The premise of popular podcast “Unspooled” is quite simple: A comedian-turned-film buff teams up with a seasoned film critic to watch everything on the comprehensive list of the top 100 movies selected by the American Film Institute. Each weekly episode covers one movie from the list, in no particular order, with the promise of enticing conversation among two industry professionals about movies that affect what we see in theaters today.
One half of the hosting duo is veteran comedian and podcaster Paul Scheer, who is widely known for his very successful and outrageously funny podcast, “How Did This Get Made?” His counterpart is Amy Nicholson, a member of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association who contributes film reviews to a variety of publications.
In early teasers for the show, Scheer explained his desire to examine beloved classic movies after spending several years lampooning terrible movies with his co-hosts on “How Did This Get Made?” “Unspooled” was meant to be a chance for listeners to experience the AFI list week by week through the lens of Paul’s eagerness to learn everything there is to know about the 100 movies that have influenced so many elements of modern cinema.
This podcast should be fantastic. The premise of a highly charismatic comedian experiencing many of these treasured movies for the first time held a great deal of promise. One would think Nicholson’s education and years of experience in film would provide the context, knowledge, and texture to play off Scheer’s wit and enthusiasm.
Unfortunately, this is not at all how “Unspooled” has played out. Nicholson adds about as much knowledge and charm to the podcast as a damp washcloth. Red flags appeared early on, as Nicholson revealed that she had never before seen “Ben-Hur,” and often defers to Paul’s limited knowledge of film production. While the critic has years of experience writing reviews, it seems her film knowledge is rather incomplete.
Paul is quite charitable in his co-hosting style, often framing questions for Nicholson with which, based on her resume, she should be able to flex her status as a supposed film expert. Instead of providing knowledge and film history to Paul as he gives his novice thoughts, however, she seems to be even more clueless than he is, reviewing each movie as though she had no comprehension of its value and context.
The show quickly devolved from insightful study of classic films into amateur reviews by two unqualified co-hosts with zero chemistry. As more episodes of the podcast were released, it became clear that Nicholson’s priority wasn’t to enhance Paul’s—and thus listeners’—experience but to trumpet her personal preferences.
She praised “Titanic” for being one of the most incredible movies ever made, then dismissed “The French Connection” for exemplifying how disconnected modern politicians are from New York. She could barely get through “The Shawshank Redemption” episode without mocking its sentimentality, and suggested that Keanu Reeves is the leading-man icon of our time.
While many of her hot takes are terrible, it’s her personal politics that really make her unbearable. Nicholson fills in her lack of interesting things to say about movies with incredibly self-righteous posturing as a “feminist hero to the film industry.”
From her soapbox, she often cites the lack of ethnic and sexual diversity in movies on the AFI’s list, with little acknowledgement of the era in which they were created. She has made several allusions to her strong distaste for President Trump, and once referred to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as “the ultimate ringwraith” while reviewing “The Lord of The Rings.” The more she finds confidence in her role as a left-wing crusader, the less she talks about films.
Unspooled's magical 100-sided die was stoked to land on LORD OF THE RINGS: FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING. Let's talk beards and hobbit feet and Mitch McConnell as the ultimate ringwraith. Peep this awesome elvish by @kdtrox! https://t.co/jPEhrR51jz pic.twitter.com/h8wTymuZOk
— Amy Nicholson (@TheAmyNicholson) October 4, 2018
In the most recent episode covering Clint Eastwood’s 1992 film “Unforgiven,” Nicholson shares more than one story about Eastwood’s reported infidelity and reputation for being difficult. She also finds issue with the storied director’s newest film, “The Mule,” and seems to be unable to separate the two movies throughout the episode. She goes on to suggest that the Oscar-winning “Unforgiven” not be included on the AFI list at all, citing no other reasons than that she quite obviously dislikes Clint Eastwood.
At the end of each increasingly unbearable episode, Scheer and Nicholson vote on whether they agree that the film belongs on AFI’s top 100. This exercise serves no purpose other than to sign off each week with a reminder of how little Nicholson seems to like movies. “Unspooled” would be far better served by pairing Scheer with a partner who matches his joy and curiosity with expert knowledge and an emphatic love of film.