Happy New Year, everybody! We. Made. It.
I’m changing things up a bit for the first “on rotation …” of 2021. It’s the Podcast Edition. I don’t know if this will be a regular thing, seeing as the number of podcasts that people recommend me continues to grow exponentially and I only have so much time during the day, but I thought it might be a nice change of pace. Plus, I get to brag on some of my friends!
Anyway, some of these are going to include some of my favorite episodes, but on several, I can’t really pick any, and I’ll explain why when I get to them. But have at it!
I have been listening to Welcome to Night Vale since it started, and I have yet to get bored with it. The Lovecraftian nature of the storytelling is beautifully interwoven with with absurdist humor and dry wit, via writers Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, and the voice actors are beyond fantastic. They give it their all with every performance and deserve all the accolades.
For those of you not familiar with this long-running podcast, Welcome to Night Vale is a radio station in the fictional town of Night Vale, located somewhere in the desert of the Southwestern United States, where literal monsters, conspiracy theories, paranormal and supernatural events, etc. exist, and the town is kinda … used to it? What’s awesome about the show, though, is that you don’t have to start at the very beginning and listen to them all in a row in order to understand what’s going on; you can literally just pick an episode, seeing as the show is very clear that time doesn’t work normally in Night Vale.
There are also novels and live shows (all of which are stand-alone) that you can get into, and I highly recommend all of them. I just got my copy of The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home, and I regularly listen to the audio version of the Welcome to Night Vale novel on vinyl. I may be slightly obsessed. But what’s nice about this, in comparison to a lot of fiction podcasts, you don’t necessarily need to listen in order to enjoy them, which is why I’m not going to list any favorite episodes. I will, however, say you should check out Dengue Fever’s “Sni Bong,” one of my favorite “The Weather” segments of all time. (“The Weather” segments where songs from independent artists are played.)
One of the things that I miss from collecting DVDs is the behind-the-scenes minidocs (think The Lord of the Rings trilogy set with more bts footage than the movies themselves) and commentary tracks from the cast and crew of whatever movie or TV series I was watching. I know not everybody wants to know that kind of stuff, but I find it fascinating to see the process and to hear how the cast bonded, or didn’t, in some cases. Podcasts can definitely bridge that gap for people like me who look fondly on that part of companies trying to squeeze us for more money.
Battlestar Galacticast is a great example of how a podcast can be used for that purpose. I mean, that’s why I tuned in: I wanted to hear the cast members reminisce and the directors give their reasons why they lighted a scene a certain way. The creative collaborative process of making television is so fascinating to me, seeing as I do much, if not most, of my art solo.
The premise of Battlestar Galacticast is fairly straight forward: Tricia Helfer and Marc Bernardin talk about each episode of Battlestar Galactica (and the webisodes, too!) in order, sometimes bringing on special guests like Edward Olmos (I want him to adopt me) and creator Ronald D. Moore. Tricia and Marc are delightful by themselves, though, each with their own perspective – Tricia as a cast member and Marc as a sci-fi geek and entertainment journalist – and enjoying every second, even if Marc is allergic to Tricia’s many cats. Some of the better episodes happen when wine is involved, and it just confirmed what I already knew: that I really wanna hang with Tricia and Katee Sackhoff.
This is best experienced from the beginning, especially if you rewatch (or watch for the first time!) with them, but I suppose it’s not really necessary. I do definitely recommend the episodes where they have special guests (or live ones), though, just because I love it when they bring fresh points of view to the show.
3 – GIRL IN SPACE
Sarah Rhea Warner is probably one of the loveliest people on the planet. I had the pleasure of meeting her in person at Podtales in Boston back in 2019, and she is just simply a joy. She also has created one of the best podcasts I have ever had the pleasure of listening to: Girl in Space. It’s one of those fictional podcasts where I don’t want to give too much away, which is not normal for me. I pretty freely discuss spoilers, but if I started to describe Girl in Space the way I usually do, it would 100% spoil the experience, so I’m just going to copy and paste what’s on the website:
Abandoned on a dying ship in the farthest reaches of known space, a young scientist fights for survival (and patience with the on-board A.I.). Who is she? No one knows. But a lot of dangerous entities really want to find out.
