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The Ultimate Rom-Com (Series Review: Be My Baby Audio Drama)

The Ultimate Rom-Com (Series Review: Be My Baby Audio Drama)

The Rebirth of a Beloved Genre

In a world oversaturated with gritty anti-rom-coms and cynical deconstructions of love, it's become all too easy for audiences to forget the pure, swoon-worthy magic that makes the greatest romantic comedies so utterly irresistible. That is, until "Be My Baby" came along to emphatically revive the genre in grand, laughter-inducing fashion.

This spellbinding audio drama podcast series represents nothing short of a full-on romantic comedy renaissance - an ode to the quintessential tropes, character dynamics and narrative structures that hooked generations on iconic gems like When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle and You've Got Mail. Yet for all its warm embrace of those beloved rom-com conventions, "Be My Baby" feels remarkably fresh, vibrant and modern.

Much of that rejuvenating spirit stems from creators Joao Nsita and "That Love Podcast's" inspired take on the genre through a distinctly Black lens. By centering its effervescent ensemble around the lives, loves and laughter of an African American family, "Be My Baby" taps into the rom-com's core comfort and humor in exciting new ways while spotlighting underrepresented perspectives.

From the crackling romantic chemistry shared between Shawn and Regina to the sidesplitting family hijinks of Shawn's bemused mother Gloria, "Be My Baby" crackles with cultural authenticity and specificity seldom granted the romantic spotlight. And in doing so, it reaffirms the universality and resonance of great romantic storytelling regardless of skin color or background.

Masterful Rom-Com Scripting

Of course, even the most inspired premises require impeccable execution to truly sing. Thankfully, "Be My Baby" benefits from showrunner Joao Nsita's masterclass in deft comedic scriptwriting and crafting ridiculously winning rom-com scenarios dripping with heart, humor and generation-spanning heart.

Nsita and his ensemble prove whizzes at excavating fresh reserves of laughs and romantic sparks from even the most well-trod romantic comedy set-ups. Take the sitcom staple of the dreaded meet-the-parents dinner, for instance. In Nsita's hands, this overly familiar scenario is reinvigorated with rapid-fire dialogue steeped in specificity, relatable awkwardness and sizzling combustibility between the dueling familial perspectives. Shawn and Regina's heated introductions to each respective parent brims with equal parts cringeworthy tension and bursts of insightful cultural wisdom about clashing backgrounds and differing relationship values.

Similarly, Nsita demonstrates a preternatural knack for subverting and innovating upon tired genre tropes in intriguing directions. The sudden wrench of Shawn vanishing without a trace on a couples' cruise breathes gale-force narrative momentum into the season's back half, shifting dynamics in fascinating ways. Equally inspired are the storylines that dare to disassemble and interrogate even the most sacrosanct rom-com platitudes, like questioning whether a lifelong dream romance should be worth sacrificing individuality or boundaries.

While steeped in culturally-specific flavor and modernity, "Be My Baby's" scripting voice never loses sight of the comedic fundamentals that lend the genre its universal relatability and laughs. Pratfalls, misunderstandings, unbearable awkwardness and zigging twists of fate all get launced with pinpoint comedic aplomb across these richly-layered episodes. And at the center of it all is a willingness to engage deeply and poignantly with the anxieties, longings and happenstance of everyday love most take for granted - a thankful through-line in Nsita's characters.

Dynamic Romantic Comedy Personas

Such an assurance in blending progressive perspectives with an abiding timeless spirit wouldn't be half as effective without "Be My Baby's" vivacious array of characters and the fireworks generated whenever they occupy a shared scene. In that department, Nsita has assembled an ensemble for the ages whose outsized romantic personas could give the rom-com icons a run for their money.

At the core are the hopelessly codependent yet lovable central lovers Shawn and Regina - two individuals who simply light up the airwaves whenever they ricochet off each other through their will-they-won't-they travails. Smurf Brown easily commands every inch of the spotlight as the insecure yet unavoidably rakish legal shark Shawn, deftly applying his rapid-fire comic timing to invigoratingly modern overshares, male insecurities, and bursts of surprising vulnerability. In a brilliant juxtaposition, Makeda Bastian radiates groundedness and aspirational girl-power as the no-nonsense Regina, keeping Brown's Shawn constantly off-balance with a captivating yet formidable emotional force.

