On Simplecast Spotlight
Venus is a late-night campus radio host, slinging dating advice to her fellow college classmates. Ruby is an introverted bookworm who’d rather stay in her room studying than go to their school’s millionth acapella gig with her best friend Daniella. The only problem is, Venus and Ruby are two sides of the same person played pitch-perfectly by The Summer I Turned Pretty star Minnie Mills in MEET CUTE’s new six-part fiction podcast miniseries Dump Him!
When Ruby’s forced to sign an NDA promising to hide the secret location of the campus radio station and told that this will be her last shift as Venus because of low ratings, right before Valentine’s Day—she decides to go nuclear. Instead of the sweet, kind, attentive Venus she’s played in the past, she drops all pretense and prods her listeners for the darkest confessions and dirtiest secrets–and uses the ammo to stir things up on campus, encouraging folks to ditch their partners left and right. Things get really interesting when Venus' new approach breaks up the campus-sensation-TikTok-famous-acapella-duo The Two Tones, and mega-babe Paige is single again, while now-ex-boyfriend Parker is devastated... and looking for revenge. Venus telling her to dump him creates campus-wide news, and happens to save her job... if only until Valentine's Day.
Dump Him! is a sweet, funny, slice-of-life rom-com with a great cast and a captivating original soundtrack by frequent MEET CUTE collaborator Teeny Lieberson. After I had the chance to listen to an advanced copy of the entire season, I was able to sit down with writer Juli Del Prete, Director of Creative Production Lucie Ledbetter, and Director of Development Amarlie Foster to discuss the origins of this series and what it took to bring it to life.
Bob Raymonda: Juli, what was it about Meet Cute that drew you into working in storytelling for an audio format for the first time?
Juli Del Prete: This was sort of a delicious challenge for me because I have a background in playwriting before transitioning a little bit into film, and audio fiction is sort of the perfect marriage of those skill sets in an interesting way. You have all of the banter of television, and especially working with MEET CUTE, you have that episodic structure, but also it's very dialogue and text-driven. So really just writing for this hit all of my pleasure centers, it was just a joy.
This challenge for Del Prete is apparent immediately when you press play on Dump Him! But also resonates across the entire season. What I love about the way it’s presented is that, while it does lean on that familiar framing device of a radio show as forward narrative momentum, it backs that up with just as many scenes around campus following Ruby and Daniella and Page and Parker after the aftermath of that first call. It has a naturalistic flow that keeps the pace of a traditional rom-com while sustaining your desire to know more about every character you meet.
BR: What kinds of stories were you drawn to while developing Dump Him — any specific shows, movies, or fiction podcasts that informed the process?
Amarlie Foster: I definitely had Pitch Perfect a little bit top of mind and that might have been because it has acapella, which I wouldn't say is the driving force behind the series, but certainly a musical college campus. And I think Ruby is Anna Kendrick-esque in Pitch Perfect for sure, a little offbeat and headstrong, but I mean, she's not my character. She's Juli's: Juli, what were you thinking of?
JDP: She's just such a good sort of twisty heroine in a weird way. I feel like Veronica Mars is not a bad comp for her with this hard, hard, hard shell, but she's actually such a heart-driven character. I was also thinking a lot of To All The Boys, that whole series. Because you have the dramatic irony and you have this sort of campus dynamic even though our show is in undergrad and not at a high school. And also a little Sleepless in Seattle with the radio show. I'm a big Nora Ephron girly.
Lucie Ledbetter: Immediately when I read this, it felt like such a movie to me, and [like] Pitch Perfect. It also felt very cinematic like Dear White People and Gossip Girl; I love that it has that rom-com sweetness, but there's also an element of camp to it that I love so much.
JDP: I’ll also throw in Gilmore Girls here because I think that Amy Sherman Palladino is such a master of really grounded emotion within this really heightened container and that is my artistic touchstone.
