doc w/ Pen

journalist + medical student + artist

Tag: podcast

Sit back and listen

The art for the fictional podcast “Alice Isn’t Dead,” which is about a female truck driver searching for her missing wife, is just brilliant.

Some time ago, I wrote a post about the true crime podcasts I’d discovered. As I explained in that post, I spend so much time in front of a computer screen both for medical school and in my personal life that the idea of relaxing in front of another screen (i.e., my TV) just doesn’t always appeal to me. Plus, there’s something about simply listening, hearing the narrative but without someone else’s visual interpretations, that sparks my imagination. I get to paint people’s portraits and create the contours of the landscape. So for all those reasons, radio is ideal. Magical, even.

But as I was listening to one of those nonfiction podcasts awhile ago, I realized that I really just wanted … a story. Not a real one, not one that truly happened. I wanted to escape into the world of fiction. I’m actually surprised that this didn’t occur to me sooner. I’ve always loved reading fiction. And as a kid, my dad would read aloud to my family each night from a chapter book — our own version of a serial audio story. So I started poking around iTunes. Before long, I had amassed an overwhelming list of fiction podcasts to try. Here are the ones I’ve tried so far and highly recommend. I’ll include each show’s link and official description, as well as a few words of my own.

The Black Tapes. This docudrama is one of my favorites. The best way I can describe this spooky and addictive show is that it’s like the podcast “Serial” meets “The X Files.” There are three seasons out now. From the show’s official description: “The Black Tapes is a serialized docudrama about one journalist’s search for truth, her enigmatic subject’s mysterious past, and the literal and figurative ghosts that haunt them both. How do you feel about paranormal activity or the Supernatural? Ghosts? Spirits? Demons? Do you believe?”

Rabbits. This is another addictive docudrama, just finished with its first season. It took me a couple of episodes to get into the show, but then I was hooked. From the show’s description: “When Carly Parker’s friend Yumiko goes missing under very mysterious circumstances, Carly’s search for her friend leads her headfirst into an ancient mysterious game known only as Rabbits. Soon Carly begins to suspect that Rabbits is much more than just a game, and that the key to understanding Rabbits, might be the key to the survival of our species, and the Universe, as we know it.” This show is from the same people behind The Black Tapes.

Limetown. I blew through this show’s remarkable episodes in a couple of days. My only disappointment is that there isn’t more to listen to, although apparently a second season is coming out soon. It’s another conspiracy-paranormal-docudrama. Apparently, this is my genre. From the show’s website: “Ten years ago, over three hundred men, women and children disappeared from a small town in Tennessee, never to be heard from again. American Public Radio reporter Lia Haddock asks the question once more, ‘What happened to the people of Limetown?'”

The Message. This show’s first episode didn’t really impress me, and I was about to move on. But I read some incredible reviews of the show, which hit No. 1 in iTunes when it was first released. so decided to stick with it. I’m glad I did. You will be too, if docudramas about aliens is your thing. From the website: “The Message is a new podcast following the weekly reports and interviews from Nicky Tomalin, who is covering the decoding of a message from outer space received 70 years ago. Over the course of 8 episodes we get an inside ear on how a top team of cryptologists attempt to decipher, decode, and understand the alien message.”

Life After. The premise of this incredible sci-fi show reminds me of “Her,” the 2013 Spike Jonze movie (also highly recommended). From the show’s official description: “The 10 episode series follows Ross, a low level employee at the FBI, who spends his days conversing online with his wife Charlie – who died eight months ago. But the technology behind this digital resurrection leads Ross down a dangerous path that threatens his job, his own life, and maybe even the world.” By the same people who created The Message.

Archive 81. The show’s official description is short: “A podcast about horror, cities, and the subconscious.” I understand why. It’s hard to characterize this podcast. It’s about a guy who goes into this cabin deep in the woods to archive these weird tapes, and horrible things happen from there. It’s gripping. I don’t recommend listening to this one alone in a dark room (which is, of course, what I did).

ars PARADOXICA.  Physics, time travel, awkward scientists, political corruption, and intrigue … this is the world of ars PARADOXICA. From the show’s official description: “ars PARADOXICA is a story about people searching for meaning in a universe that aggressively lacks one, and who occasionally find the next best thing in those around them. It’s also about the way power corrupts. When you’ve got a time machine and the backing of the most powerful nation on Earth, you start to get the idea that you can always tilt the scales in your favor, but there is cost and consequence for every action. Above all, it’s about science, America, and the deeply human desire to fix our mistakes.”

