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A Podcast Reconsiders the Romantic Comedy

Photo-Illustration: Vulture

Much can and has been said about the state of the romantic comedy. And frankly, I’d be perfectly happy if the conversation around the wondrous rise, decline, and eternal return of the genre continues to swerve in and out of public consciousness indefinitely. 2022 alone yielded two bursts of rom-com discourse: At the top of the year with the release of Jennifer Lopez’s Marry Me, and later in the fall, when Billy Eichner’s Bros went ham with the “first gay rom-com” marketing angle, even though Fire Island came out just a few months before. 2023 is still young.

I can sit in this discourse blender forever, and not necessarily because I’m a fan of the genre — though, to be sure, I do have a fondness. This is probably the appropriate time to disclose that there was a stretch in high school where the very first thing I’d do upon coming home was throw on the VHS of You’ve Got Mail. (Still a perfect movie.) Instead, the attraction to the discourse has more to do with my interest in genres generally: How they come into being, how they coagulate into studio-enforceable mechanics and tropes, how they grow and expand in commercial popularity, how they may wither and find new ways of being under shifting market conditions.

It’s been argued, for instance, that while rom-coms are far less of a presence and commercial force among theatrical releases today compared to the active period stretching from the ’80s to the aughts, much of the genre’s function continues to be fulfilled through television, from Jane the Virgin to Starstruck to Love Life. (And … Girls?) This is obviously true. But, at least for me, the extended storytelling of serialized television tends to engender a depth that’s somewhat separate from what I personally look for in a rom-com. I like that we hang out with Kathleen Kelly and Joe Fox for just two hours. I don’t think I want to know the depths of their interiority. Not really. Perhaps what I want with the genre is nothing more than a pop song.

Anyway, it’s fun to listen to Let’s Make a Rom-Com against the context of all that. The comedy podcast from the CBC and Kelly & Kelly launched on Monday and is a follow-up to Let’s Make a Sci-Fi, which followed a trio of writer-comedians — Ryan Beil, Maddy Kelly, and Mark Chavez — through the process of ideating, refining, and writing a sci-fi script. That show was fun, fizzy, and maybe a little floppy around the edges, but there was a lot of pleasure in how it bottled the messy excitement involved in any act of collaborative creation. With Let’s Make a Rom-Com, the trio reconvenes to tackle the beloved but flailing titular genre, and once again you’re pulled along for a ride as they draw upon their fondness for and popular understanding of the genre to develop a script idea.

Like the first season, the show toggles between discussions among the hosts and interviews with various rom-com experts for insight into the state of the genre, including Kristen “Kiwi” Smith (who wrote, among other things, 10 Things I Hate About You and Legally Blonde), a talent agent, a studio story analyst, and so on. After going through early stages of throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks, the hosts land on a rough initial idea: a classic rom-com composition in which a woman starts dating a man whose most recent ex was actress, model, and philanthropist Salma Hayek. Spitballing, what ifs, no stupid ideas — speaking as someone who’s aggressively territorial over my early drafts for anything, it’s quite something to hear a pitch idea so roughly found and sketched out through to the end.

In a sense, one could locate Let’s Make a Sci-Fi, and now Let’s Make a Rom-Com, within a genre of its own: the Process Podcast, which tangibly guides listeners through the journey of how something gets made or how something happens. Startup is an obvious paragon of this genre (full retrospective context aside), as is its spiritual progenitor, Planet Money, which often produces miniseries that specifically draw attention to various previously hidden processes, like 2013’s “Planet Money Makes a T-shirt” and 2022’s “Planet Money Started a Record Label” projects. The process podcast is about showing, not telling.

Much of Let’s Make a Rom-Com’s opening episode involves grappling with the traditional structure of the genre: meet-cute, conflict, etc., etc. And just like the romantic comedy itself, the discussions about the genre on the show can ultimately feel a little conservative, and as such, those with more subversive tendencies might chafe at some choices and the way things are discussed. All of which is to say, your mileage on this might vary.

At this writing, there’s just one episode of Let’s Make a Rom-Com available — timed against Valentine’s Day, naturally — with new installments to come every Monday. I’ve heard the first three eps already, and like the first season, I’m enjoying this project. In fact, I can see this little franchise roll on for quite some distance, should there be sufficient will and downloads: Let’s Make an Erotic Thriller, Let’s Make a Sitcom Revival, Let’s Make a Roma. And perhaps even beyond media: Let’s Make a Pokémon, Let’s Make a Class-Action Lawsuit, Let’s Make an MLM. Let’s keep going.

More Podcasts Worth Checking Out

➽ Speaking of rom-coms, Aline Brosh McKenna (of The Devil Wears Prada, 27 Dresses, Crazy Ex-Girlfriendwas on The Town recently talking about the state of the genre, if you want to linger on the subject a little longer.

➽ Two more picks if you wanna stick with the February 14 theme of it all: Modern Love returns with a new season, and Radiotopia Present’s latest entry, Bot Love, a nonfiction deep-dive led by Anna Oakes and Diego Senior about communities of people who’ve developed strong relationships with AI companions, is out today. ChatGPT, will you love me enough not to put me out of job? At least Colin Meloy is safe. For now.

➽ The Moth’s not-quite-a-kid, not-quite-an-adult spinoff, Grown, is also out now.

➽ Jonah Weiner, co-founder of the totally not-mid but strongly evocative-provocative yet ultimately kind-vibed cool-people trends-and-jawns newsletter Blackbird Spyplane (!!), was interviewed on the Longform podcast recently.

➽ Hey look, Keke Palmer has a pod now.

A Podcast Reconsiders the Romantic Comedy