I spent the final weeks of 2014 like a lot of people – eating holiday treats, cursing the cold weather and reflecting on the mysterious murder of a Baltimore teenager in 1999. Serial, considered the most popular podcast in the world, was a part of my life.
Sarah Koenig’s 12-part look into the killing of high school student Hae Min Lee became so gripping that Serial seeped into pop culture, as it scored millions of downloads on iTunes, got spoofed on Saturday Night Live, spawned a funny Colbert Report interview and brought the idea of podcasts to the mainstream.
And now that it’s been a few weeks since the first season wrapped up, I find myself missing Serial’s eerie musical theme, Koenig’s calm narration and even that annoying Mail Chimp ad that we all memorized because it started nearly every episode.
The good news is that Serial is coming back for a second season this year. The bad news: We have to wait until then.
So, to help you fill the void while you’re waiting for Koenig to burrow into another creepy case, here are a few other podcasts – some of the more popular ones, spread across a variety of genres – to keep you entertained until Serial and Mail Chimp come back into our lives.
CRIMINAL: The true-crime element of this podcast should appeal to fans of Serial. But unlike Koenig’s approach, Criminal spends only one episode on each case, whether it’s exploring the story of infamous Montreal hacker Michael Calce or telling the tale of a TV reporter’s flirty correspondence with female serial killer Sheila LaBarre. And since the episodes only last 15 or 20 minutes, you could probably devour more than one story during your next treadmill workout.
99% INVISIBLE: This insightful podcast from Roman Mars will make you see the world in a new way. Mars takes a highly creative and entertaining look at design and architecture, and his series is now one of the most popular podcasts on iTunes. Whether you’re hearing about the history of the Ouija board, the origin of the teddy bear or the evolution of the hashtag, you’re learning something new here.
THIS AMERICAN LIFE: Ira Glass’ award-winning series, which gave birth to Serial, has been around since 1995. The mood of the show changes from serious to humorous, depending on the week, and most episodes feature multiple tales around one theme. If you’re looking for a variety of good stories from different people, this is the place to be.
RADIOLAB: This is another podcast that will make you feel like a smarter person for listening to it. In each hour-long episode, Radiolab’s Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich jump into a different scientific or philosophical topic, investigating it from different angles. The Patient Zero episode, where they chase down the origin of AIDS, will give you shivers.
WTF WITH MARC MARON: Sure, Maron’s twice-weekly podcast will have you chuckling, but it’s the in-depth interviews with comedians and pop culture figures that will keep the podcast lingering in your mind afterwards. His two-part discussion with Louis C.K. is regarded as one of the best podcast episodes of all time.
HERE’S THE THING: Alec Baldwin’s interview show reminds me of Comedians in Cars Drinking Coffee – what happens when you put two creative people in a room and listen to them talk? Baldwin intersperses his questions by telling stories of his own, giving the show a very conversational quality.
SAVAGE LOVECAST: Let’s talk about sex, baby. Syndicated columnist Dan Savage answers questions from listeners every Tuesday, providing his sex and relationship advice in a non-judgemental way. Savage’s funding formula is unique, too – you can pay for the full episode, or just listen to a shorter free version of the show with ads.
COMEDY BANG! BANG!: If you don’t want your podcast listening to be so serious all of the time, Scott Aukerman’s hilarious weekly podcast will hit the spot. Visiting comedians will sometimes spend the entire episode improvising in the guise of a character or another celebrity, and the open-door policy means that zany guests can pop by at anytime.
THE NERDIST PODCAST: Chris Hardwick’s hour-long episodes focus on nerd culture and sometimes feature candid conversations with celebrities, with the calibre of his guests – recent episodes feature talks with John Cleese and Paul McCartney – elevating since the show launched in 2010. If you’re into geeky things, then you’re probably all over this already.