#83 All change
Greetings, subscribers. We can't pretend it's summer anymore, so we've emerged at last from our long, hot hiatus with fresh plans for The Audit.
After years spent compiling new podcast recommendations every week or two, we found ourselves in a state of auditory overload. And, unsurprisingly, it becomes difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff when you're drowning in an overflowing silo like the bad guys in Witness.
So we've conceived a new format for The Audit. These letters will be delivered every couple of months in the form of longer, more comprehensive round-ups. We'll continue to bring you the recommendations you expect. We'll also highlight existing series and shows, so as not to fixate unduly on the new, and where relevant we'll include some longform criticism.
We hope the new Audit will continue to be useful to you and we'd value your feedback. We are ready to tinker with this format at your behest.
That's quite enough from us. As always, we remain,
Your good friends,
That Was Then
This claustrophobic whoddunit is our favourite BBC drama since Tracks, and one of the best complete listening experiences we've had in the last few months. Anna is a vicar. But 20 years ago, in her misspent youth, she lived in a sharehouse with six friends. Their lives were messily and happily entwined, until Anna came home one day to find Ben, the house lothario, murdered. The tragedy shunts the group apart. But years later, when Ben's convicted killer turns out to have been wrongfully accused, Anna begins to fixate on the past again, and to wonder if any of her former housemates are hiding something.
This narrative unfolds through Anna's compulsive recordings, both present-day and archival. But this tired plot function - "Protagonist Must Have Reason to Record" - manages (for the most part) not to feel contrived here. We have good reason to believe that Anna feels compelled to record her experience - she was an aspiring filmmaker, a person used to trying to trap the real world on tape. Now, as her tentative audio diaries give way to constant recording, we begin to understand that from Anna's perspective, this is evidence. The narrative effect is that of a slowly-tightening knot. Fifteen quarter-hour episodes are available for wholesale consumption.
Style: Radio drama
Swipe Left, Swipe Left
You'll want to grab dinner and drinks with this charming indie podcast, conceived in the spirit of @tindernightmares, and hosted by Gavin Wong and Claire Crofton. The show benefits from Crofton's stellar radio credentials (she regularly produces features for Whistledown and BBC Radio 4, and has won prizes at Hearsay). Her experienced ear lends polish to these accounts, with the dater in question offering their uninterrupted first-person narratives, and our hosts bookmarking with comment and context. We've heard one date told from both perspectives and we hope for more shifting perspectives in episodes to come (the Rashomon effect of dating stories surely being one of their chief appeals). It's all warmly delivered, and not depressing. New episodes weekly.
Style: First-person narrative
The pace of life in remote West Cork, Ireland, is not exactly breakneck, and the same could be said for this slow-burning Audible Original, which ever-so-gradually sinks in its hooks. It centres on the case of Sophie Toscan du Plantier, a glamorous Frenchwoman who regularly holidayed in the area, and was murdered there in 1996. Among a handful of candidates, suspicion has long fallen on local oddball Ian Bailey, a British writer in self-imposed exile. Ian turns out to be the enigmatic star of this series - like David Bain of Black Hands, he is pompous and self-aggrandising, even as he insists loudly upon his innocence. Is he a misunderstood intellectual, hamstrung by an abrasive personality, or is he brazenly thumbing his nose at law enforncement, who have nothing but circumstantial evidence to tie him to the case?
Journalists and power couple Sam Bungey and Jennifer Forde have been making this show for three years, and were lucky to have wide-ranging access to Toscan du Plantier's family, Bailey and his partner, and police. Their softly-softly approach - which one feels in the gentle tread of this narrative, as much as in their manner of narration and interrogation - is in keeping with the sleepy setting, but also pays dividends in terms of their subjects, who open up as trust develops. The series shifts gear as it catches up to real time, and the execution of the whole is deeply satisfying.
Released: Concluded (Audible Exclusive)
If you're a woman of a certain 30-ish age who feels that she might like to have a baby one day, you're probably living with the low-level hum of fertility anxiety. It's impossible not to absorb this message from the culture, which continually reminds us that, as we delay our child-bearing years for the sake of work or pleasure, our slowly withering eggs are on the line.
As such, we didn't rush to hear this acclaimed HuffPost mini-series, which catalogues one (young) couple's struggle with infertility. But when we did, it upended our expectations, delivering a surprising, often funny, sometimes gripping account of trying to have a baby. Our hosts are the couple in question, both writers - Anna's a health reporter for HuffPost, Simon a television writer. Beyond cataloguing the daily absurdities and occasional body-horrors of infertility, they wrestle with how it has changed the dynamics of their relationship, and seek the wisdom of others - patients, parents, doctors. The scripting is great, as one might expect, and they employ a writerly honesty in the deconstruction of their experience, from Anna's secret satisfaction that her husband's "super swimmers" aren't all they're cracked up to be, to the anxious work of getting pregnant post-miscarriage, to the enormous sums of money at stake.
We enjoyed our several hours in the company of this charismatic couple, and we don't think you need to be living through this experience personally to appreciate IVFML's informative charms. Consume all five episodes now, with your fingers crossed for them.
