Professors Robert Thompson and Charisse L’Pree go ‘Fast and Furious’

by Lani Diane Rich

October 25, 2018

For ‘PodCast and Curious,’ the two professors take a critical look at a beloved and often overlooked pop culture franchise

Charisee L'Pree and Robert Thompson
Professors Charisse L'Pree and Robert Thompson talk "The Fast and the Furious" in the Bleier Center. Lukas Sunderlin

It may seem like an odd concept, two academics discussing eight action movies built around the world of illegal street racing, but when Charisse L’Pree, assistant professor of communications, came up with the idea to explore  “The Fast and the Furious” series via podcast, she didn’t hesitate.

“We see critical reception of other blockbuster franchises—'Star Wars,’ ‘Harry Potter’—Anne Osborne teaches a James Bond class here,” she says. “But ‘Fast and Furious’ has been out for 17 years, and hasn't received the same academic attention.”

Professor Robert Thompson, Newhouse television, radio and film professor and director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture, was a natural fit as a partner for the project. Neither professor had podcasted before, so they hired a broadcast and digital journalism master’s student, Epiphany Catling G’18, to produce the show while they talked about the movies. The resulting conversations launched in early October as “PodCast and Curious,” with all eight episodes available at once.

“It was an enlightening experience,” says Thompson. “If you take a careful, thoughtful mind and apply it to just about anything, stuff will come out of it. And then if you apply it to something as rich as those eight ‘Fast and Furious’ movies, lots will come out.”

In the process of thinking critically about the movies, Thompson and L’Pree found that the films have greater depth than many would imagine. They discussed the absence of the common “damsel in distress” trope, how black masculinity finds diverse representation in the characters of Rome and Tej and Vin Diesel’s character Dom as a modern Lone Ranger.

One of the biggest surprises, both professors agreed, was how much fun it was.

“One of my mentors in college once said, ‘Hang out with people who are smarter than you,’” says Thompson. “And that was my great pleasure in doing this with Dr. L’Pree.”

“The most joy for me is Dr. Thompson seeing the things that I didn't see and vice versa,” L’Pree says.

Now that the eight episodes on “The Fast and the Furious” are done, the two are already planning their next adventure in podcasting: a deep dive into the films of Keanu Reeves.

“I think Keanu Reeves is one of those underrated actors that you've seen do a wide array of stuff but it's never really taken seriously,” says L’Pree. The idea for the Reeves project started from L’Pree’s desire to talk about “The Matrix” series, but she realized that there was a host of eclectic films starring the actor which, when strung together, create a metatext of their own. “This star narrative of Keanu Reeves… there's just so much there that has not gotten academic attention.”

Thompson is enthusiastically on board, and feels actors have a space in the auteur theory, which typically attributes creative vision for a project to directors. “Before the French developed the auteur theory, we never used to think of a John Ford film. We thought of a John Wayne film. Hollywood was kind of built on that star system that had implicit in it the auteurism, even if they weren't conscious of it.”

For the moment, however, all energy is going toward promoting the podcast’s first slate of episodes, which L’Pree takes great delight in sharing.

“[I tell people,] ‘Dr. Thompson's got a whole theory on how ‘2 Fast 2 Furious’ is a reverse Moby Dick narrative. And then people [say], ‘What the what?’ And I'm like, ‘Yeah. You should listen.’”

“PodCast and Curious” is available on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play and Spotify.