The Best and Most Gripping Podcasts of 2021

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Whilst oral storytelling is a tradition as old as time, podcasting has breathed new life into the spoken word. Here we shortlist our favourites from 2021

Harsh Reality: The Story Of Miriam Rivera

When it first aired on Sky in 2004, There’s Something About Miriam took reality TV to a dark and dangerous new place. Taking its cue from shows like The Bachelor, the concept was simple – six straight British men fight for the attention of a beautiful model called Miriam Rivera. The twist? In the show’s final episode it's revealed that Miriam is a trans woman. Harsh Reality is a jaw-dropping, meticulously-made six-part series that tells the inside story of one of Britain’s most exploitative reality TV shows.

Stay Away From Matthew MaGill

If you’ve ever listened to Criminal, StartUp, Embedded or The Catch And Kill Podcast you’ve likely come across Eric’s work. Of all the stories he’s reported, Stay Away From Matthew MaGill is without doubt one of his best. How to describe it? The show starts as a kind of personal puzzle that Mennel is trying to solve. Who is Matthew MaGill and what has he done to inspire such violently opposing reactions in people? As he strives to answer these questions, Stay Away gradually evolves, beginning to explore an altogether different query – what can Matthew’s remarkable life tell Mennel about his own fractured family relationships.


Given it launched back in 2015, we were hesitant to include Invisibilia on this list. Much like This American Life, Radiolab, Serial or Snap Judgement the show is a podcasting juggernaut. Years later, episodes like “Entanglement,” “The Power Of Categories” and “Flip The Script” remain some of our all-time favourites. This spring though, the show took a revitalising and refreshing change of direction under the tutelage of its new hosts Yowei Shaw and Kia Miakka Natisse. The team’s reporting on friendship maintains the same scientific and sociological fascination Invisibilia was always famed for, but it adds something new – a familiar, conversational tone that welcomes the listener in.

Day X

You’d be forgiven for thinking that with Trump and Brexit slowly, slowly receding into the rearview mirror, the urgency of confronting right-wing extremism is perhaps less immediate now than it was a year ago. Day X, a nail-biting political thriller from the New York Times, quickly dismisses any such hope. Masterfully scored by Oscar-nominated composer Hauschka, this five-part series looks at how a military officer and a fake refugee identity were part of a plan by far-right extremists to bring down the German government.


When you try to explain the premise of 9/12 to someone, whether they realise it or not, you can often see their eyes involuntarily start to glaze over. How on earth, with all that’s been written on the subject already, can there be anything interesting left to say about the events of 9/11? It’s a story that’s been litigated over and over again, to the point where truths about the events of that terrible day feel like they’ve been cemented firmly into Anglo-American consciousness. Yet, Dan Taberski, the host of 9/12 does something different. He unearths astonishing, untold stories from the aftermath of World Trade Centre terrorist attacks – stories which reframe, not the event itself, but how 9/11 completely changed America’s conception of itself.


Reality TV is wild. And who better to help navigate that wilderness than Keeping Up With The Kontinuity Errors creator Mariah Smith? Across its ten episodes, Spectacle provides an entertaining romp through an unscripted history of reality TV from the 1970s up until the present day. Housewives! Survivor! Queer Eye (then and now)!! Spectacle has it all, and it manages to entertain and inform in a way that’s incredibly satisfying.

The 11th

What do a nefarious “executive leadership” programme; a musical meditation on a 1990s hip-hop album; and a confronting examination of Title 9 investigations have in common? Very little at all – and that’s precisely the point of The 11th. This endlessly engaging series is designed to bring you something completely different and completely new on the 11th day of each month. Whether you’re being taken down a deeply reported internet rabbit hole, told a touching personal story or immersed in a musical miniseries, every delivery is sure to be superb.

Sweet Bobby

Sweet Bobby is not one of those typical true-crime shows, which uses dead women as an excuse to launch into a salacious whodunnit. It’s quite different. And most importantly for our purposes, it’s binge-it-in-one-sitting gripping. Kirat is a successful radio presenter, Bobby is a handsome cardiologist. They hit it off, it’s a slow burn romance at first, then things take a bizarre and mind-boggling turn. Completely unpausable.

We Were Always Here

Mark Thompson is a sensational storyteller. In We Were Always Here he and producer Hana Walker-Brown achieve the unthinkable – they take the bleakness of the Aids epidemic and infuse it with intimacy, camaraderie and candour. Shining a light on untold stories from the crisis, Mark weaves his own experiences with testimony from sex workers, from trans folks and from other people of colour. It’s a bracing but inspiring listen.

The Experiment

It’s hard to pick which aspect of The Experiment makes it more enjoyable to listen to: the show’s refreshingly distinct score, or its insightfully original storytelling. A co-production between two narrative powerhouses – The Atlantic and WNYC (makers of Radiolab, Nancy and Death, Sex & Money) – each episode examines what happens when individuals confront deeply held American values in their own lives. The United States started as an experiment, a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, with liberty and justice for all – each week The Experiment probes the gap between that ideal and the country’s messy reality.