Make no mistake though - while Shawn and Regina's alluring push-pull dynamic powers the central romantic engine, "Be My Baby" constantly opens the floor to an ensemble ensemble rich ensemble of lovably eccentric supporting players sure to become fan favorites. The unshakable cavalcade of personalities ranges from Brown's wonderfully gonzo double turn as Shawn's well-meaning but chaotic artist brother Lewis, to sic comedic pros Sabrina Romy and Amber Peterson each bringing wondrously offbeat flavors as Shawn and Regina's respective parents.

With each new adversary, ally or romantic wild card introduced into Shawn and Regina's intertwining spheres, "Be My Baby" becomes an increasingly immersive ensemble comedy with a rare fidelity to actual human dynamics and intersecting viewpoints. And comedic ethics are delivered to match, from Lewis' blitheringly sincere yet inadvertent meddling to Shawn's working class, bachelor banter with best friend Alex's refreshingly real male POV. This is how a true romantic comedy ensemble is done.

An Aural Experience Like No Other

So far, we've lauded the revitalizing writing and iconic character work fueling "Be My Baby's" irresistible spark as a romantic comedy triumph in the making. But that only scratches the surface of what makes this show such a transportive listening experience - a lovingly crafted audio spectacle designed to whisk listeners away into a vividly-realized world of palpable romance, looming suspense, and rip-roaring comic delight.

From the opening orchestral flourishes underscoring the show's dreamy theme song, "Be My Baby" takes root as a sumptuous aural playground bursting with multichannel grandeur. Each scene shines with layers of pristine audio mixing, capturing the city of Chicago and its diverse inhabitants with an almost Imax-level of sonic scope whether outdoors or in intimate settings. The dynamic versatility alone is a constant sensory joy, sweeping seamlessly from thundering baseball crowds to hushed lover's whispers without missing a nuanced beat.

Perhaps most astonishing though is how Joao Nsita and his production team wield background ambiences and inventive Foley textures to fully immerse the narrative world rather than merely suggest it. Ambient city details like rumbling traffic or clinking glassware constantly ebb and flow with verisimilitude, bleeding into the foreground at key comedic or suspenseful beats. And whether conjuring lush musical accompaniment to underscore Shawn and Regina's burgeoning dance routines or nestling the listener into an emersive 3D soundscape during intimate night-time conversations, the aural prowess remains intoxicatingly cinematic.

But far more than transportive craft, "Be My Baby's" sound design drips with characterful personality.

Everything from the likable cashmah murmurs of Chicago's business elite to working class kitchen clangor is rendered with flourishes of comedic color and specificity. Animated sound effects and doppler-like spatial dynamics only double down on the show's immense fun factor by punctuating even the simplest overshares or sight gags with bursts of whimsical creativity. It all lends "Be My Baby" a paradoxically grounded yet dreamy texture - straddling the line between heightened romance and granular authenticity with flair.

A Modern Day Romantic Standard

With powerful scripting, iconic characters, and beyond-state-of-the-art production values establishing an unassailably lofty pedigree, there's no denying that "Be My Baby" is primed to become a modern romantic comedy keystone for the ages. Yet what truly elevates this series beyond even its formidable merits is the readymade magic generated by its diverse ensemble's tangible electric chemistry.

Like all great rom-coms, "Be My Baby" understands that all the laugh-out-loud writing and obsessive sound flourishes mean little without a pair of irresistible romantic avatars whose spiraling connection can fully own the screen (or, in this case, stereo speakers.) In Shawn and Regina's charged combative dances of escalating mutual disdain and reluctantly deepening bonds, listeners can instantly recognize the cadences of the genre's most hallowed icons.

The romantic longing and cresting flirtatious tension coursing between Smurf Brown and Makeda Bastian's mastery of push-pull smolder heralds everything from the Cary Grant/Katharine Hepburn confrontations of old to the Harry/Sally-esque romantic heat that modern audiences instantly recognize. These two simply sizzle whenever occupying a scene or trading conversational blows, be it over double entendres, critiquing one another's style, or unwittingly revealing their more tender inner musings. "Be My Baby" understands that the rom-com depends upon that intangible spark - and Brown and Bastian deliver it in abundance.

Yet what separates this audio trailblazer from so many rom-com predecessors is its unwillingness to cling solely to the oft-homogenized partner pairing tradition. Rather, "Be My Baby" bakes its vibrant ensemble mentality directly into the romance's combustible interpersonal DNA, allowing every member time to ping off Shawn and Regina in uniquely hilarious ways. This all-angles approach pays off in both mining novel comedic textures and fresh narrative perspectives we hadn't even known we were missing in love stories.

