Thanksgiving is tomorrow and you’re facing endless highway miles and/or hours queuing at the airport. These podcasts—some brand-new, some old favorites—will take the edge off with an immersive dive into stories weird, wonderful, forgotten, and unknown. If anything, you’ll have a lot to discuss at the dinner table on Thursday.
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As a self-professed true crime obsessive, when I heard Laura Beil (veteran health journalist and host of Dr. Death) had a new podcast coming out, I set aside an evening to binge-listen the entire six-part investigative series. It didn’t disappoint. In Bad Batch, Beil guides listeners through the twisted, sometimes scary world of stem cell medical treatment. The podcast centers on a real-life company that offered patients “a miracle cure” for just $5,000. But when people started getting sick, the alleged antidote billed as all-powerful turned out to be a scam. —Rose Minutaglio, Staff Writer
Think of this podcast as a perfectly calibrated combination of the dearly departed Mystery Show and Esther Perel’s engrossing Where Should We Begin? Heavyweight has a simple but staggering mission: to help people unravel riddles about their lives that have been burdening them. Jonathan Goldstein, a very funny writer, takes on challenges—a man who feels slighted by the recording artist Moby, a grandchild who believes her grandmother missed out on true love, and a recovering addict wracked with guilt over pawning his father’s gun years ago—and digs into them with humor, vulnerability, and no small amount of sleuthing. Every episode is a small miracle of storytelling; you’ll want to binge all three seasons in one day. —R. Eric Thomas, Senior Writer
Dolly Parton’s America
Dolly Parton seems like an odd subject for Radiolab’s Jad Abumrad, but their unlikely pairing couldn’t be more perfect. Through Parton’s personal stories, this nine-episode series charts the embattled history of women in music and in the workplace (Alexa, play 9 to 5). Yet Parton, now 73, has never once identified as a feminist, or even uttered a word about her political inclinations. Instead, she is a bridge that has long united our divided nation—which, as Abumrad points out, is precisely what makes her an American treasure. Still, during the “Dollitics” episode, she hints that she just might have something to say in due time. Perhaps before the 2020 election? —Katie Connor, Digital Director
New York Times Magazine reporter Nikole Hannah Jones sparked a cultural firestorm in August when she published the landmark 1619 Project, an in-depth investigative series about black American history, culture, and contemporary life named for the 400th anniversary of the year enslaved Africans first arrived in what would become the United States. Jones’ feature is a must-read, but the accompanying podcast goes deep on how the claws of racism infect every aspect of everyday life, from “the economy that slavery built” to corruption in the medical system. If you only have time for one episode, make it “The Birth of American Music,” featuring Still Processing‘s Wesley Morris. —Julie Kosin, Senior Culture Editor
The Maris Review
You like books. You like people who like books. You like people who like books talking about books you like? Have I got a podcast for you. Hosted by Maris Kreizman (Slaughterhouse 90210) this delightful half hour is like sitting in on a fun lunch date between erudite authors. Sometimes the conversation gets into literary analysis, sometimes it’s about process, sometimes it’s about jokes and feelings. There’s, thankfully, a lot of book podcasts out there, and this is one of the best. —R. Eric Thomas, Senior Writer
How Did This Get Made?
If you’re seeking a podcast that inspires embarrassing fits of laughter on public transit, look no further. The hilarious trio of comic actors Paul Scheer, June Diane Raphael, and Jason Mantzoukas—along with special guests!—unpack a bad movie each episode, and though watching the faulty film isn’t required for listening, it can become a guilty pleasure homework assignment. And the podcast is in no way mean-spirited—the hosts manage to find weird catharsis and comfort in talking about a movie that might’ve missed the mark. Or sometimes you realize you unabashedly love one of their targets (*cough* Grease 2). —Savannah Walsh, Editorial Fellow
I’ll admit I was a bit skeptical when I started listening to Ingrid Nilsen’s new podcast, One Step. I’ve been watching Nilsen’s lifestyle YouTube channel since I was in high school, but I often find that when influencers delve into the podcast space, the results can fall flat. But this conversation—premised on change and transformation—reaches higher than I ever expected. The guests are interesting, the discussions relatable but still surprising, and the episodes are often filled with emotional revelations from Nilsen herself. (I teared up in the grocery store while listening to “To Be a Mom, or Not to Be,” as Nilsen opened up about healing her relationship with her mother after the death of her father.) If you’ve ever thought deeply about grief, money, sobriety, or family, there is something here for you. —Madison Feller, Staff Writer
Every episode of this cultural conversation between Jenna Wortham and Wesley Morris, both of The New York Times, is a luminous, layered triumph. Taking cultural happenings as jumping off points (Beyoncé’s Homecoming, the movie Parasite, the Primaries, to name a few), they go both deep and wide as they try to shake out larger truth about aspects of our common experience. These writers have an immense cultural lexicon and an extraordinary ability to pull together disparate threads. And, as if that’s not enough to be envious of, they’re also very, very funny. —R. Eric Thomas, Senior Writer
This podcast from The New York Times deconstructs a different musical topic each week, from the latest Grammy nominations to why women aren’t played on country radio. I started listening when I wanted a deep-dive on Taylor Swift’s album Reputation and instantly fell for the mix of humor and insight that host Jon Caramonica and regular guests bring. Think you won’t listen to two hours of insider commentary on Ashlee Simpson’s music career? You will—and you’ll like it. —Savannah Walsh, Editorial Fellow
Dax Shephard has emerged as a surprising star of the podcast world, turning his small attic studio into a makeshift therapist’s couch. His witty banter with co-host Monica Padman is worth the listen alone, but his candid conversations with everyone from former Punk’d co-star Ashton Kutcher to wife Kristen Bell leave a mark—I find myself thinking about his take on relationships and candor about his own struggles long after the podcast’s over. —Savannah Walsh, Editorial Fellow
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