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The Podcasts We’re Streaming Now

Spending hours in your car is pretty much the norm here in LA, but, for many of us, one of the things that makes a commute undeniably better is tuning in to a good podcast. Thankfully, the rise in podcast culture means that there’s plenty to choose from, whether it’s informed insight into what’s happening in Washington (welcome to the airwaves, Pod Save America), or simply providing solid storytelling coupled with the enduring appeal of a human voice (we’re looking at you, Ira Glass). The recent frenzy around the highly addictive (and controversial) nature of Missing Richard Simmons, which attempts to answer why the once-accessible fitness guru decided to turn away from the public eye, has even more firmly cemented the role of podcasting in the current zeitgeist. With thousands of podcasts on offer, it’s hard to whittle it down, and everyone has their own best-of list. Here, we’ve put together some of our favorites this spring, with a couple new-to-us recommendations thrown in. All equally worthy of adding to your own arsenal.

Listen Up

  • Pod Save America

    Pod Save America

    Created by an Obama-era triumvirate—Jon Favreau, the former head of speechwriting; fellow speechwriter and now screenwriter Jon Lovett; and Tommy Vietor, who had served on Obama’s team since his days in the US Senate—this politics-heavy podcast delivers a twice-weekly rapid-fire debrief on what’s happening in Washington. They also bring in an impressive roster of political heavyweights like David Axelrod and Nancy-Ann DeParle, though the way they straddle informed commentary with a dose of humor and brotherly banter is what makes it really fun. They’ve recently launched a few other podcasts, Pod Save the World, Lovett or Leave It, and Friends Like These—all worth a listen.

  • Revisionist History

    Revisionist History

    Bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell joined the airwaves last summer to embark on a ten-week series (the tagline: “sometimes the past deserves a second chance”), which explores the intersection of historical fact and human behavior. Over the course of 30-plus minutes, he turns back time to explore an event that he believes has been unfairly overlooked. The first episode dives into the story of English Victorian painter Elizabeth Thompson, whose 1874 piece, The Roll Call, drew such big crowds when it was exhibited in London that it was assigned its own guard. (Gladwell likens this to the modern-day equivalent of the fervor around, say, a Beyoncé concert.) Another hones in on the 2009 allegation that Toyota cars were suddenly accelerating on their own, resulting in the car manufacturer having to pay fines upwards of $1 billion and settle countless lawsuits. (When the dust finally settled, it was determined that there was nothing wrong with the cars in the first place.) It’s nothing new that Gladwell is a masterful and insightful storyteller, but he proves that he has a knack for podcasting—and perhaps bringing in a younger fan base, too.

  • S-Town

    S-Town

    Fans of Serial knew they’d embark on a binge-listening session pretty much the moment this spin-off was announced. The show’s host, Brian Reed, a longtime producer for This American Life kicks off the first episode (dubbed Chapter 1), by saying that he’d received several emails from a John B. McLemore of Woodstock, Alabama, claiming a rich local boy committed a murder, bragged about it all over town, and got away with it totally unscathed. The plotline follows Reed on his journey down South and his at times murky relationship with McLemore, a quirky, albeit eerily sharp-witted protagonist. (He’s described by Reed as the town’s Boo Radley.) It’s full of unexpected twists and turns, making for a perfect formula for this released-all-at-once series.

  • How I Built This

    How I Built This

    NPR host Guy Raz aims to get inside the heads of tech world disruptors and entrepreneurs to tell the origin stories of some of the world’s most loved brands—among them, Patagonia, Instagram, and Warby Parker. A sampling of the season includes interviews with everyone from Crate and Barrel’s founders Gordon and Carole Segal, who explain how they turned a tiny, downtrodden Chicago storefront into a $1.2-billion dollar home design empire, to how Drybar’s Alli Webb followed a hunch that women would happily fork over $40 for the ease of a stylish, on-the-go blow-dry.

  • Call Your Girlfriend

    Call Your Girlfriend

    Beyond the fact that its two hosts are both crazy-smart and accomplished, the entire concept of Call Your Girlfriend is adorable: Best friends Ann Friedman (a prolific journalist) and Aminatou Sow (social impact at Google, among other things) live in different cities and tape their biweekly catch-up. Part of what makes the show so relatable is the range of conversation; the vocal feminists talk about everything from abortion legislation to career tips to what’s the latest with Kanye, and it’s at once serious, irreverent, and hilarious. Fair warning: Explicit discussion of all things related to menstruation is definitely not off-limits.

