Gimlet’s The Two Princes (no relation to Spin Doctors, to my knowledge) had the deck somewhat stacked against it when I started listening. Gimlet’s previous work in fiction, Sandra, missed the mark completely for me. Until The Two Princes, I haven’t heard well-known stage and screen actors feel organic in a podcast. I’ve started seeing big names on podcasts being more red flags than selling points. Here, though, I found myself continually impressed and delighted. The Two Princes isn’t perfect, but it is fun, sweet, and incredibly enjoyable.
When Prince Rupert sets out to break the mysterious curse that’s destroying his kingdom, he’s ready to face whatever dastardly villain or vile monster stands in his way. What he isn’t prepared for are the bewildering new emotions he feels when he meets the handsome Amir, a rival prince on a quest to save his own realm. Forced to team up, the two princes soon discover that the only thing more difficult than saving their kingdoms is following their hearts.
A RadioPublic embed of the trailer for the podcast, which can also be found here.
The Two Princes is made in partnership with The Trevor Project, a foundation provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention resources for LGBTQ+ youth. The Two Princes is also a podcast centered on a love story between two teenage boys, and is marketed towards a a pre-teen and teen audience, while still having appeal for older generations. It’s a podcast that can easily be listened to by an entire family, that could help facilitate important conversations or just signal to LGBTQ+ youth that they are not just supported by their family, but also being given more and more representation in the media. It’s the sort of thing that I wish I’d had in my youth as a queer person. Released at the start of June 2019, PRIDE month, it’s a welcome and lovely entry to fiction podcasting on a big-budget, networked scale via Gimlet.
The Two Princes benefits from its high-genre, borderline camp setup. The fantastical plot has every trapping of a typical fairytale: there’s princes and princesses, magic and mystery, a forbidden forest, a secret prophecy, lore of a curse, an unwanted marriage, and a ball. Like many more modern fairytale stories, the podcast also benefits from a contemporary sense of humor that deftly weaves between sarcasm, goofiness, and irony–think one part Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, one part Tangled, one part She-Ra.
The somewhat large performances from the star-studded cast, featuring actors like Christine Baranski and Samira Wiley, feels at home in a work with a core demographic that skews younger than most fiction podcasts. Even as someone outside of that target demographic, though, I found myself laughing out loud throughout the entire first season. There’s a feeling of real joy that comes through in each performance; every actor not only commits, no matter how silly the role, but commits so gleefully. It’s infectious, and it’s one of the key factors in why The Two Princes is so genuinely charming.
So does the podcast’s core love story. The relationship that emerges between the impulsive, headstrong, casual Prince Rupert and the formal, practiced, astute Amir is built on the framework of plenty of tropes: they’re opposites who attract; Prince Rupert fakes his identity; there’s a star-crossed lovers feeling due to their opposed kingdoms; and while Rupert’s attraction is immediate and obvious, it’s a bit more of a slow burn on the side of Amir. The tropes here don’t make the romance feel cheesy or contrived, especially in the familiar trappings of the fairytale. Instead, they feel familiar enough to sink into, a sort of predictability that feels comforting versus boring. The Two Princes isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel. It’s trying to let a marginalized group actually take that wheel for once.
Where The Two Princes sometimes falls flat is in its sound design. The sound work has a tendency to be both busy and hollow: everything that can have a sound in a scene usually does, but those sounds feel divorced from the action itself. There’s a sense that the sound design was considered only in the world of sound versus visually picturing a scene and designing the sound around that–a practice that seems logical, but leads to confusion for the listener when trying to visualize a scene, especially when it comes to fights. The foley work itself also sounds like pulls from a glossy, but generic, sound library. The sound effects feel inorganic and impersonal, put in the mix just to make sure the dialogue makes sense versus actively adding to the texture of the world or the characters. I would have liked to hear more in the clothing differences between the two princes, hear more creaks and cracks in the ominous forest.
Regardless of nitpicky complaints in sound, I powered through the first season–available in full now–in a day and immediately wanted more. It’s sweet and fun in a way LGBTQ+ audiences don’t often get to hear, campy and funny in a way LGBTQ+ culture iconically tends to love. Coming from a network as big as Gimlet, that means a lot.