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The 20 best podcasts of 2023

20. White Smoke: America’s Chemsex Killer

Describing this as a true-crime program would be an understatement, as it goes beyond just examining the murders at its core and delves into the sensitive and insightful details of the case. While it does cover the shocking and almost unbelievable drug and sex-related deaths of gay men caused by prominent US donor Ed Buck, it also delves into the world of gay subcultures, including ballroom and chemsex, exploring power dynamics, terminology, commonly used drugs, and the potential for exploitation. With its unique perspective, White Smoke offers a compelling and thorough exploration of the story, making it an outstanding program.

Who defecated on the floor during my wedding?

Shits and giggles … Lauren Kilby on the case.

“What was the culprit behind the mysterious fecal incident?” That was the central question in this surprise hit series that emerged this year through word-of-mouth (though it was actually released in 2020). Karen Whitehouse and her spouse, Helen McLaughlin, recruited the assistance of their friend and amateur detective, Lauren Kilby, to unravel the mystery of the bathroom floor poop at their wedding. Across 13 episodes, they investigated suspicious guests, consulted with a clinical forensic psychologist, and even utilized a lie detector. The show was absurd, repulsive, and completely unique – a true-crime treasure. No spoilers here about the identity of the culprit: this is definitely one to catch up on. Follow the trail of excrement!

18. Holy Week

“Across the United States, daily routines came to a halt. Meals grew cold and families anxiously watched the news.” The murder of Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968 sparked a series of rebellions that have since faded from public memory. The Atlantic’s senior editor, Vann Newkirk, spent a year speaking to individuals about the turmoil, the broader civil rights movement, and the enduring impact of race on modern America. His examination of Holy Week serves as a crucial historical exploration and a call to question current beliefs about race and politics in the country. A captivating listen.

17. You did not witness anything.

During the past decade, I was incarcerated for federal drug offenses. While in prison, it seemed like there was a recurring pattern of Black individuals being killed by white individuals. Each time, I couldn’t help but think of Lenard Clark. This seven-part series, led by journalist and storyteller Yohance Lacour, delves into the racially motivated murder of young Lenard Clark, who was fatally beaten in 1997. Through original recordings and Lacour’s powerful narration, You Didn’t See Nothin stands out from the typical history podcasts dominated by white voices. The series takes a critical look at the media’s portrayal of racial reconciliation and healing following the attack in the late 1990s, offering a thought-provoking and eye-opening perspective.

16. The Immortals

Plasma infusions. Fountains of midlife. Post-human machines. This chilling series about man’s search for immortal life triggered existential crises everywhere: would we want to live for ever if we could? Tech reporter and psychologist Aleks Krotoski was endlessly intrigued and at times horrified as she met a billionaire who pumps his son’s blood around his body and scientists who believe an age-stopping pill will soon exist. With questions of faith and morality thrown into the mix, it was a big head-scratcher – to say the least.

15. Political Currency

George Osborne (left) and Ed Balls of Political Currency.

Initially, the idea seemed uninteresting: two former chancellors discussing the economic impact of politics. However, as a podcast, it was entertaining and full of juicy insider information from major political events. From the time when the Conservative party feared their downfall due to David Cameron’s son’s actions in Rupert Murdoch’s pool, to allegations that Boris Johnson almost got into physical altercations during meetings as London mayor, this became one of the most enjoyable political podcasts available.

14. Wiser Than Me

Elaine, of Seinfeld fame, conversed with Jane Fonda, Fran Lebowitz, and Amy Tan in a straightforward interview series. The renowned actress and comedian, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, discussed the fulfilling lives of these older women. At 85 years old, Jane Fonda shared insights on divorce, funerals, fitness, and working with Katharine Hepburn. Isabel Allende, now 80 years old, touched on topics such as birth and consuming blueberry weed edibles. Rhea Perlman, at 75 years old, sounded just as she did on Cheers, but now as a grandmother discussing her experiences on Saturday Night Live and being pregnant while filming. This serves as a reminder that women can still have powerful voices even as they age.


13. Rylan’s Guide to Masculinity

Chatty man … Rylan Clark.

Rylan solidified his position as a beloved figure in the nation with his coverage of Eurovision and his highly-anticipated interview with Cher in 2023. The podcast was a testament to how much he has grown since his time on the X Factor, showcasing his warmth, intelligence, and wit. He delved into the topic of masculinity in the modern world with a diverse range of guests, including Amir Khan, Hamza Yassin, and Janet Street-Porter. Naturally, they were all eager to share their thoughts with Rylan, who proved to be an excellent conversationalist.

12. Buried

The environmental podcast presented its story in short, 15-minute episodes. Despite its brevity, one might assume that there was not much to discuss. However, this assumption would be incorrect. The podcast reveals shocking information about organized crime’s involvement in the UK’s waste management industry and their illegal dumping practices. The podcast delves into deathbed confessions and cover-ups, as well as visits to the Mobuoy site in Northern Ireland, which was at the center of the scandal. It also examines similar cases around the world, highlighting the alarming rise of the new “eco-mafia.” The interview with an Italian priest, who now lives under armed guard for trying to address the issue in his country, was particularly astounding.

11. Love, Janessa

How do you fall in love with a photo, a message, a fake? In this seven-part series, journalist Hannah Ajala tried to find the real Janessa Brazil; the adult entertainment star whose face has apparently been used to launch a thousand romance scams all over the world. As a BBC World Service and CBC co-production, Love, Janessa combined a wry, British tone – largely thanks to Ajala – with a very North American style that culminated in a stark interview with Janessa herself.

