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Podcast Listening

Podcast Listening

a random selection - personal listening thoughts


The Ratline, BBC Sounds - documentary. High profile British French lawyer Philippe Sands goes to Germany to investigate a Nazi who escaped after the war along the route called ‘the ratline’. It’s good because there is a passionate personal angle (all his grandfathers relatives perished in WW2) and because it’s very intelligently written and we genuinely feel that we don’t (along with Philippe) know how this will play out. Features Laura Linney and Stephen Fry reading letters , etc.,. But this is not fiction. My beef with this is it’s rather affectedly highbrow. It is Sands first venture in audio and his producers I think let him down.

Death In Ice Valley, BBC World Service and NRK (Norwegian Public Radio). Really like this. It’s scandal noir for audio. I have always liked Neil McCarthy— he is a great radio radio maker and creates wonderful soundscapes. It’s the trope of the badly mangled female body whom nobody seemed to care about found in a remote place. The sounds are great — lots of rain and wind and also stylish sound design to create the bleak and mythic landscape outside Bergen. I find the local reporter Marit Higraff is sometimes repetitive and yet she and Neil work well because there is such a contrast in their approach. The BBC call this their answer to Serial which seems silly. Serial is contemporary, this is about a murder in 1970. It’s historical Cold War sleuthing. It’s a great listen. I prefer it to The Ratline. It’s so obviously made by people who are experienced audio feature makers.

What defines an investigative podcast vs. true crime? Obviously investigative can include true crime but can also be more about an oddity or a mystery and can be on the lighter side. I really enjoyed all six eps of Missing Richard Simmons. I liked Dan Taberski’s honesty. I liked the anti climatic end. No huge revelation. RS wanted to be reclusive, he has had it with people adoring him, needing him not just for weight loss but for a new life. Felt similar to JD Salinger’s need to cut himself off. Dan kept some threads tangled but in the end particularly wither Teresa the housekeeper was imprisoning him and has abused his trust and vulnerability. But no. If I am to critique, I’d say well — it was obviously that some of this ‘mystery’ was going nowhere but Dan’s control over his material pulled it off. And you believed that Dan cared about Richard. I know it got flack for being morally suspect for invading Richard’s need for privacy but I think Dan knew when to back off and was not disrespectful.

There’s the expose of harassment. ESPN’s 30 for 30 which I think is a great series. I am fascinated about the stories behind sport. It’s like going to an art gallery and learning about ideas and context of an artist which makes me leave on fire to discover more. Found the Bikram (Choudhury) story fascinating because I love yoga but hate hot yoga and know people who have been injured and severely dehydrated even developing kidney failure. Buckram’s non-yogi character is kind of shocking. And the hypocrisy eating fast food and yelling at students for being a little overweight. The Jerry Sandusky scandal as tackled by 30 for 30, I’m sure was well done but too much for me. Don’t feel the need to hear that story again. (Sidebar: as I lived a block from Wrigley Field for 6 years, I had to listen to The Lights of Wrigleyville about the fight for night games and local opposition but having heard it felt there wasn’t enough meat there to warrant a story — not enough real tension.)

Dirty John. Haven’t seen this on TV yet. Would like to. The narrative of the podcast has a slowness and the sound is somewhat cheesy. I like that it’s from the woman’s (Debra Newell’s) perspective. It doesn’t get to the heart of the story early enough. Danger of losing audience fast. There’s so much around that slow burn is a hard sell.

My Favorite Murder. A hybrid. For me goes off on tangents for way too long. And so much giggling. And the OMGs!! Holy Shit etc..Love the timbres of Karen and Georgia’s voices though. MFM’s Murderino community is hugely successful and the stars claim that laughing and demystifying crime is empowering and de-victimizing for women. They obviously augment their base with successful live shows and are hugely popular in the UK too. The minis odes are a good idea. The notion of sitting with friends and telling ghost/thriller crime stories is how Mary Shelley began Frankenstein. I like the way they make historical murders sound contemporary.

The Butterfly Effect. I think Jon Ronson is a brilliant, brave, and pugnacious (in the best way) journalist and writer. This was an honest storytelling dive into how the porn industry became a monopoly. Occasionally repetitive and over boastful about his discoveries.

Embedded. Kelly McEvers is great. I like the one about Omarosa Manigault Newman and Trump uttering the N-word on The Apprentice.


Disgraceland. Jake Brennan’s narration has attack, opinion, angle. True to history? Doubtful but memorable takes on well known musical tragedies and crimes. Too much music underscoring for me. Def want to hear more.

Vinyl Me Please. Tyler Barstow. Very conversational and the chat wavers but good topics. Liked ep 34 on Snoop Dogg. Respectful but also criticisms.