It may seem very bare bones – that’s kind of the point, actually – but Sarah’s skills as an editor are just phenomenal: the subtlety in her use of sound, music, and her own voice fluctuations are wonders to behold. At first, we only have Sarah as the nameless narrator and Kay Krause, Sarah’s MIL, as Charlotte, the slightly off ship’s AI, but more characters come into play, and each is just as enjoyable as the last. I desperately want to add more to this, because OMG, I love this podcast, but I need to stop myself before I ruin everything.
Since this is a fiction podcast, you probably should start with Ep 1 and just dive in; you might be a little confused, otherwise. But hey, maybe you like that sort of thing? If so, I say go for it.
4 – I DON’T KNOW HER
Even if I wasn’t blessed with knowing AV Mead, one of the two hosts of this podcast – the other being the inimitable Rita Vigil, who I do not know personally but feel like I would love to – I would tune in to I Don’t Know Her, for one of two reasons:
- Anyone who references Mariah Carey is worthy of my attention.
- I love learning about women you should know about or know more about.
And boy howdy, do these lovely people deliver. With each episode, they introduce you to two different women (they’ve recently focused on one woman per episode in Season 3), and for coming up on two full years, I have been educated on women I knew existed but wasn’t quite sure why (Wilma Rudolph or Isadora Duncan, for example) and women I had no idea even lived (Phoolan Devi, Winona LaDuke, Yayoi Kusama, and countless others). From a writer’s perspective, I have had so many moments of inspiration just by listening to these badass historical figures, but as a person, I feel like I have a better understanding of how things actually work? It’s weird – like, by learning about people who aren’t just white dudes, it’s almost as if we realize that they aren’t the default experience and shouldn’t be.
I’d say just start from the beginning and learn and have as much fun as you can, but these are some of my favorites:
- “REBEL & INVENTOR: Phoolan Devi & Ruth Handler”
- “FILMMAKER: Alice Guy-Blache”
- “SERIAL KILLER & OPTHAMOLOGIST: Belle Gunness & Patricia Bath”
- “WARRIOR & RUNNER: Lozen & Arlene Pieper”
- “POLICYMAKER & ENTREPRENEUR: Frances Perkins & Madam CJ Walker”
- “PAINTER & FASHION DESIGNER: Sarah Biffen & Jeanne Paquin”
5 – THE HIDDEN DJINN
I cannot really express how obsessed with this series I got and how quickly that came to pass. First off, I love Rabia Chaudry, and her voice is one of the most soothing sounds that I can hear. Second, the history of folklore and religion and spirituality, especially when it’s concerning a religion and/or culture that isn’t my own, is simply fascinating, especially when there are parallels and analogues in other areas of the world. Djinn definitely fit into this, but at the same time, are more complex than western (specifically Christian) concepts of demons, angels on your shoulder, or something in between.
In The Hidden Djinn, Rabia Chaudry presents the ancient history of the djinn and all of their forms (I didn’t know there was anything more than just genies, honestly, until I heard about this podcast), weaving it with historical accounts attributed to djinn, anecdotal supernatural experiences, and modern explanations (e.g. mental illness) for djinn activity. There’s a reverence in it, though. While she’s not trying to discredit or prove their existence (at least, that’s who I see it), it’s very clear that Chaudry has a deep respect for their cultural significance, something I feel is missing in a lot of coverage of spiritual matters. You either get someone who openly mocks spiritual belief or blindly preaches it at you, neither of which impresses me. Spiritual belief is not provable by science, nor is it something that can explain everything in this world – there has to be a healthy balance of the two, where one holds up the other.
There are only ten episodes in this series (so far? I’m really hoping she comes out with more), and the longest is about 45 minutes, so you could easily listen to this in one day. I’m not going to recommend any episodes in particular for that reason specifically, but also because every single one drew me in. I’m not even kidding. Every. Single. One. Enough so that I didn’t even mind when Rabia started waxing poetic about pillows.
This is one I’m just starting, but seriously, I can’t get enough of this You’re Wrong About. It started with the whole Princess Diana saga (I have one more episode to go, and OMG I have thoughts), and I’m itching to get to the rest of them, especially the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, Jessica Simpson (just bought the ebook of Open Book), OJ Simpson trial, Terri Schiavo … you know what? All of them. I don’t even know how many episodes there are as a backlog, but I have no doubt I will be listening until the end times, and I’ll be 100% fine with that.
Basically, this show is a deep dive into historical events (they just did one on the newsboy strike from 1899 that inspired the movie that introduced me to Christian Bale, Newsies), telling you the whole story that isn’t always shown by the media or isn’t widely known. They don’t go into conspiracies, though, which I appreciate, because you know what? I don’t want people to hear any more of that shit, anyway.
