The rest of the country went to level 2 this morning, but for the poor Auckland locals still at level 4, RNZ podcast producer Justin Gregory has some podcast recommendations to keep you entertained.
True Crime: Series, Season One
Look, I know you’ve probably heard this show by now, but surprisingly there are people who haven’t yet. The first season of Serial investigates the murder of an 18-year-old high school student whose body was discovered in a park. It is the ancestor of almost every narrative podcast created since then and every producer I know freely steals from the techniques that Sarah Koenig and Julie Snyder brilliantly invent and deploy. For new listeners (and new podcasts), listening to the first season of Serial is like doing your basic training. But much more important than that, it is a great piece of storytelling. The second season; Not that much.
Honorific mention: I went fishing. Chaos and murder (maybe) in West Auckland. The best true crime story you’ve never heard. Full disclosure: I helped make this series, but it is an impressive story and one of the most successful New Zealand podcasts of all time.
Politics: Slow Burn, seasons one through five
This is politics and history as a mirror of contemporary life. Season one covers the Watergate scandal and asks how an obviously corrupt president could be so popular with his rank and file. Season two is Clinton’s impeachment and the unfortunate story of how badly everyone basically treated a young woman. For a change of pace, the third season traces the friendship, fallout, and murders of Tupac and Biggie. Former Klan member and neo-Nazi David Duke gets the treatment in season four when he turns a wedge of angry, disappointed, and forgotten voters into a major political force. And season five is about the fog of lies and twists and turns that convinced an unlikely coalition of conservatives and liberals to support the invasion of Iraq. And without mentioning his name once, almost every season is subtle and not so subtle about the rise and rule of President Trump.
Ideas: the argument
“Cockamamie!” That’s the angriest word I’ve heard so far from any participant in the New York Times podcast The argument. It advertises itself as strongly held opinions and open-minded debate, and that’s exactly what it is. The secret sauce behind the podcast’s success is host Jane Coaston. She is not only a moderator (although she does it very well), but also weighs her own arguments and expresses her own position clearly. Coaston is generally fairer and often smarter than some of her guests, but she can edit each episode later. And the themes are not light. They argue critical race theory, vaccine mandates, the right to abortion. But what made a guest so nervous that he called his opponent’s argument “idiot”? Whether we should try to contact aliens or not.
Social problems: What’s wrong with you?
Three disabled women have done a great new podcast for Stuff on all the questions healthy people ask, including the most important one: what’s wrong with you? You can’t help but think “what’s wrong with us that we have to ask?” should be the answer more often. Topics cover dating with people with disabilities, travel, self-image, representation in the media, and reinventing the world for people with disabilities. This is not a polite podcast. Instead, it is a community of people who have the conversations with each other that they want to have. The rest of us are invited to listen and hopefully understand a little better. And stop asking those questions!
Music: Your Favorite Band Sucks
This podcast It pretty much does what it says on the tin. All bands are overrated, argue the two hosts, who are every music nerd you’ve ever met at a party, but they’re way more entertaining and way more vicious. The pair don’t cut the highly regarded bands so much as the slices. I cried with laughter when they proved that the Smashing Pumpkins songs are nothing more than slowed-down hair metal from the 80s. And poor U2’s Edge goes wild from his lack of skill (‘If at some point I mean what happens when he plays their guitar as ‘playing the guitar’ then it was inadvertent “). They can go too far. I don’t need four episodes to convince me that Christmas music sucks. And when they go beyond music to argue that musicians like People suck as much or more, it’s a miracle they don’t sue them, but that’s why I listen, in small amounts.
Honorific mention: Hit Parade. Current music journalism with a more generous spirit.
The Maori world
A new man
I’m not going to apologize for including a podcast made for RNZ on this list because it’s that good. He Kākanou Ahou embraces the idea that being urban Maori means that you are less connected to your culture. Host Kahu Kutia doesn’t think that’s true and in the first season she meets a variety of Maori in our cities to prove it by connecting their stories to each other and to their sense of identity. This podcast jointly won a Voyager Media Award in 2020 and it deserved it. Good news; there are two seasons and in the second the focus shifts to a possible future for Aotearoa. If you haven’t already, then you should listen to He Kākanou Ahou and feed your brain and soul through your ears.
