David Tennant returns for a second season of his podcast, beginning with chatting to The Big Bang Theory’s Jim Parsons
David Tennant Does a Podcast with… is back for a second series. The new run kicks off in grand style with a chat to Jim Parsons. And, in these troubled times, it’s very existence is another mark of what a strangely productive pandemic it’s been at Tennant Towers. For the former Doctor Who star and his wife and producer Georgia (Jenny, The Doctor’s Daughter) here’s the inevitable challenges of raising four children. Aged ten months to eighteen years they’re basically every difficult age to keep going under lockdown conditions, all at once.
But there’s also been the construction of DIY recording booth. And the outfitting of the house to serve as the shooting location for the sitcom Staged. Then there’s the filming of said sitcom, the recording of at least six new Big Finish audio adventures for the Tenth Doctor (while having to make your own lunch, even!) and now at least nine new episodes of David Tennant Does a Podcast with… Blimey. For some of us lockdown largely consisted of stepping on the scales every morning and sighing deeply. It’s enough to make a person feel inadequate.
Like most of us, Tennant may now be conducting his working life via Zoom. But it’s a seamless transition from last year’s face to face chats
It’s all the more impressive considering that, by David’s mild admission, and Georgia’s enthusiastic agreement, the former Doctor Who is a technological disaster area. And, certainly, on that score, she and the rest of the production and sound design team have worked wonders. They’ve successfully kept the quality of the podcast to the same high standard as last year. Though the claws of covid, still buried deep in the Earth, still leaves their mark in other areas. Recording over the internet means that the familiar photo of David Tennant smiling or laughing along with his guest, their arms around each other’s shoulders in a studio corridor, is gone. In its place is a photo composite, with a significantly beardier and hairier ex-Doctor Who. One now glowering like a teenager still being forced to have his picture taken on the first day of school.
Another difference is that they’ve now flung the net wider than every before in terms of guests. Part of the joy of last season was the recurring sense of Tennant collecting together a selection of his famous mates for a good chin wag. But that’s less evident in this first episode, where he talks to Big Bang Theory star Jim Parsons. Parson’s presence, beamed direct from LA, is also an indicator of a now unrestricted guest list. No longer is being physically in London on a given date one of the things juggled to make things happen.
David Tennant continues to show an uncommon skill in getting his subjects to open up
While the two combined robs us of moments like Krysten Ritter realizing, mid-discussion, she’s booked the wrong flight back to America, it has its own rewards. The fact that he and Jim Parsons have never actually met underlines Tennant’s talent as a gentle but probing interrogator. Neither confrontational, nor overly showbiz, there’s something old school about the Tennant approach – more Wogan or Parkinson than Corden or Norton.
It’s an approach many modern celebrities may not be used to. And it enables Tennant to tease out surprisingly deep and unvarnished revelations from his subject. This week Parsons even expresses his own surprise at how the conversation has reduced him to tears within the first ten minutes. As with interviewers like Matthew Sweet, Tennant approaches what would seem a standard question from a slight angle. One which prompts deeper thinking and deeper truths from his guest. So the gentle application of intelligent follow up questions brings us from inquiring how the decision to end Big Bang Theory after 12 seasons came about, to Parson’s indelible memory of the day his dog died. And to the minor existential crisis it triggered as he realized he’d spent almost his pet’s entire life working on one show.
Jim Parsons’ ability to view himself and life in an unsentimental, yet uncynical, light makes him an interviewee of rare honesty
As always, the discussion wanders far and wide, taking in Parsons’ personal history to the state of the world today. And each step of the way, Tennant’s creation of a safe space for dialogue, dovetails beautifully with Parsons’ candid honesty. It brings us from his teenage years in the suburb of Spring in Houston, where the only other gay people he knew at all were affirmed outsiders, while he was determined to be at the centre of things. And to his first crush at college (with a madly flirtatious but definitely straight guy.) An experience that finally made him absolutely, completely certain of his own sexuality.
Then there’s his ambivalence about coming out to his parents until he met his husband Todd and knew he wanted to share the happiness Todd brought him with them. And his mother’s initial distress at his sexuality. A fear motivated by the difficulties she worried it would mean for her son in his life. Ultimately, as he slightly wryly observes, his huge professional and financial success probably helped her accept his sexuality.
In the interesting times of 2020, Parsons’ thoughts inevitably dwell on the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movements
But through it all, the picture that emerges of Parsons himself is an uncommon mix of kindness with honesty. He repeatedly catches himself in the podcast, to clarify he’s not being judgemental, harsh or conceited when he says something. Yet unlike 99% of the times someone might say that, you absolutely believe him. So you never doubt his genuine love and affection for his mother. While when he says he’s grateful he met the love of his life before he got famous, unlike some of his co-stars so he never had to navigate a dating scene while wondering what might be attracting people to Internationally Famous Millionaire Jim Parsons, he comes across as merely reflecting the realities of life rather than cynical.
Conversation turns to the Black Lives Matter movement and the aftermath of George Floyd’s death at the hands of police. Parsons is typically candid. “I hope I don’t get into trouble even for saying this,” he says at one point. It’s a choice of phrase leaving the audience bracing for impact. But in fact he reveals that when walking into a meeting of network or film executives and finding a black person among them, he still finds his mind registering the fact as unusual. It’s something he raises to emphasize his argument that “colour blind casting … will never get us any further, or it won’t get us much further. The people whose stories need to be told, need to have their literal representatives in the biggest seats of power” in the industry.”
The portrait of Parsons that emerges is one of a remarkably decent, thoughtful human being
Elsewhere, he compares the covid-19 pandemic to the World Trade Center attacks of 2001. He predicts the events of 2020 will cast a similarly long shadow over how we live in the future. Expecting that in 2030 people will catch themselves occasionally glancing back to a time before carrying sanitizer with you everywhere, in the manner people do in 2020 when taking off their shoes in airports.
Blogtor Who has to confess to not being the biggest fan of The Big Bang Theory. There’s a fine line between laughing with, and laughing at, your target. And for every science fiction or Doctor Who fan who laughs along there’s one who can’t help like they’re being mocked. And besides, such a group of details obsessive nerds looking like they assembled their Justice League group cosplay for SDCC with a quick run to Argos? What’s that about?
Nevertheless, despite having to retire my Green Lantern t-shirt in 2007 because of people yelling “SHELDON!” at me everywhere I went, Blogtor Who has to admit Parsons himself comes across as an uncommonly decent human being. Heartfelt but unsentimental, invested in his craft but unpretentious, and above all honest but not cynical. Jim Parsons clearly couldn’t be further from his most famous character. In fact, in the fantasy casting stakes, he suddenly seems very… Doctor Who.
David Tennant Does a Podcast with... continues with new episodes every Tuesday, available wherever you get your podcasts