I know you must have loved me sometime

Something you should know about me is I’m a big fan of the band Barenaked Ladies. What can I say? Those Canadian boys really spoke to me in the early 2000s.

Their third studio album featured a song about a prototype puppet that was made before Geppetto created Pinocchio. It’s a dark song about jealousy, delivered through gritted teeth. If you’re interested, it’s called Just a Toy and you’ll find it on the Born on a Pirate Ship album.

As I started listening to this week’s featured podcast, that song popped into my head. Eliza: A Robot Story is part love-story, part sci-fi, part political thriller, part psychological drama. It covers coercive control and domestic violence… which is unsurprising when you hear the end credits and get a sense of what fuels the story. There are heart-wrenching moments as we see the very real struggles humans face when in dysfunctional and abusive relationships, viewed through the prism of a collection of algorithms.

Eliza tells the story of a robot who falls in love with a human, from the robot’s perspective. And just as the song Just a Toy starts constrained and then opens out, so this – and the character of Eliza – unfolds.

I haven’t finished the series yet, as I want to give it time to sink in. But it’s something special. It stars Tanya Reynolds and Arthur Darvill who are off-of Sex Education and Doctor Who respectively. I can tell the sound design is good because I haven’t though about it much, which means it isn’t getting in the way of the writing or the performances. The music is well-chosen, and there’s real humour doted in amongst the seriousness. (I won’t go so far as to say “darkness”, although I’m pretty sure that’s coming.)

Actually, the bit about the sound design is vastly underplaying it. What I think I’m saying is that it feels natural and fits so well with the dialogue. It’s not the star of the show but it’s an essential player.

I’m picking essentially the first minute – bar front matter – of the first episode, as it immediately set the bar and got my attention. Take a listen and you’ll see why.

That first minute is all writing, but there are others I could’ve picked out that showcased other qualities of the show. There’s a great montage scene set to 80s synth pop in which Eliza details her day. There’s also the constant thread running through the show that we never know the name of Eliza’s owner… he’s simply referred to as “Him”.

So that’s Eliza: A Robot Story. I listened to a show a couple of months ago that also dealt with domestic abuse, and felt compelled to share it… but it felt either exploitative or performative to do so, as it was a true story rather than a work of fiction.

Anyway, provided you’re not too triggered by these kinds of stories, I think you can appreciate – and enjoy – the show for its smart conception, its attention to detail, its great writing, solid performances, and superior production.

That’ll do it for this week. A pleasure as always to be in your inbox. Catch you next week. You keep listening, I will too, and if you have a show you think I should hear, pitch me!

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