As evidenced in my first post about podcast recommendations in March 2017, and then a second updated list in March 2018, I am SUPER into podcasts. From fictional radio dramas to investigative journalism to discussion regarding issues of race, sexuality, gender identity and more, to just plain ridiculous fun, I listen to a wide variety of shows.
Part Two re-stated some of my long time favorites and I’m going to forgo listing them again, but you should really check them out because they continue to be my top must-listens.
What follows are the best podcasts I’ve discovered over the past seven months! (You’ll see that there’s been a wealth of limited-release podcasts that have come out recently. Little bite-sized 5-8 episode nuggets perfect for binging over a workday or two!)
TRUE CRIME AND INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM
Dirty John: This was a limited run series that told the true story of Debra Newell, a successful and wealthy interior designer and this man she met while online dating. He appeared to be a great catch–just back from a year in Iraq with Doctors Without Borders. But her family doesn’t like him and as more and more about him gets unearthed, things get real weird. A complete run at only 7 episodes, it’s extremely engrossing and bingeable.
Dr. Death: Another limited run series that follows Dr. Christopher Duntsch, a charming neurosurgeon who worked in Texas, and continued to work in spite of having dozens of patients under his care who were either killed or left paralyzed in routine operations. It’s a pretty horrifying look into how hospitals are unwilling to report physicians for fear of legal retaliation, even if it meant saving many lives. It’s got 6 episodes in its original run, though they’re still publishing occasional updates as the story is ongoing.
The Dream: I just discovered this podcast, and it’s quite new as it only has four episodes out. It’s a deep dive into the world of the history of pyramid schemes and, in turn, Multi-Level Marketing companies that technically aren’t pyramid schemes. Buuuuutttt they target and prey mainly on women who have few other options to make money and are promised flexibility and profits while staying home. While some people find success (or at least for a while) it more often leads to racked up credit card debt and mountains of products they can’t sell. The host grew up in rural Michigan like myself, which is prime territory for these companies. After all, Amway, the Big Daddy of Them All, is from my home town.
Uncover: Escaping NXIVM: Remember that story in the news last year about that “sex cult” that was partly run by Smallville actress Allison Mack? Well, the host of this podcast is childhood friends with one of its members who left it. This fascinating seven part podcast talks about the “humanitarian community” NXIVM (pronounced “Nexium”) and how NXIVM Dos (the sex cult part) spawned out of it.
The Butterfly Effect with Jon Ronson: This seven part series follows the effect that free streaming porn sites have had on not only the porn industry but have also shaped an entire generation’s view of sex. It’s seriously fascinating.
Sold in America: Okay, so there’s only been one episode out so far of this new series, but I am extremely interested to see where this goes. The young Muslim-American journalist and activist Noor Tagouri has already made a documentary series on the subject of the U.S. Sex Trade. She examines the buying, selling, and trafficking of sex in the US, and discusses what the best path is for dealing with the issue. There are several different approaches that have been tried around the world, from legalizing sex work to criminalizing only the buying of sex. Noor realizes that the whole subject is much more nuanced than she had originally thought. Not all sex workers want or need to be rescued, but there are also many who do. I’m excited to see what Noor uncovers.
Hedonist: This five part series investigates the New York City sex party scene, from open sex communes to more commercial endeavors, negotiating safety and consent, as well as how couples who participate in the scene keep their own relationships healthy.
The Bright Sessions: When I discovered this podcast, I listened to fifty episodes in probably about a week. This show follows a group of therapy patients, but each of them has a supernatural ability. Their therapist Dr. Bright seems to have some mysterious motives for her interest in their cases. The original run of 56 episodes has finished but there’s spinoff podcasts and even YA books and a television show are now in the works. And, most importantly, I’ve gotta give praise to this podcast for its amazing representation of LGBTQ+ characters…it’s actually more common for a character to be queer than straight! It’s an extremely well done and poignant show.
