Have you listened to "S-Town"? "Reply All"? "My Favorite Murder"? A Labor Day drive is the perfect time to discover your new podcast obsession. (If you don't know how to get podcasts, start by watching this video
"My Favorite Murder"
Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff dig into harrowing true crime cases on "My Favorite Murder." A mix of stream-of-consciousness comedy and morbid fascination, the podcast gives people who are a little bit too interested in murder a fun outlet. The show also often includes "Hometown Murder" stories listeners send in.
"Someone Knows Something"
Host David Ridgen perfects the cold-case genre with a podcast that investigates distinctly Canadian crimes with let-the-chips-fall storytelling. Some of the observations by Ridgen and the people he interviews feel like found poetry: He never fails to describe witness' weathered-but-pleasant faces or their little dogs. (He conducts many interviews in his car, or in living rooms, and when there's a dog yipping he almost inevitably invites it to sit on his lap or at his feet.) The first season focuses on Adrien McNaughton, a boy from Ridgen's hometown who went missing on a family fishing trip, and the second season on the disappearance of Sheryl Sheppard, a Tim Horton's employee with a complicated past. It's part "Serial," part "Fargo," and all Canadian.
"This American Life" One of the things that makes "This American Life" a great gateway to podcasts is that it isn't a pure podcast, since it started 22 years ago as a public radio show: It has everything you like about radio (plus curse words that aren't beeped), and you can pause and rewind whenever you want instead of sitting in the driveway because you just have to know how the story ends. Host Ira Glass can still break our hearts, as in his gorgeous eulogy to his friend Mary (pictured). And he stays stays hip by collaborating with many of the cool podcasts his show inspired.
"Fresh Air" Again, maybe it's not a true podcast since it started out as a radio show, and even predates "This American Life." It's still the best interview show ever, in any medium. And Terry Gross somehow stays effortlessly cool by never worrying about whether she sounds cool.
"Savage Love" Sex columnist-author-activist Dan Savage deserves a place on podcasting's Mount Rushmore alongside Glass and Gross, even if none of them started out as podcasters. His podcast has transcended a call-in format where you can ask about anything to become a place where anyone can go for support and damn good advice. His new storytelling podcast, "Hot Mic," is also fantastic.
"You Must Remember This" Host Karina Longworth combines scholarly research with a good tabloid reporter's eye for scandal to report Hollywood stories in a way that makes them feel alive, relevant, important -- and sometimes very tragic. Her latest season, about Jane Fonda and Jean Seberg, may be her best.
"Good One: A Podcast About Jokes" Vulture editor Jesse David Fox's new podcast, in which he talks with a different comedian each week about one of his or her signature jokes, is a must-listen for comedy nerds. Fox is a sensitive, thoughtful interviewer, who goes just deep enough to make you appreciate a joke more, without ruining it. Our favorite interviews so far have been with Neal Brennan (Episode 2) and Tig Notaro (Episode 6). It turns out Notaro's Taylor Dane story, which you may have heard on "This American Life," was pretty much entirely true.
"Snap Judgment"Another radio show turned podcast, “Snap Judgment” focuses on storytelling like “This American Life” or sometimes “Radiolab,” but with a different focus. The tagline “storytelling with a beat” gets close to what makes “Snap” so cool — it chooses stories that feel like they often come from off the beaten path, for a slightly edgier feel.
"Lovett or Leave It"Former Obama speechwriter Jon Lovett recorded his first show the night Donald Trump failed to repeal Obamacare, and if you wanted to hear the sound of liberal glee, this was it. "Lovett or Leave It" is a spinoff from "Pod Save America," part of Crooked Media, a political podcasting business started up by a coterie of former Obama Administration that has quickly come to rule iTunes. Lovett is the funniest of the erudite "Pod Save America" crew, providing comic relief from whatever dire news they're discussing on any given podcast. It's nice that he has his own thing now.
"Radiolab"Out of NPR’s New York station, “Radiolab” is a mix between “This American Life” and “Bill Nye the Science Guy.” Hosts Jad and Robert dig into scientific concepts by relating them through interesting stories, and it's great about keeping complex ideas palatable even for people who aren't technically minded.
"The Bret Easton Ellis Podcast"
The "American Psycho" author has a reputation as a provocateur, but listen to his podcast and you'll see he has no interest in trolling. He truly believes in his thoughtful and often unpopular opinions, whether you like them or not. His cultural and especially film criticism do what criticism is supposed to do -- spark discussion and dialogue -- and if you don't want to agree with him, you don't have to.
The latest from the creators of "This American Life" and "Serial" starts off feeling like the latter, and then turns into something more like the former, and then ... well, just listen. A great podcast has at least one hard turn, and "S-Town" has two by the end of the second episode. It tells the story of a quiet Alabama town and its local Boo Radley ... if Boo Radley were a possibly genius clockmaker with strong thoughts about climate change.
When you're ready to make some sense of it all, listen to the New York Times' Wesley Morris and Jenna Wortham talk about everything from politics to"Get Out" to TV's representation of penises.
"Stuff You Should Know"
Exactly what it sounds like. Hosts Josh and Chuck just go through random topics and talk about them. They dive into research to find out about, say, how water fluoridation works or how optical illusions work, and then explain it to one another — and you. The result is a highly informative podcast with all kinds of information, delivered with a lot of fun.
"The Message” is a sci-fi radio drama told like a journalistic podcast in the vein of “Serial.” Sponsored by GE Podcast Theater, it follows a podcaster who takes up with a cryptography company when it gets an amazing government contract: Decode an alien message received 70 years ago that whistleblowers are about to take public. Suffice to say, things take several turns from there.
Another fictional GE podcast, "LifeAfter," tells a captivating story about love, loss and double agents. Like the "Black Mirror" episode "San Junipero," it imagines heaven as a digital place on earth. Or is it a hell on earth?
Think of it as "This Internet Life" -- all the stories somehow tie back to technology, in achingly human ways. There isn't much hosts PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman won't do to expand the podcasting medium: Separately or together, they've microdosed on LSD, broken into a building, tried to reunite lost pets with their owners, and taken calls from anyone who wanted to talk for 48 hours. Start with "Boy in Photo," which examined the possibly tragic fate of a Hooters-shirted teen who became a meme.
"The Hound Tall Discussion Series"
Comedian Moshe Kasher, star of Comedy Central's "Donahue"-inspired talk show "Problematic," mastered the format with his podcast. He invites an expert to talk about a serious subject, like whether civilization should exist, and invites comedian friends to pepper that poor sucker with interruptions. It's great, you'll learn a lot.
Storytelling theater “The Moth” turns some of its best presentations into a weekly radio show and podcast. The theater brings regular people onto its stage to tell their stories, making its podcast a compilation of interesting, off-beat, intense and often funny stories that could cover just about anything.
Stephen Tobolowsky, a character actor you’ve seen probably hundreds of times in everything from “Groundhog Day” to “Deadwood,” tells stories from his life. Running the gamut from looks at the drug-addled 1980s to his childhood spent in the Dangerous Animals Club, Tobolowsky’s stories are always artfully told, fascinating, and full of heart.