Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
<i>Hit Man</i> is a true crime story that centers victims, not the killer

Hit Man is a true crime story that centers victims, not the killer

Photo: Keith Bedford/The Boston Globe (Getty Images)

Thus Always To Tyrants

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As 1865 comes to a close with this 13th episode, it’s tempting to wonder if this is the best audio fiction podcast of all time. While it’s impossible to weigh all such programs equally against some golden mean, few of the genre’s works approach the same heights as this series. Writer-director Steven Walters’ dramatization of the power vacuum that nearly swallowed Washington following Abraham Lincoln’s assassination is so thoughtfully realized that it approaches the level of one of Shakespeare’s history plays, made all the better by its serialization and length. The narrative winds as tightly as piano wire around two deeply flawed men, President Andrew Johnson and Secretary Of War Edwin M. Stanton, as they follow a path of ruin. A show like this lives and dies on the strength of its performances, and 1865 boasts a stellar cast anchored by an outstanding lead performance from Jeremy Schwartz as Stanton. This is podcast storytelling at its finest. [Ben Cannon]

A Waste Of Time With ItsTheReal
Little Brother

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For a long while there, it seemed like Little Brother, the North Carolina hip-hop group that came on the scene with the 2003 classic The Listening would never get back together again. MCs Phonte and Rapper Big Pooh hadn’t been on speaking terms ever since they acrimoniously disbanded at the top of this decade. But, as they candidly explain on this podcast (hosted by hip-hop-loving jokesters/brothers Jeff and Eric Rosenthal, a.k.a. ItsTheReal), they had an eventful journey to reconciliation before dropping their recently released reunion album, May The Lord Watch. First off, the passing of A Tribe Called Quest member Phife Dawg prompted them to reach out to each other and mend fences. After that, they did a surprise set at a North Carolina music festival last year (filling in for a delayed Royce Da 5’9”) that literally came together hours before it happened. But more importantly, they had to grow and mature their own damn selves in order to put the crazy shit that happened during their younger years behind them and become friends again, so they could return to making great music together. [Craig D. Lindsey]

Coffee With My Ma
Ma Goes To Europe And Gets Stuck There For A Year

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Kahentinetha Horn has some great stories to tell. This isn’t surprising, considering she was a model in the 1960s and is a radical Mohawk activist who has spent decades fighting for the rights of indigenous people. Her daughter, Kaniehtiio Horn (Letterkenny), created Coffee With My Ma so her mother could share these stories about a life lived in pursuit of both justice and a good time. In this episode, Kahentinetha takes listeners back to 1957 where, at the age of 17, she left Canada for Europe and stayed for over a year. A great deal of the podcast’s charm comes from Kaniehtiio’s surprised reactions to her mother’s recollections of being hit on by priests and punching a handsy Italian man in the face. A hitchhiking trip with a Russian woman she just met feels like the opening to a true crime podcast, but luckily nothing terrible ever happens. While the episode might not cover any of Kahentinetha’s activism, it illustrates the fearlessness she had from a young age and will leave listeners wanting to hear more about her fascinating adventures. [Anthony D Herrera]

Dead Meat
Jump Scares

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When he’s not counting horror movie kills for the YouTube channel Dead Meat, James A. Janisse joins his girlfriend, Chelsea Rebecca, on the delightfully insightful Dead Meat podcast to dissect and chop up all things horror. On the duo’s latest episode, Rebecca and Janisse cover the most annoying shortcut used in horror films to make audiences lose their shit: jump scares. The two prove that the topic isn’t as simple as it might seem. After much research into the topic and a little help from the online jump-scare resource Where’s The Jump?, Chelsea breaks down what is widely regarded as the device’s origin in 1942’s Cat People, defines what a jump scare truly entails, and unpacks Alfred Hitchcock’s perspective on meaningful suspense in horror. The hosts also detail some of the most memorable jump scares in cinema and highlight cliché tactics used by directors. The only thing this air-tight episode lacks is some abrupt audio noise to cheaply shock the audience with. [Kevin Cortez]

Hell And Gone
The Final Autopsy

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In 1989, Janie Ward died at a party when she fell off the porch and tore her spinal cord. At least that’s one story. Another version of the story is that she was hit in the face with a baseball bat and a bunch of teens tried to cover it up out of fear. The only thing that is certain is that when Janie was found dead in the back of a pickup truck in front of the town bank, there were a thousand different accounts of how she ended up there. As host Catherine Townsend takes listeners through this Arkansas cold case, the corruption and lack of oversight becomes painfully evident, especially when it’s revealed that the medical examiner involved in Janie’s case, Fahmy Malak, was forced to quit in 1991 due to multiple allegations of botched autopsies. And yet, seven episodes into the season, it’s still not entirely clear that Janie Ward was murdered, as the victim’s third and most invasive autopsy provides yet another possible explanation of how that night unfolded. Still, Townsend’s determination to find answers makes listeners feel as though justice for Janie is truly in reach. [Nichole Williams]

