Blank Check Breaks the Rules of Podcasting, and It Rules

5 min read

If “thou shall cut the fat” is a canonical commandment of podcasting, Blank Check with Griffin and David spits in the face of God. A blasphemer of the highest order. A shrine to gluttony, hedonism, and lust for the silver screen. A spiraling morass of multi-hour episodes and incomprehensible multi-generation running bits that dare a new listener to try the show without resorting to the fan wiki.

Blank Check, to the uninitiated, is the podcast equivalent of a cult classic adventure game lauded for its excellent writing. It looks promising, the reviews are great, but then you boot it up and discover the puzzles are constructed for someone who has played the four previous games in the series. Puzzles so incomprehensible a modern player has to learn its language by playing the old games first, or resort to a fan-written guide to parse its madness. This podcast breaks every rule of being an easily-consumable movie review podcast.

And I love it. I’d gladly eat it with a spoon. Please sir, can I have some more?

What is Blank Check?

Actor Griffin Newman loves movies. Film critic David Sims loves movies. Producer Benjamin Hosley loves movies. Together, the three produce a weekly podcast divided into various miniseries, each covering the filmography of a ‘blank check’ director. “Directors who have massive success early on in their career and are given a series of blank checks to make whatever crazy passion projects they want. Sometimes those checks clear, sometimes they bounce, baby.”

That’s Newman’s elevator pitch intro for the show that I’ve heard so many times I typed it while staring into the middle distance, the words flowing as naturally as if writing my own name. Perhaps I've listened to too much Blank Check. Too late now.

Newman and Sims act as the primary hosts while Hosley serves a dual role as producer and everyman perspective to the hyper-film-nerds he records on a weekly basis. Not a blank slate, but thoroughly a man who Newman can infodump at on occasion. Someone who will gladly listen to dirt on the film industry that would be considered common knowledge on a BBS forum circa 1998.

With this formula, the three have covered the likes of M. Night Shyamalan, the Wachowski sisters, Hayao Miyazaki, and – most recently of this writing – Stanley Kubrick.

Mechanically, it’s simple: the hosts (and often a guest) discuss the movie using the framework of walking through the plot as a guideline, pausing for tangents about behind the scenes info or anything else that springs to mind. At the end of the episode, Sims hosts “The Box Office Game”, in which Newman tests his near-encyclopedic knowledge of box office numbers and film history to guess what were the top five movies at the box office the same week the movie of the episode hit theaters.

No, but what actually is Blank Check?

Technically, the podcast feed started as a Star Wars prequel trilogy discussion podcast that somehow became Blank Check when they ran out of movies, but I have neither the word count nor the time to give a full Ken Burnsian recap. For now, let’s pretend the show started as Blank Check.

Over time the show has evolved, building dozens of the aforementioned running bits and courting a stable of recurring guest hosts. Blank Check is at a point where they have a house rule to only allow returning guest hosts back on the show every other miniseries to allow room for others to get in the rotation. The podcast feasts upon the jovial atmosphere Sims and Newman build with their closer guests.

While episodes with big-get guests like Patton Oswalt are fun sometimes-foods, the true meat is guest-less episodes, followed by the delicious starchy goodness that is recurring guests – film critics, comedians, directors, actors, movie nerds all. Comedic bits stew and reduce down to such pure forms they reach such wondrous heights as the Patreon-exclusive episode in which director J.D. Amato records a two-hour walk from 120th street to 24th in Manhattan discussing the history of framerates in film with Newman and Sims, all because of a turn of phrase used in his episode reviewing Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk. Chris Gethard and Alex Ross Perry are currently in a years-long competition to see who can push a main-feed episode of Blank Check to the longest runtime.

It’s geeky, it’s goofy, occasionally the tangents run so long the episode ends up threatening to be twice as long as the movie discussed. Even the host-read ads spawn bits and revel in their length, sometimes threatening to become double-digit additions to an episode as Newman improvises a character relating to the miniseries’ director, prompting Sims to recommend the product or service. Even the recurring advertisers have spawned recurring bits as Newman gets more time to explore the pocket-dimensions of running jokes he’s built over the years. God forbid anyone brand new to Blank Check try to parse a Mubi sponsorship in 2022.

That said, for all the running bits, it’s one of the best examples of a movie podcast that doesn’t punish people for not doing ‘the reading’ before the episode. If anything, it gives the audience a reason to give even the weakest parts of a director’s career a chance. I once got home from an overnight driving shift and instead of going to bed to reset my clock for normal human hours, I sat down and watched A Christmas Carol (2009) – a thoroughly uninteresting movie in 2022, save for what the connoisseurs of context brought to the table.

To that note, the show has gone through a bit of a renaissance as of late. While the Blank Check backlog is certainly worth the time of those interested by the rest of this review,  the recent addition of Dr. J.J. Bersch as a show researcher elevates the context “the connoisseurs of context” can bring to the table. Now the hosts have a dossier of information prepared, taking the weight of basic research off Newman and allowing him to really get in the weeds. Nowadays, he comes to the table with the extra-nerdy ephemera knowledge so obscure even Bersch didn’t find it.  It’s sublime.

Episodes run laboriously long. The ad segments have no jingle to announce their arrival so they act like capitalist jumpscares. Some bits are so old they’re actually built on the foundation of bits that require double-digit hours of podcast listening to obtain context. But at the end of the day, the chemistry makes it. Sims and Newman have something special, from their love of movies to their frank and sexuality-bending offhand comments about how hot people are (placing them next to We Hate Movies in the hallowed Pantheon of ‘straight’ movie podcasters). If a new podcaster pitched the format of Blank Check as a brand new show today, it’d fall on its face. Lucky for us, it exists as-is and continues to grow and thrive.

And finally, yes, they did do a one-off episode covering the 1994 Disney film Blank Check. In part so people would stop asking them to do so.

Editor's Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that J.J. Bersch is a grad student. J.J. is now a doctor and the article has been updated to reflect this fact.

Gavin Gaddis is a freelance journalist and podcaster. They've worked as a media critic in various positions since 2011 and currently produce The Download for Sounds Profitable, as well as the Dead by Daylight lore discussion podcast Read by Daylight. You can see their work on their website or find them on Twitter.