Just when it seemed like all the good podcast ideas were taken, a slew of original, new shows dropped into our earbuds. In the last few months alone, the New York Times expanded into audio documentary; Gimlet had the brilliant idea to record the interactions of six people who volunteered to live on a fake planet for an entire year; and late night television expanded into the podcasting medium.
If you’re looking for new shows to listen to on the beach or while traveling on your next summer vacation, there are plenty to choose from. Here are some of our favorite podcasts from 2018 so far.
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The New York Times’ podcast The Daily is one of the very best newscasts out there. So it’s no surprise that the paper’s first venture into serialized audio documentary would prove ambitious and compelling. In Caliphate, Radiolab alumnus Andy Mills follows the Times’ terrorism expert Rukmini Callimachi as she tries to understand who exactly we’re fighting in the war against ISIS. Callimachi interviews members of the Islamic State in an attempt to understand their ideology and recruitment strategy. By episode two, a recruited Canadian native emerges as the show’s main character, a man who appears frighteningly normal — except for his radicalized views.
Keep It is a must-listen podcast for any pop culture fan. The show takes its name from host and Daily Beast critic Ira Madison III’s Twitter catchphrase about pop culture phenomena that need not enter our spheres of consciousness. Melania Trump’s “grammatically heinous” Be Best campaign? Rachel Dolezal’s Netflix documentary? Roseanne’s racist tweet? Keep it. Madison and co-hosts Kara Brown and Louis Virtel discuss the latest breaking pop culture news and interview artists, directors and writers before launching into each episde’s “Keep It” segment, in which they drag whoever they believe needs to be dragged that week.
Late Night Whenever
If only the late night shows on TV were this good. Comic and 2 Dope Queens mainstay Michelle Buteau skips the politics to focus on enlightening conversations with guests like Leslie Odom Jr., Tessa Thompson and Ann Dowd. Buteau keeps the conversations casual, and she manages to get real answers and jokes out of her guests rather than the typical canned one-liners. She also infuses the podcast with plenty of her own personality and backstory. Someone give this woman her own television show.
A compelling followup to 2016’s Making Oprah, WBEZ Chicago’s Making Obama dives into Barack Obama’s early political career in Chicago before he ran for senate. The podcast traces his work from community organizing to his frustration with the “wait your turn” mentality in Springfield, Ill. as it satisfyingly contextualizes his rise in the history of Chicago politics. Host Jenn White gets plenty of face time (or is it ear time?) with the man himself. Those nostalgic for the former president can escape to memories of yesteryear by listening to his distinct cadence. Ahead of the midterms, though, the podcast also plays like a call to action.
Grantland fans, rejoice. Molly Lambert, Tess Lynch and Emily Yoshida, the hosts of the now-defunct website’s now-defunct podcast Girls in Hoodies, have reunited for Night Call. Borrowing the late-night call-in radio show concept, the three hosts offer advice to people who send them emails or voicemails. Mostly, they keep listeners company in the wee hours of the morning (though, of course, you can listen anytime) with wide-ranging conversations about their goth phases, Renaissance festivals and Kelsey Grammer’s unexpectedly entertaining autobiography, among other topics. But the subject is somewhat beside the point. What makes the podcast great — really, what makes any podcast great — is the chemistry between the hosts.
Our neighbors in Canada have produced one of the funniest podcasts to hit our earbuds in years. Comic Rob Norman and producer Andrew Norton try to help those who want to better themselves — a woman who constantly sleeps through her alarms, a woman terrible at flirting over text messages, a man who wants to do a backflip — with crazy gambits like building a “haunted house of consequences.” Like the brilliant podcast Heavyweight — in which the host tries to settle old scores, often to hilarious ends — Personal Best is less a show about self-improvement than it is about self-discovery.
Sick of listening to quick takes on politics and pop culture? The Rewatchables is the ultimate escapist podcast. A rotating group of hosts at the Ringer break down the movies that, if you see them airing on TNT or streaming on HBO, you just have to sit down and watch. The show offers an excuse to rewatch some excellent films, including The Social Network, Silence of the Lambs, Jerry Maguire, Speed, Get Out and The Princess Bride. And the analysis is excellent: The hosts (usually including Ringer founder Bill Simmons) debate the best scenes, poke at plot holes and offer up surprising facts about how the movie was shot or the drama behind the casting in a segment called “half-assed Internet research corner.” Ultimately, they decide why these movies aged better than other films from the same eras.
Fiction podcasts haven’t often given us a reason to choose them over a solid audiobook. But Sandra, directed by the filmmaker Sebastián Silva, may have mastered the medium. Search Party‘s Alia Shawkat plays a woman who takes a job at a technology company voicing a Siri-like personal assistant: When humans ask questions, she answers — though customers believe they’re talking to AI, not a person. The podcast probes our dependence on technology at a time when our data has never been more vulnerable. The episodes end with cliffhangers that don’t feel contrived but keep you tuning in. Ethan Hawke and Kristen Wiig round out the superb cast.
Sure, traveling to Mars sounds romantic. But the first humans to make the journey will be stuck with their fellow astronauts for years on end, cut off from the outside world. In anticipation of that eventuality, NASA asked six strangers to live on an isolated Mars-like environment in Hawaii for one year and recorded their experiences. The podcast is a perfect meld of Cosmos with The Real World. You’ll learn plenty about space — like how scientists will try to create water on Mars and the story of the one American who saw 9-11 while floating above earth. But you’ll also hear about the inevitable drama of long-term space travel, from hookups to bathroom drama to one roommate’s annoying habit of playing the didgeridoo.
This Is Love
On This Is Love, Phoebe Judge takes on a very different topic from that of her hit podcast Criminal: love. She interviews people with complicated love stories, like two men who — before gay marriage was legal — decided to file for adoption in hopes of securing the legal rights that families enjoy; and a woman who upends racism with her romance novels based on her own marriage. The theme of the podcast is largely a means to an end: Judge excels at finding interesting subjects with fascinating stories. These ones just happen to be more uplifting (and a bit less voyeuristic) than those in Criminal. But they are equally as surprising.
Cristen Conger and Caroline Ervin, former hosts of Stuff Mom Never Told You, have a new podcast about women who break the rules. They interview the women behind behind the burgeoning pot business, three different women who had three radically different experiences paying for abortions and self-identified witches in covens. While there are plenty of discussion-based feminist podcasts out there, few have figured out how to combine storytelling and interviews with social justice. Unladylike is perhaps the first to succeed.