Would you listen to a comedic podcast if you are the main butt of the joke? How about if it specifically makes fun of you for listening to podcasts like itself? Had I known that A Very Fatal Murder — the inaugural parody podcast series from Onion Public Radio (OPR) — would be doing exactly that, I might have passed on reviewing this podcast. Luckily, I dove into the six micro-episodes blindly, and I gladly chuckled at my own expense as the writers took buckshots at my moral values as a true-crimes podcast consumer.
AVFM features a fictional podcast host / investigative journalist, David Pascall, who travels from his beloved New York City to Bluff Springs, Nebraska, a stereotypical model for a predominantly white, working-class town. In his unabashedly, self-important pursuit of the unsolved murder of Hayley Price, a story which he hopes to shamelessly exploit for cultural relevance, the listeners are confronted with implicit moral and ethical issues regarding the nature of true crimes podcasts. The fun part is that these issues are cleverly wrapped in a flurry of jokes. For example, whilst interviewing Hayley’s crying mother, David asks her to read an ad for “BoxBox,” a subscription for monthly goods that listeners can get a discount on if they use the promo code “Hayley.” In one simple joke, AVFM brilliantly synthesizes the exploitation of interviewees, the apathetic spectacularization of gruesome crimes and the looming commercial interests involved in narrative journalism.
On its surface, AVFN and its patronizing host are an explicit parody of serialized crime podcasts. The clunky piano keys of the intro and the journalist’s emotional attachment to his subjects are elements straight out of Sarah Koenig’s Serial. However, what elevates this show beyond a simple satire are the socio-political undertones of the story. From the outset David establishes himself as what’s been caricatured in the American media as a “coastal elite.” He gloats of New York City’s superiority and appoints himself a saviour, capable of solving this mystery for the working-class folks of Nebraska. Whilst laughing at David’s aloofness, I eventually had to question how different I was from this caricature. As the host later realizes, most podcast listeners (like myself) don’t think twice about news stories revolving inner city violence. Yet, we exoticize murders and crimes happening in non-metropolitan settings, a common backdrop for true-crime podcasts. To hide a subtle message like that within a rapid-fire sequence of auditory gags is a feat worth celebrating.
On the other hand, these refined critiques often get lost in a flurry of action. Plot lines involving a looney billionaire, the exploitation of interns, and an increasingly intelligent AI sidekick collectively overwhelm the listener. Stylistically, this spoof has the potential to be Get Out. But with its ceaseless punchlines and rapid pace within each sub-fifteen-minute episode, they end up feeling more like the Scary Movie franchise. Regardless, each episode is still funny as hell, and truthfully, that’s probably just the coastal elite in me talking.