Soul Music. Not genre soul specifically, but how one song gets into the soul of ordinary people. Wide range from Waterloo Sunset to Jerusalem. Love the host Cerys Matthews.

Song Exploder. How a song got made. You don’t have to be a music buff to get a lot out of this.


The Modern Art Notes. When I go to an exhibit I am often frustrated and angry that there weren’t enough explanations about the artists intellectual inspirations/beliefs/historical context. This was especially true after I went to Hilma af Klint at the Guggenheim. This artist was moved by Rosicrucianism and Theosophy but this wasn’t explored seriously in the exhibit. Here I get what I was searching for! Curators talk but not in curator speak and not as in the often patronizing voices of audioguides. They apologize for talking about her spirituality. No no, you don’t need to!

99% Invisible. A podcast forerunner. About design, architecture, planning and basically ideas. Geeky but not in a scrappy way. Very assured, well researched, you feel you are on very solid ground and yet get transported.


Do You Need a Ride? Chris Fairbanks and Karen Kilgariff. This is conversation rather than giggly conversation. They have strong opinions and fun disagreements.

The Adam Buxton podcast. Is this the UK’s Marc Maron? And he interviews Marc. Adam isn’t the big personality that Maron is.. no bad thing. But not all the interviews he does are good listens. His schtick of walking with his dog in the countryside is a bit twee.

Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend. It’s great that there’s no audience. That the chat with the guest is in depth and there’s less showmanship. His guests obviously respect him but he gets them to relax. It sounds free form, slightly raw in a great unstick TV chat show way. It’s interesting to compare how he interviews Marc Maron! No sycophancy!!

Wooden Overcoats. Seems like a BBC Radio 4 sitcom though looser and a little less frantic. I guess this could also be labelled fiction.

2 Dope Queens. They are such wonderful physical actors that I feel they work better on TV. Jessica Williams and Phoebe Robinson. Wonder what they’ll do next.

My Dad Wrote a Porno. This is a genuine ensemble show. They really are a group of friends who work hard at making this craziness work but it gets tired.

Womp it Up! Jessica St Clair from Upright Citizens and Lennon Parham. Everyone likes high school romps.

Beautiful Anonymous. Chris Gethard is prolific, versatile, talented, but this show depends so much on the anon caller and can be tedious and cringe-making.

Dan Savage (Savage Lovecast). Or should this come under gender?


You Must Remember This. No frills well researched insights into 20th century movie legends. Karina Longworth has authority but is never dogmatic, she’s a movie critic and historian and a great storyteller. The episodes about Marilyn reveal (I think) new information. There’s a feminist and warts and all perspective. Really engrossing.

Black Men Can’t Jump in Hollywood. Great but too gossipy and too much focus on stars and not the content. Thought it would be more political.

The Projection Booth. Love this. Range of popular and obscure films. Love the variety of the episode lengths. Love the montage at the beginning. From Saturday Night Live to Singapore Sling. It’s accessible. I don’t think it’s too much for movie buffs i.e.. it’s not too insiderish. Not too many clips. Mike White is a great host. Good production values.

How Did This Get Made? Paul Scheer. A cult show but I find it kinda mean.


The New Yorker Fiction Podcast. Great that a writer can delve back into the New Yorker archives and pick one story to read and discuss. Good pairings. Especially like Ben Lerner reading John Berger’s “Woven Sir.”

The Paris Review. Beautiful sound design, though I am surprised to be saying this …sometimes overdone. They say they are inspired by Joe Frank - I was never a fan of his self-indulgent Tom Waits late night monologues, though I am a huge fan of monologues. Anyway, this podcast is magazine style - thought the items are bound together in high-concept style. It’s very different from The New Yorker Radio Hour because it is literary. Wish it wasn’t always celebs reading. (Love ep 3 when they recreate an interview with Baldwin with LeVar Burton)

The Allusionist. Helen Zaltzman’s podcast is about much more than words. She’s really conceptual, original, funny and very much a podcast pioneer.

Love and Radio. Nick Van Der Kolk’s original owes something to TAL but he doesn’t put a personal stamp on it as Ira does. The stories are longer, there is no theme or concept of being in ‘Acts’. The stories are observed, reported rather than confessionals. Brilliant. Sometimes they really go out on a limb. A Girl of Ivory is one of my fave podcasts ever.

Snap Judgement. These are not stories that have been repeated in loads of media outlets. It’s fresh and Glynn Washington sounds like he is being himself.

Invisibilia. Great sound. Alix Spiegel is a pro.

LeVar Burton Reads. From Audible. I don’t know most of the authors he reads, so that’s a great way of getting introduced. Much prefer this to Selected Shorts. I find it’s a little “Let me tell you a story…” old-fashioned.