I don’t have that much to say about this one, except that it’s informative and entertaining, and I need more people to listen to it so I can talk to them about it.
7 – OKAY, NOW LISTEN
Another recent addition to my podcast library, Okay, Now Listen cracks me the fuck up. Sylvia and Scottie are hilarious and know each other so well that they can talk about literally anything and I would tune in. And I do. Every time. Well, I need to catch up now, but that will come soon enough. The show has only been around since April 2020, so it’s a true Covid-19 diary, covering pop culture, quarantine, romance, social justice, true friendship, politics … literally every single topic that you would think that could be discussed. They also recommend things to watch, listen to, read, etc., and I’ve gotten so many good recs that aren’t necessarily marketed toward me or something I would pay attention to (I haven’t watched any Peaky Blinders, but Scottie has me intrigued now).
I’ve been trying to expand what I listen to in terms of creators, even if it’s not necessarily created with people like me in mind. And by that, I mean, that it’s not created for or by white people. And does it make me feel uncomfortable? I’m not going to lie; it kind of does sometimes. Because there are parts of this show that are very clearly written for Black people, specifically Black women, and I think that’s amazing. I can still appreciate it and give them those numbers/downloads. Plus, I’ve learned something in each episode I’ve listened to so far: I know about Sister Rosetta Tharpe (if you haven’t, go check her out – she’s kickass), but I’d never heard of Betty Wright, who sadly passed away in May 2020. I’ve been listening to her for the last several days, and I never would have looked her up without this podcast.
Similar to You’re Wrong About, I haven’t listened to all of the episodes, since I just started this weekend, but I can definitely recommend all three of the ones I have fit into my packed podcasting schedule! And there’s only nineteen so far, which means that I have at least a day or so before they release another episode. Maybe I can be caught up before then?
8 – MORBID
True crime podcasts are … let’s just say “oversaturated.” And I get it. I listen to a ton of them – Last Podcast on the Left, My Favorite Murder, Dr. Death, etc. – and I’m fascinated with each story, even if it’s one that I’ve heard a million times before, so it’s not like there isn’t a market for them. They each have their own take on the stories, but the one that I’ve really gotten into is Morbid.
Like Sylvia and Scottie from Okay, Now Listen above, Ash and Alaina have great back-and-forth banter, which comes from their decades-long friendship, and this is mainly what draws me to this podcast more than others. Not that other true crime podcast hosts don’t have great chemistry together – part of the reason I like LPotL is because Marcus, Ben, and Henry play off each other so well – but it’s obvious these two women care deeply about each other and build each other up, despite their age difference. It’s only like 10 years, but I remember dating a guy 10 years younger than me when I was 34, and I found his same-age friends rather annoying, but that may only be my experience. Anyway, I tune in with each release to enjoy their relationship. Additionally, Alaina being an autopsy technician gives things a bit more of a profesh feel, kind of like how Rabia Chaudry, Susan Simpson, and Colin Miller gave even more legitimacy to a podcast about wrongful convictions (Undisclosed).
Other than the rapport between Ash and Alaina, the setup for each episode is pretty similar to most true crime podcasts: they talk about a crime, adding their own opinions and random asides that are sometimes tangentially related to the topic at hand, so if you’re looking for something mold-breaking, you might wanna look elsewhere. But if you want two friends having fun and commiserating about morbid topics? Yeah, this is the place to start. Here are some of my favorites:
- Ep 1: Golden State Killer
- Ep 57: The Body Farm
- Ep 197/8: Oklahoma Girl Scout Murders
- Ep 122/3: The West Memphis 3
- Ep 170: The Mysterious Death of Brittany Murphy
It took me a bit to get into What the Folklore?, despite the fact that I’m fascinated by fairy tales and folklore, but I really do think it was Carman, Tyler, and Gordie just trying to figure out a tone and work with what technology they had at the time. Like so many TV shows, the first “season” is a little rough, but once they got to their first anniversary, things really started to even out. I really love the juxtaposition between the normally very calm delivery of Carman vs her cohosts, who tend to have fairly dynamic responses to some of the crazier elements of the stories they discuss. I can always tell I’m going to enjoy an episode when the title indicates that it’s a series; this usually means that there’s so much whackadoodle that a single forty-five minute jaunt isn’t going to be enough.