10. The Remaining Part is for Amusement.

Friendly banter … Richard Osman and Marina Hyde.

It is common for podcast co-hosts to declare their friendship as a requirement in their contract. However, when Marina Hyde and Richard Osman of the Guardian introduced their new show, it was natural to be doubtful of their claim. Yet, upon watching their easy rapport, natural humor, and seamless blend of entertainment and industry knowledge, it was a delightful surprise.

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9. Pod Save the UK

The UK version of Pod Save the World introduced us to a new and entertaining duo – comedian Nish Kumar and the Guardian’s Coco Khan – who discussed the week’s political and cultural events. The friends tackled various issues, such as the housing crisis, the Covid investigation, the Israel/Palestine conflict, the Russell Brand controversy, and the comeback of David Cameron. They were joined by guests including Rob Delaney, James O’Brien, and David Lammy. However, Kumar and Khan also made sure to make time for lighter topics like Eurovision and Beyoncé concerts, making this podcast a fun way to engage with politics.

8. A Very British Cult

Journalist Catrin Nye spent 18 months investigating Lighthouse, a “life coaching” organization that has caused some members to lose tens of thousands of pounds and even their families. Testimonies from those involved revealed manipulative and controlling tactics used by the group, led by a man who claims to make a positive impact on humanity and the planet. This podcast delved into the real vulnerability of individuals, with a uniquely British setting featuring pubs, small apartments, and a freezer full of meat instead of typical American elements like parking lots and guns.

7. Class of ‘88

Will Smith (left) and DJ Jazzy Jeff.

It may seem unusual for someone as famous as Will Smith to have a podcast, but if you’re going to start an audio series as a huge star, you might as well make it as excellent as this one. Class of ’88 is a show that combines documentary-style storytelling with interviews, focusing on the pivotal moments, artists, and albums that Smith refers to as a “sonic revolution” in hip-hop and, inevitably, mainstream music and culture. The lineup of guests includes Queen Latifah, Chuck D, DMC, Salt-N-Pepa, and, of course, Jazzy Jeff. The podcast is a lively and humorous trip down memory lane, filled with entertaining anecdotes.

6. The Retrievals

The Retrievals is a podcast series that delves into the intense agony endured by women undergoing egg retrieval at Yale fertility centre. It sheds light on the opioid epidemic in America, the issue of private healthcare, and society’s perception of female suffering. The series is so powerful that it may leave you doubled over in pain and anger while listening on the street. It reveals that some patients had to endure the procedure without any anesthesia due to a nurse’s theft of fentanyl and substitution with saline.

Reconsider: Michael Jackson

Can you explain who he is and his significance to you? In this captivating 10-part series, reporters Leon Neyfakh and Jay Smooth offer a new perspective on the legacy of Michael Jackson, a decade after his passing. Neyfakh had only a vague understanding of the highly debated pop icon in the 90s, while Smooth, who has been a fan since childhood, considers him to be like a member of his own family.

“The Chilliest Mystery in Laramie”

This Serial production did what Serial has been doing since the start: telling gripping stories about a murder. Kim Barker, a Times investigative reporter with a gravelly voice, a career in asking difficult questions, and experience as a war reporter in Afghanistan, went back to her home town of Laramie in Wyoming, to try to uncover what happened to a young woman, Shelli Wiley, who was killed in 1985. What she discovered were the failings of the police, how a case falls apart and what it means to go back to your childhood home.

3. The Girlfriends

What is the result of combining heartbreak, sisterhood, mystery, true crime, and gossip? The perfect recipe for a successful podcast. The Girlfriends was a comedic, sometimes unsettling, and often sassy series about a group of women who all dated not only the same man, but also the same murderer. Host Carol Fisher interviewed individuals who were part of a club in 1980s Las Vegas, where they would eat noodles, discuss their exes, and ponder the fate of Gail, his first wife who disappeared in 1985. These women’s personal experiences and memories of Bob – a tall, handsome, Jewish doctor – ultimately served as the evidence that led to his conviction.

2. Believe in Magic

In his latest podcast sensation, Believe in Magic, Jamie Bartlett delves deep into the scandalous true-life events, much like his previous hit, The Missing Cryptoqueen. Through relentless investigation, Bartlett uncovers the layers of this captivating story surrounding Megan Bhari, a teenage cancer patient who received support from One Direction and David Cameron through her charity. The generosity of donations and trips to Disneyland raise suspicion among a group of mothers, leading to doubts about Megan’s illness – until her sudden death. Bartlett continues to unravel the mystery by speaking with Megan’s family members, including her mother. While it is a heartbreaking tale, Bartlett approaches it with sensitivity and determination as he addresses the very questions that listeners may have wanted to shout out.

1. Ghost Story

Naomi Dancy circa 1920s, the murder victim who may have haunted Ghost Story’s creator.

It is remarkable that this show is so easy to watch, despite its complex plot. This series is a mix of paranormal investigation and a whodunnit mystery. The main character, journalist Tristan Redman, becomes involved in investigating his wife’s ancestors when it is revealed that her great-grandmother may have haunted his childhood bedroom. The investigation includes visits to paranormal experts, a large murder case involving former detectives and a potential suspect from his wife’s family, multiple seances, and a scandal surrounding fake spy memoirs that affected the BBC, universities, and top academic publishers. There is even a tense moment involving Hugh Dancy from Downton Abbey. As it turns out, Redman’s wife’s family is filled with highly distinguished individuals who become increasingly angry as the show progresses. This show was truly captivating, intriguing, and humorous – there was nothing else like it this year, or any other year.

Source: theguardian.com