REVIEW: ‘Everything is Alive’ podcast gives life to inanimate objects

Hosted by radio veteran Ian Chillag, “Everything is Alive” is a new sort of fiction drama: Each inanimate object is played by an actor, who improvises a conversation with Chillag in the studio. (Photo courtesy of Radiotopia)

The era of true crime podcasts is over. In an attempt to replicate the success of hits like “Serial” and “S-Town,” audio storytellers have been mass-producing true crime podcasts. Consequently, the true crime genre has lost its novelty across media platforms, and its satirization has been notably evident in both Netflix’s 2017 series “American Vandal” and The Onion’s first-ever podcast “A Very Fatal Murder.”

So instead of listening to yet another true crime podcast, try “Everything is Alive.”

The show is part of the podcast medium that’s slowly taking over. It’s a type of audio storytelling that’s been around since the birth of radio — serialized fictional audio dramas. Think about the possibilities: We can tell stories in the wildest of fantasy worlds without needing exorbitant special effects or movie magic.

There are some amazing bastions of audio-fiction that are already well-established podcasts, such as “Welcome to Night Vale,” the absurdist dark humor series, and “The Truth,” a podcast that brings short fiction to life with cinematic production featuring amazing voice acting and perfectly choreographed sound effects and music.

“Everything is Alive” is now joining the ranks. The conceit of the podcast is exactly as advertised — it asks listeners to exist in a world where the most mundane inanimate objects live full lives.

The podcast is produced by audio veteran Ian Chillag for Radiotopia.   Chillag has worked on shows like the Peabody Award-winning “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me” and Terry Gross’ “Fresh Air.”

His first foray into fictional audio is just as brilliant as those shows. The beauty of “Everything is Alive” lies in its simplicity. It’s set up as an interview show, where Chillag talks to an inanimate object — in the first episode, he interviewed a can of cola. And in the most recent episode, he interviewed a pillow.

Each inanimate object is played by an actor, usually a comedian, who engages in a completely improvised conversation with Chillag. The semi-longform interviews are delightfully intimate, revealing simple truths about objects we take for granted in everyday life. They illuminate details about the innumerable systems and processes that allow the object to exist in the first place.

Giving such simple objects an identity through voice forces listeners to develop a greater appreciation for the objects, especially since the items being interviewed are entirely unremarkable — they’re not rare gems or complex inventions. And the concept, that basic idea that everything is alive, allows for imaginative storytelling that’ll keep you captivated from start to finish.

But the podcast will stay with listeners for much longer than the length of each episode. There’s something slightly melancholic about the way Chillag conducts the interviews, and how his guest objects respond. Each episode is marked by philosophical discussions that we rarely articulate or think deeply about. For example, Chillag asks the can of cola what it feels like to have someone drink out of him, launching a genuinely moving conversation about pain and death.

Chillag and the actors bring a sincerity to the podcast that is necessary for its success, and it allows them to discuss very human emotions and values from a decidedly non-human perspective.

At the same time, “Everything Is Alive” remains comedic. The music choices and interview questions often are an understated satire of common public radio interview stereotypes — while it isn’t the main purpose of the show, it demonstrates a certain awareness of the inherent silliness that accompanies interviewing inanimate objects.

At first glance, this podcast seems absurd — and it is absurd, in every possible way — but it also a paints an intimate portrait of everyday objects that results in a poignant and touching commentary on what it means to be alive, and what it means to be human.