#79 Deadly serious
Do as you say. Say what you mean.
This week: the truth is deadly serious.
Your firm friends,
This hard-to-define indie podcast is a thing of spectacular ambition and ravenous curiosity, presenting deeply-reported episodes that seek to understand what it means to be American. Host and producer Najib Aminy is a journalist by trade, and it shows. Pounding the pavement from mosques to wrestling rings, he is equipped with the tools of a reporter: a nose for a story, an easy rapport with people, an instinct for when to speak and when to be quiet. Interviews and actuality are cut with archival audio and Aminy's reserved narration, and though episodes are long, they aren't formless. They unfold deliberately and one must absorb them patiently (a healthy prescription for restless podcast reviewers). We were reminded in several respects - among them, an earnest desire to represent the world as it is, and a certain modesty - of both Home of the Braveand Jim Brunberg's Roam Schooled. Hear 19 available episodes, and new instalments monthly.
Gateway episodes: Ep 19 - Technology People (8 Sep 2017) / Ep 14 - The Trump Minority (29 Oct 2016) / Ep 12 - Keeping the Faith [Part 1] (20 Sep 2016)
True crime podcasts deal in the outer limits of human pain: disappeared loved ones; inexplicable violence; murder. These stories are so distant from our everyday experience as to resemble fiction, as safely entertaining as an episode of CSI. By contrast, this co-production of Wondery and the LA Times begins in a way that feels smaller and weirder - until it, too, ends in murder. It's a lurid internet-dating horror story: a charismatic man, John, wins over a lonely woman, Debra, but he is not the man he presents himself to be. Over the course of six episodes, things get more strange, and much worse. The present and the past fold in on each other as John's back story is revealed in increments, while his present-day relationship with Debra and her family unravels.
Dirty John is obsessed with one man's capacity to do evil. And John does seem to be extraordinarily, unusually bad, at every point and in every aspect of his life. We have seen criticism that, as a result, the show does not sufficiently contextualise domestic violence, and that's a fair complaint to make. Rather, the central question that propels this narrative is: are some people just born bad? That question - while it is, one might argue, insufficiently nuanced - is still dark and universal enough to carry this show, which is certainly the best thing we've heard from Wondery to date. All six episodes available now.
Gateway episode: 1 | The Real Thing (2 Oct 2017)
From: Wondery/LA Times
Released: 6 episodes, concluded
Showcase from Radiotopia, The Polybius Conspiracy #1
Showcase is a new outlet for limited-run audio, and this, their second featured series, has made a very good beginning. The Polybius Conspiracy investigates the unkillable urban legend of a 1980s-era arcade game (never actually proven to exist and even debunked by Snopes), which is said to have affected players in unusual ways, and perhaps formed part of a government experiment. This documentary series will explore the story of Polybius, so far as that is possible, and specifically examine the claims of one source, Bobby Feldstein, who says he played the game and was then abducted as a teenager. Expertly rendered and absorbing.
Gateway episode: #1 The Player (6 Oct 2017)
Released: 6 Oct 2017
Medieval History for Fun and Profit
We've grown fond of this fortnightly tête-à-tête featuring medieval historians Dr Alice Rio and Dr Alice Taylor, both of King's College London. The two aim to give an account of real life in medieval England, often in response to listener questions: What did medieval people think was funny? What was their experience of childbirth? What did their world smell like? These are relaxed conversations between very personable scholars, recorded in what sounds like a remote corner of the university, and which transport us into a mysterious past. Can a half-hour be passed any more pleasantly? For history nerds, surely not.
Gateway episodes: Episode 1: Sex (30 Apr 2017) / Episode 6: Time Travel (8 Jul 2017) / Episode 11: Magic (18 Sep 2017)
It's easy to poke fun at the cult of Burning Man, but one can't deny that it's a place where the borders between fantasy and the real world loosen. That atmosphere encourages a regular phenomenon on the playa: falling in love. Often the romance burns out in theaftermath, but sometimes, it's just the beginning. In this new podcast, writer Alessandra Wollner (aka Lotus; yes, really) sets out to document the love stories that emerge during this annual event. In her first (so far, only) episode, she meets Tony and Daniel, who married at Burning Man as strangers in 2014 - and stayed married in the real world. Future stories will explore both failed and flourishing relationships.
Gateway episode: 1. Until the End of the Playa (3 Oct)
Embedded / Trump Stories: The Apprentice
Uncivil / The Raid
Steal the Stars / 11. Checkpoints
I Have to Ask / Jodi Kantor
Where Should We Begin? / Ep 1. I've Had Better
Sum of All Parts / 1.0 Shoal Attack!
Radiolab / Oliver Sipple