Greetings from what is, I believe, the fourth lockdown now here in Germany—I am absolutely not fine, thank you for asking. The things that are keeping me mentally stable these days are: Netflix, Audible, the Headspace meditation app, TikTok cat videos and—podcasts.
Podcasts are probably one of the greatest inventions of the social media age: They offer free, easy-to-access audio content that makes my daily home office hours and lonesome lockdown walks so much more enjoyable. I have become a rabid listener of pretty much every niche imaginable—recent events have even made me start listening to investment and stock trading podcasts, who would have thought!
The main requirements I have for a binge-worthy podcast are that it needs to make me laugh, maybe cry a little, keep me engaged, and for the people who host it to have a certain ethical stance especially when discussing sensitive topics. You would be surprised how hard it is to find podcasts that fulfill that last requirement in particular—the number of “edgy” bro comedy-style podcasts out there is slightly unnerving.
Podcasts are one of the greatest inventions of the social media age: free content that makes daily home office hours and lonesome lockdown walks so much more enjoyable.
If you are either new to podcasts or have exhausted your weekly supply by now thanks to pandemic boredom, here are five binge-worthy podcast recommendations that have sustained me emotionally in this never-ending lockdown.
1. The Bechdel Cast
Based on the famous Bechdel test, a metric to measure how well (or rather, how terribly) women are represented in movies, comedians Caitlin Durante and Jamie Loftus discuss a different movie each week on The Bechdel Cast, usually with the help of a guest. Be it rom-com, biopic, action movie, or critically acclaimed cult classic, Caitlin and Jamie focus on how these movies present their female characters, often leading to hilariously exasperated revelations about the male-dominated movie industry.
Each episode features a guest with a special connection to the film discussed, my personal favorites being the absolutely hilarious comedic destruction of the 1996 action drama The Rock, which, as Jamie disappointedly remarks, does not actually star Wayne “The Rock” Johnson. As a ’90s teen, many of the movies discussed were a vital part of my youth and young adulthood, and they most definitely shaped my understanding of what it—supposedly—means to be “a woman.” And, well, back then it often meant standing by looking pretty while men actively shaped the narrative.
The hosts aren’t scared of dismantling even our most beloved, nostalgic movie memories, from Christmas classics such as Love, Actually and the godawful way it treats Keira Knightley’s character, to the epic Lord of the Rings trilogy and its utter lack of female interaction. I must confess I am often surprised how little women feature in these blockbuster hits, how shallowly they are portrayed, and how often I didn’t even notice while watching those movies. But do not worry—this is not a podcast meant to just be mean and dismissive for the sake of edginess! Many of the movies are praised for their portrayal of real, three-dimensional female characters, and in truth, all the others fully deserve the snark directed towards them.
The hosts aren’t scared of dismantling even our most beloved, nostalgic movie memories, from classics such as Love, Actually to the epic Lord of the Rings trilogy.
2. You’re Wrong About
An absolute gem of a podcast, You’re Wrong About is a must-listen for anyone intrigued by ’80s and ’90s pop culture. Hosts Sarah Marshall and Michael Hobbes, both journalists with spectacular research skills and that perfect mix of funny plus super smart, discuss infamous media events from the past decades and how we basically got them all wrong with time. Episode topics include, for example, the O.J. Simpson trial, the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan feud, or the 2000 presidential election and its tempestuous outcome.
Though I am old enough to actually remember many of these events and thus mostly unsurprised about how they turned into semi-correct urban myths or vague pop culture retellings, there are a number of episode topics that took me by surprise entirely. For instance, I audibly gasped during the discussion of the famous Stanford Prison Experiment, which I had misconceptions about like most people—or did you know that the whole “it got so bad they had to stop the experiment” narrative is actually not at all what happened?
It is hard to pick episode favorites, but you should most definitely not miss the epic five-part deep-dive into the life (and tragic death) of Lady Diana Spencer, Princess of Wales, the perfect companion to bingeing season 4 of The Crown on Netflix!
Though I am old enough to actually remember many of these events, there are a number of episode topics that took me by surprise entirely.
3. True Crime Obsessed
True crime and I have a complicated relationship: I, like many women, feel this strange urge to study every single serial killer out there mostly to learn how to avoid ever being a victim, but at the same time, I cannot actually handle descriptions of gore and torture well at all. True Crime Obsessed, however, feels more like a chat with two best friends about the latest crazy-scary true crime case—strangely relaxing and comforting, sharing the unease and disbelief we often feel when faced with unspeakable crimes through nervous laughter.
Gillian Pensavalle and Patrick Hinds have one of the most vibrant and fun host dynamics I’ve ever experienced on a podcast: Patrick is loud, easily excited and full of booming laughter, while Gillian is the more subdued counterpart, with a scathing wit and incredible talent for impressions that will regularly trigger a burst of said booming laughter from her podcast partner.
What was originally planned as a more somber true crime podcast turned into the by-now highly successful mix of comedy and seriousness after Patrick discovered that Gillian’s scathing commentary on a true crime documentary was the winning formula for their success as entertainers. So now the two recap true crime documentaries for their listeners, sharing their observations about every minute, absurd, and often horrifying detail: from strange fashion choices during green screen interviews to wacky re-enactments, or the inexplicable reasons why people join cults (their recap of Wild Wild Country will make you scream with laughter!).
If you are the sort of person who can only deal with the horrors of the world by finding a way to laugh about the absurdity of it all, then this is the podcast for you. I promise, these two find humor in even the darkest places, and I am personally very grateful to them for this outstanding talent.
4. Trashy Divorces
The name of this podcast might turn you off at first glance, but be assured that Trashy Divorces is actually quite classy in the way it discusses the tumultuous world of celebrity (and celebrity-adjacent) divorces. I hope I’m not alone in admitting a certain shameful fascination with celebrity relationships, and so I was quick to subscribe to this podcast, charmingly hosted and thoroughly researched by successfully married couple Stacie and Alicia.
From the tumultuous love life of Hollywood legends such as Liz Taylor or the literally history-shaping romance between Wallis Simpson and Edward VIII, down to more recent (and far more trashy) divorce feuds of reality TV couples, Trashy Divorces offers hours of pleasantly distracting fun, the perfect companion for long walks or while dealing with boring household chores. The two hosts are lovely, warm and cleverly funny, seeing both the trashiness and the tragedy in some of the world’s greatest “love turned hatred” stories.
5. Lolita Podcast
Jamie Loftus from The Bechdel Cast had always been fascinated by Nabokov’s Lolita, a novel that confronts its reader with the difficult and deeply uncomfortable narrative perspective of a pedophile trying to justify his own perversions and abuse. Even though Nabokov himself has always been clear about the deceptive nature of the novel’s first-person narrator Humbert, it is sad but not surprising how often the abusive nature of the story has been misunderstood. The novel has been interpreted as a “love story,” “erotic tale,” or “twisted romance” too many times to count, ignoring the fact that Lolita, or Dolores, as is her real name, is in fact a 12-year-old child and Humbert her abuser.
In Lolita Podcast, Jamie presents us with a deep dive into Lolita the novel and its manifold interpretations in film, musical (yep, you heard that right), internet forums, and fashion. Her interviews with academics, social media Lolita fashion enthusiasts, and former Lolita actresses are intelligent, compassionate, and utterly riveting. Even if you have never read the novel or seen one of its movie adaptations, you will learn so much about the way we treat young girls and women, the way we as a society are both uncomfortable with and yet frighteningly fascinated by young girls on the verge of adolescence in particular. A fascinating podcast— difficult at times, yet rewarding and deeply enlightening.
Have you discovered a binge-worthy podcast? Share it with us!