History Chicks. The sound quality isn’t great. Good retellings of the women who don’t get enough attention like Zelda Fitzgerald, but don’t know why they spend so much time talking about Scott.

Making Gay History. A treasure trove of archival material — a mammoth project.

Revisionist History. Malcolm Gladwell is a public intellectual — an original questioning mind, comes out with ‘big ideas’ . These are wonderfully illuminating stories. I loved the emotion in The Basement Tapes at the end of Series 2.

The Memory Palace. Nate DiMeo is an acquired taste. I like these vignettes and often wish they were longer.

Slow Burn. In-depth well-narrated American history with great new insights. Leon Neyfakh is a measured thoughtful speaker and interviewer.

Bag Man. Rachel Maddow is brilliant uncovering Spiro Agnew and parallels with today. Great to compare with Slow Burn. (She doesn’t do her own ads - yeah!)


Esther Perel. Love this. She is so good at being direct, cutting short tangential info, guiding the couple, offering her intense focus. I think she’s charismatic.

The Bright Sessions. Lauren Shippen. Therapy meets time travel. Great idea, well acted and written. This is fictions so perhaps not in the correct category. I like the idea of a shrink meeting different clients. Like In Treatment, but science fiction.

The Shadows. From CBC team who made The Heart. Anatomy of a relationship.

Audio Fiction

Limetown. Well-written, produced and acted, but ultimately not an original story and hard to keep going with it.

The Message. I like the SETI setting! Because I did a doc from there before it was shut down. But the conceit that seems to be such a crutch for American dramas that this isn’t a drama but a documentary never works for me. Maybe these could be called mockudrama? Interesting that it was funded by GE. Like the old radio soaps. Though I believe they were hands off.

The Truth. What Jonathan Mitchell has achieved single handed (though now with a loyal writers room) is phenomenal. I think they are uneven but that’s not surprising given how many they have to pump out. I also think for my taste, I’d like more story and less concept. Sound design is superb.

Life/After. I loved the idea of the dead wife’s voice appearing on the answer machine but it became too hackneyed as it became more of a thriller.

Homecoming. I feel it worked better as a podcast than TV. It was more taut, sinister and I think the acting better. But I still feel there is a fear of ‘drama’ and so an over dependence on using different aural textures from a variety of technology.

Tumanbay. Brilliant, well written, sometimes a touch too manic and over produced. Amazing to spin a story over so many eps and hold the listener.

Welcome to Night Vale. A cult that I don’t get but I appreciate that it is original.

Wolverine. Directed by the amazing Brendan Baker who is an amazing sound designer. Good cast. Wish it could also be listened to by teenagers and tweens. Surely some parents would say OK? Ambisonic.

36 Questions. from Two Up. I don’t like musicals but I like this. Well acted, funny. I like the songs - they fit in well. It’s subtle and engrossing.



The Daily. Love it! love the immediacy of it. The sense of urgency of a story that just has to be told. They don’t always have the scoops they claim to have but it’s addictive.

Rachel Maddow and looking forward to her new history show.

BBC World Service, The Documentary. Shameless self promo.


The Cut on Tuesdays. From the New York Times. Feminism from a Millennial’s perspective. Love it. Strong, well produced. Host NY Times Features editor Molly Fischer.

How to Be a Girl. It’s so much a diary about the daily joys and challenges of raising a transgender daughter that little things loom large. We realize how it must be life to feel the animosity of people who are afraid of/vicious to/ transexuals. e.g. the episode when the mom starts dating and is very taken to a profile until the last line: “No trannies please.” The kids’ voice is a little hard to take — only because all kids voices often seem cute. But it’s hugely important.

Sex Talk With My Mom. As if Ira’s episode with his sex therapist mom became a series. It’s very conversational, when they try to be funny it doesn’t really work.

The United States of Anxiety. The last series was about women in American history and politics.

2 Girls 1 Podcast. Bravo to the feisty Podglomerate company.

Call Your Girlfriend. I like the responding to messages from listeners. it’ sound advice, honest and you hear them think aloud. Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman. Non giggly.

Purple Panties. by Zane. Fun to explore.

Unladylike. Like it a lot. Their print journalism background shines thru in a good way.

Homophilia. So many people they can still include. There is a musicality to their voices.


Without Fail. Alex Blumberg of Gimlet Media of Start Up which told the story of starting Gimlet 4 years ago. I did a doc called Learning to Lose about Olympic athletes who say you don’t win a silver, you lose a gold so this is very cool.

Stuff You Should Know. Actually stuff that is often ephemeral but can be intriguing — or not.

The Theory of Everything. Benjamen Walker is clever and stylish and original. His delivery though is a mix of personal and objective.

Longform. An in-depth interview show. Has passion but depends on the interviewee.