Tucked away on your iPhone is a shaded purple app called “Podcasts.” It’s likely that you’ve never opened this app—or have even deleted it. But you should rethink that: podcasts are hidden gems of information designed to be consumed anytime, anywhere. If you aren’t listening to them, then you’re missing out on a world of incredible entertainment, one that, once you get into, will be hard to get out of. And did I mention that podcasts are completely free?
Opening the podcasts app for the first time might be a tad intimidating, simply because there are so many shows available. There are thousands of podcasts to choose from, but some deserve special attention. The podcasts below cover subjects from the zombie apocalypse (We’re Alive) to why basketball players should shoot free-throw shots underhand (Revisionist History) to the legendary Ben Schwartz “Solo Bolo” (Comedy Bang! Bang!). So sit back, plug in, and let the voices of the podcast world fill your head.
Note to Self
With the tagline of being a “tech show about being human,” Note to Self offers an interesting premise: every episode presents a small story about how our technology is changing the people who use it. Often quite dark, Note to Self forces audiences to rethink their use of technology. In this way, it’s similar to a podcast version of Black Mirror, but in real life rather than scripted television. As the show teaches, put your phones down, people, and enjoy the world around you. As you’ll quickly learn, there are plenty of reasons to do so.
More Perfect, a miniseries from the producers of RadioLab, is a miniseries that explores a different American Supreme Court case in each of its eight episodes. Rather than presenting the members of the court as the larger-than-life beings that politicians are often made to be, the show breathes humanity into the Justices. It walks through history, analysing the impact of different cases on the modern American Court, from judicial review to the beginning of the modern politicization of the court. Rather than feeling like a textbook reading, More Perfect almost feels like reading a People magazine article analyzing the relationships of Hollywood’s best; instead of traditional celebrities, the people the show follows are men and women who sit the bench in their signature black robes.
From Malcolm Gladwell, the author behind Blink, Outliers, and David and Goliath, Revisionist History rethinks the things we take for granted. Gladwell walks through a different event or situation in each episode, exploring the fallacies that we just go with in everyday life. In three episodes, he digs deep into higher education, investigating the problems with huge donations to universities, how money is spent in schools, and the fundamental failures of the education system. Each episode is eye opening in an entirely different way, and you’ll quickly find yourself questioning the world around you.
One of the beautiful things about good design is that you never see it; you only actually notice design when it’s bad, like, “Why is this book so annoying to read? The font is terrible!” or, “That building is a huge eyesore.” Opposite of Revisionist History, 99% Invisible looks into the places where the design went right, where 99% of the time you never even see it. Most recently, 99PI looked into music and acoustics, letters to politicians, and changes in baseball strategy based on the big hitters.
John Oliver, yep, John Oliver, has a podcast. With Andy Zaltzman, The Bugle digs into the politics in news like no other. The deeply satirical, improvised show is just as good as its television counterpart, Last Week Tonight, and the conversations between Zaltzman and Oliver bring about fresh insights concerning different stories of the world.
If you’ve heard of at least one podcast before, it’s probably Serial, the runaway hit that tells the tale of Adnan Syed, a high school student tried and convicted of first-degree murder in 1999. Though it at first might seem like an open-and-shut case, Syed’s story is so full of twists and turns that it’s hard to determine whether or not you should side with him. Sarah Koenig, the host, examines every tiny detail, trying to figure out what exactly happened during the crime. The show also has a second season, which investigates the story of Bowe Bergdahl, the soldier who walked off his base in 2009 and subsequently sparking a manhunt in the middle of the war in Afghanistan. Though different in tone and story, the second season holds its own as it delves into the deep flaws of the American military infrastructure. If you’ve already listened to Serial and are looking for a similar strain of storytelling, check out Limetown or The Black Tapes.
Stylized as a classical radio theatre production with fun music and a great narrator, Rude Alchemy tells grandiose tales set in classical locations such as Victorian England and old New York. Split into many five-episode miniseries that each tackle a different story in the same universe, Rude Alchemy is full of mysteries and puzzles.
An expertly produced audio drama about a post-apocalyptic world that has been taken over by zombies, We’re Alive is an intense look at what happens after the worst occurs. Similar in tone to The Walking Dead but with a healthy dose of humour, We’re Alive somehow makes invisible action sequences work seamlessly. The sounds, dialogue, and music are all completely thrilling and coalesce into a gripping set of stories.
One of the most popular audio drama podcasts, Archive 81 is a found footage podcast that tells the story of the missing audio archivist Dan Powell. The podcast is played as the release of Powell’s last tapes before his disappearance, a concept that works brilliantly. Pitched as a horror story, Archive 81 feels more like a psychological thriller, digging deep into the mind of Powell and exploring his changes in personality as he gets closer and closer to finding answers from his archival project. The series feels real, and the dialogue and acting are incredible. A second season of Archive 81 is in the pipeline, slated for release in January 2017.
Comedy Bang! Bang!
Comedy Bang! Bang! is an improvisational comedy show from the absurd mind of Scott Aukerman. The podcast, which spawned an IFC TV show, brings on celebrity guests such as Ben Schwartz (Benny Schwaz!), Bob Odenkirk, Weird Al, and Adam Scott, hosting interviews and games with them. However, they aren’t classic celebrity interviews, as throughout the episode, Aukerman brings in different personalities. Often, absurd characters interrupt halfway through an interview to spice up whatever is going on. The crazy games of Would You Rather? that close each episode are, well, weird. In the end, it adds together for brilliant improvisational comedy, and each episode has its own share of one-liners and inside jokes.
If I Were You
Many of you have probably at least heard of Jake and Amir, the sketch comedy duo made famous by their eponymous web series. They also produce and host the podcast If I Were You, where they give advice to anyone who asks. Should they really be responsible for advising people on how to live their lives? Probably not. Regardless, the show is a blast to listen to. The weird, non-stop improv comedy hosted by two of the internet’s best leads to some wonderful interactions and suggestions on how exactly people can live their lives just a little bit better.