The Deep Vault.  This is another super creepy one, which apparently is another thing I’m into. Also do not recommend being alone in a dark room for this one unless you like imagining that shadows are monsters. From the official description: “The story follows a group of longtime friends as they journey from the uninhabitable surface world into a mysterious underground bunker in search of safety, shelter, and answers to their past. Robotic servants, tooth-filled monsters, and terrible computers collide within the claustrophobic, steel-reinforced walls of The Deep Vault, a modern day homage to the golden age of sci-fi radio drama.” Like Archive 81, this one definitely has horror undertones, but I mean that in the best possible way.

Welcome to Night Vale. I saw one review on iTunes describing this as Garrison Keillor in “Lake Wobegone” meets Stephen King. That was enough to get me to listen to an episode. From the show’s official description: “Welcome to Night Vale is a twice-monthly podcast in the style of community updates for the small desert town of Night Vale, featuring local weather, news, announcements from the Sheriff’s Secret Police, mysterious lights in the night sky, dark hooded figures with unknowable powers, and cultural events. Turn on your radio and hide. ”

Alice Isn’t Dead. This show’s narrator, Alice, a female truck driver, is incredible. As is the writing. The official description: “A truck driver searches across America for the wife she had long assumed was dead. In the course of her search, she will encounter not-quite-human serial murderers, towns literally lost in time, and a conspiracy that goes way beyond one missing woman.”

The Bright Sessions.  This show’s premise is unlike any other. It records psychotherapy sessions between a woman named Dr. Bright and her uniquely talented, but troubled patients. The official description: “The Bright Sessions is a science fiction podcast that follows a group of therapy patients. But these are not your typical patients – each has a unique supernatural ability. The show documents their struggles and discoveries as well as the motivations of their mysterious therapist, Dr. Bright.”

Homecoming. This is a psychological thriller about a human experiment gone horribly wrong. From the show’s description: “Homecoming centers on a caseworker at an experimental facility, her ambitious supervisor, and a soldier eager to rejoin civilian life — presented in an enigmatic collage of telephone calls, therapy sessions, and overheard conversations.”

Our Fair City. This podcast is lovably bizarre. “Campy,” according to the official description — and in the best possible, melodramatic way. It’s a post-apocalyptic drama complete with lunatic scientists, the woken dead, mole people, man-eating wolves, and so much more. All of this is packed into episodes that are usually about 15 minutes long, so great for a quick study break. Or a long binge … the creators (based in Chicago!) are currently on season 8, so there’s lots to listen to.

The Leviathan Chronicles. This is an absolutely incredible sci-fi show, another one of my favorite podcasts overall. It follows the lives of people who have become immortal, conflicts between different factions of immortals, and clashes between immortals and mortals. It sounds bizarre, I know, but the story is wonderful, suspenseful, and engaging. There’s also great acting, sound effects, music, etc. It’s supposed to be 50 episodes, but 30-some-odd in, the creator’s wife died of cancer, so there was a long hiatus. But he’s apparently back and working on episodes again, which is exciting news.

There are so many incredible podcasts out there, both fiction and nonfiction. This is truly a return of the golden age for radio (albeit radio you listen to on your phone or computer). While I’ve found some incredible shows, I know I’ve only scratched the surface. If you come across any other podcasts you love, post a comment or send me a message. I’m always looking for new ones to try.

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A mystery junkie’s podcast line-up

In a previous post, I called myself a “mystery junkie.” It’s true. Crime dramas, real and fictional, are my escape. There are plenty of excellent TV shows out there, especially some of the British stuff, like “Sherlock.” But I spend so much of my time in front of a screen that lately, I’ve gotten into podcasts. Lying on my couch, eyes closed, listening to the story unfold is a perfect way to unwind after a long day.

Most of these podcasts tell true stories. I’ve found the element of the “real” provides a compelling hook. And the journalism — the reporting, writing, and audio execution — is phenomenal.

One thing I initially found daunting about the world of podcasts is that there are just so many of them. How do you know what you’ll like, what’s good? Thankfully, you can find this out pretty easily by trying an episode (most podcasts are free to download or stream) and then deciding whether to continue with the show. But in the spirit of sharing and shortcuts, here is a list of the ones I’ve found and fallen in love with. I’m also including several that I plan to try, but just haven’t gotten around to yet. Click on the name of each podcast to go to the show’s website.

Highly recommended:

Serial. This is the podcast that turned me on to podcasts. It’s from the creators of “This American Life,” so you know it’ll be good. There are two seasons. The first season explores the 1999 murder of a high school student. The description of the first episode, from the website: “It’s Baltimore, 1999. Hae Min Lee, a popular high-school senior, disappears after school one day. Six weeks later detectives arrest her classmate and ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, for her murder. He says he’s innocent – though he can’t exactly remember what he was doing on that January afternoon. But someone can. A classmate at Woodlawn High School says she knows where Adnan was. The trouble is, she’s nowhere to be found.” The second season is about a soldier who leaves his U.S. Army post in Afghanistan in the middle of the night. This season’s first episode description: “In the middle of the night, Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl grabs a notebook, snacks, water, some cash. Then he quietly slips off a remote U.S. Army outpost in eastern Afghanistan and into the dark, open desert. About 20 minutes later, it occurs to him: he’s in over his head.” Warning: I was literally hooked within minutes of starting the first episode. This is really good stuff. Check out the show’s website for maps, photos, and other pieces of evidence from each season. And once you’ve watched “Serial,” check out this “Saturday Night Live” sketch about the show.

