite an *event* in the mold of her first-person piece for Interview magazine, but it’s … something.
And that’s a wrap for 1.5x Speed! Hope you enjoyed it. We’re back next week, but in the meantime: Send podcast recommendations, feedback, or just say hello at email@example.com.
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