Friday , July 19 2024
Lauren Spohrer, Melissa McCarthy, Phoebe Judge for 'Criminal'
(L to R): Lauren Spohrer, Melissa McCarthy, Phobe Judge celebrate the 10th Anniversary of podcast 'Criminal.' (Carole Di Tosti)

Tribeca Film Festival Review: ‘Criminal’ (Live) With Guest Melissa McCarthy

Criminal, a 10-Year Anniversary Live Show

Tribeca Film Festival welcomed the podcast Criminal at BMCC Tribeca. Celebrating Criminal‘s 10-year anniversary, creators Phoebe Judge and Lauren Spohrer held a live show. For the celebration, friend Melissa McCarthy joined the team in a discussion about why she considers Criminal a favorite podcast.

The live show revealed why The New York Times deemed it “one of the best podcasts of 2023.” And, Vulture noted it as “one of the 10 best True-Crime podcasts of all time.”

The award-winning podcast takes a surprising and singular approach toward the genre. Upon my first introduction to Criminal, elements of its uniqueness struck me. First, the quirky, complex, well-written narratives (four), retained my interest. Second, Phoebe Judge expertly presented and nuanced the stories of the “out-of-the box” crime situations. Third, her modulated, sonorous voice made dynamic use of the “listener’s” medium. After the show I understood Paste‘s compliment about narrator Phoebe. Past opined, “Her entrancing voice tops others out in the podsphere.”

Host Phoebe Judge podcasting live at Tribeca Film Festival (Carole Di Tosti)
Host Phoebe Judge podcasting live at Tribeca Film Festival (Carole Di Tosti)

Criminal Opened with a Humorous, Benign Crime Story

In it individuals committed crimes at an unlikely location, the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona. First, Judge revealed the nature of the repeated, “insidious” crimes. Secondly, the segment included audio interview clips of eye-witness park rangers. Some rangers even apprehended the “criminals,” though many outwitted the law. Third, the ironic and humorous redemptive portion of the narrative sent waves of audience laughter to the rafters. This segment included very funny, apologetic, personal, handwritten letters from the “criminals.”

Throughout, Judge and Spohrer included visuals of the location and stolen objects of interest, pieces of petrified wood. These served to round out the narrative. Importantly, visuals of the apologetic letters highlighted people’s weird need to pilfer valuable, “natural” souvenirs. Most of the audience identified with the humanity of the “criminals.” Rightly so, the story settled in a satisfying ending for the park and the future “perps.”

The Second Story Involved a Prison Visit with Complicated Rules for Female Visitors

In the second story, we hear how a lawyer befriended a criminal who went to prison in a long sentence. The lawyer who retired, decide to make one last journey to see the lonely prisoner. However, she runs into difficulty when she’s about to be searched. For example, the issue involves her not wearing intimate apparel. As a consequence of the unusual prison regulations for visitors, the lawyer’s protests fall on deaf ears. Circumstances close in and as a result, she almost leaves. But then her conscience pings her. Following the Biblical commandment not to forget to visit those in prisons, she creatively solves the problem. However, she has help. With humor, the narrative concludes satisfactorily.

Both stories in the live show dealt with the “unexpected side of crime.” With surprising consequences, the creators unfolded irresistible portraits of the real people involved.

One cannot listen to Judge and Spohrer’s perspectives and intriguing true stories without standing in the shoes of the people involved. Predominately told without visuals of the individuals unless vitally necessary for effect, as in this show, Criminal grasps the listener. They must confront themselves. As the last sensibility before we die, “hearing” refocuses into a truer appreciation of the artistry of delivered words. Through hearing, one allows one’s imagination to collide with real human experience.

In many of their podcasts, Judge and Spohrer capitalize on the fact that culturally today’s fiction takes a back seat to true stories of real people. Ironically, the podcast often proves that
“truth is stranger than fiction.” Also, in this time where “in your face” cruelty and “deplorableness” deconstruct humanity, the compassionate portraits on Criminal disclose living souls with empathy and kindness.

How did Judge and Spohrer come to this zany, funny approach toward perpetrators and those on the receiving end, not always getting caught? On their Criminal website, one may find the biographies of the ten member all-female team. As co-creator and host Judge, with co-creator and creative director Spohrer, make a winning combination backed by seven producers and illustrator, Julienne Alexander. Judge and Spohrer started in North Carolina public radio before originating and presenting Criminal in 2014. Now, they’ve amassed global listeners as far away as New Zealand.

(L to R): Melissa McCarthy, Phoebe Judge, Lauren Spohrer for Criminal live show at TFF (Carole Di Tosti)

As a guest and fan, Melissa McCarthy’s half-hour appearance occurred in the middle of the four narratives. The final two selections, especially the last one, brought down the house.

McCarthy discussed why she loved the podcast and its deeper complication than the true-crime genre. Proudly, McCarthy stated, “I really get what you do.” Others initially didn’t understand the direction of Criminal. Thus, when McCarthy opened this discussion, Judge averred they don’t judge the situations. Nor do they criticize or ridicule their “criminal” revelations. Approaching the podcasts with openness, speaks to the humanity listeners appreciate. McCarthy, who rarely misses a podcast, expressed interest in making film scripts of salient, fascinating situations. Humorously, Judge left the idea open. Since they each share a similar funny bone, perhaps McCarthy might generate parts for herself in a TV series.

Visit Criminal’s website. Or check out podcast platforms to listen to and/or subscribe to Criminal if you haven’t already done so.

About Carole Di Tosti

Carole Di Tosti, Ph.D. is a published writer, playwright, novelist, poet. She owns and manages three well-established blogs: 'The Fat and the Skinny,' 'All Along the NYC Skyline' ( 'A Christian Apologists' Sonnets.' She also manages the newly established 'Carole Di Tosti's Linchpin,' which is devoted to foreign theater reviews and guest reviews. She contributed articles to Technorati (310) on various trending topics from 2011-2013. To Blogcritics she has contributed 583+ reviews, interviews on films and theater predominately. Carole Di Tosti also has reviewed NYBG exhibits and wine events. She guest writes for 'Theater Pizzazz' and has contributed to 'T2Chronicles,' 'NY Theatre Wire' and other online publications. She covers NYC trending events and writes articles promoting advocacy. She professionally free-lanced for TMR and VERVE for 1 1/2 years. She was a former English Instructor. Her published dissertation is referenced in three books, two by Margo Ely, Ph.D. Her novel 'Peregrine: The Ceremony of Powers' will be on sale in January 2021. Her full length plays, 'Edgar,' 'The Painter on His Way to Work,' and 'Pandemics or How Maria Caught Her Vibe' are being submitted for representation and production.

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