S-Town is a pretty good podcast.
I know that statement sounds very bland and halfhearted but it is the best single sentence review of S-Town. Of course, I am going to provide a more detailed review, but I would like to first pause and explain the inclusion of the single sentence review aforementioned. The most prominent motif within S-Town is the presence an ever-worsening world, full of ever-worsening people, places, and things, of which we are unable to stop or reverse, so we must continue in this miserable existence or quit while we are ahead. Therefore, it seemed very fitting to include a very uninteresting, uninformative, and unhelpful review, to epitomize this motif in the form of a review. With that explanation, done, on the actual review.
S-Town is a podcast that transitions between genres of a murder mystery, a treasure hunt, and ultimately, a character study, with each phase offering mystery, comedy, conflict, and entertainment, which I dare not explain further due to the threat of spoilers. The central person (or character) in S-Town is John B. McLemore, and he is the catalyst of every story, conflict, and mystery within S-Town. He alone makes the podcast a joy, for his unique and vibrant personality will keep most people listening simply to hear what he will say next. From this reason, S-Town evolves into a character study of John; his life, those with whom his life influences, and what his life reveals about the world become the crux for the central motif of S-Town described in the previous paragraph. The narrator and journalist, Brian Reed, does an excellent job with S-Town — except with one thing, which I discuss later, for his attention to detail and in-depth research help navigate the reader through this journey. Not to mention his voice is nice to listen, which is important for a seven hour novel.
In my mind, there only exists two negatives of S-Town: one I did not have trouble overcoming; the other, though, was more challenging. The first negative of S-Town was its structure. If you like to listen to short podcasts, S-Town may perhaps be a struggle for you. Each entry in the podcast — referred to as chapters — is at least 50 minutes long, with some chapters surpassing an hour. Thus, listening to S-Town in place of a daily podcast one might listen to as a part of a routine will be quite challenging, for trying to listen to S-Town in say 30 minute increments can get confusing because there is a lot of information and characters within each chapter; and it is easy to get lost. One can easily space the chapters out over an extended period, but I would recommend not splitting the chapters into smaller sections. And this was Brian Reed’s intention: for S-Town to be interpreted and subsequently listened to as a novel.
The second negative was the ending of S-Town. If you despise novels with open-ended endings, then you will find this podcast to be the bane of your existence. As an investigator, Brian Reed finds more questions and little answers, leaving the audience with conclusions that conclude relatively nothing. Understandably, this result is likely due to the fact that many stories are still going on and have not produced their own ends, which begs the question, “why not wait another year-or-so until most or every story has been completed?” It should be noted, however, that much of what is left unanswered pertains to Tyler Goodson, John’s cousin Rita, and the town of Woodstock, and John’s alleged fortune not to John himself, which does become the eventual focus of the podcast. Moreover, I will say that sometimes no explanations make a story or character more mesmerizing, which S-Town does, but it does so just too much. A little mystery is wonderful, but too much is just an incomplete story.
Despite these two shortcomings, S-Town is still an entertaining, character-driven podcast that will captivate you and make you yearn for more.