Podcasts are my friend. As someone who spends endless hours commuting, walking the dogs and hanging around in airports waiting for flights, podcasts are my go-to entertainment option. They come in endless shapes and forms, and can be as captivating as any good book or Netflix show – but you can also listen to them while getting on with other stuff. They are the ultimate multi-tasking medium.
The quality, diversity and accessibility of podcast content is increasing exponentially, meaning it’s a really good time to be a fan. But with an estimated 750,000 of them (with 30 million episodes) currently out there, according to Podcast Insights, it can be difficult deciding what to listen to. Here’s what’s keeping me entertained this summer.
To Live and Die in LA
I have listened to a ridiculous number of true crime podcasts. More often than not, they disappoint – hours are spent dissecting a cold case, massive miscarriages of justice are invariably brought to light, but there are rarely any actual breakthroughs. By the end of a 10-hour listening spree, you are no closer to knowing "whoddunit" than you were when you started. There are notable exceptions, of course – Up and Vanished and Teacher's Pet both generated renewed interest in the murder cases they were investigating and resulted in arrests – but in many instances, true crime podcasts can be extremely unsatisfying.
This is not so for To Live and Die in LA, which is my current audio obsession. While many podcasts revisit old cases, this one takes a look into the disappearance of aspiring Hollywood actress Adea Shabani in February 2018. The episodes start mere days after Shabani first went missing, so there's a sense of immediacy to the story that makes it incredibly compelling and hard to ignore.
Blackout will take some getting used to for fans of the more conventional or investigative podcast format. It is a narrative podcast, so more akin to a radio play, starring Rami Malek in his first "role" since winning an Oscar for his star turn in Bohemian Rhapsody. The concept is intriguing from the outset. In the small US town of Berlin, residents are coming to terms with a nationwide power outage that appears to be permanent. The show is a comment on our reliance on technology, but also on how quickly "civilisation" can disintegrate when things start to go wrong – and how quickly neighbours start turning on each other. Given that 42 blocks in Manhattan spent up to five hours in darkness last weekend, following a major power outage in the city, Blackout feels eerily prophetic. It leaves you wondering what you would do if things started to fall apart. I have ascertained that I probably wouldn't survive very long.
This is the story of Elizabeth Holmes, founder of Theranos, a revolutionary new company that claimed to have invented a small device that could run more than 100 tests from a microscopic sample of blood. Holmes was lauded as "the next Steve Jobs" and became the world's youngest self-made billionaire. Except the technology didn't exist and her entire story was built on a lie.
This podcast offers fascinating insight into one of the most high-profile fraud cases in modern history. Holmes is currently awaiting trial and could spend more than a decade in jail. It’s riveting stuff and says much about the culture of Silicon Valley. It will leave you marvelling at how Holmes was able to fool so many people for so long.
The Shrink Next Door
On a smaller – but no less confounding – scale is the story of Ike Herschkopf, a celebrity therapist in New York who wielded incredible influence over his clients, and was more than happy to take advantage of this fact. Veteran journalist Joe Nocera charts the story of Herschkopf’s decades-long manipulation of the unwitting Martin Markowitz, which saw the morally defunct psychiatrist take over his client’s Hamptons home and considerable fortune.
It’s a story of psychological manipulation and abuse of power – and a reminder that fact is often much stranger than fiction.
Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness
"How Fierce is Erin Brockovich? With Erin Brokovich"; "Are you Fighting for Gender Equality? With Melinda Gates"; "How Do You Know Your Bae is the One?"; "Have We Lost the Capacity to be Civil?" These are just some of the questions that Jonathan Van Ness asks in his podcast.
When those true crime podcasts start to get a bit heavy, this is where I turn to for a bit of light relief. Those who know Van Ness from Netflix's Queer Eye will already love him. Warm, exuberant and endlessly entertaining, he asks pertinent questions in his typically endearing style.