Heavyweight has been the most consistently surprising narrative podcast since its debut in 2016. The Gimlet show has followed the same structure for 31 episodes: host Jonathan Goldstein attempts to confront a major regret or mystery in a person’s life, willing to make endless phone calls along the way. In its moving and funny first season, Heavyweight spent a lot of time excavating Goldstein’s own past, as well as his friends and family’s. As of its funny and moving fourth season, which concluded earlier this month, Heavyweight has expanded past all geographic and narrative limits, bringing the listener to an estranged father in the Philippines and a rare gun collector’s storage room. The episodes below all do what Heavyweight does best: interlocute.
Jonathan reunites two men on opposite sides of a collision between a car and a bicycle. The meeting between Jesse, the cyclist whose sense of purpose was changed forever by the near-fatal crash, and the driver is among Heavyweight’s most powerful scenes of forgiveness.
In one of the show’s best self-investigations, Goldstein gets back in touch with his first serious girlfriend, Galit. The episode, which features an especially moving voicemail left by Galit towards the end, is about first love and first heartbreak, and the lingering effects of both in all the relationships that follow.
“Marchel” is Heavyweight at its goofiest, the episode with the most jokes per minute. The setup, Goldstein tracking down the actor who accidentally looks into the camera in the one-take film Russian Ark, pits Goldstein’s search for answers and meaning against a man who might just be a little clueless.
Instead of choosing a single subject, Heavyweight takes on a family of five. Principally, this episode is about Steve, the eldest son, and Jean, the mother, as they attempt to reunite with the girl Jean and her husband Pete gave up for adoption more than 40 years earlier. Though the Marshes share a goal, finding their biological sister and daughter, each has different expectations, fears, and regrets. The multi-year story is one of Heavyweight’s grandest productions.
“Isabel” is another entry in the “Goldstein self-investigation” category. Goldstein spends weeks tracking down two former lovers so he can return the letters they wrote each other, only to find that the woman, Isabel, has no interest in having them returned. This rejection of the past is a rejection of the Heavyweight philosophy, and offers a glimpse into an entirely foreign method for dealing with the past.
Given that Heavyweight’s primary topic is regret, the show regularly chooses to tackle estranged parents and children, and does so gracefully. Rachael and Goldstein set out to find the father of her daughter, a man who never found out Rachael was pregnant. The episode runs along two tracks, as Rachael and her daughter carry out several sweet and mature conversations about the girl’s father, while the search for him becomes increasingly strange and arduous.
Aside from Jackie Cohen, Gregor is Heavyweight’s longest-running character, appearing in each of the first three seasons. In the episode of his first appearance, Goldstein and Gregor’s wife discuss his similarities to Larry David, before Gregor proceeds to share a very-LD resolution with the popstar Moby. “Gregor” is a fine example of how funny the show can be, and how much success the Heavyweight team can have putting its subjects at ease, even in the case of a public figure with something to lose.
Rose wanted to know why many years ago her college sorority had expelled her. Goldstein fails to find concrete answers, but the back-and-forth between host and subject, the frustrations and the moments of clarity, makes “Rose” one of Heavyweight’s most surprisingly-moving episodes.
“Scott” deserves not to be spoiled. Goldstein and Scott search for a lost family heirloom and encounter the strangest character in Heavyweight history. This is a 50-minute multi-generational epic, with an unbelievably-moving conclusion.
Beverly’s granddaughter wants to know why she always spoke about Van, a man she loved platonically, but supposedly not romantically. The search to uncover the tale of Beverly and Van, who are both long dead, implicates Hurricane Katrina and Mickey Rooney. This episode glimpses decades of history, both personal and big-picture American history, and manages to tell a coherent story of two people, who got along for an entire lifetime. The storytelling is virtuosic, and the best example of Heavyweight’s sentimental power.
Jake Greenberg is a culture writer based in Brooklyn. He has written for The Guardian and Mac Weekly. Feel free to email him at [email protected]