Blank Check, “A.I. Artificial Intelligence with David Rees”
Bronzeville, “Episode 1”
Criminal, “Episode 61: Vanish”
The Dollop, “239 – Enron”
Flash Forward, “Greetings from Paradice”
Good One, “Jim Gaffigan and His Good Looking Newscasters Joke”
Kismet, “#01. Love Train – Morgan and Nathan”
Missing Richard Simmons, “#1: Where’s Richard”
Snap Judgment, “#804 – One in a Million”
Terms, “Episode 13 – Preamble”
Twenty Thousand Hertz, “Audio Descriptions”
One of the beautiful things about podcasts is that the supply is neverending. Even as new shows fade away or run their course, fresh ideas will always fill the vacuum. So to spotlight the new and applaud the returning, we’ve gathered our monthly picks of our favorite episodes.
And once you’re done with these, be sure to also check out our other recent picks:
The history of the romance novel is deeper and richer than its general literary standing would have you think. Paired with the next episode, where Helen Zaltzman dives into the vague and unsatisfying ways that we’re forced to write about the passionate encounters these novels contain, it’s an illustrative overview of an industry, from a granular level all the way to its storied past. (Plus, if you’ve ever wanted to send in your manuscript to UK publisher Mills & Boon, this episode even has a few submission tips to keep in mind.)
As “Get Out” becomes a national sensation, you won’t hear a more entertaining analysis of the film than the observations of Jonathan Braylock, James III, and Jerah Milligan, the hosts of “Black Men Can’t Jump in Hollywood.” Looking at the film from its horror movie bona fides to the subtle and overt levels of commentary on black life in America, the trio delivers an overview that’s almost as good as seeing the film for a second time. Toss in some quick words on Sunday night’s Oscar ceremony and you have a pretty concise overview of the two biggest stories from the month in film. (Oh, and go back and listen to last year’s live “Kazaam” episode while you’re at it.)
The recent run of “Blank Check” episodes in David Sims and Griffin Newman’s “Pod Me If You Cast” series (covering the Dreamworks-era films of Steven Spielberg) all capture what makes this a fruitful premise for a show. With an established throughline of one filmmaker’s career, a well-honed rhythm from episode to episode and perfect timing between #TheTwoFriends, this look back at “A. I. Artificial Intelligence” is one of the best of the batch. David Rees (co-host of “Election Profit Makers,” a safe haven of sanity during last year’s campaign season) is a quintessential “Blank Check” guest: someone who understands the weight of the work under the microscope, but can easily step back and see the absurdity in some of its individual moments. Together, they craft a worthy companion piece to a film that could easily sustain a mini-series of its own.
There’s a certain, indescribable thrill that comes from an ensemble of talented, well-cast performers bringing their best work to a project. To hear Laurence Fishburne, Larenz Tate, Wood Harris, Tika Sumpter, Brittany Snow, Lance Reddick and the rest of the “Bronzeville” cast on a regular basis is treat enough. But “Bronzeville” brings a radio drama sensibility to a story that plays out during a time when that was a dominant form of storytelling. Reaching across states, generations and racial lines, it has a sprawl and scope that few modern audio dramas have been able to do with a cast and crew this seasoned.
Faking your own death has always been the stuff of legend. But, like so many of the profiles of “the perfect crime” from Phoebe Judge and company, this episode of “Criminal” is less about the act itself than the inevitable psychological aftermath. Tackling this phenomenon from multiple sides (the writer who managed to pull it off herself, the investigator who can spot all the telltale signs), it’s an intro how-to guide and a cautionary tale all wrapped up into one. And the fact that this episode acknowledges that successful death hoaxes are the ones we never hear about means that there will always be more to these stories.
In a lot of ways, this feels like the episode “The Dollop” has been hurtling toward for a while. The disbelief, exasperation and barely concealed rage that fuel some of Dave Anthony and Gareth Reynolds’ most memorable conversations are all on display here, as Anthony recounts the origins, execution and aftermath of the energy giant’s nefarious dealings. The latest in a series of “doomed to repeat” stories from American history (including last year’s episode on the legacy of the Know Nothing Party), Anthony and Reynolds have developed their own brand of catharsis for trying times.
Rose Eveleth’s show about theoretical futures always ends up saying just as much about our current conditions as it does about what might still be to come. This particular episode looks at the future of the cruise ship industry, especially in extreme northern climes previously unreachable by boat. But when this story pivots to the treatment of local peoples, it forgoes a whimsical look at an imagined future for a close inspection of how international tourism can become (and, in some ways, already is) a weirdly menacing force.
Comedy podcasts come in an avalanche. But while many of them serve as a platform for funny folks to try out or discover new material, few shows have honed in on the process of making good comedy quite like Jesse David Fox’s “Good One.” The “Song Exploder” for the stand-up crowd, “Good One” takes a very specific look at the thought processes and linguistic choices that go into the crafting of a quality joke. In this debut episode, Jim Gaffigan also touches on what it’s like to play with humor that intersects with news and politics. (For an extra treat, listen to it on 1.3x speed and imagine it’s actually Jake Tapper talking about a career in stand-up.)
Another promising February debut, this weekly look at the unexpected starts of human interactions is an exciting beginning for creator Bart Warshaw and his team. Focusing not just on romance, but friendships and less amicable relationships too, it pinpoints those unclassifiable sparks that come from meeting someone special. That the show doesn’t dwell on these pairs’ later history and puts its emphasis on the early parts of these chance meetings makes for engaging, focused episodes that delight in their own details. At fifteen minutes each, these episodes are perfect all-at-once listening or for quick, weekly check-ins.
How do you document a first-person pursuit of a reclusive, once-public figure without it seeming self-serving or, at the very least, horribly misguided? Dan Taberski has provided a wonderful, finely-tuned template in the form of “Missing Richard Simmons.” This premiere episode provides vital context for Taberski’s personal connection to the story while paying tribute to Simmons’ meteoric rise, well-known generosity and palpable personal discontent. All of these threads are effortlessly woven together in one of the more concise, thoughtful opening episodes to a podcast series that you’ll ever hear.
When storytelling anthologies like “Snap Judgment” do stories about random happenstance, they often feel like finely crafted pop songs. Characters bumping into each other under unbelievable circumstances or making unforeseen discoveries can come across like a calculated hook. But even though this pair of stories (presented along with Ozy and Outdoor magazine) does address some of those coincidences, they’re presented as grace notes to human interaction rather than the main focus. As a result, you can feel the reverberations of these cosmic moments rather than being overcome by the blast.
Since its fortuitous premiere in the weeks after last year’s presidential election, “Terms” has been an audio fiction curiosity. Though the show was conceived and plotted in advance of the events of last November, it’s been fascinating to see this story of a rogue president dovetail and bounce off the actual headlines. Indulging in vague plot points at some turns and plunging head-on into chaos at others, the final episode of this freshman season ends with the most audacious, swing-for-the-fences ending that any fictional Commander in Chief has ever devised. It’s a jaw-dropping conclusion that leaves a multitude of avenues open for Season 2.
As discussions of inclusion continue to be heard across the entertainment industry, equal access for the visually impaired is one that rarely makes its way to the top of conversation. This “Twenty Thousand Hertz” story gives a helpful intro to the world of audio descriptions, tracks that provide running commentary for those who are unable to see on-screen action. Not only does this primer illustrate how a simple addition to streaming programming can mean so much to a specific audience, but what a more widespread adoption of this service would mean for consumers of all kinds. (For another February story from the non-sighted community, check out Modern Love’s episode “Seeing the World Through My Wife’s Eyes” narrated by David Oyelowo.)