I’ve been on quite the podcast binge lately; between Revolutions, The Adventure Zone, The Black Tapes, and my ongoing attempt to listen to every episode of Stuff You Should Know. That said, I’m not quite sure how I stumbled onto this week’s web crush—maybe a mention on my Tumblr dash?—but I’m glad I did. The Bright Sessions is a fascinating podcast about a woman—Dr. Bright—who specializes in therapy for atypicals, people with various powers. The show is a great blend of X-Men-like powers, teen drama, conspiracies, secrets, and complex moral issues, alongside a positive portrayal of mental healthcare and therapeutic coping mechanisms.
Minor spoilers for the show below the jump!
The Bright Sessions follows Dr. Bright, a highly intelligent but still human and flawed therapist, and several of her patients as a series of interrelated conflicts unfold. Her clients include a mind-reader, a teen empath overwhelmed by other people’s thoughts, a time traveler who travels back in time uncontrollably when she experiences a panic attack, and a man who has the power to make people want whatever he wants. It’s this last, Damien, who offers the most frightening conflict to the story. There are very few people, almost all of them fellow atypicals, who can resist Damien’s ability, but it’s also not something that he does actively or can turn on and off. Much like Rogue’s mutant power, it’s ostensibly a power but more of a curse. As her patients slowly find out about each other, they form strong bonds, but also discover that Dr. Bright may be hiding something from all of them regarding her own motivations.
One of the things I love about the show is that none of the characters are perfectly likeable. Each of them has their own flaws, and each of them eventually has to face the consequences of a bad decision. Dr. Bright and others suffer from keeping secrets, whereas some people are too trusting. Chloe, the mindreader, has to learn ways to keep her power to herself so that she’s not eavesdropping on everyone’s private business, but she’s also a super-helpful (and kind of nosy) busybody who often fails to respect boundaries because of her good intentions. Even Damien, despite his terrifying, consent-stealing power, is not portrayed as a total monster, but as a nuanced character who gave up on being a good person sometime after teen Damien wished his parents would leave him alone forever—and they did.
The show is wonderfully progressive in terms of queer representation. The main romantic arc of the show is about a jock-y teenager falling in love with his male classmate, a quieter, more emo type. Even the supporting romance, which is a male/female couple, includes a bisexual man, and they use the word bisexual to describe him in the show. The one thing that I wish The Bright Sessions was a bit more clear about, however, is racial representation. The titular Dr. Bright is played by Julia Morizawa, who’s Japanese-American, but her brother Mark’s VA, Adam Nowak, is white, so we can’t infer that their characters share their voice actors’ races, and their ethnicity is never mentioned in-show. Similarly, Alex Marshall-Brown, who plays Director Wadsworth, is Black, and Alex Gallner, who plays her nephew Adam, is not.
Additionally, Wadsworth, a Machiavellian scientist who researches atypicals, and Frank, a homeless veteran who received atypical powers as the result of military experimentation, are the only characters who are identifiable as Black (based on their AAVE speaking patterns), and… you can see from those brief character descriptions that, for different reasons, they’re not great choices for Black representation. The one Black woman is a seemingly heartless administrator, and the one Black man is the (in this case, knowing/willing) victim of military experimentation, which hearkens to the many real historical examples of medical atrocities carried about against Black men. As the series is still ongoing, I’m hoping that they’ll work to improve on these issues and increase the racial representation in their cast.
While the show certainly has a few issues to work out, I’m always excited to see a new episode appear in my Podcast app. It’s on its third season currently, but the episodes are usually less than half an hour, so it’s an easy binge to get caught up. (And it’s accessible to the d/Deaf community as well, as they have episode transcripts available on their website.) Additionally, they offer all kinds of bonus content through their website—you can check out Instagram profiles and mixtapes “made” by the characters, or follow the characters’ Tumblrs as well as the official Bright Sessions Tumblr and Twitter.
Hear more from Lady Saika on Character Reveal, the podcast she cohosts with BrothaDom!