A windmill outside Swanton, Neb., sets an idyllic scene. The satirical podcast A Very Fatal Murder is set in the fictional small town of Bluff Springs, Neb.
David Pascall is in search of the perfect murder — a murder so beautiful, so moving that it could be the subject of his new podcast for OPR. That would be Onion Public Radio. He narrates:
I know that this is the most compelling murder in America. I know that the victim was a supple young girl in the prime of her life. And I know that she was killed by simultaneous gunshot-stabbing-strangling-drowning.
With A Very Fatal Murder, The Onion satirizes all those true-crime podcasts that many of us have come to know and binge: Serial, S-Town, My Favorite Murder.
We spoke with David Sidorov, who wrote for the podcast and played host David Pascall, and Katy Yeiser, the head writer. For them, it's both an ode to the genre and The Onion doing what it does best.
"So we never at any point said we need to take down podcasts, or NPR, or Serial, or S-Town," Yeiser says. "We all love these podcasts, and any time there's a moment in media or the zeitgeist where something is just capturing the nation's consciousness — like a true-crime podcast — we always ask ourselves: What would our version of that be? And so it was fun to think of what The Onion's version of a true-crime podcast would be."
On whether David Sidorov had to audition for the role of host David Pascall
David Sidorov: I didn't. I was cast without an audition, which was pretty flattering. I was — at a certain point in the process, Katy sent me, like, a Gchat message that was like, "Hey, just so you know, we kind of are imagining your voice when we're reading these in the room." And I didn't know whether to be flattered or offended because the character's kind of a sociopath. ...
I think that he is someone who probably doesn't have the instincts that a lot of other journalists doing this have — like stopping himself before he goes too far in inserting himself into the story. I mean, another line that he has in the first episode is something like: ["So what happened to Hayley Price? And how can I get in on it?"] I think that's his driving force throughout it, and I think that real journalists probably stop themselves whenever they feel themselves getting too personal into the story, I guess.
On how the podcast helicopters in and romanticizes small-town America
Katy Yeiser: David [Pascall], without a doubt, knows middle America better than middle America knows itself. He understands why it is the way it is. And he's going to be the first to tell you about it. So that's just such a fun way to heighten these tropes you see in these types of podcasts, where a New Yorker — or someone from somewhere else, but it's mostly a New Yorker ... and they come down and they're going to solve the ills of middle America for you. And, you know, humbly, of course.
Sidorov: And I think that's not even just a podcast trope at the moment. Like, there are so many journalistic pieces that are just doing that similarly, of like, "Let's explore the psyche of middle America right now." So that's definitely something we were trying to explore. And you know, the character David Pascall is just incredibly condescending about it. He wants to get to the bottom of what's at the heart of America, but he brings all of his New-York-is-superior baggage along with him.
On the popularity of the true-crime genre, then and now
Sidorov: I think like Katy said, we're not trying to take down podcasts, and we're definitely not trying to only parody one particular podcast, or anything like that. We're kind of using the format of a true-crime podcast, which is super-recognizable right now, to talk about bigger targets. And I think that like you said, it's ultimately kind of about that oversaturation of "murder content." And even the fact that you can call it "murder content" is sort of what feels gross about it. ...
Yeiser: And we can't get enough of it. Like, I can't get enough of it. And I think it's worth stepping back and kind of exploring: Why are we doing this? And is it good? When is it good, when is it bad and everything in between.
Jessica Cheung and Melissa Gray produced and edited the audio of this interview. Patrick Jarenwattananon adapted it for the Web.