Best Podcasts of 2018: November

Inanimate interviewees, a harrowing escape from a cult, and a presidential portrait–this month’s list has a lot to choose from.

By David Adams

Everything Is Alive (Radiotopia)

In this delightfully odd podcast, host Ian Chillag invites his guests to tell their life stories. The twist? They’re all inanimate objects. In the first episode, a soda can compares the terror of finding himself in a 12-pack at a child’s birthday party to the fear USS Indianapolis sailors felt when their ship went down in shark-infested waters. Things only get stranger, and funnier, from there. The other objects, including a pillow, an elevator, and a grain of sand, are voiced by comedians and improv performers in unscripted conversation–allowing for some surprisingly deep insights into the nature of existence. In other words, you’ll never look at a half-finished bar of soap the same way again.

Dr. Death (Wondery)
Following the breakout success of Dirty John (soon to be a Bravo series starring Connie Britton and Eric Bana), the folks at Wondery have returned with another riveting true-crime story. Medical reporter Laura Beil delves into the case of Dr. Christopher Duntsch, a Dallas-area neurosurgeon sentenced to life in prison for killing two of his patients and maiming dozens of others. But the verdict is only the beginning of the story. From the early signs of Duntsch’s drug and alcohol abuse to the numerous institutions that gave him nothing more than a slap on the wrist, Beil reveals how the medical profession chose to protect itself rather than to save patients’ lives. Revelatory and frequently grisly, this one’s not for the faint of heart.

Making Obama (WBEZ Chicago)

As host Jenn White says in the first episode of the six part series (a follow-up to 2017’s Making Oprah), no matter what your politics, we can all agree that the past couple years have been chaotic. Shifting focus from the ongoing Russia investigation and the bitter Brett Kavanaugh hearings, Making Obama is a warm-hearted look backwards at Barack Obama’s rise from a 23-year-old Chicago community organizer to a United States Senate candidate and keynote speaker at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. With the benefit of hindsight, every unlikely step along the way fits into a larger pattern of trial, tribulation, luck, persistence, and achievement. It’s a good reminder that right now, idealistic young people across the country are setting out on paths that might just take them all the way to the White House.

Uncover: Escaping NXIVM (CBC)

After years of disturbing rumors, the bizarre story of NXIVM (pronounced “Nexium”), a multi-level marketing company/self-help group, exploded into the news earlier this year, when founder Keith Raniere, “Smallville” actress Allison Mack, and Seagram’s heiress Clare Bronfman were arrested on charges of sex trafficking and conspiracy to commit forced labor. Since then, the salacious details have come so fast and furious it’s hard to keep track of where the story began, let alone understand how a self-improvement organization could have devolved into what’s being called a sex cult. The best source for answers is this fascinating, addictive podcast in which former member Sarah Edmondson discusses her journey into the group’s inner circle and her gut-wrenching decision to leave. It’s largely thanks to Edmondson’s courage that Raniere and his cohorts will go on trial early next year.

Welcome to LA (KCRW)

Much like the noir novels of Raymond Chandler, Walter Moseley, and James Ellroy, this richly observed podcast uses Los Angeles as its central character. Host David Weinberg plays the role of private eye, trekking from the Pacific coast to the Mojave Desert in pursuit of the dreamers, schemers, and eccentrics that make the City of Angels what it is. His subjects include a movie villain fallen on hard times, a musician whose plan to redesign the city began with putting his face on a billboard above Sunset Boulevard, and a gay pornographer who used to be the voice of Ronald McDonald. A captivating listen whether you’ve been west of the Mississippi or not, this podcast proves that when it comes to Hollywood, the truth really is stranger than fiction.

The Rewatchables (The Ringer)

Smart and obsessive in the best way, this podcast is a great place to turn for your next Netflix selection or to reassure yourself that it’s okay to watch the second half of Ocean’s Eleven for the 500th time. Led by Bill Simmons, the man who invented the sports/pop culture mashup, a rotating cast of contributors from The Ringer, including Chris Ryan, Amanda Dobbins, and Shea Serrano, break down the quotable lines, essential performances, and pitch-perfect musical scores that make certain movies endlessly rewatchable, like Dazed and Confused and 10 Things I Hate About You. Is Jaws is the greatest movie of the past 50 years? Did The Dark Knight change the movie business? The hosts will dig in and discuss everything from the original film posters to the careers of its bit players. Consider it a crash course in your favorite—or soon to be favorite—movies.  

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