By: Emma Jean, Staff Writer
If you’ve stumbled onto any podcast streaming service in the last five years, you’re bound to have seen a variety of podcasts with ominous names investigating true crime cases. With the abundance of nervous journalists questioning reluctant sources in series like Serial or Someone Knows Something, it’s easy to pick apart the cliches of the genre.
This Sounds Serious, produced by Vancouver podcast studio Kelly&Kelly, concentrates those tropes to create a tremendously accurate parody of investigative podcasts while combining laugh-out-loud humour with genuinely gripping storytelling. Each season concentrates on a different mystery being investigated by Gwen Radford, a dedicated investigative journalist played impeccably by Carly Pope.
Full disclosure, I loved the first two seasons of This Sounds Serious. I’ve been eagerly awaiting the third since I binge-listened to the second, Missing Melissa, and found it one of the most creative and compelling pieces of narrative fiction I’d ever heard. That season featured the mysteriously and hilariously intertwined cases of a chronically missing person, the longest recorded hostage situation, and a small-town mayor. Before I knew it, I was yelling questions at my earbuds. Needless to say, I had high expectations for the third season.
Subtitled Grand Casino, with the eighth and final episode released digitally on October 20, the latest installment feels different from the first two. Rather than having Gwen dig into unsolved cases, she’s working to unravel a seemingly closed case from nearly 30 years ago involving now-imprisoned con-man Kirk Todd, voiced by co-creator Pat Kelly. Allegedly, Kirk frauded Hollywood executives into funding and premiering a movie, the titular Grand Casino, that he never actually made — and which the industry tried to bury all record of. The more Gwen starts to investigate, however, the more questions emerge around what really happened.
Grand Casino doesn’t try to achieve the ambitious feat of tying three stories together the way Missing Melissa does, but it does string together events separated by time. As always, it’s fascinating to hear Gwen work out the case and her thought process, but the case’s generally distant nature doesn’t create the same urgency. As a result, the ending doesn’t live up to the incredible pay-off of the prior seasons, but it still wraps up the season in an unexpected and interesting way that had me saying “WHAT?” until the last second.
The show also shines in its production, edited to a perfect pastiche of all of the quirks and techniques used in narrative podcasts. The meta of it all is taken to another level when Gwen consults the goofy hosts of a fictional film comedy podcast who make fun of what they know of Grand Casino, and a satire-within-a-satire is born. For fans of the Vancouver comedy scene, there will be no shortage of recognizable voices in Grand Casino. One of those will likely be the standout performance from Caitlin Howden, whose excellent work as a naïve French actress is played with earnestness and well-timed camp, and is cleverly utilized as her seemingly smaller role grows as the plot thickens.
The series is highly researched in its parody, and it shows. Throughout the third season, references to real-life cons and the podcasts based on them are sprinkled throughout — subtle enough to sound like smart details to newcomers and knowing nods to experts. The plot twists and devices used occasionally seem too elaborate to be plausible, but, as co-writer and director Dave Shumka’s Twitter source thread proves, they are often identical to real-life cons. A mark of good satire is that it highlights the absurdity of its source material, and Grand Casino knocks that out of the park.
The premise of This Sounds Serious revolves around true crime and those invested in the genre will get a kick out of those details, but anyone who listens can get something out of the latest season. Just be open to a good story and let Gwen take it away.