Movie reviews for 'Joe Six-Pack': New podcast serves as oral history of 'Siskel & Ebert'
"Chicago is unbelievably proud of itself. Anyone from Chicago will tell you the best things come from Chicago."
So says Erik Rydholm on this week's episode of "Gene & Roger," an eight-part podcast from Bill Simmons' The Ringer network that chronicles the meteoric rise of two of the city's finest exports, Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert.
The dueling film critics from the downtown newspapers argued about movies on camera and inadvertently created an entire genre of television. Rydholm, a Chicago native himself, was just one of their acolytes; he would go on to co-create ESPN's "Pardon the Interruption," which pitted fellow Chicagoan Michael Wilbon against his Washington Post co-worker Tony Kornheiser in the sports equivalent of the show that began in 1975 on WTTW as "Opening Soon at a Theatre Near You."
But most of us knew it simply as "Siskel & Ebert," the syndicated half-hour show that introduced millions of viewers to independent and foreign films, made them rethink the popular blockbusters and had them debating the Oscars years before the days of Twitter, or even Entertainment Weekly.
In its first three episodes, "Gene & Roger" is an unabashed love letter to the world's most famous critics. It features interviews with their widows, Marlene Iglitzen and Chaz Ebert, as well as their collaborators and even their subjects -- Quentin Tarantino and "Chop Shop" director Ramin Bahrani, whom Roger called "the new great American director" in a 2009 piece, both pop up in the third episode, "The Thumbs."
The podcast's real treat lies in hearing old audio from Siskel and Ebert's show and various other TV appearances; though we came to think of them as the authorities on film for 25 years, the clips played on "Gene & Roger" often give us awkward, plain-spoken, downright normal Midwestern guys.
"(They) had this very refined palate, but they talk about the things they love like Joe Six-Pack," says Carrie Rickey, The Philadelphia Inquirer critic, in this week's episode. "They could make sophisticated arguments in that language."
That relatability made them so famous that "Saturday Night Live," David Letterman and Johnny Carson would all come calling, and we hear excerpts from those appearances.
Hosted and reported by Brian Raftery, "Gene & Roger" has played a bit like hagiography so far, which is perhaps fitting for Chicago's patron saints of the balcony. But there are five episodes to go, and lots of stories to tell -- can Raftery tell us, the region that first made "Siskel & Ebert" a success, things we didn't already know about our bickering movie buffs? We'll find out when new episodes drop Tuesday mornings on Spotify and at theringer.com.
• Sean Stangland is an assistant news editor who wore out his copies of Roger Ebert's "Video Home Companion."