Prison wives, natural disasters, internet chances and captivating lies
While oral storytelling is a tradition as old as time, podcasting has breathed new life into the spoken word. Here we shortlist our favourites for summer, from prison wives and captivating lies, to natural disasters and internet chancers.
What is the internet doing to us? That’s the question posed by New York Times tech columnist Kevin Roose and Caliphate producer Andy Mills in this atmospheric, sonically rich and grippingly glitchy new series. At a time when we’re attached to our screens more than ever before, Roose and Mills probe the depths of YouTube’s powerful algorithm, spotlight the internet celebrities shaping the views of millions of impressionable followers, and catalogue what happens when an online culture war manifests itself in the real world.
2. Prison Bag
This is a moving, intimately personal and essayistic series in which Josie Bevan and a supporting cast of ‘prison wives’ examine the ripple effects of jail sentences. Across 12 neatly edited episodes, Prison Bag focuses on the forgotten families, partners and children left behind after their loved ones are incarcerated. Sitting moments of anger side-by-side with moments of lightness, the series spotlights the crushing tedium of prison bureaucracy among other injustices.
Hosted by Vann R. Newkirk II, Floodlines tells the story of an “unnatural disaster”, unearthing the human tragedy at the heart of Hurricane Katrina. It’s an astonishing, maddening testament to governmental mismanagement at both the local and national level, that feels eerily prescient given the UK’s surging Covid-19 death count and Trump’s urging for states to reopen. Music by New Orleans jazz trumpeter Christian Scott and composer Anthony Braxton gives the show a meditative and melancholic quality that underscores its urgent message.
Co-produced by and starring Tessa Thompson, this is another cleverly sound-designed audio delight from QCode, makers of Gaslight. Inspired by horror stories from Reddit’s r/nosleep (originators of the Slenderman and Candle Cove mythologies, among others), the series follows an idealistic journalist as she tries to make a name for herself following a group of paranormal explorers, obsessed with a seemingly harmless pastime known as the Left/Right Game. The journey takes Alice (Thompson) into a supernatural world that she and the other members of the expedition struggle to survive.
5. Lies We Tell
Documentary maker Alex Gibney – best-known for his Oscar-winning Taxi To The Dark Side and Emmy-winning Scientology exposé Going Clear – has teamed up with Radiolab-alum Ellen Horne on a suspenseful new show which contemplates the mysteries of deception and all of its manifestations. Each episode seeks to solve a character-driven puzzle with a central lie buried at its heart, gradually prompting us to reflect on our own capacity for self-deception. It makes for captivating listening.
The perfect antidote to platitudes about British exceptionalism and our ‘blitz spirit’, journalist and author Afua Hirsch reckons with the legacy of the British Empire in this remarkably personal series. Through six conversations with a new generation of writers and historians, We Need To Talk About The British Empire showcases vivid family histories of the people who made the empire what it was. With nuance and insight, the series reckons with British heritage to better understand our place in the world today.