Short, sweet, and beautifully done, this is a bilingual. Serie of stories about the stars in the Matariki Cluster. Stacey, Scott Morrison and Rhonda Tibble are your storytellers and, through a rich soundtrack of taonga puoro and ambient sounds, they gently guide you. The form and production of this podcast are perfect, not only for its own sake, but because it deepens the listener’s understanding and contextualizes the meaning and importance of the stars to people and place. Each story is only a few minutes long and is perfect for both tamariki and Maori tea students. I love this podcast.
Comedy: My Year at Mensa
Very fast, very funny, very poorly edited and completely self-aware, this is the meta-podcasting of millennial comedian Jamie Loftus. As a drunken joke, Loftus takes the test to join Mensa, the high-IQ club for “rich jerks who think they’re smarter than everyone.” the Serie it’s not just about his disastrous year between the Mensans and the five days spent at the worst convention anyone has ever attended. It is also about social media hoardings, social discomfort as a cover for aggression, and argues against elitism and unnecessary divisions between groups of people. Loftus’ storytelling style is completely outside of my experience, let alone my age group, and unlike most podcasts, you have to actively listen because if you blink you’ll miss something. As Loftus says, ‘Go on, Smarty’. But I adored My Year in Mensa and laughed a lot, like the idiot that I am.
Honorific mention: The cornet. RNZ podcaster William Ray is a huge fan of what he rightly calls “probably the most successful comedy podcast of all time.” Host Andy Zaltman is also an amazing cricket writer and superfan. Cricket.
Drama: The 200 Years
I’m cheating a bit here because I haven’t finished this podcast yet. But 200 years It dominates me and I keep looking for opportunities to listen more. This docudrama is set in 2218 and tells the story of a South African woman named Lesedi Nabadause who is about to turn 200 years old. It uses a mixture of fiction and existing scientific research to describe a world that is very different from ours. What does money mean, how do you maintain a marriage for so long, how will the family and society change? The podcast is a bit strange because it is backed by a financial group called Sanlam that is dedicated to future planning. Good relationship, but you must have some questions about their motives. But most importantly, he is an excellent listener, especially while reviewing his portfolio of assets.
Science: wild thing
Science, you say? Bigfoot and alien life, huh? Yes, I know but Wild Thing is a series about the intersection between science and society and why we want to believe in implausible things. Presenter Laura Krantz rigorously and cheerfully examines the evidence and her own hopes and beliefs, speaks to experts and ordinary people with extraordinary experiences, and treats them all fairly. He also has no problem firing unrealistic dreamers, or “the Woo,” as they are called. And the podcast is fun too. The first season has some genuine stories about encounters with Bigfoot, and the second season gets as close to alien encounters as possible without any probes involved. For added fun, listen late at night with no one else in the house. Sweet Dreams!
Story: Warning Tales with Tim Harford
If you think you’ve ever gotten drunk, listen to this Serie and feel better about yourself. Not that many of us have driven a giant ship onto a rock because we simply could not believe that we had misdirected or that we had hijacked a drunken plane and insisted that it fly to the other side of the world. But almost all of us have made mistakes and have refused to admit it or have ignored the advice of people who know more than we do. And that’s the genius of this series. Each story contains a warning, a moral, and is meant to teach us something we need to know. Host Tim Harford thinks of the show as adult fables, but you don’t have to worry about being taught lessons. Harford is a friendly non-judgmental guide here to help. Cautionary Tales also has a lot to tell us about contemporary life. Watch the episode on ending a pandemic or the mini episode on the danger of doubting statistics. You have been warned.
My favorite podcast: BANG!
I don’t mind admitting that I have deep professional envy for this podcast. Host Melody Thomas gets the most remarkable range of people to tell amazing stories about sex and relationships. Where did you find them? How did you get them to talk? But it did, so if you want to hear real people (including Melody’s mother) talking about everything related to doing it, BANG! gives you more for your money. There are three seasons of stories covering everything from straight men meeting to anonymous gay sex, the challenge of lifelong monogamy, sex in their seventies in a nursing home, toxic masculinity, decolonization. on sexuality and gender and a special episode of answers to Frequently Asked Questions. There are also two live shows, recorded in front of the public in Auckland and Christchurch. OUTBREAK! it’s the business and I really hope there are more seasons to come. When they arrive, I’ll probably still be in a bad mood.