Now, while there are several episodes that I’ve relistened to, my favorites tend to be the anniversary episodes, all of which focus on a tale by the infamous Madame d’Aulnoy. She’s fascinating enough herself, and I would kill to find a decent biography on her (literally can’t find a single one) or even to have someone make a movie (I envision something like The Fall) about her, but her stories are … well, not great. In one of my favorite series (eps 160 – 162) based off of d’Aulnoy’s “The Bee and the Orange Tree,” Carman says the following:
“We return to the works of Madame d’Aulnoy, our horrifying French baroness with too much time on her hands and not enough erasers … zero erasers, lived in a time before erasers were invented, and just kept going.”
And their general loathing of the woman continues as they rip this story to shreds, eventually naming the series, “The Ballad of Wrong Amy and Prince Instant Messenger,” which 100% makes sense once you listen. Which you should do the first chance you get. My favorite part, though, is this exchange:
Carman: She left her arms half bare and she carried a quiver on her shoulder and a bow and her girdle. She tied her fair hair with seaweed and made sandals out of sea rushes and hunted in the woods like a second Diana and would have been unaware of her own beauty if the crystal waters weren’t natural mirrors but luckily she didn’t get vain.
Tyler: When you said that, I just imagined her like running through the brush and just checking her reflection real quick and just going like, “TIGHT … this is a good look.”
I definitely recommend starting with a d’Aulnoy episode (“The Green Serpent,” eps 53 – 56; “Prince Ariel,” eps 107 – 110 – just find one released in February) just because they just get so damned indignant that they are reading anything written by the woman, but here are some other favorites:
- “Multipass Fashion Pack” (ep 119)
- “Stepmother Advisory Board” (ep 73)
- “3 Sisters 3 Furious: Sister Drift” (ep 152)
- “The Church of the Knife” (ep 103)
- “Farmer Voltron” (ep 76)
10 – SWITCHBLADE SISTERS
MaximumFun is the first podcast network, thanks to The Adventure Zone, that ultimately opened me up to podcasts beyond Welcome to Night Vale. The McElroys are great – lord knows I have listened to every show they’ve put out – but I kind of got sick of hearing nothing but their voices every day. So I went and explored some of the other offerings and came across Switchblade Sisters. Sure, I’m going to nursing school, but there’s a part of me that so badly wants to make movies. I don’t want star in one; I just want to write, direct, produce, etc., and Switchblade Sisters played a big role in reviving that desire.
As far as content goes, April Wolfe, the host, has a conversation with a female filmmaker in each episode, and they talk about a genre movie of the guest’s choice, sometimes even delving into some pretty touchy subjects. For example, in Ep 153, a guest host (Katie Walsh) and writer Mary Laws discuss Repulsion by Roman Polanski, bringing up the difficulty of separating an artist’s work from the artist’s personal life, especially one who is basically a giant shit of a person. SS does a great job of really examining what it’s like to be a woman-identifying person in the film industry, but April also doesn’t always look at it that way. Her guests just happen to be women, and I like that take. It’s establishing that being a woman doesn’t define who they are as creators, but it definitely does, sometimes subtly and other times not, influence what they create and what they like.
The first episode, “Bone Tomahawk with Emily Gordon,” actually inspired me to include the movie as part of my Horrorpalooza 2020 on Twitter (I’m definitely going to do the same thing this year, except that I’ll probably do it on Tumblr? I dunno, talk me out of it), and I don’t regret it at all, despite the fact That Scene still haunts me. I will probably never watch the movie again, but it was a beautiful film to experience: cinematography, acting, script, etc. I highly recommend it, even if you do like I did and say, “I’m glad I saw it, and I will log it away. Thank you for your contribution, Bone Tomahawk.”
Now, I obviously recommend Episode One, which isn’t super common for me, but it’s seriously great (after all, it did get me to watch a pretty intense bisection scene), but there are plenty of other episodes that I suggest you chomp into:
- Ep 103: Black Widow with 10 Things I Hate About You & Legally Blonde Screenwriter Kiwi Smith
- Ep 16: Night of the Comet with Amber Benson
- Ep 113: Ladyhawke with Janet Varney
- Ep 37: The Matrix with Vera Miao
- Ep 158: Train to Busan with Kaali Khuhi Director Terrie Samundra
- Ep 117: Adaptation with Color Out of Space Star Madeleine Arthur