Adapted from the hit podcast of the same name, Epix’s new docu-series “Slow Burn” — which details the people involved in the events of the Watergate Scandal — has joined the trend of podcast-turned-television shows, and it certainly will not be the last. In our current media climate, the endless profit possibilities that different intellectual properties offer has nearly every network or platform scrambling to attain the rights to reproduce stories we’ve already heard before, but just on their platform. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with adapting a series from one medium to another, but the qualities that make a podcast great are separate from what makes a television series great.
Great podcasts make you feel close to the text. The voice speaking to you invites you to imagine and create your own understanding of the story as it’s being told. Podcasts-turned-television series, on the other hand, command you to sit down and take in a single version of the story unfolding before your eyes. “Slow Burn” wants us to imagine what it felt like to live through Watergate in real time. It gives listeners a different perspective on the events we think we know so well, stripping away the collective knowledge of the event in order to tell the story from the very beginning.
The visual element that “Slow Burn” returns to the most is the image of an empty living room that screams 1970s — a wooden coffee table, a walnut bookshelf, an FM radio controlled with a dial. With each return, it becomes easier to imagine yourself being there, living through the events, catching a snippet of the daily Watergate news coverage as you go about your day.
The brilliance of the title “Slow Burn” is how host Leon Neyfakh perfectly evokes the feeling of a literal slow burn with his suspensful storytelling. Recounting history through our collective memory often results in only remembering the popular assumptions and forced narratives. In other words, we remember the outcomes, but not the specifics, such as the people involved.
“Slow Burn” is all about the people involved. Neyfakh repeatedly invites us to forget about what we already know about Watergate and imagine ourselves as observers who have no idea what the “third-rate burglary” that barely made it into The Washington Post might eventually lead to. Neyfakh loves bringing our attention to figures who “played roles in the story that are larger than history remembers.” The series opener is centered around Martha Mitchell — the wife of Nixon’s Attorney General — and outlines her role as the initial whistleblower in the Watergate scandal. The episode also recounts the Nixon administration’s successful smear campaign to dismiss Mitchell as a crazy alcoholic in order to control the narrative.
Without Mitchell, it’s very possible that the truth of Watergate would have never come out. Mitchell’s courage to speak out, the steps taken by the government to keep her quiet and to turn her into some sort of delusional person are not talked about as often as it should be. The relevance of Mitchell’s treatment by the press and the Nixon administration is particularly relevant considering the way our current president disregards and discredits anyone who speaks out against him. This episode details Mitchell’s role in Watergate, and the rest of the series should bring back important figures that have been forgotten by history and the slow burn of the truth. The next time someone tells you a story that’s so outrageous that you can’t believe it, remember that sometimes the craziest thing to come out of someone’s mouth may very well be the truth.
“Slow Burn” airs on Epix, Sundays @ 10 p.m.