In comparison to shows like Gossip Girl and Veronica Mars, this series flips its central premise on its head for the audience member. Rather than trying to figure out who Venus is, like Veronica searching for her friend’s killer, or Serena frantically seeking out the identity of a mysterious gossip blogger, we’re watching Ruby as she scrambles to hide her true identity in the fallout of the Two Tones breakup, as her Pop-Tart stealing nemesis Parker enlists her to find out who the controversial host is. Gilmore Girls also jumped out immediately, as the quippy banter between Ruby and her best friend Daniella, who just so happens to have a crush on the newly single and questionably straight Paige, maintains extreme Lorelai/Sookie or Rory/Lane vibes.
BR: How far into the development of the series did you know you’d get to be working with Minnie Mills?
LL: The scripts were locked when she was cast. But I think a really exciting thing about getting to work with Minnie, besides her having just come off the back of The Summer I Turned Pretty, was when I got to be in the studio with her when she recorded with our director Julia Thompson, who is amazing. I think we both kind of had an idea in our heads about how Ruby/Venus sounded, but Minnie totally surprised us, by bringing a little bit softer approach to this character than either one of us initially imagined. But we all approached the process collaboratively, so when [...] Julia asked Minnie, what if you use your British accent when you're Ruby? And when you're Venus, you do an American accent? And I think that choice helps keep the element of mystery behind Venus alive.
The choice to subvert our expectations with Minnie’s real-life accent being used for Ruby, our incognito student narrator, versus a more Americanized version for her radio personality is a smart one. Since Dump Him! takes place in the States, it’s really easy to buy why her classmates wouldn’t hear her voice and have no one know immediately who she is. Which, of course, allows the mystery to stretch out longer, and complicates Ruby’s budding crush on Parker, who’s out to destroy her reputation.
BR: Lucie, I thought the use of music and foley in Dump Him! was used to great effect. What are some of the questions your team asks themselves when they want to create a soundscape for each individual Meet Cute series?
LL: I mean, obviously both the soundscape, given the audio and radio show nature of the show, and the musical score, especially with the acapella and musical theater motifs are absolutely key to this. When I read the scripts, it was a no-brainer to me that this had to be Julia Thompson, our director, and Teeny Lieberson, who not only edited and mixed the series but composed original music for it as well. They have worked with us together many times before— both on our July series "A Pool for Love" and our December ‘21 series "Christmas Time Machine", and the two of them are just like a totally dynamic duo. And I think Teeny has this incredible ability to bring the sound life of a series alive in such Technicolor. Especially in moments like the investigative music that plays throughout that comes when Parker starts to suspect Ruby.
The score and sound design by Teeny Lieberson in this series are both intentionally nuanced and free-flowing. There’s this perfect balance between the slice-of-life nature of the setting versus the more heightened and campy aspects of the different campus cliques and communities. During the Two Tones concert in the series premiere, we not only hear the original music of their performance, but also the uncharacteristically raucous applause that follows (for an undergrad campus, anyway). And yet, later on, at the series’ midpoint while Ruby and Daniella walk together across the campus, we’re treated to Parker’s drunken, off-key practicing in the wake of his breakup, which is followed by a synthy-vamping track as he realizes he must get Paige back. There’s a unique earnestness in the sonic worldbuilding, both inside and out of Venus’ campus radio station, that brings everything to life. I found myself consistently bopping along to the tunes that played throughout, both non-diegetic and diegetic (or, soundtrack music for setting the mood for the audience versus music the characters can hear), which helped me breeze through the series one episode after another.
Through Meet Cute’s standard format, Dump Him! is given to us in six fifteen-minute chunks, easily digestible for when you’re commuting or doing the dishes, and over the course of a series delivers a fun modern-day rom-com that isn’t afraid to lean into the genre’s oft-maligned love of all things camp. It’s wildly refreshing to turn on a new piece of audio fiction and witness how they utilize the constrictions of the medium to craft stories that feel both true to life and larger than life at the same time. What this team has done so well is strike a balance between telling multiple intimate, grounded, and diverse love stories while never forgetting to double down on the genre’s more ridiculous set pieces and comic relief, like a mass of heartbroken students storming the secret location of a campus radio station, or yes, earnestly depicting crowds of people excited about an acapella performance. I’m looking forward to seeing what else Meet Cute has in store for us in the future as a leading producer of romance stories in an audio medium, especially if they can keep assembling more crews full of such talented people to make them.