S-town. The tantalizing description from the podcast’s website: “John despises his Alabama town and decides to do something about it. He asks a reporter to investigate the son of a wealthy family who’s allegedly been bragging that he got away with murder. But then someone else ends up dead, sparking a nasty feud, a hunt for hidden treasure, and an unearthing of the mysteries of one man’s life.” This podcast miniseries is from the same people who did “Serial” and “This American Life.” Also very addicting.

Criminal. From the show’s website: “Criminal is a podcast about crime. Stories of people who’ve done wrong, been wronged, or gotten caught somewhere in the middle.” Many of the shows are about bizarre crimes, like the repeated theft of milemarker 420 signs in Colorado, or an exploration of how to fake your own death. Even the shows that are about more “standard” crimes like murder all have a twist to them. Each episode, which ranges from 20 to 30 minutes, stands alone which makes this show great for shorter blocks of time.

Accused. This is a wonderful, nine-episode show that explores an unsolved murder. From the show’s website: “When Elizabeth Andes was found murdered in her Ohio apartment in 1978, police and prosecutors decided within hours it was an open-and-shut case. Two juries disagreed. The Cincinnati Enquirer investigates: Was the right guy charged, or did a killer walk free?” The newspaper also did a print version of their investigation, and includes additional videos, photos, and other exhibits on the website. Pretty cool stuff.

In the Dark. The website’s description: “For 27 years, the investigation into the abduction of Jacob Wetterling in rural Minnesota yielded no answers. Reporter Madeleine Baran reveals how law enforcement mishandled one of the most notorious child abductions in the country and how those failures fueled national anxiety about stranger danger, led to the nation’s sex-offender registries and raise questions about crime-solving effectiveness and accountability.” I’ve only listened to three of the 10 episodes, but so far they’re gripping.

Still in my queue:

Stranglers. “It’s been 50 years since 13 women were murdered in Boston … and we still don’t know who really did it.” There are 12 episodes exploring the cases.

Someone Knows Something. This Radio-Canada show has two seasons so far. The first season’s description: “What happened the day five-year-old Adrien McNaughton wandered into the woods and was never seen again? How does a family grieve for someone who may still be alive? And where might he be today? SKS host David Ridgen returns to his hometown to investigate the case.” The second season’s description: “On December 31, 1997, at a New Year’s Eve party broadcast on live TV, Sheryl Sheppard accepted a marriage proposal from her boyfriend, Michael Lavoie. Two days later, she disappeared. In Season 2 of SKS, documentarian David Ridgen joins Sheppard’s mother Odette on her search for answers.”

Real Crime Profile. From the show’s website: “Join Jim Clemente (former FBI profiler), Laura Richards (criminal behavioral analyst, former New Scotland Yard) and Lisa Zambetti (Casting director for CBS’ Criminal Minds) as they profile behavior from real criminal cases.  Real Crime Profile will take you through the gripping Steven Avery case highlighted on ‘Making A Murderer,’ the OJ Simpson Trial, and much more.” Episodes 65 and 66, incidentally, profile the main characters of the podcast “S-town” that I’ve recommended. I plan to listen to those episodes soon.

Found. This show has a unique premise: “Have you ever found a note on the ground, maybe meant for someone else? Help Davy Rothbart solve these mysteries on the FOUND Podcast, where we explore personal stories of love, loss, hope, transformation and aspiration through the lens of lost and found notes –with the power of humor and music.” There’s even an iOS app where you can see the notes.

Crimetown. Another interesting premise: a show that explores the culture of crime in different American cities. The first season’s 18 episodes explore the world of crime in Providence, Rhode Island.

Reveal. This podcast is done by the renowned nonprofit group The Center for Investigative reporting. The shows are on everything from unsolved murders, smuggling, and whistleblowing to explorations of the situation in Standing Rock.

Secrets, Crimes & Audiotape. Unlike the other podcasts I’ve listed, this weekly audio drama tells fictional stories. There are murder mysteries, tales of political intrigue, even a radio musical.

Thanks to my family, friends, and colleagues for their podcasts recommendations (mystery shows and otherwise), and helping me find a new way to relax. In the stressful world of medical school, that’s priceless.