Watching a new talk show, Critical Roles, takes a lot of time to see how things ended up here.
Over the past seven years, the actual-play D&D series has attracted interest of many tabletop RPG enthusiasts - owing to its impressive voice acting, sustained and complex world-building, and the clear on-screen chemistry between its cast of real-world friends.
A significant part of this success is due to the ability of fans to see behind the scenes of their favourite content creators: hearing about their character motivations, how they approached designing in-game personalities, and getting a better sense of who they are. The original interview series, Talks Machina, was able to scratch that obscenity until its last year in favor of a fresh, overhauled format.
The most recent behind-the-scenes stream, which begins with early episodes of Campaign 3, has a difficult time.
The four-week split started in April 2022, avoiding Talks Machinas'' more traditional interview format for a four-way discussion between different cast members, all rolling a death to determine who will host the reunion.
After reading out a preamble from a televisionprompter, the host then proceedes to several Q&A sessions. Like Talks Machina, fans may send in questions, but they are often sidelined here in favor of critical Roles'' answers, giving greater control over the discussion at hand.
One or two evergreen fan queries are chosen through a Chenga tower (non-copyrighted Jenga, naturally), where the cast selects a random block with a number that names a certain question. The show ends with a video game segment, as cast members play a multiplayer title together (Mario Kart and others), effectively smashing the formats of Talks Machina and Yee-Haw Game Ranch.
The result is a mix of odd choices, feeling undercooked and overproduced at the same time. The lack of a fixed host makes for a casual atmosphere but also means 4-Sided Dive has no real identity. No-one feels in charge or capable of taking the lead. When crew members have to remind everyone how the show is structured, and how long each section takes, it all seems a bit unfocused and distracts from the questions at hand.
While I am hesitant to begrudge the CR team moving from biweekly to monthly levels, it should half the effort involved, despite the sheer number of moving parts crammed together, making 4-Sided Dive lose sight of the set''s purpose: to know more about the cast and their process. Everything else is just noise.
The cast spends so much time navigating the different sections that we lose the complex, revealing conversation that Talks was so successful equities. Despite the fact that the cast members present have failed to provide a reliable foundation, making the Chenga tower crumbling.
The divide between approved questions and sidelined fan input is disappointing, however, with a large fanbase, regular, timely questions and a thorough fan analysis should still be pertinent weeks after the fact. Even cast member Sam Reigel dismisses the craze for fan questions from the teleprompter, claiming that he is not sure who, if anyone, is in charge.
Part of the problem is likely to be the desire to distance 4-Sided Dive from its predecessor.
There is no official explanation for why Talks Machina and its host, Brian W. Foster, were replaced, and there is no end of fan speculation on Reddit, where r/CriticalRole mods are repeatedly forced to lock down threads that are too toxic on the subject. (This tweet thread by Foster appears to imply something.)
The hostless format is a viable way to avoid the problem, but ensuring dissatisfied fans who wished Foster remained in the process may try out new things. However, the structure may be a tool to refine things efficiently, despite a lack of enthusiasm. (Hopefully with fan-favourite Dani Carr taking a more key role.)
For the time being, however, the desire to combine more than one source of programming and prevent any individual from becoming the face of the show, feels like dumping everything into the gumbo without a supervising chef.
Both the camera and the scope of the show have zoomed out, resulting in a greater, broader perspective that loses the detail, the insight, and the possibility of a more focused interview format.