Podcast Review: Villains pays attention to typically neglected antiheros

Movies are only as exciting as their antagonist. What would the Star Wars franchise be without Darth Vader? Would Harry Potter even be special without Voldemort? While heroes get the glory, films’ villains are often the characters that capture audiences’ imaginations the most. 

It is this fascination with villains in film that caused pop culture writer Shea Serrano’s long-awaited podcast, Villains, to reach No. 12 on the Apple Podcast rankings within hours of its release on Nov. 15.

Villains is tonally similar to The New York Times best-selling author’s other work, primarily the writing he does for The Ringer as well as his two books, The Rap Year Book and Basketball (and Other Things). For the uninitiated, this means that the podcast is host to reverent, offbeat commentary full of insightful analysis and unconventional hypotheticals. As the name of the podcast suggests, the commentary is centered around a series of some of the most compelling villains in film.

Villains is to be an eight-part series, with each 45-minute episode tackling a villain from a different cinematic trope or archetype. These tropes include an animated movie villain, a gangster movie villain and a superhero movie villain, to name a few; each released weekly. Serrano invites two guests each week, engaging in earnest, authentic conversation about topics like “Worst Behavior,” “Maybe They Had a Point” and “The Jason Statham School for Rehabilitation.” 

The pod’s first episode sees Serrano joined by The Ringer editor-in-chief Sean Fennessy and senior creative Jason Concepcion to discuss one of the hungriest villains in film, Hannibal Lecter from The Silence of the Lambs. The trio discusses obvious topics regarding Lecter’s terrifying brilliance and Anthony Hopkins’s chilling portrayal of the character while also delving into some less-than-typical conversation fodder, such as the aerodynamics involved in the infamous “Miggs” scene.

Following each Thursday episode, Serrano also releases a mini “mailbag” episode on Tuesdays where he answers questions sent in by his audience members about the villain. This kind of audience interaction is what helped propel Serrano to prominence in the first place, so it is fitting that it makes an appearance in his podcast. 

The audience questions are effective for the show’s premise, as they provide even more absurd hypotheticals for Shea and his audience alike to laugh and think about; such as which characters from “The Office” would be cast as Hannibal and Clarice.

The most innovative element of Villains appears in its second episode about Regina George, the high school movie villain from Mean Girls. Aside from its normal talking points, this episode introduces the intriguing idea of a sort of audio footnote. 

At various points throughout the episode, an audio cue indicates a break in the conversation where Serrano will interject and speak directly to the audience about the actual production of the podcast. 

During these interludes, he cracks jokes about vocal mistakes or factual inaccuracies he made while recording. Podcasts are about providing intimacy to a topic, and these footnotes improve upon the already intimate nature of the medium.

Villains is a must-listen for any movie lover. The audience is not only able to listen in on an incredibly fun conversation each week, but they are able to be a part of it as well.