Best Podcasts of 2018: October

With Halloween just around the corner the podcasts we’re listening to this month confront some of our deepest fears, from serial killers to cults, and worse, heartbreak.

By David Adams

My Favorite Murder (Stitcher)

Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark, the creators of this true-crime comedy podcast, recently announced that they were partnering with Stitcher to launch a network of new shows. No wonder—their original brainchild is a certifiable phenomenon with 19 million monthly listeners, a devoted following of “Murderinos” who buy out the duo’s live shows, and a book on the way. Kilgariff and Hardstack, who both have backgrounds in comedy, formed an instant connection when they met at a Halloween party and soon found themselves off to the side of the room discussing their obsessions with various murders throughout history. After 140 episodes, the show retains the same basic format: two very funny women having a great time talking about murder. The appeal, for the hosts as well as the predominantly-female audience, lies in facing head-on the fear of getting killed by a jealous lover, abusive family member, or psychotic stranger, and finding something to laugh about.

Dear Franklin Jones (Stitcher)

From the Manson Family to Heaven’s Gate to Wild, Wild Country, America’s fascination with cults is a renewable resource: Just when it seems like we’ve exhausted the template, a new version captures our attention all over again. What distinguishes this poignant, nuanced podcast is creator Jonathan Hirsch’s personal connection to the controversial spiritual teacher Franklin Jones, also known as Bubba Free John or Adi Da. Raised by his parents in Jones’s spiritual community in 1980s California, Hirsch viewed the guru as a second father. When his parents were suddenly excommunicated from Jones’s inner circle, Hirsch’s family lost everything. In reexamining that confusing period in his life alongside the accusations levied against Jones, including brainwashing, sexual assault, and involuntary servitude, Hirsch offers a unique perspective on how the genuine pursuit of truth can lead us so far astray.

This Is Love (Radiotopia)

Created by the North Carolina-based team behind Criminal, this warm-hearted and beautifully-produced podcast bills itself as “an investigation into life’s most persistent mystery.” Over the course of the show’s inaugural season, host Phoebe Judge explores the messy, bewildering, and transcendent qualities of love in all shapes and sizes—from a novelist who’s written 120 books about her first romance to a teenage girl who swam for hours in the dark trying to save a baby whale. The episodes, most of which cover decades of personal history, are expertly paced and feature revealing interviews with the subjects backed by gorgeous, mood-enhancing music. Tune in for a life-affirming listen that goes far beyond greeting-card sentiments to explore how people really live and feel. A second season is slated for release this fall.

Serial (NPR)

After a two year hiatus, the hugely influential (and record-breaking) podcast has returned for its third season. Unlike the first two seasons, which reported on the trials of Adnan Syed and Lt. Bowe Bergdahl, respectively, the new season has no central character or case. Instead, host Sarah Koening brings her signature wit and persistence to documenting a year in the life of a Cleveland courthouse. In the first three episodes, she explores the Justice Center’s racial hierarchies and workplace dramas; follows “ordinary” cases on their slow, often absurd, journey from arrest to sentencing; and exposes the biases and stereotypes behind one judge’s shocking courtroom demeanor. What emerges is an indispensable, deeply-reported portrait of the dysfunction that exists at the core of the American justice system.

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