As noted yesterday, Sarah is off this week for a well-deserved break. I’ll be your Best Evidence buddy all this week, so thanks for your patience if things arrive a little late or with the occasional typo. You all are the best. — EB
Have podcasts weaseled their way back into your life? Podcast traffic was at an historic low during the pandemic, a result — so say the analysts — of working from home (so no commute listening) and a downturn in other non-residential activities. But now that we’re returning to our old lives, those same analysts say that podcast listening is again on the uptick, and is slated to hit new highs by the end of 2021.
That also means that podcast production is on on the uptick, especially of its marquee genre: true crime. There are a lot of new true crime podcasts that we’re not going to even mess with, here, because even on the basis of their trailer or release announcement, we can tell that they’re not going to be the right fit for our interests. But there are still loads of shows and episodes dropping every day that demonstrate great potential. Here are some of the new shows I’m most intrigued by — and, as always, we’d love to hear about any and all of your great new finds in the comments. — EB
This show from London’s Natural History Museum promises “some of the most shocking, sensational and sinister crimes committed against the natural world” with interviews with “the people working to end them.” The first two episodes dropped on July 1, and are about reptile smuggling in Tanzania and “the world's most trafficked mammal” (which you are unlikely to guess without clicking).
This is a Vault show, which means it’s got a broadcast TV-style flavor to its approach — but at the same time, with a lot of Vault’s true crime content, you can feel the TV journos really luxuriating in the space to breathe that a more thoughtful format like podcasts offers. I don’t know that The Yellow Car will offer that, as its first episode hasn’t dropped as I write this, but the way KGW8 talks about the show suggests that it might. Pooneh Gray’s dad was convicted of killing her mom in 1989, but Gray remains convinced that he’s innocent…and “For the last year-and-a-half, Pooneh has granted our team exclusive access to produce a podcast and detail her every move.” The first episode drops on July 7.
Y’all have been talking about Evil Genius in the comments these last few days, right? Well, Bad Bad Thing is from that show’s writer and director, Barbara Schroeder, and is about…well, let me just give you the logline, because how is this even a real story? “When Jennair Gerardot suspects her husband, Mark, is having an affair with his dynamic and beautiful boss, Jennair begins secretly recording the new lovers. When Mark’s lies and deceit become too much to bear, Jennair begins recording herself as well, and then… she writes a suicide letter outlining a monstrous plan for vengeance.” The podcast uses Jennair’s actual recordings, and weaves in insights from shrink Dr. Ramani Durvasula. It dropped on June 30, and is already two episodes in.
This podcast isn’t for me, but I am bringing it up here because something odd seems to be going on. Here’s what I know: true crime/makeup tutorial YouTube sensation Bailey Sarian made headlines in May when she announced a podcast as part of her production partnership with digital powerhouse Wheelhouse DNA. According to Sarian, on the podcast she’d expose “the dark underbelly and hidden secrets of both well-known and lesser-known stories from U.S. and world history.” But after two episodes — one on the well-known DuPont chemical scandal and the other on the Zoot Suit Riots of 1943, Sarian announced (you can listen above) that the show would be on hold until its “relaunch” at a later date. Sarian seems nice and I am hopeful she does well, but it’s clear her newly-launched podcast has hit choppy waters. Any insights? If so, you know what to do.
CBC’s Uncover series of podcasts is one of the most reliable franchises around, handling cases related to the exploitation and harm of marginalized and historically underrepresented groups with grace and quality. I expect the new season of The Village to be no different: released on June 23, season 2 is about the unsolved deaths of trans sex workers Alloura Wells and Cassandra Do with “new details about these womens' lives, the systems that failed them, and a police investigation gone wrong.” We’re only three episodes in, so it’s easy to catch up.
Shows from the iHeart network can be a mixed bag, but I keep hearing buzz about After the Uprising, an 11-part investigation into the 2018 hanging death of Danyé Jones — who either committed suicide (per the police) or was lynched (says his mom). Journalists John Duffy and Ray Nowosielski reported out this show for over two years, “working with his mother, family members, close friends and many in the activist community to follow the trail and find out what exactly happened to” Jones. It kicked off on June 15, so we’re four episodes into what’s a pretty punishing (subject matter wise, not quality) binge — I’d sandwich this one with lighter fare.
This is one for the party monsters out there. Bernie Katz was a decades-long London nightlife figure as the front-of-house manager of the velvet-roped Groucho club. He was found dead in 2017, and after a last few months during which his “life had unravelled quickly, quietly and catastrophically.” The show’s only three episodes long, so it’s a light lift, and all three are out now.
Reporter Thomas Hargrove created a serial killer-spotting algorithm and discovered that Gary, Indiana, was the site of an unusual pattern of strangulations. Though he contacted authorities, his warnings went unheeded, until an admitted serial killer was caught after his latest crime. The show explores “how technology can be used to identify and track serial killers, and how an algorithm can influence the way homicides are investigated all across the country,” which sounds pretty Minority Report-y! There are a lot of all-too-familiar themes like how cops don’t seem to care about people of color or sex workers, with the added oomph of how that negligence is now seen even in how they ignore warnings from new-era policing tech. The show dropped at the beginning of June, so there are about five episodes to catch up on.
And here’s a bonus. Best Evidence friend and podcast critic Rebecca Lavoie is just one of the talking heads who weigh in on “So You Want to Start a True Crime Podcast…,” a lengthy look of what makes a great (and a terrible) show. Here’s a snip:
When putting together true crime podcasts, it’s helpful to keep in mind the larger pitfalls that are common to the field of crime reporting in general. The biggest of these is uncritically centering the perspectives of cops and detectives.
As Lavoie notes, “Serial had two big flaws: The first was this strange dichotomy of ‘Is Adnan Syed innocent or a psychopath?’ The second was that all the police work was taken at its word, even though those particular cops had accusations of misconduct against them in other cases.”
She adds that the Black Lives Matters protests might have since “shifted the baseline,” by creating a greater awareness of the rampancyandimpunity of police misconduct, and the often self-serving nature of their version of events. “Reporters now know not to take cops at their word, and that the [police departments’] public relations message is massaged, and can’t be the story,” Lavoie says, adding, “Unless that’s what your story is about—a cop who did it differently, or is trying to reform the system from within.”
The whole piece is worth a read, and now I’m wondering…how many of the shows I just recommended above are follow this article’s recommendations? Guess I’ll have to put my headphones back on and see. — EB
Thursday on Best Evidence: Take those headphones back off, I have some longreads for you.