Hit Man
A Blade Of Grass

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A how-to guide on being a hitman, published in the early 1980s by radical libertarian anti-government types, becomes a landmark court case a decade later when it appears to have informed a cold-blooded murder plot. This third episode in the eight-part series sees the book take a backseat to the killings, which are sensational enough in their own right to stand apart in true crime annals. After former Motown producer Lawrence Horn finds himself in dire financial straits, he seeks to murder his special-needs son to gain access to a trust fund paying for round-the-clock care. He hires another man to carry out the act, who also kills the boy’s mother and caretaker in the process. Horn was immediately suspected, but nearly pulled off a perfect crime until police found a cache of ominous video and audio recordings in his home, as well as receipts for the telltale book. There’s a long-standing debate over true crime’s potential to exploit the dead in the name of lurid entertainment, but host Jasmyn Morris takes pains to place victims first and afford them an enormous measure of respect with the full approval of at least one surviving family member. [Zach Brooke]

Let’s Go, Atsuko!
I Am Sorry About Your Growth (W/ Lizzy Cooperman and Rose Surnow) 

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This installment of comedian Atsuko Okatsuka’s “woke Japanese game show” is all about social slipups. Okatsuka opens the episode with a social-anxiety horror story about responding to a compliment from a stranger with an unexpected profession of love—an unfortunate side effect of working from home with limited human interaction. Comedian Lizzy Cooperman and Couldn’t Help But Wonder podcast host Rose Surnow join Okatsuka for a lively conversation about the animated Disney classics that fueled their early sexual awakenings, the questionable sartorial choices in Beauty And The Beast, and the search for phallic imagery in The Little Mermaid. The game-show portion of the episode begins with a fun icebreaker that covers some seriously awkward social situations involving thirst traps, party invitations, and pregnant women on roller coasters. Next, Okatsuka introduces “Explain These Tweets, Mr. President,” challenging Cooperman and Surnow to improv as Donald Trump and defend his tweets using Trump-style tactics like fearmongering, deflection, repetition, and hostility. It’s entertaining, but as Okatsuka points out, it would be better if these tweets (and Trump himself) just didn’t exist in the first place: “Nothing about him and the tweets feel good at all.” [Sofia Barrett-Ibarria]

Rose Drive
Give Me Liberty

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Rose Drive is a suspense-forward serialized fiction podcast. The story starts as a standard mystery: protagonist and unreliable narrator Marcus is trying to solve a mystery after his 10-year high school reunion. Off the bat, though, Rose Drive proves to be something more. Why does nobody remember the events Marcus knows happened? What is the strange energy the town is giving off? And what’s going on with Marcus’ headaches? The first season finds Marcus interviewing each potential suspect to determine what happened, but things start to unravel—culminating in the season-one finale, “Give Me Liberty,” a three-part thriller that takes things from suspicious to Black Mirror levels of shocking. The twists in the finale are telegraphed throughout the first season, as indicated by the podcast’s tagline, “Are you listening?” And you should be listening, closely: The sound design and original score for Rose Drive are gorgeous and immersive. Building off of design techniques from films, this fiction podcast is as cinematic as it is riveting. [Wil Williams]

Terrible, Thanks For Asking
It Just Happens

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The point of Terrible, Thanks For Asking, hosted by Nora McInerny, is to consider our answers to the question, “How are you?” Whereas so many people might simply respond, “Fine,” when the answer is actually, “Awful,” or something even more complicated, TTFA allows listeners to confront the realities of the human condition. In this episode, McInerny is joined by Jayson and Stacy, a couple who lost their 2-year-old daughter in a tragic accident. The fear shared by all parents of losing a child is one that many would rather avoid thinking about. But in sharing Jayson and Stacy’s story, McInerny allows listeners to reflect on the complicated realities of grief that real people across the world are dealing with every day. Jayson, a writer, takes listeners through his and his wife’s processing of their loss, including counseling programs, embracing anger, and ultimately writing the book Once More We Saw Stars: A Memoir. Moving, insightful, and extremely humanizing, Terrible, Thanks For Asking is the sort of listen that inspires one to be kinder to others. [Jose Nateras]