Personal Best / An utterly joyful new outing from the CBC, and a worthy successor to Sleepover. Ostensibly a self-help podcast, it aims to push its subjects out of their comfort zones to achieve a small goal - like learning to say "No", trying to be less pessimistic, or waking up with their first alarm. This potentially formulaic premise is executed with madcap vision and driven by a delight in the ridiculous, and it is impossible not to be swept along. To say more about the challenges set up by our hosts - merry Rob and deadpan Andrew - would perhaps spoil you for the spirit of the thing, because they don't sound half as funny written down. Just listen. CBC, Weekly.
Dear Franklin Jones / Mining a rich new vein of interest in religious cults is this new Stitcher series from the talented Jonathan Hirsch (Arrvls). It takes a more personal perspective than its predecessors in this genre - more so even than Glynn Washington's contributions to Heaven's Gate - as Hirsch investigates the enigmatic guru under whose sway he and his family lived for years. Stitcher, Weekly.
Today, Explained / Vox's new venture in the daily podcast space addresses current affairs with wry amusement, which seems to be a natural mode for host Sean Rameswaran (Studio 360). Episodes have tackled the threat of nuclear war, the phenomenon of deepfake videos, and breaking news like the dismissal of Rex Tillerson. One rewrote Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire" to cover the Mueller investigation, and that was pretty wonderful, though at other times the devil-may-care tone feels out of step with the content. Think of it as a hip young cousin to The New York Times' sometimes po-faced The Daily. Vox, Daily.
The Last Movie / All six episodes of this spooky docudrama from the Tanis team at Pacific Northwest Stories just dropped. In classic PNWS fashion, the mini-series examines a bloody urban legend, about a film so evil it kills anyone who views it. Also in classic PNWS fashion, it's pretty silly stuff, regularly interrupted by deeply-felt ads about Bombas socks - and yet, wildly entertaining. And it comes to a relatively neat resolution, which is refreshing. PNWS, Concluded.
An InExact Science / "Social Pain and the OPRM1 Gene"
This little indie show about human psychology was one of our Best of 2016 picks, so we were delighted to find a new episode in our feed after a year-long absence. Host Lisa Cantrell investigates whether her tendency to be more hurt by social rejection than the average person is genetically determined. Indie, Intermittent.
The Signal / "Tracks and Snatch"
From the ABC's snappy new daily show, the story of a private Facebook group, used by big players in the Australian dance music scene for the sharing of non-consensual sexual images. Reporter Phoebe Loomes discovered that her boyfriend was a member and investigated for two years before this story was broadcast. ABC, Daily.
This is About / "This is about Jesse Cox"
Jesse Cox was an Australian radio producer with a surfeit of talent and charm, who should have been telling us stories through sound for decades to come. But in December, he died of a rare brain cancer, at the age of 31. This tribute from his colleagues at This is About - the ABC series he executive produced, among his many projects - is a paean to his storytelling powers. ABC, Concluded.
Trump Inc / "Where'd Trump's Record Inauguration Spending Go?"
This team at WNYC is doing some impressive reporting on the tangled web of businesses Trump has woven, Orb-like, around himself and his family, and which threatens to envelop the presidency. The recurring question is "So where'd that money come from/go?" and never more so than in this episode about Trump's inauguration. His committee raised more than $100 million dollars for the party, double Obama's spend. But a former inauguration party planner says he can't see, for the life of him, where the money went. We're willing to bet it wasn't on 3 Doors Down. Ilya Marritz (The Season) investigates. WNYC, weekly.
The Tip Off / "Web of Death, Parts 1 & 2"
From the indie show that looks at the behind-the-scenes labour of reporting comes this fascinating and pertinent two-parter about a series of mysterious Russian deaths in London, as uncovered by the Buzzfeed UK team. Indie, Intermittent.
The Longest Shortest Time / Iconic single gal and radio savant Andrea Silenzi has shuttered her dating podcast Why Oh Why - which, at Panoply, approached but never exceeded the wild magic of her original WFMU radio show - to take up the reins at The Longest Shortest Time, Hillary Frank's beloved parenting podcast. (Now-former host, show creator and exec producer Frank was also Andrea's editor, and continues in that capacity for Longest Shortest.) It's an interesting choice, in large part because Silenzi doesn't have kids. But she knows she wants them, perhaps as a single mother by choice, and her personal journey to motherhood will be interwoven with the open-hearted parenting stories we've come to expect from TLST. So far, so good - but to be honest, we'd follow Silenzi anywhere. Panoply, Weekly.
Breakdown, Season 5: The McIver Murder Case / The fifth season of this long-running true crime series, which was delayed a few months ago due to a continuance request from the prosecution, is back in the saddle at last. Did 75-year-old Tex McIver accidentally shoot his (rich) wife whilst travelling in a car with friends, spooked by scary "Black Lives Matter activists"? Or was it a brazen murder? As usual, reported with forensic (so to speak) attention to detail and delivered by the rakish Bill Rankin. Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Weekly.
Tomorrow's World / On release, we dubbed this new show the BBC's answer to Radiolab. We're pleased to report that that's still true, or was - the series, to our dismay, just concluded. Immerse yourself in the sonic bounty of these elaborate visions of our present and future, as in recent episodes about the future of the internet, how human beings might defy death, and whether we're actually living inside the Matrix. BBC, Concluded.
Death in Ice Valley, new true crime collab by BBC World Service and NRK in Norway
Season 2 of Alone: A Love Story
Caliphate from the NY Times
In The Dark: Season 2 from American Public Media "examines the case of a man who’s been caught in a terrifying loop of injustice."
Other People's Problems, fly-on-the-wall therapy sessions from the CBC