When Critical Role, the live-streaming Dungeons & Dragons game played by a group of voice actors, announced the show would be expanding to include its own channel with additional original content, there was a lot of anticipation about what that would include. The first program, Handbooker Helper, launched in August with the goal of making the tabletop role-playing game more accessible. Critical Role creative director and cast member Marisha Ray (Fire Emblem Heroes, Final Fantasy XV) told SYFY WIRE at the time that two more programs were on the way, as well, and on Monday, Between the Sheets debuted to become the second weekly original program to air on Critical Role's new Twitch channel.
Between the Sheets is a one-on-one interview show hosted by Brian W. Foster, the host of Critical Role talk show Talks Machina, that tells “the stories behind the storytellers.” After airing Mondays, the show will be available on YouTube Wednesdays and as a podcast a week later.
SYFY WIRE exclusively has the first YouTube video, which you can watch right here, right now. The initial episode features Critical Role cast member Taliesin Jaffe (Final Fantasy XIV, Injustice 2).
A writer and musician, Talks was Foster's first experience with hosting. He told SYFY WIRE that it took some time for him to get over his camera shyness and stage fright, but after hosting the show for almost two years, he's ready to embark on a new hosting challenge with Between the Sheets.
In fact, the idea for a more long-form, in-depth interview program was considered before Critical Role created its new channel. It started with an idea that Foster brought to cast member Travis Willingham (Sofia the First, Overwatch) for a podcast about storytellers. Willingham told Foster to wait to start it because it would be a great fit for the group's own channel.
When discussions about shows the Critical Role gang could launch on their own channel began, there was an idea for one called Between the Character Sheets. This would cover why people chose their D&D classes and similar topics with the Critical Role cast as well as others in the tabletop community. Foster, though, felt much of that had been covered on Talks already and brought up the podcast idea again.
Soon enough, the podcast idea morphed and solidified into a show that would focus on two people having a conversation over cocktails. Talking about life over a drink was how the group socialized anyway, and with a tavern area being built, it became the obvious setting. The first season will consist of eight episodes and focus on the Critical Role cast before expanding beyond them in future seasons.
“You can't tell from a Wikipedia page how someone's life experiences — whether that be the tragedies they've experienced, the triumphs, whatever it is — has influenced who they are today," Foster says. "This person went to NYU and then became a voice actor... What happened in-between there? That's what I'm interested in finding out."
The name changed to Between the Sheets with the shift away from a purely D&D focus to refer to the pages in a book. To Foster, it's between these pages you can find “the facets and the DNA of the storyteller.”
“That's what I'm trying to tap into with this show,” he says. “We're not talking about the facets of someone's work as much as I'm talking about how someone's life experiences and their worldview ends up affecting the stories that they tell.”
While the show will be more serious and not feature elements like fan questions and giveaways like Talks, the cocktails Foster and his guests enjoy during the show add a fun, interactive component. Recipes will be shared online so fans can give them a try; at the end of each episode, Foster will walk viewers through a tutorial. Drinks during the season will include alcoholic and non-alcoholic options, with the first episode's cocktail being a Blonde Manhattan.
Foster reached out to the cast to ask what they wanted to drink on the show and the idea to create cocktails for each person's character was discussed. However, they decided they needed more time to create these special drinks. Such drinks will be explored in the future, but for now, this season features a mix of unique and classic drinks like an Old Fashioned and mulled wine.
Those who have spotted a similarity to Paul F. Thompkins' Speakeasy are right that the shows share certain aspects and Foster says they all love that show. Between the Sheets pays homage to Speakeasy as well as the sitcom Frasier. Foster explained they try to break each episode up into segments and use what they call "Frasier cards" to do so.
There's no rushing to finish the interview during the program. The fact that it's not live is a plus to Foster. It allows them the freedom a show like Talks can't since there may be set cut off times if there's programming before or after it. They'll edit out whatever might be unnecessary here, but can otherwise go as long as they feel the interview needs to go with nothing else airing on the channel that night. Originally they considered making it a 30-minute show and creating a seven-minute podcast version, but that changed when they sat down to edit the episode with Jaffe.
It came down to the idea that Critical Role makes a difference in people's lives; everything they make is for the community. Foster knew people would be encouraged and influenced by what people say about their journeys on the show. Foster believes the interesting and relatable parts of interviews about someone's career are what was going on in the hardest parts of their lives. He won't cut something he feels someone out there might need to hear. Foster says if someone can only sit for 30 minutes for an episode then that's how long it will be, but they otherwise let them be as long as they're going to be.
“I've had a very colorful past and dealt with a lot of addiction and a lot of different stuff and I feel like I've sort of had a second chance on life," Fosters says. "My goal after that was if I'm going to make art, if I'm going to write or tell stories or do Talks Machina or Between the Sheets, the measure of success I'm holding myself to is, 'Does it impact people in a way that makes their life better in some way?' If that's giving them a laugh with Talks Machina. If it's asking questions on the show, showing off their art or GIF or giving them free stuff. I just like to make people happy. I like to make people think and reflect and be encouraged and feel like they're not alone in this world. That's my main goal with this show.”
Knowing that the show will impact people comes from seeing the influence Critical Role has already had. It's not just from seeing messages online about how much the current programs and the people behind them mean to fans, but also from meeting people in-person at events. Foster says having someone stand in front of you and tell you how Critical Role has impacted their lives can be overwhelming. According to Foster, those stories and knowing the impact on fans is “the motivating force behind every decision we make with the content of these shows. It's not money. It's not what's cool.
“Between the Sheets is not an incredibly original idea," he adds. "We know that. The thing that sets it apart from everything else is we're kind of avoiding a lot of the obvious stuff we should or could talk about and going after sides of people we feel like people haven't seen or we know will make an impact and it's because we get those chances to look fans right in the eye and see how this silly stuff we're making is impacting them."
To Foster, it's impossible for such an experience to not really affect your life.
“That is the central focus of the stuff we want to make... What's going to be fun and what's going to be impacting people? To make content from that cornerstone, I've never worked with people like that,” he says. “With people who will spend three hours dissecting something like we did Between the Sheets. We changed the entire idea of the show. I think our community would have loved that original idea, but I think they'll love this way more.”
Season 1 just started, but that doesn't mean there aren't ideas for Season 2 already underway. The next season could be longer or shorter than the current season and Foster says there's a dream list of actors, writers, musicians, and other storytellers they would love to interview. One guest will be Foster's friend musician Bobby Hall, a.k.a. Logic. Foster said the rapper “has one of the most incredible life stories you've ever heard.” His dream guest would be Guillermo del Toro.
If the first episode is any indication, Between the Sheets is going to be a place where guests can tell their own stories in a way they're rarely able to in other settings. It's a fitting choice for a program on Critical Role's channel considering it all started with telling captivating stories via D&D. Foster pointed out that this is really their first step beyond D&D content.
“We're going to interview a lot of people who don't play D&D and aren't connected to it in any way, but they are storytellers and a lot are people we know and we want to bring in to show them to our audience,” he says. “Also, hopefully, we grab new people that don't know about Critical Role, but they want to see so-and-so interviewed and they'll Google and our show will eventually pop up. They'll say, 'What else is on this channel?' Then they see this other stuff. If that ends up with someone watching Critical Role or going this looks fun, I want to play D&D and sitting down at a table with friends and having an analogue adventure in a digital world, then that's a success for us too.”
The second episode of Between the Sheets will air on Critical Role's Twitch channel Monday at 7PM PT with guest Travis Willingham.