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A Podcast That Sounds the Alarm on the American Dream

There are plenty of podcasts about cons of all kinds: “Scam Goddess,” “Chameleon,” “Swindled,” “Oh My Fraud.” What sets “The Dream” apart is a particular mix of cynicism, compassion and genuine curiosity, most of it articulated in Marie’s crabby voice. “I’m like a petulant teen,” she said. “I’ve always been like that.”

Ira Glass, who gave Marie her first professional job in radio, on “This American Life,” described that voice as energetic, appealing and opinionated. “Jane is simultaneously out for fun and has a deep sense of injustice,” he said. “Often people who have a keen sense of ‘That’s not fair!’ aren’t also charismatically funny.”

Marie claims not to love how much she appears in the show. “I’m sick of my voice,” she said. But her voice defines it. And her irritability does not preclude empathy. At heart, “The Dream” is less about the scams themselves than why people fall for them. The episodes don’t judge or ridicule the people who become entangled in these schemes. Marie can identify with their hunger, their want and the ways in which more conventional routes to financial stability or well-being might have failed them. Instead the podcast asks, with genuine interest, why someone might fall for a fraud and which regulatory bodies failed to protect them.

Leital Molad, the senior vice president at Pushkin Industries, which partnered with Little Everywhere for this third season, appreciates this varied approach to storytelling. The show, she said, has the ability to focus narrowly on a personal narrative in one episode and then zoom out to consider systemic problems in the next. “It tells these quintessential stories of American capitalism,” she said.

The story this season, which overlaps in places with both wellness and MLMs, is told a little differently. Typically Marie takes a skeptical approach while Gallucci remains more broad-minded. (His term: “wishy-washy.”) “I have a tendency to be a little bit just more open,” he said in a joint interview last month. “I am not someone who’s always looking for a very specific answer. Because I don’t find that the world provides them very often.”

But Gallucci is less present in this season, in part because he and Marie broke up, in a rupture they discuss in an early episode. He spearheads fewer episodes, and there are fewer conversations between the two hosts.

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