It's hard to imagine that just a few short years ago I didn't listen to podcasts at all. Now they are such a huge percentage of the entertainment and information that I consume, barely a day goes by that I don't listen to something.
I subscribe to dozens of shows, but it's rare that I listen to episodes on the day they drop. I'm a binger. I will wait until a series is done before I listen to it for 8 hours at a time. If you're a fellow binger, I have a few suggestions for you:
It's almost dumb to recommend S-Town, because chances are you've already listened to this record-breaking, heartbreaking podcast docuseries about a few colorful characters in small town Alabama. But I just couldn't leave it off the list, because this is one the best things I've ever listened to, ever, period.
If by some chance you haven't heard S-Town, clear your schedule and go download every single episode right now. Also important: don't google it or set yourself for any spoilers. It's much better to take the twists and turns the way they're presented.
Heavyweight isn't a narrative series, each episode can stand alone. But after you've listened to one, you're going to want to listen to all of them. The host is Jonathan Goldstein, who you may recognize from This American Life, and in each episode he's seeking to right something wrong from the past. He has his own stories, but he also goes along with friends and family as they try to find closure or answers. It is beautiful and sad and funny.
Episode #2 Gregor has gotten a lot of attention and won awards (it is excellent) but my favorite episode is #5 Galit.
In the Dark is the true crime podcast for people who don't normally like the genre. It explores the child abduction of Jacob Wetterling who disappeared one evening while riding his bike with friends in rural Minnesota. But while reporter Madeline Baran is working on the series, the killer is found after nearly 30 years.
There is one particularly rough episode where the crime is described in horrifying detail (not gratuitously, but so you can understand how horrible this story is), but what really makes In the Dark stand out is some of the further exploration about why the killer wasn't caught in the first place and also "how those failures fueled national anxiety about stranger danger, led to the nation's sex-offender registries and raise questions about crime-solving accountability."
I learned a lot from this show and still think about the topics discussed. If you've already binged this one, season 2 comes out on May 1.
It's almost impossible to explain what Invisibilia is about (that is the point, after all), but if you listen to one episode you'll totally get it. This is one of my very favorite podcasts, and my husband Jeff and I will still reference random things we learned on this show. This is the kind of show that you want everyone you know to listen to so that you can talk about it.
The Turnaround with Jesse Thorne is a series of conversations with some of the most interviewers in the world. I started listening to this one on recommendation from a friend, and also because I thought it might be helpful since I also host an interview podcast called Smartest Person in the Room.
It was helpful, but these conversations are so interesting you don't need to have a motive to want to listen. I really enjoyed Ira Glass and Larry King, but my favorite episode is Jerry Springer.
I recently lost a LOT of sleep binging West Cork. It is SO well done, really it's like listening to a great documentary. This one is only available through the Audible app, but it's free. I'm new to Audible, so it took a minute to figure that out but it's easy and worth it.
West Cork is following the gruesome murder of a French woman alone on a holiday at her vacation home in Ireland. I don't want to give any spoilers here, but there are a few elements that are unsatisfying, however it is still a listen that I'm recommending to everyone I know who likes true crime. I love the way they told this story.
By the Book podcast is a little different from everything else on this list, but I really enjoy it and it is one of the only shows in my whole feed that I listen to immediately upon release. Friends Jolenta Greenberg and Kristen Meinzer read a self-help book and then have to live out its principles to a tee for two weeks. Then they discuss. It's funny and thoughtful with lots of discussions around self-help, so right up my alley. My favorite episode is the one on French Women Don't Get Fat.
I almost didn't include Up and Vanished because in some ways this show infuriated me, but then again I gave it SO MANY HOURS of my life, so there was obviously something really compelling about it. Jeff and I both binged it last summer, only he did it the smart way and I didn't. He only listened to main episodes and not all the in-between updates. Probably if you were listening to this true crime search for missing teacher Tara Grinstead in real time, you would appreciate these long Q&A episodes, but if you're bingeing, go ahead and skip those.
As an aside, the satire podcast Done Disappeared is directly making fun of Up and Vanished, and it's pretty darn funny.
Twenty years after the mass suicide of a cult of the same name, the Heaven's Gate podcast talks to family members of the deceased and former members of the group to paint a picture of what Heaven's Gate and their leaders were thinking to commit such an act.
I like cult stories and there were so many little rabbit trails to follow with this group, I was engrossed in this series and wanted to know even more when I was done listening.
I thought I had a basic grasp of the Nixon/Watergate scandal but I had NO IDEA all of the things that surrounded it that made it possibly the most interesting political scandal in modern history (current administration excepted because we're still living in it).
Slow Burn is a series from Slate about Watergate and though I actually thought some parts of the narration here were a little confusing, I still couldn't get enough of it. They're doing the Clinton impeachment next, and I couldn't hit subscribe fast enough.
This list should provide you with hours upon hours of good listening, so I hope you've found something here that you'll like enough to share with others.