TV is so passé.
OK, I recognize that TV is actually having this moment with all the amazing original shows on streaming, and Making A Murderer has opened half the country’s eyes to the ridiculous horror of the American justice system and all. But every time someone posts about it, I just think, “Ugh, you would already know this had you obsessively listened to Adnan’s case on 'Serial'.”
Yup. I’ve become a podcast hipster. I’m so sorry.
Such a hipster, actually, that when season 2 of "Serial" (FINALLY OMG) began, I begged everyone’s favorite editor-in-chief to let me do something on podcasts and the ones that are amazing, and then I bored her by talking about how they come in all these genres, and how I would write the article, and how could you compare "Truth and Justice" to "Welcome to Night Vale"? So we settled on a somewhat genre specific Top 5 list. And when you all become as obsessed as I am, I will write another one, with different genres, to feed our podcasting habit.
Today I am beginning with modern radio dramas. I put into the modern radio drama category any fictional, original podcasts that tell a story. And then I narrowed it down to five, which was really, really difficult, as there are a lot of smart, enjoyable, well-acted podcasts for a medium that is still in relative infancy. You can find these via the podcast app on iPhones, via the Stitcher app (or several others) on Android, and most have episodes you can stream on their websites, which I will link.
So, in no particular order, the Top Five Modern Radio Dramas available via podcast:
- Limetown: "Limetown"’s first season just wrapped, and at the end, I literally stared at my phone, heart racing, gasping at the episode. This is actually not uncommon for the show. "Limetown" follows Lia Haddock, a fictional reporter for American Public Radio. Lia is exploring the events that happened at Limetown, a town in Tennessee, where 300 people disappeared 10 years ago without a trace. Seriously without a trace. Like, not a spot of DNA in the entire town that hundreds of people lived in. The podcast is suspenseful, sometimes terrifying, and is just overall compelling. Find episodes and information here.
- Welcome To Night Vale: I’m not even sure it’s legal to do a top five podcast list without this one. Besides "Serial," this is arguably the best known podcast out there. Cecil Gershwin Palmer narrates the strange, amazing exploits in the odd town of Night Vale on his community radio show. This twice monthly podcast boasts a robust lore and cast of characters (at least 75 at this point), including guests Mara Wilson and Wil Wheaton. They have live shows and a novel (and have announced more on the way.) If I had to describe it in a single word, it would be enchanting. Cecil will start to feel less like a fictional character and more like your close friend. Find episodes and more here.
- The Black Tapes: I had just finished streaming all of "Welcome to Night Vale" and I asked for suggestions. Someone mentioned "The Black Tapes," and I was hooked from the first episode. "The Black Tapes" podcast also follows a fictional reporter, Alex Reagan, as she follows supernatural stories. Alex is joined by several characters, but most notably, Dr. Richard Strand, a supernatural researcher who prides himself skepticism. Dr. Strand has numerous white VHS tape cases full of the events he has debunked. He also has a small amount of black cases — hence the name of the show — which he has been unable to disprove. He and Alex work on debunking these, and a series of strange and interesting events follow. Pay attention to the shows; you’ll see strands (no pun) begin to wind together in unexpected ways as you get further in. Who is the enigmatic Dr. Strand, really? Are ghosts, demons, and otherworldly manifestations real? This show also gets bonus points from me for keeping up a Facebook page from the perspective of the characters. Season 1 is streaming and season 2 starts on the 19th of January.
- The Message: This podcast is really great if you want to ease into listening to podcasts. The episodes are short — 10-20 minutes — and there are only eight of them. The story appears to be a stand alone, one-off as well. Nicky Tomalin follows a team of cryptologists given the task of decoding a 70-year-old extraterrestrial message. The first episode starts slowly, but wait for it; by the second, you’ll be invested. Listening to this one is like reading a really fulfilling short story.
- Kakos Industries: Have you ever wondered what shareholder announcements might be like for an organization dedicated to evil? Because they are surprisingly fun. "Kakos Industries" is narrated by Corin Deeth III (actually Conrad Miszuk, who writes, acts, produces, and does the music for this podcast). Corin is the evil CEO of the corporation, where giant penis men, sentient security systems, and ruining lives are just part of the day. Joining the Kakos universe (which would very much like to be the darkest one) are supporting characters like rival CEO Melantha Murther, Hailey Solomonari, and Dirk Cornelius Sexplosion, all brilliantly acted and contributing a perfect foil to Corin. Wrapped subtly into the story is the occasional social commentary on things like reproductive rights, sexual consent, and GamerGate. For an entity of evil, Kakos is surprisingly progressive.
Disagree? Have other podcasts that I need to listen to? Are you the writer of one of these podcasts and you love my article so much that you want to give me a small recurring role on your podcast like I basically dream about? Let us know in the comments!