Everything is Alive: This is a delightfully weird little show in which the host interviews inanimate objects about their existences. I’ll be honest that I’ve only listened to the first episode featuring Louis, the can of generic off-brand cola. But I was thoroughly charmed and even touched at times! I really have to dive back in for more!
Welcome to Night Vale: I’ve listed this before, but I think it’s extremely important to pay homage to what is perhaps the original weird fictional podcast. I’ve even recently gotten my non-podcast-listening boyfriend hooked on this one! Told in the style of a local community radio station, Night Vale is anything but normal. Dark hooded figures roam around the dog park, which no dogs are allowed in. There’s a strange glowing cloud that keeps raining increasingly larger sized animals. Basically, life is a living hellscape, and it’s so darkly hilarious.
Mega: This show is perhaps incredibly niche, but it’s my specific niche. Mega is a comedic podcast featuring members of the fictional midwest mega church Twin Hills. Since the host and improv comic Holly Laurent worked for a mega church for many years, she and her co-hosts so accurately lampoon the inner workings of modern megachurches who spend thousands on gimmicks like live animals on stage during a sermon to make a point or out-of-control high school ministry events. With complete earnestness, these hosts embody people I definitely could have known growing up in a large church. And it’s hilarious. I mean, the high school ministry is called Climax. It’s all so spot on but still done with love, while at the same time pointing out the extreme hypocrisy in the modern church.
Sandra: This limited run series features legit famous people like Kristen Wig and Alia Shawkat. The lead character Helen gets a job at tech company called Orbital Teledynamics and she discovers that the responses that users are getting from an Alexa-type AI in their homes are actually from humans working in the office. And things get weird.
Obscure with Michael Ian Black: I guess this goes here. Comedian Michael Ian Black decided he should read the book Jude the Obscure, a classic novel by Thomas Hardy. So he does, out loud, week after week, on this podcast and comments about it. He also has other people on occasionally to talk about it with him, like his fifteen year old daughter or comedian Jen Kirkman. It makes me feel smarter listening to some classic literature while still keeping me engaged with someone who’s making cracks at how much Hardy definitely hates women and wondering what “female pills” could possibly mean.
PODCASTS IN WHICH YOU WILL LEARN THINGS
99% Invisible’s limited run series “Articles of Interest” : I’ve gushed about my love for 99% Invisible many times before. It’s an architecture and design podcast but it covers more the human-interest side of things. It’s really great. Within their feed, they’ve just finished releasing a 6 part series called “Articles of Interest” about clothing. It’s right down my alley, and the episodes cover children’s clothing, plaid, pockets, Hawaiian shirts, blue jeans, and punk style. And they’re all even more fascinating than you’d think! Did you know that not only does children’s sleepwear have to be flame retardent, but if it’s something that could possibly be comfortable enough to be worn as sleepwear, or has “nighttime motifs” like moons and stars or even nocturnal animals, it must also pass the same tests? Yeah. It’s wild.
Bad with Money with Gaby Dunn: Gaby Dunn used to work for Buzzfeed and now she has a successful Youtube series with her best friend. And she’d be the first to admit that she has no idea what she’s doing when it comes to finances. This is the podcast I wish I had when I was just starting out in the real world. She talks with professionals who break down things like credit card debt and planning for retirement. She also gets deep into the intersectional nature of how marginalized communities like people of color and queer people, and even just women in general get shafted when it comes to finances and financial planning. Turns out, the world is built for straight white dudes and the rest of us have to catch up.
Household Name: Did you know that TJIFridays started out as a raunchy singles bar in the 1960s? Wanna know the history of Trader Joe’s “Two Buck Chuck” wine and how Mr. Charles Shaw himself doesn’t see a penny of the profits? What does Pizza Hut have to do with Donald Trump and maybe somehow is to blame for his rise to pop cultural fame and perhaps even the presidency? This show covers all of these subjects, and they’re super interesting.
