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Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Best podcasts of the week: the writers of HBO’s Insecure add some joy to the ‘dumpster fire’ that is modern life | Podcasts

Picks of the week

The Antidote
Widely available, episodes weekly
Two of the writers of HBO’s Insecure, Amy Aniobi and Grace Edwards – who are also best friends in real life – attempt to inject joy into the “dumpster fire” that is modern life. It’s an enjoyably chatty peek at life’s pleasures, from musing on the meditative joys of flower arranging or hikes in nature to pleasingly sweary moments of excitement (notably, exclaiming “You are objectively fine as fuck” in an interview with Black-ish actor Tracee Ellis Ross). Alexi Duggins

Untold Killing
Widely available, episodes weekly

Continuing its detailed investigation of the Bosnian war, the second season of this incisive podcast tells the story of the discovery of concentration camps in the town of Prijedor. With testimony from reporter Ed Vulliamy, it is a harrowing and cautionary account of human cruelty. Ammar Kalia

Eureka!
Widely available, episodes weekly
Rick Edwards and Dr Michael Brooks promise a raft of pub facts in their science podcast – and they certainly deliver. In turbulent times, it’s reassuring to ponder questions such as: “Will we ever talk to animals?” The episode where Edwards takes down people who brag about being bad at maths is a winner. Hannah Verdier

Rick Edwards co-hosts the ponderous Eureka! podcast
Rick Edwards co-hosts the ponderous Eureka! podcast Photograph: Simone Padovani/Awakening/Getty Images

Scamfluencers
Wondery, episodes weekly

Healers, pyramid scheme merchants, fitness experts: if they’re scamming, writers and hosts Scaachi Koul and Sarah Hagi are here to uncover their ways. They start off with a “mini Fyre Fest of the ballet world”, where instead of Ja Rule and bad cheese sandwiches, the bait was a seemingly inclusive opportunity to join a dance company. HV

HeidiWorld: The Heidi Fleiss Story (and the Secret History of LA)
Widely available, episodes weekly from Monday

This 10-part series takes a deep dive into the life story of the notorious Hollywood madam. It’s incredibly detailed – potentially too detailed at first, with the opening episode full of information on her childhood. But future instalments are packed with multimillion-dollar tales of hanging out with huge numbers of big Hollywood names. AD

Reader’s choice

Last week, we highlighted five of the best podcasts about women, and asked for your suggestions. Here is one from reader Bella Black:

The Receipts podcast makes me howl with laughter. I love that its hosted by these three agony aunts/friends [Tolani Shoneye AKA Tolly T, Milena Sanchez and Audrey Indome] who have such a close bond. The titles are almost as good as the episodes, too – who wouldn’t be intrigued by “my dad is being catfished”?!

There’s a podcast for that

Rosamund Pike stars as Edith Wilson in QCode’s scripted series.
Rosamund Pike stars as Edith Wilson in QCode’s scripted series. Photograph: Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images

This week, Ammar Kalia chooses the best audio dramas for scripted podcast fans, from spooky small-town goings-on to a historical blockbuster starring Rosamund Pike

Edith
Scripted dramas can often seem like an excuse for audio production companies to stuff their new releases with celebrity names, rather than strong ideas and robust scriptwriting. Podcast network QCode has become something of a specialist in this celeb audio drama industry – with mixed results – but Edith, released last year, is one of their finest offerings, its high-profile casting matching the grandiosity of the script. Starring Rosamund Pike as Edith Wilson, the series recounts how she secretly took over from her incapacitated husband, US President Woodrow Wilson, in 1919 after he suffered a stroke. Mixing high stakes with farce – and a delightful American accent from Pike – the result is a wry take on the historical machinations of power.

Welcome to Night Vale
Arguably the first massively popular scripted drama podcast to kick the entire craze off, this fictional radio show reporting on the eerie goings-on in a small US town kicked off in 2012 and has since run to over 200 episodes. Following in the footsteps of other early scripted podcast hits like Limetown, a TV adaptation is also currently in the works, while new episodes of the podcast are available twice a month. Start with episode 13 – a meta-narrative which takes you, the listener, as its mysterious subject.

36 Questions
This three-part 2017 creation from Chris Littler and Ellen Winter is a delightfully experimental journey into an estranged couple’s faltering relationship, told through song. Spring Awakening’s Jonathan Groff and Jessie Shelton star as the pair, trying to reconnect through 36 Questions That Lead to Love: a psychological survey designed to encourage intimacy. The couple record themselves in the form of a confessional, creating a tightly structured narrative that is delivered with gusto by Groff and Shelton. The 13 songs in 36 Questions prove that podcasting has ample scrope to explore and play with musical conventions.

Here Lies Me
For fans of coming-of-age teenage tales like Pen15 and Big Mouth, writer Hillary Frank’s 2021 podcast Here Lies Me is essential listening. Tackling the particularly thorny age of eighth grade (13 to 14 years old), Frank’s YA narrative follows 13-year-old Noa as she navigates crushes, rivalries and changing friendships. Here Lies Me’s strengths lie in the casting of actual teenagers in its various roles – particularly Ollie Grishaber as Noa – as well as Frank’s willingness not to shy away from difficult topics such as sexual consent and racism.

Moonface
With shades of writer Ocean Vuong’s poetic realism, James Kim’s emotively nuanced 2019 series tells the story of Korean American Paul (Joel Kim Booster) and his attempts to come out to his mother, despite the fact that her English is shaky and his Korean is minimal. Concerned with the frictions of misunderstanding as much as it is with meaning, Kim’s script harnesses the silences between words throughout its brisk six episodes. Rather than relying on polished scripts, Moonface gives us a taste of authentically strained communication between a mother and son, and a listening experience that is quietly thought-provoking.

Did we miss your favourite audio drama off our list? Let us know your pick in 50 words for your chance to be featured next week – just email newsletters@theguardian.com

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