Friday, February 25, 2011

The Podiwan Review 19 - Judge John Hodgeman

John Hodgeman plays the elitist know it all with such easy and pleasing charm that it ain't hard to see why people think that he is just that way. From the republican manner in which he dresses (conservative grey suits and thin ties, short hair and black frame glasses) he could, at least visually, fit in on nearly any show on FOX. The genial condescension with which he addresses a crowd or a person is like that of a loving father towards a moronic child. He is never mean spirited per se' but nearly every comment is backhanded in some way. You'll be familiar with that aspect of Hodgeman if you've seen his eponymous segment "You're Welcome with John Hodgeman" on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. His bit on the Daily Show is to fix our worldly problems with easy and logic solutions. It doesn't matter that the solutions are ridiculous. His confidence in the solution is really all that matters.

For his Podcast "Judge John Hodgeman" confidence is again the key as Hodgeman oversees a 20 to 30 minute program wherein two litigants bring their argument to Hodgeman's court. The cases are frivolous, likely chosen by email and based on silliness and the litigants are sworn in to accept the result, no matter how poorly founded or nonsensical. Taking the role of courtroom announcer and bailiff is Jesse Thorn of the Jordan, Jesse, Go! podcast from the Maximum Fun podcast network that also hosts Hodgeman's show. The Judge John Hodgeman podcast grew directly from a bit that was done on Jordan, Jesse, GO! several times last year.

Though there is never a laugh out loud moment on any of the shows so far (and I've listened to all of them to date) every show is amusing, even pleasant. Judge Hodgeman listens to the complainants one at a time, asks probing questions. His questions usually try to pry more funny than truth out of the answerer but by the end the truth is pretty clear and the judge retires to chambers to consider his decision.
While the Judge is "in chambers" bailiff Jesse Thorn has a chance to speak with the litigants briefly. No further truths are revealed but sometimes a motivation can be sussed in a "So, what do you really want to happen here" sort of moment. When Hodgeman returns he hands down his decision and befitting the silliness of the argument being settled, the judge's decision usually includes some form of penance or act of contrition or even a recurring payment of goods or services. There is also the occasional court ordered hug.

All in all, it's a good gimmick; a familiar gimmick. I enjoy the show probably more because I like Hodgeman, but I also like the formula of exposition/investigation/resolution in a tight time frame and the fact that it is all kept light hearted and friendly. There are no heated debates, no rancor, no venom, no illiterates yelling incoherently at morons about "he my baby daddy" and the like. I'm surprised that no other podcaster did this sooner given that you can't turn on a TV in the afternoon in America without finding a litigant show of some kind on every third channel.

This show, Judge John Hodgeman, is on my weekly rotation of shows that I wait eagerly for. So far there are less than a dozen shows available, but I'm hopeful that Hodgeman, Thorn and the Maximum Fun Podcast Network will continue to produce the show for a long time.

My rating scale
Is this podcast entertaining? - yes, pleasantly so
Am I likely to listen to the next podcast? – yes, every week without fail
Do I recommend this podcast to friends? – big yes

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