As Shawn awkwardly toes the mother/son dynamic with Gloria's razor-tongued rib-grillings, or faces off against Lewis' pathological charisma in their brotherly banter, Brown gets to demonstrate his versatile range in foregrounding facets of modern masculinity oft overlooked. Bastien meanwhile is given abundant showcase for Regina's headstrong single mom mentality, be she sussing out her potential man-child partner's maturity or modeling sheer aspirational gutsiness while clashing with abrasive rivals.

And that's just the central romantic hook. Across its 6 episodes (so far), "Be My Baby" constantly shifts tones and dynamics, letting other ensemble members step up and reveal whole new comedic gears dynamite improvisers Romy and Peterson bring to the table as Regina's vivacious, messy parents counterbalancing Shawn's upper-crust bluster. So whenever the Shawn/Regina interplay does find traction, it feels that much more hard-earned and sincere for having been tempered and textured by these surrounding influences - an ingenious intimacy no strictly two-hander rom com tends to cultivate.

Ultimately, "Be My Baby" achieves that most elusive of romantic comedy highs - the intoxicating feeling of being swept up in a world where the storytelling universe constantly expands outwards and inwards from its original central focus, multiplying dramatic possibilities and romantic angles while never losing sight of the central throbbing heart. This vibrant, always-in-motion narrative pulse stokes joyful anticipation for where this engrossing Chicago saga could take viewers next. Will the mother-in-law matchmaker finally marry off her overgrown sons? Can Shawn and Regina's chemistry withstand their familial culture clashes? No matter where the scripts venture, the delicious unknowns compel repeat listening.

A Palpable Labor of Love and Comedy

Of course, any romantic comedy series building a will-they-won't-they arc this hermetic and densely populated runs the perpetual risk of regressing into mere soap opera kabuki, burning out its welcome through an endless string of static relationships and contrived relationship tetherball. Not once across its groundbreaking first season does "Be My Baby" ever succumb to that most inauthentic of rom-com pitfalls.

Instead, we bear witness to a creative team operating with utmost ambition, talent and clear-eyed vision for what a romantic comedy should aspire towards in the modern era - an inclusive safe-space for marginalized voices and perspectives, a celebration of the interconnectivity that helps strangers become soulmates, and most importantly, a rollicking good time fueled by irresistibly funny characters, authentic human pathos, and swoon-worthy setpieces.

By keeping the proceedings grounded in universal human truths about connection and emotional growth, "Be My Baby" transcends mere ethnic curio into the realm of modern classic. There's a palpable sense of authorial care and yes, love, rippling through every uproarious barb of dialogue, plot firework and whimsical mixing flourish that renders it utterly impossible to resist getting swept up in this magical confection's warm embrace.

High art and profundity are certainly present across this premiere season's tours-de-force of romantic comedy poignancy, dissections of masculine identity, and gauntlets of comedic privilege blindness. Nsita et al elegantly thread the needle of mirthful entertainment and keen cultural observation, paving the way for a generation of rom-coms to elevate the genre far beyond pat leading couples tossing quips back and forth.

Click below to listen to the full series of Be My Baby from That Love Podcast.

But at the end of the day, what lingers most indelibly is how unabashedly elated this entire team seems to be in simply creating a damn good romantic comedy rollercoaster for the ages - built with love, care and throbbing emotional authenticity that transcends its medium. We laugh with Shawn and Regina in their chaotic missteps, we swoon as bemused bystanders when passsions crest, and we scream in frustration whenever past obstacles threaten to derail their union. Basically, we fall mutually under the spell of this wondrous, laugh-filled dreamscape until it becomes our own reality for that fleeting spell.

That is the true magic of not just "Be My Baby" but any worthwhile romantic comedy - the ability to usher audiences into a reality best described as the total, entrancing promise of romantic possibilities unfurled through sheer joy and wit. You come for the a-ha disasater dates and stay for the chemistry broiling across enduring will-they-won't-they cliffhangers. Best of all, you leave uplifted by an energizing celebration of emotional vulnerabilities conquered, distant soulmates connected against towering odds, and a renewed awe for life's grandest boulevard of dreams.

Call it escapism, call it compensation for love's cruelties, call it simply tremendous entertainment in the grandest storytelling form. Whatever label first comes to mind, the creators of "Be My Baby" have unequivocally summoned that elusive, magical romantic comedy spirit back into the zeitgeist - and ushered a new comedic standard for the audio drama medium itself. Amour Fou might reign eternal on the silver screen. But right now, few modern rom-coms can hold a candle to this intoxicating aural fantasy.


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