  • More Perfect

    More Perfect

    From the producers of the popular Radiolab, More Perfect is a fascinating look at the US Supreme Court system. Whether you’re a politics buff or you feel many moons removed from the decisions made by the nine justices that make up our highest court, each episode delivers a behind-the-scenes-like account of the Supreme Court’s decision-making processes and rulings that is clear and concise, without dumbing it down. Topics from More Perfect’s inaugural 2016 season included: why the phrase “cruel and usual” is embedded in the eighth amendment of the constitution, a case that resulted in the nervous breakdown of a Supreme Court justice, and the perhaps unintended consequences of a complex ruling on race-based jury selection. If you haven’t already, catch up before season two begins later this year.

  • 2 Dope Queens

    2 Dope Queens

    Season two of this hilarious, off-the-cuff, vibrant podcast ended on a high note with guest Hannibal Buress, but what we really missed during their hiatus was the rapport between hosts Phoebe Robinson (author of New York Times-bestseller You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain) and former Daily Show correspondent Jessica Williams. Recorded during live shows, Williams and Robinson always have the kind of high-octane, laugh-out-loud funny conversations that make you simultaneously wish you could chime in, but also know in doing so you’d bring down the genius level several notches. Their conversations, which often focus on stories of sex, romance, race, and living in New York, are punctuated by stand-up sets from friends (Aparna Nancherla, Hari Kondabolu, and llana Glazer are a few highlights). When we heard they crowd-surfed with guest Carrie Brownstein the last time they were in town, we were both unsurprised and also experienced major FOMO; definitely try to get tickets if you’re in NY or LA. Season three just started—new episodes drop every Tuesday.

  • You Must Remember This

    You Must Remember This

    You Must Remember This delves into Tinseltown’s biggest scandals from the first century, but its host, Karina Longworth, who grew up in Los Angeles, isn’t interested in the kind of stories you’ve read about elsewhere. To come up with the ideas for her podcast—it’s kind of like a souped-up version of E! True Hollywood Story but with more intellect—Longworth reads old books and biographies and sifts through magazine clips. The episode that’s sure to hook you: “Frank Sinatra in Outer Space,” about his 1980 Trilogy album—but also her deeper dives, too, like a twelve-part examination of Charles Manson.

Oldies But Goodies

  • Here's the Thing

    Here's the Thing

    Somewhat unsurprisingly, Alec Baldwin makes a great radio show host in intimate conversation with artists, writers, comedians, directors, etc. There are a lot of SNL vets on the show, and those interviews especially are very worthwhile. Most recently, his interviews with former Vogue creative director Grace Coddington, Questlove, and Patti Smith are necessary listening.

  • This American Life

    This American Life

    This may be the most well-known and loved podcast out there, featuring true stories that we can all relate to. In the capable hands of legendary host Ira Glass, each week is a highlight, but a few favorites are a two-week special embed at a public school in Chicago, comedian Tig Notaro’s hilarious/heartbreaking stand up routine on cancer, and the “Middle of Nowhere,” on getting a complaint through to the top at the phone company.

  • Longform

    Longform

    Sure, Longform is a love song to the craft of reporting, though it succeeds in being just as appealing to journalists as it is to the fervent consumers of media. In the span of an hour, its hosts Aaron Lammer, Max Linsky, and Evan Ratliff engage in a conversation with a writer or editor on his/her writing process. The show explores stories that are hot topics in the media as well as brings to light stories that may have slipped under the radar. At this point they’ve got a few hundred episodes under their belt, so we recommend scanning for names and topics of interest before diving in. A solid starting point: Obama’s speechwriter Jon Favreau on what it’s like taking edits from POTUS (episode #196); and New Yorker writer Kathryn Schultz talks about how she reported “The Really Big One” (episode #199), her Pulitzer Prize-winning article on the rupturing of the Cascadia fault line in the Pacific Northwest.

  • Serial

    Serial

    Serial, the original binge-worthy podcast, produced by Sarah Koenig, is two seasons in at this point: First up, she travels to Baltimore, Maryland, where she revisited the murder of high school student Hae Min Lee and the conviction of her ex-boyfriend Adnan Masud, who was given a life sentence despite pleading innocence. For the second season, she took on the complicated and controversial case of Bowe Bergdahl, the American soldier who was captured and held by the Taliban for five years after walking off his Afghanistan outpost. Koenig, who is known for her clear, even-handed style, excels at breaking down complex stories into a compulsively digestible form. Needless to say, we can’t wait for season three’s arrival, reportedly in early 2018.

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