Best Podcasts July 6-12

Each Monday we’ll bring you our take on the most notable and best podcasts of the past week.

BEST IN SHOW

Benjamen Walker’s Theory of Everything: “Instaserfs (III of III)”

Wrapping up his three-part “Instaserf” series, Benjamen Walker checks in with share economy worker/most likable person in the world, Andrew Callaway. For the past couple of episodes, Callaway attempted to make a living as an Uber driver, personal shopper, and manservant (did you know such a thing existed? We didn’t. Potential Timbre manservants, please inquire within.). Callaway is pretty dubious about the potential of the share economy, but other workers disagree. Task Rabbit, Brooklyn, puts a different spin on things, arguing that the modicum of freedom provided to her by these jobs makes the hustle worth it. When Callaway posits that the work is exploitive, Brooklyn drops a little truth in the form of privilege-checking. Is she right? Is Callaway searching for the land of milk and honey when really he should accept that exploitation is just part of the price of employment? TOE is not here to answer questions so much as provide a collage of ideas and viewpoints and let us make sense of it all. 

Also, Spoken put together a post-show wrap-up meets AMA about the episode that is worth a read.

WTF with Marc Maron: “Laura Jane Grace”

A lot of podcasts focus on the joy of conversation, but Marc Maron’s show pushes these discussions to something of an art form. That is until he talks to Against Me!’s Laura Jane Grace, a transgender woman and punk rocker. When Maron fumbles through the conversation, treating Grace’s cross-dressing as a fetish instead of a lifestyle and struggling to find the right words to describe her transition, he exposes a problem so many of us share: we don’t know how to talk about transsexuals. Gender and sexuality and identity become intertwined and confused and even finding the right pronoun can be problematic. For her part, Grace is patient and understanding, but she’s quick to point out these issues. It’s an amicable discussion, but the show highlights that these are conversations we need to be hearing–and having.

Reveal: “Rape on the Night Shift”

When office workers leave their jobs each evening to head home, another group is just starting their shifts. Janitors are a hidden group–there after white collar workers leave and gone before they arrive–with the thankless job of scrubbing and sweeping and tidying. For many females, the work is dangerous, exposing them to sexual harassment and even violence under cover of darkness. Reveal investigates these abuses and why their victims so often go unheard. This podcast has emerged as a champion of human rights designed to make us consider the injustices that surround us every day. It’s no casual, tossed-together show, either, with many episodes the result of months of investigation and reporting. To produce “Rape on the Night Shift,” the Center for Investigative Reporting teamed up with FRONTLINE, Univision, the Investigative Reporting Program at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, and KQED and spent 18 months interviewing victims and digging through court records. We’ve said it before: this podcast is doing truly excellent work on par with the best network shows on the air.


RUNNERS UP

Nocturne Ep. 8: “Into, Under, Through”

Nocturne is a show about the night and the way it affects us. Sometimes it’s about sleep or about working the graveyard shift or nocturnal habits. On the most recent episode, host and producer Vanessa Lowe turned the focus inward, daring herself to explore the nighttime alone. Her plan is to hike through the woods to a secluded bay beach in the pitch blackness. Whether the idea of this adventure intimidates you or not is immaterial, as we know it intimidates Lowe. In fact, she is terrified to be alone in the woods at night. As she walks deeper into the forest, her mind begins to play tricks on her and her anxiety builds. As listeners, we are with her every step of the experiment and she filters out nothing, giving us an unfettered view into the human mind as it confronts fear. There is something mesmerizing and almost beautiful about listening to an intelligent, rational person spiral into panic. 

First Day Back #8: “Your Stories”

For the first seven episodes of Tally Abecassis’ excellent podcast, First Day Back, she has tracked her personal journey back into the world of documentary filmmaking after taking several years off to stay at home with her kids. She has struggled in the face of a lack of resources and a nagging fear that her window has closed. This week we hear from other people whose paths have not always been lit so bright and who wonder where children fit into their professional lives. Often these types of episodes are placeholders until we get back to the real story, but the effect here is powerful and moving. In much the same way that Death, Sex & Money’s Anna Sale opens up others to admitting their fears and failures, Abecassis has a knack for bringing out the vulnerable side in guests and embracing doubt as the human condition. She is intent on demonstrating that none of us have it all figured out–some of us are just better at pretending.

Strangers: “The Teacher Who Couldn’t Read”

You don’t get a hook much more compelling than this episode of Strangers. For 17 years, college graduate John Corcoran worked as a high school teacher despite not knowing how to read or write. Corcoran explains the depths of his deceit and how he was able to pull it off for so long. It’s a tale of sleights of hand and quick thinking with each act doubling down on the one before it. The show could be more explicit about what this means–about American education, innate trust, human deception and shame–but that’s not the show Lea Thau has put together on Strangers, so instead we stay focused on Corcoran’s story. Hidden in the folds of his narrative are the answers to all those questions, however. We learn how a man can commit to a lie so thoroughly that reinforcing that lie becomes part of who he is and untangling it is an almost impossible task.


HONORABLE MENTION

About Race: “Confederate Dementia”

A few days ago, South Carolina lowered the Confederate flag that had flown over its capitol building for decades. While many hailed this as a victory against racism in the South, others failed to see the connection. To them, the Confederate flag is about Southern pride and a rebel spirit. On this episode of About Race, hosts Baratunde Thurston, Raquel Cepeda, and Tanner Colby discuss how Confederate symbols have become divorced from their origins in the hearts and minds of many Southerners and why this is a problem. Listening to these three brilliant thinkers examine race issues is a continual education, and this is especially true as they work on getting to the heart of what this cognitive dissonance really means. As a bonus, Cepeda takes us to school on Dominican history and the deportation crisis brewing in the Caribbean.

Latino USA #1528: “Béisbol”

Baseball may be America’s pasttime, but it hasn’t always reflected our population’s racial makeup. This is especially true in Boston, where it took team officials until 1959 to sign a non-white player–13 years after Jackie Robinson broke the color line. This week on Latino USA, the show explores the history and future of baseball in America and how Latino players integrated the league. Pedro and Papi and Nomar are now household names among Boston baseball fans, but theirs was a hard-earned welcome that exposed the systemic discrimination of the major leagues. You need not be a baseball lover to appreciate the history and racial legacy of the sport.

Rumble Strip Vermont: “Drag Out”

Here at The Timbre, we drive dinged up cars manufactured in the aughts. For producers Joe Frank and Larry Massett, their cars are far more of a point of pride. There is only one problem: Frank drives a BMW and Massett a Porsche. To decide which is better, the two engage in a game of one-upmanship about their respective car’s speed, performance, and reputation. Make no mistake about it: this is not a show about cars. It’s two legendary radio producers having so much fun, they accidentally made a terrific podcast.

~

 

Author Description

The Timbre brings thoughtful and thought-provoking analysis to podcasts and the larger culture of podcasting.

  • banjoboy

    Thank you for recommending About Race and Latino USA. I think both podcasts are not only excellent but necessary in these times. And I gotta tell you, The Timbre is really, really great. Your website is exactly what I was looking for. Kudos!

    • Devon Taylor

      Thanks so much!

  • Great site and curation. Had not hear of Nocturne till I saw the compelling review here. How many shows do you have to go through to find this much gold? Awesome job!

    • Devon Taylor

      A LOT! 🙂 Thanks for your kind feedback.

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