The Habitat: Six volunteers were picked to live on a fake planet. Kind of. On a remote mountain in Hawaii, there’s a fake planet Mars habitat. And these volunteers live as pretend astronauts for a whole year to help NASA understand what it would be like to live on Mars. The volunteers keep audio diaries and tensions run high as people begin to loathe each other in their cramped quarters. This seven episode series documents their year.
Decoder Ring: This podcast “is the show about cracking cultural mysteries.” It has an episode about the surprisingly venomous world of Sherlock Holmes slash fiction, and another about what sort of person would go on a trashy reality TV show. The most recent episode is about hotel art, and examines what it’s supposed to convey, if anything. Always interesting, and quite varied, I wish there were more episodes of this out already!
On She Goes: This is a travel podcast featuring all women of color talking about their experiences, tips and tricks. While I acknowledge this podcast isn’t made for me, it’s a really enlightening set of voices to hear from. And there’s just basic travel advice, too!
The Stoop: Another great podcast to hear from a variety of voices and experiences, this podcast is “about stories from across the Black diaspora.” It addresses topics like “Can African Americans appropriate African clothing?” And “Sounding White” and the stereotype of the “Angry Black Woman.” They also talk about the tension that can occur between African immigrants and African Americans, and how their different upbringing shapes their experiences in America in very different ways.
Breaking Glass: Maybe I’m biased, but this is a really important podcast. Put out by the Glimmerglass Festival opera (AKA my Happy Place) this podcast, in conjunction with symposiums all across the country, discuss diversity (or the lack thereof) in opera. Stemming from a variety of factors from lack of exposure to lack of opportunity to lack of flexibility due to traditions, Opera in America has a race problem. This podcast takes a thoughtful and critical look at the current state of opera and highlights what good things are being done, and what can be done in the future to improve it. I’m so proud to work for this company that is so aware and thoughtful of this issue and has been a national forerunner in inspiring change, diversity and inclusion in what has historically been a rich white person thing.
Unexpected Fluids: Definitely not for the prudish, this podcast is a delightfully dirty romp in talking about all things sexual and what can go terribly, terribly awry. Featuring host Alix Fox (I first discovered her on the amazing podcast The Modern Mann with her sex advice feature “The Fox Hole” and I cannot.get.enough.of.her.) who is one of the most hilariously witty, punny, and filthy humans I’ve ever listened to, all in a posh British accent. Her cohost is Riyadh Khalaf, an Irish (?) youtuber who will be the first to tell you he’s a gay man who was born without an asshole. Delightfully frank, this show routinely has me laughing so hard I’m crying while I can simply not repeat to my coworkers why I’m in that state.
Late Night Whenever: This podcast doesn’t really belong anywhere in these categories, but I’m gonna shove it in here. This is basically like your typical late-night comedian led TV talk show except it’s a podcast. Host Michelle Buteau is delightfully adorable and she has a great rapport with her music director and even if I don’t know who her guests are, they’re always highly entertaining. Her interview with Ann Dowd (AKA Aunt Lydia in A Handmaid’s Tale) is especially great.
I also wanted to re-share one of my very favorite podcasts because I can’t say enough good things about it:
Good Christian Fun : I needed this podcast so bad and I never realized it. Hosts Kevin and Caroline are both Christians but are fully cool with gay people and swearing and being a normal person in the world. And they, along with me, were both raised in the 90s and early 2000s deep in the Christian pop culture bubble. GCF revisits these gems of Contemporary Christian Music, movies, books, and more along with guests who are often comedians who also grew up in the church. Each guest gives their “guestimony” and I’ve been so heartened to hear how so many have had journeys away from the church like me and have dealt with a lot of the same feelings of guilt but definitely not belonging because of their queerness or other ways the church hurt them. This podcast is ridiculously funny, but it also gets me in a way that nothing else has. It makes me feel seen and understood and less alone. I highly recommend it to anyone, like me, who grew up on a diet of Stephen Curtis Chapman and Veggie Tales but just doesn’t see a place for themselves anymore in that culture.
Whew. So there ya have it. My third installment. And I’m sure it won’t be the last!