Each Monday we’ll bring you our take on the most notable and best podcasts of the past week.
BEST IN SHOW
In little over a year, producer and writer Karina Longworth has built You Must Remember This into a must-listen for anyone with even a fleeting interest in Hollywood history. It is billed as a show about the secret or forgotten stories of Tinseltown, but often it’s really a podcast that deep-dives behind the scenes of famous tales of Hollywood lore. In this way, Longworth seeks to set the story straight and she does so through impressive research and colorful writing. She opened the newest season with a four-part series about Charles Manson and his impact on the 1960s Hollywood scene. Certainly the Manson Family murders are anything but forgotten; however, these episodes go further than most historical accounts, setting the social scene and tracking the deadly course set by Manson in 1968. In the third part, she details the relationship between the Manson Family and Beach Boy Dennis Wilson. It’s fascinating if you were unaware of the affiliation. But even if you knew of Wilson’s friendship, Longworth’s ability to recognize why he would take an interest in Manson and how the murders impacted him is stunning and devastating. Start with the first episode of the series and follow Longworth as she slowly reveals the grim details of the Manson murders.
Fugitive Waves is a podcast that digs through archival tape to craft its stories, and “Route 66-The Mother Road Part 1” pulses as the best flea market find you’ve ever made. At its best–as it is here–Fugitive Waves makes you nostalgic for things you’ve never longed for before. This week the Kitchen Sisters’ subject is Route 66, the iconic highway that ran from Chicago to the coast of California across nearly 2,500 miles of rugged, western dreamscape. Route 66 is a goldmine of Americana and whimsy, and the podcast tells the story of the highway through trinket-hawking, oddity showmen, and Mickey Mantle’s Holiday Inn in Joplin, Missouri. When it comes to podcasts, we love nothing better than escaping into a world we’ll never know, but often long for.
Tally Abecassis lives in Montreal and works as a documentarian. Her podcast First Day Back launched after Abecassis returned to work from maternity leave, and it chronicles the challenges she faces trying to get a leg up in the unforgiving world of filmmaking and motherhood. The host has a big heart and the episodes build on each other, so you start rooting for her in a way that is unique to a serialized podcast. Where other podcasts might summarize this entire period into one episode, First Day Back lets us see each conflict during that moment in time as it affects Abecassis. Her struggles reach a critical point in “Good News, Bad News,” as Abecassis delivers a heartfelt monologue on what it means to be an artist hitting middle-age and struggling with dreams she just can’t shake. If you’ve ever dared to create, you shouldn’t miss this one for the world.
We’ve been bullish on this podcast since the moment it debuted. Fiction is a genre dearly needed in a world crowded with educational and comedic podcasts, and BLTR seeks to do it right with professional scripts and talented voice actors. The show requires some patience as the “movies” take four weekly episodes to hear in their entirety and some imagination is required on the part of the listener to envision the scenes. However, we’re fully bought in to the premise and so far BLTR is delivering. “Terrible Parents” is the story of a couple whose young son has been accepted at a prestigious private school and awarded a competitive scholarship. Now the parents must learn to navigate the world of wealthy parents who will stop at nothing to give their kids an edge. The first episode mostly sets the stage for the inevitable hijinks that will ensue, but it does its job of reeling the listener in and demanding we return for future episodes.
Just when you thought the internet had deconstructed every element of Game of Thrones imaginable, Song Exploder steps up and delivers a great episode about the creation of its theme song with composer Ramin Djawadi. What makes the episode so wonderful is how Djawadi gets into the intention of the song. Because of the way showrunner Hrishikesh Hirway produces Song Exploder, even we non-musicians can digest the orchestration of a stirring piece of music. For all its straightforward composition, Djawadi’s song is elegant and expansive. As Djawadi makes clear in the episode, it’s rare that any television show gets more than fifteen seconds to play introduction music these days. In under two minutes, “Game of Thrones (Main Title Theme)” is up for the herculean task of defining an enormously popular show. It’s timeless and large enough to equal the vast terrains and mysteries of the Seven Kingdoms.
Meet Martha Freeman, the 76-year-old Milwaukee resident known on the streets as “Mama Freeman.” For years this woman has taken it upon herself to mentor the troubled youth in her Garden Homes neighborhood where so many young lives are lost to violence. The Precious Lives Project is a two-year audio initiative meant to chronicle the effects of guns on the Milwaukee community. Each episode is less than ten minutes, yet they pack a powerful punch. At the heart of the series are questions about socioeconomics, environmental stress, and how to break the cycle of violence. So many podcasts admirably try to shine the light on real world problems, but Precious Lives does it better than most. It brings us close to one community and keeps the spotlight fixed on it, reminding us that these problems don’t come and go with the changing headlines.
While stuck in traffic sometime in 2010, Mystery Show host Starlee Kine and a friend spied a car with the license plate “ILUV911.” The search for the meaning of the mysterious vanity plate leads Starlee Kine to some fascinating places, including to a discussion with a stranger only tangentially related to the case. These conversations have become the signature—and often the emotional center—of the show. This one is no different, as a woman describes her experiences working as an emergency operator. For us, those exchanges help define every episode. There are some small cracks in this one, however. The resolution of “Case #4 Vanity Plate” lacks tape from a conversation with a pivotal character in the mystery. Instead, Kine summarizes what happened. We love watching this show evolve to amazing places–so much so that we’re willing to give host Starlee Kine the benefit of the doubt–but we think the mystery deserved a better ending than the treatment it got this week. Despite our small frustration with the conclusion, Mystery Show remains a consistently excellent podcast.
Here at The Timbre, we spend a lot of time listening to podcasts that play it a little safe. This is why Strangers is so refreshing to hear. In last year’s “Like a Pizza: Two Men and a Baby,” we met Patrick and Steve, a gay couple who was fostering a baby girl in the hopes of one day adopting her. A year later, producer Lea Thau checks in with the two men to see how their plans are unfolding. One of the central issues they’ve faced is whether the little girl’s biological parents will step up to reclaim her and what rights they would have in keeping her. So many podcasts would tip-toe around this delicate issue, likely paying lip service to each side in an effort not to offend anyone. Thau doesn’t do this, though, and instead asserts that maybe the baby’s parents no longer deserve their daughter. It’s easy to rally around these two likable men, but it’s still nice to see Thau push the conversation into such honest and frank territory.