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Serial season 3 is here! Here are 5 other podcasts that you should be listening to

In celebration of the release of Serial’s third season, here are six (random) podcasts that you should be listening to right now.

weekend binge Updated: Sep 22, 2018 15:27 IST
Rohan Naahar
Rohan Naahar
Hindustan Times
Serial,Serial season 3,How Did This Get Made?
Before (or even during) you binge on Serial season 3, make some time for these five podcasts.

On the weekend of September 13, 2013, Insidious: Chapter 2 opened to a then record-breaking $41 million weekend. It was a huge number for what was essentially a very small horror film, made for a measly $5 million. By the end of its run, the film had grossed a respectable $161 million, paving the way for two more sequels.

Now, it is virtually impossible for anyone to know this information off-hand - I had to look it up, too. But this was a bit of a misdirect, to be quite honest. The point of this anecdote isn’t the admirable total Insidious 2 posted on its opening weekend; nor is this a story about Insidious 2, for that matter. It is, however, vitally important that you understand the significance of September 13, 2013.

On that day, history was made. At the same time director James Wan was celebrating his victory at the turnstiles, Rockstar Games was registering the largest opening for any entertainment product in history. Grand Theft Auto V made $800 million in the same time that it took Insidious 2 to make 20. By the time the weekend was over, GTA V had made $1 billion, a staggering figure made all the more monumental if you remember that the biggest ever opening for a movie is the $640 million Avengers: Infinity War brought in a few months ago.

The point being: Movies are no longer the world’s favourite form of mass entertainment. Similarly, the podcast Serial - the raison d’être of this piece - has been downloaded 175 million times since its launch in 2014, and is generally credited as having single-handedly popularised the podcast format and shepherded into the mainstream.

Serial returned for a much awaited third season on Friday (around the same time as many of you were probably watching Shahid Kapoor make funny faces in Batti Gul Meter Chalu). Unlike the first season, which told the story of a Pakistani American man who’d been convicted (perhaps falsely) of having murdered his ex-girlfriend many years ago; and the second, which investigated the curious case of Bowe Bergdahl, a former US soldier who was held captive by the Taliban for five years after he deserted his troop, season 3 focusses on the intersection of crime and punishment in one Cleveland courtroom.

So in celebration of Serial - it really is one of the most staggering achievements in modern storytelling - here are six, randomly selected podcasts that you must listen to immediately.

Serial (Season 1)

There’s no better place to start than where it all started. Featuring exhaustive, Peabody-winning reporting, narrated with a friendly accessibility by Sarah Koenig, and not above being pulpy when the need arises, the first season of Serial taps into everything we look for in a story - scandal, injustice, and an interesting subject. But to call Adnan Syed ‘interesting’ is to describe Inception as an ‘intelligent’ movie. There’s so much more to him than that. He remains a mystery, right till the very end of his tale, which isn’t over yet.

He’s still in prison for allegedly murdering his ex in 1999 - a spurned lover seeking revenge, according to the prosecution - even though the podcast almost did for him what the Paradise Lost films did for the West Memphis Three. Everything from Making a Murderer to HBO’s The Night Of to the straight-up spoof, American Vandal, takes its cue from Serial - cementing its place as one of the most influential of all ‘entertainment’ in recent memory.


The beauty of S-Town, produced in part by the same team behind Serial, is that it proudly allowed every comparison to its predecessor ahead of its release, fully aware of the fact that when the time came for the rug to be pulled from under the listeners’ feet, the impact would be well worth it.

S-Town begins as a Southern Gothic murder mystery - an eccentric man from a small town deep in the American Bible Belt summons a reporter to investigate a death. John B McLemore is a horologist - someone who studies time - and describes his hometown as a place of ‘proleptic decay and decrepitude’. He has a way with words.

Very soon, it becomes clear that John B McLemore is more interesting than the mystery he’d claimed to have uncovered, or the colourful cast of backward rednecks he lives around and despises, or even the shocker of a plot twist that happens in episode 2.

And so S-Town becomes a character study - of a man born at the wrong place at the wrong time; a man for whom this podcast becomes a eulogy.

West Cork

Sticking with the true-crime genre, a podcast favourite - none of which would have been possible without Serial - Audible’s West Cork tells the story of Sophie Toscan du Plantier, a young Frenchwoman who was found brutally murdered on the side of the road in the idyllic Irish village of the same name.

Decades later, no one has been charged with her murder, but in a sinister twist, the villagers all seem to be convinced that one of their own did it. To make matters even more sinister, it appears that the man everyone has decided is the culprit almost seems to enjoy the attention.

While no host can be as soothing and generous as Sarah Koenig, West Cork’s Sam Bungey and Jennifer Forde come awfully close. Through their serene voices, even the horrors of this story seem oddly fantastical.

Dirty John

So unbelievable is the true story at the centre of Dirty John, a podcast co-produced by Wondery and the Los Angeles Times, that there are now two television shows in development based on it. The six-episode series tells the story of a charming conman, whose modus operandi is to find rich older women, dupe them into falling for him, and stealing all their money.

There is something so deliciously entertaining about Dirty John - the name itself is straight out of pulp fiction - and yet so terrifying. The closest comparison I can find is HBO’s Big Little Lies. The podcast offers several different perspectives to the same incident, and ends with a sequence of such breathtaking action that it’ll almost convince you that you were there.

A sort of follow-up, Dr Death, was released only a few weeks ago.

Blank Check

For our final two entries, let’s change things up a bit. Since we usually talk about the movies, here’s a podcast every cinephile must listen to. “It’s about filmographies, about directors who’ve had massive success early on in their career and were given a series of blank checks. Sometimes those check clear and sometimes they bounce, baby!”

And with these words begins every episode of this endlessly entertaining podcast, in which actor and comedian Griffin Newman and critic David Sims - hashtag the two friends - discuss the films of their favourite directors by going into way too much detail, being easily distracted, and having guests over who are just as susceptible to faffing around as they are.

But if their observations are often insightful, their regular digressions into what they like to call ‘context’ is even more of a hoot. Blank Check reminds me of a better time, back when talking about movies with the enthusiasm most people would reserve for childbirth wasn’t frowned upon.

How Did This Get Made?

Hosted by comedians Paul Scheer, June Diane Raphael and Jason Mantzoukas (and a bunch of all-star guests), this is a podcast about really bad movies — the worst of the worst; the sort that Amanda Waller would put in a hole and throw away the hole and then enlist to join the Suicide Squad.

Their conversations can sometimes go on for as long as two hours as the hosts offer rambling speculation about the chain of bad decisions that must have gone into producing these movies - stinkers such as Batman & Robin, xXx, The Fate of the Furious and, of course, Twilight.

It’s like listening to a well-informed stand-up comedy routine exclusively about your favourite thing in the world. How Did This Get Made, indeed?

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The author tweets @RohanNaahar

First Published: Sep 22, 2018 15:27 IST