It’s been a while since we’ve heard anything substantive from Meghan Markle, aside from the extended televised interview she gave her friend and all-media mentor Oprah Winfrey in March 2021. Aside from Prince Harry’s brief appearance on Spotify’s Dax Shepherd podcast in May 2021, Mr. Shepherd being a married-in (to actress Kristin Bell) sort-of celebrity-bro to Harry in addition to a fraternal Spotify stablemate, there’s actually been little-to-no production value on Spotify coming from either of the Windsors of Montecito, and that in return for a contract reportedly worth some $15-million-to-$18-million. The 3-year contract was reported as having been inked in December 2020. It’s late 2022.
As of yesterday evening, August 23, we — and the many producers and executives of Spotify who have presumably been dreaming, hard, about what to do with the couple they signed — now have Ms. Markle’s first-ever podcast, an intimate, obligatorily star-studded “chat” with her best-friend-forever Serena Williams. Whatever position we might take on the content, which we’ll address below, going in there’s this ineluctable fact: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have a year and a bit, or less than 50%, of their stated three years left. They’re going to have to ramp up the velocity of production.
Predictably, the parameters of this conversation were very liberally set, which is to say, first, that it was hardly an interview, and second, that Meghan Markle led the show. As predictably, it was a love fest. This has its upsides and its downsides. An upside is that it does foster intimacy, or at least a familiarity resembling it. One downside was that not a lot of information or insight was delivered. Which is to say: For all of Meghan Markle’s constantly stated and ongoing public interest in political and social causes, as a podcast host Ms. Markle largely neglected her A-list guest’s recent, and politically fascinating, statement of the stark choices facing female athletes as they attempt to balance family and career. Ms. Markle and Ms. Williams did get there eventually, but it wasn’t the banner segment, nor did it do Ms. Markle as host all the thematic good that it could have done. A missed opportunity, let’s call it. Perhaps she’ll learn to grab such juicy moments as time goes on.
Bottom line: Serena Williams’ noble retirement statement in at the pinnacle of her glittering career made global headlines two weeks before this podcast. Needless to say, Williams’ announcement also shook her sport. As central as that event was to the stated “Archetype” podcast’s mission of looking at issues that “hold women back,” and, specifically, to the stated theme of this podcast, “The Misconception of Ambition,” Meghan Markle chose to ameliorate the very intense on-target value of her first, ideal, A-list guest. Why she chose to do that for the better part of an hour-long show will remain a mystery that her many producers will be attempting to solve as the series grinds on. As one of America’s finest and most schooled media hosts, Meghan Markle’s media counselor Oprah Winfrey would never have let that thematic point slide. Meghan Markle did.
In London — where Meghan Markle’s 2nd quarter 2022 YouGov approval rating has steeply tanked in the last months to a low of 25% whereas 47% of the British responders to the poll actively dislike her — the reviews of the first “Archetypes” podcast were uniformly negative and at times excoriating. Here’s a quick smorgasbord of the reactions to “Archetypes” on Fleet Street.
The Steerpike column in the (London) Spectator pulled no punches:
The first guest is Serena Williams, but tennis enthusiasts who tune in might be a bit disappointed. The show is in fact all about Meghan, since it takes 11 minutes for Serena to barely get a word in edgeways….It’s hard to believe that it took 28 people, including eight executive producers, to make the episode – plus Meghan herself, who is also listed as an ‘executive producer’ in the credits.
Nor did James Marriott of the (London) Times:
The podcast is a tastefully soundtracked parade of banalities, absurdities and self-aggrandising Californian platitudes. The effect of all the tinkly music and vapid conversation is to make you feel you’ve been locked in the relaxation room of a wellness spa with an unusually self-involved yoga instructor.
Bel Mooney of the Daily Mail added this dose of flame to the bonfire:
Since Serena is one of the most successful and fearless players in the history of her sport, I was keen to hear her analyze her ambition and desire to win, and to reflect on the personal cost of her dazzling triumphs; to find out what originally put the steel in her spine and to hear her serve up some devastating backhand shots against male put-downs….This bizarre, saccharine and faintly queasy schmooze-fest between Meghan and ‘my dear friend Serena’ (as we hear over and over again) tells us next to nothing at all about the making of Serena Williams’s towering ambition.
Going forward — Ms. Markle’s next guest will be her friend Mariah Carey — it seems that there is at least one lesson to bear in mind. With less than half the span of the contract left and a total of one (1) podcast pushed live, we and the British are going to be facing many more hours of “Archetypes.” We do also know, and perhaps Meghan Markle’s first, main point in the early going of this exercise is that it may not matter what she and whatever well-known person she has invited ultimately talk about. The point lies, rather, in the exercise itself: Though Meghan Markle is on a good day, at best, a Grade B or -C celebrity, for Spotify’s purposes she can draw Grade-A celebrities to her modest flame and demonstrate an Oprah-esque intimacy with them.