Welcome to Should I Listen To This?, where we deep-dive into a podcast to find out what it’s about, what works, what doesn’t, and whether or not you need to make the all-important decision to hit subscribe and add it to your rotation.
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Podcast: Missing Richard Simmons
What Is It?: It is a podcast miniseries in the vein of Serial, with each episode focusing on a different viewpoint of its extremely complex subject. Instead of a murder trial or an alleged deserter, Missing Richard Simmons is enthralled by the legendary fitness guru…and his mysterious disappearance from a few years back.
Who’s The Host?: Dan Taberski has tasked himself with piecing together the mythical fitness master. Taberski is a television producer and documentarian who even wanted to make a film about Simmons. Needless to say, as a former student and friend of Simmons, Taberski is one of many both shocked and distraught by his sudden and prolonged disappearance.
What’s a Normal Episode Like?: There are only six episodes in the series, with no plans for more. The podcast is a collaborative project between First Look Media, Pineapple Street Media, and Stitcher. Like Serial, the opening episode was an introduction to the subject and explained why the series even exists. Subsequent episodes focused on one viewpoint to partially identify Simmons and possibly justify his disappearance, speaking for the man who has spoken publicly once in three years. In some ways, it is disappointing that there aren’t more episodes to dive into every anecdote and memorable moment from Simmons’ life in the spotlight.
Who Is It For?: I first heard about this show when it was advertised on the Hamilton podcast The Room Where It’s Happening. While I am only 21, I am still someone who is aware of the impact of Richard Simmons from my childhood. Maybe I am in the minority of people my age, but those of you who lived through the ’80s and ’90s and who may have sweated to the oldies are definitely the demographic for this show. And if you are a fan of Serial and that type of investigative journalism, you will enjoy this show because of how enthralling Taberski is as a host. He regularly draws you in while balancing the line between the light-hearted personality Simmons exuded for decades and serious issues that allegedly plagued Simmons internally. There are also plenty of cutaways to interviews and excerpts from Simmons himself.
Who Is It Not For?: As The Atlantic points out, the show is zig-zagging across a major ethical line. Looking back, the show has made me feel uneasy. One of the pieces of Serial that made season one catch fire was all of the speaking and affirmation from Adnan Syed. It felt like his podcast, even if Sarah Koenig was the actual host. When season two came around, I did not root for Bowe Bergdahl like I did for Syed.
Simmons chose not to speak with Taberski for this show and did not ask to be profiled and analyzed in this manner. But he is still someone I want to root for, in the sense that I want to know he is happy. Not knowing if Simmons is enjoying his life in solitude is gnawing at people like Taberski.
Rather than assume the story should or needs to be told, I think people should respect Simmons’ choice of privacy. It’s why, while we all want to know what happened to Sports By Brooks, we should all accept and agree with Jeff Pearlman’s decision not to publish the story that would have been a conclusion to sports media’s closest Missing Richard Simmons equivalent.
Can I Jump Right In?: If you still haven’t heard the show and, despite any ethical concerns, want to hear Taberski tell this tale, you should start at the beginning. Each episode builds upon the previous ones, which means you will be more confused skipping around and passing on certain anecdotes and flashbacks.
What’s Not Great?: The ethical issues are a major hurdle, teamed with a perspective issue that might be the most controversial. As Sean Keeley wrote for The Comeback in February, “Ultimately, audiences and fans are rooting for the return of Richard Simmons, be it in the form of one of his iconic TV or radio appearances, or simply by stepping outside to wave. So long as it’s on his terms, one way or another.”
Taberski’s narrative, for all of its drama and humor, is not on Richard Simmons’ terms. It is on Taberski’s, with no approval from the subject. The podcast is also a possible invasion of privacy through the host’s repeated investigations, along with an LAPD check-up last month. If Simmons is fine and healthy and happy, we do not need a podcast to tell us that. We just have to accept and assume.
We can mourn the death of the celebrity Richard Simmons, but trying to bring him back to life by making assumptions about the private life of a man by inferring extreme depression, weight gain, and even a possible sex change is not okay. Taberski should have known better than to repeatedly throw around such intense accusations about a man who is just trying to live his life.
So, Should I Listen To This?: As a narrative-driven investigative podcast, Missing Richard Simmons is fantastic. I cannot tell you how many people I have mentioned this show to over the last few weeks because everyone knows who Richard Simmons is.
But I have also thought about the issues with the show as I have listened to it more and more. It makes the show tough to recommend because I am uncomfortable with what is a clear invasion of privacy. Maybe it isn’t an issue for you; just weigh the pros and the cons before you hit subscribe.
We all want the high-energy, manic Richard Simmons back in our lives. Instead of greedily trying to coax him out of the happy, secluded life he now lives, we should all be celebrating the memories of what he gave us before he left. Taberski, in my opinion, went too far in his investigation.
Bottom Line – TL;DR: Missing Richard Simmons is a fantastic post-mortem of a complicated celebrity subject…except that Richard Simmons isn’t dead and the show is a clear violation of a private man’s personal life.