New podcast starring UVic alumnus is an uplifting and updated take on the 90s sitcom
Four twenty-somethings move into an apartment and attempt to make it on their own, navigating romantic entanglements and friendships while attempting to launch a career (or just pay the rent). Sound familiar? It’s supposed to. Popcorn for Dinner: A Podcast Sitcom takes all the tropes of the sitcom genre, paying homage to beloved shows like Friends and How I Met Your Mother, and translates them to a modern medium.
From the plot to the canned laughter soundtrack and upbeat musical stingers, Popcorn for Dinner is billed as the first-of-its-kind: a 90s TV sitcom not on TV and not set in the 90s. The show follows a quartet of friends, Laura, Ellie, Michael, and Austin, as they navigate adulthood in digestible 25-minute episodes. UVic alumnus Ben Fawcett portrays one of the four companions, Austin: the “loveable oddball” of the group. Like Phoebe from Friends or Seinfeld’s Kramer, Austin is always there to surprise you with his bizarre one-liners.
Listeners are taken through the gang’s capers by narrator Ciara Bravo, who you may recognise from Anthony Russo’s Cherry and YouTube Premium’s Wayne. The show isn’t subtle in humor, rather it’s a light-hearted and sometimes goofy play on an enduring format. Bravo’s narration takes a dry, sardonic tone as she gently mocks some of the genres’ cliches. As Bravo’s matter-of-fact vocals highlight, the show’s central love arc is set up during the pilot; “I’ll just tell you now, Michael and Laura are the will-they won’t-they of this show.”
Fawcett graduated from UVic, not majoring in theatre or writing, but health information science. It’s in Victoria that he did his first open-mic and discovered a passion for stand-up. Despite moving away, he still returns often. “There’s tons of good local shows in Victoria, Heckler’s comedy club is really good,” he told the Martlet.
It’s within the comedy scene that he first met show creator, Maddy Kelly. Fawcett eventually joined Kelly’s live table reads for an early iteration of Popcorn for Dinner.
According to the Vancouver-based production company Kelly&Kelly, Kelly was inspired to create Popcorn for Dinner by her long-standing love for the genre, saying “I’ve always been obsessed with sitcoms.”
At just 25, she had already achieved astronomic success, amassing 2.5 million views on TikTok. Kelly was also no stranger to the audio medium. Her previous podcast Let’s Make a Sci-Fi, co-hosted with Mark Chavez and Ryan Beil, was named “Best Podcast of 2022,” by the New Yorker and Vulture Magazine.
In a press release Kelly emphasizes that this new comedy is true to her own experience as a twenty-something. The show embraces nostalgia, while also bringing a more contemporary outlook to the format, with classic storylines adapted to the world of social media and dating apps.
“There’re a lot of different problems now,” Fawcett said. “It was all written by young people, all the writers are in their twenties.”
Fawcett’s offbeat, slightly awkward manner is reminiscent of Austin, and that’s no accident. Though the character existed before Fawcett came on the project, he has been loosely adapted to suit Fawcett’s personality.
Austin has a unique approach to life that Fawcett compares to his own. It may seem head-scratching at first, but it has an interior wisdom. For instance, upon moving into his new home, Austin is wowed by the number of electrical outlets. It’s an off-the-wall observation, but the more you consider it, the more it makes sense; who wants to be fighting for a space to charge your phone?
The wildcard characters of many beloved sitcoms, Phoebe Buffay, or Barney Stinson, usually end up having hidden depths. I asked Fawcett if this will be true of Austin too. Hesitant to give any plot spoilers, he revealed that “there’s definitely some deeper storylines with Austin … It turns out he has his life together a bit more than some of the other characters.”
Is Austin a secret billionaire? Perhaps he’s hiding a wife and three children in Connecticut. To find out, listeners can tune in each Tuesday for new episodes on Spotify, Apple, or other podcast platforms.