Six great podcasts for your summer stroll
A Rec Room pod rec special
Kia ora and welcome back to Rec Room, The Spinoff’s pop culture and entertainment newsletter. It’s a quiet week for TV as we gear up for the release of Rian Johnson’s crime-of-the week show Poker Face, starring Natasha Lyonne (TVNZ+, January 26); Joe Cornish’s adaptation of the YA series about teen ghost hunters, Lockwood & Co (Netflix, January 27); and Shrinking, the Ted Lasso co-creators’ follow-up, starring Jason Segal and Harrison Ford (Apple TV+, January 27). That brief downtime makes this a good opportunity to share a few of the podcasts I’ve been enjoying in recent weeks – here’s hoping you’ll find something interesting to add to your regular pod rotation.
- Catherine McGregor
The Lazarus Heist
James Franco and Randall Park (as Kim Jong-Un) in The Interview.
I remember exactly where I was when news broke of the massive cyberattack on entertainment giant Sony Pictures back in 2014: I was at my work desk, guiltily glued to the now-defunct website Defamer, where jaw-dropping details of the Sony Hack and its fallout would continue to drop for weeks. The Lazarus Heist, a BBC World Service production, uses the attack – apparently motivated by The Interview, a Sony comedy about a plot to kill Kim Jong-Un – as a jumping-off point for an exploration of North Korea’s state-run cybercrime operations. Ever wondered how a nation as poor as North Korea can afford a state-of-the-art nuclear weapons programme? Look no further than the hacking campaigns devised by the shadowy Lazarus Group, which has successfully stolen hundreds of millions of dollars from banks around the world. The Lazarus Heist lifts the veil on the group’s operations, and also on daily life in North Korea, where a job as a government hacker can represent a rare path out of poverty.
Sam Mullins is the comedian and journalist behind last year’s Wild Boys, a story of two teenage runaways that wound up on a number of “best of 2022” lists. He’s back with Dr Dante, the wildly entertaining tale of a famous stage hypnotist and career criminal whose life was a seemingly unbroken series of cons, scams… and attempted murder. The success or failure of narrative-heavy podcasts like Dr Dante is often down to the quality of the host, and that’s where Mullins comes into his own. With his gift for wry one-liners and skill at sketching a scene, he lifts this true story of “the greatest con man you’ve never heard of” out of the ordinary.
The Prestige TV Podcast
What makes a good TV recap podcast? Enthusiastic, knowledgeable hosts who don’t get bogged down in minutiae, and who are eloquent but not desperately in love with the sound of their own voices. Also useful: a ruthless editor to cut the in-jokes and irrelevant chit-chat. It’s a hard genre to do well, but the (Spotify-only) Prestige TV Podcast manages it. Actually, this isn’t quite a true recap podcast: some TV series have only an end-of-season review, while buzzy shows like The White Lotus get the week-by-week treatment; it’s a bit of a hodgepodge, but it works. If you like The Prestige TV Podcast, check out the many other offerings on The Ringer podcast network, including essential twice-weekly discussion show The Watch (which gets a pass on the in-jokes thing) and The Town, an insider’s look at the business of Hollywood.
Once Upon a Time at Bennington College
Like The Prestige TV Podcast, this isn’t new – it came out in 2021 – but it’s a podcast I’ve ploughed through in recent weeks. Once Upon a Time at Bennington College is the gossipy story of how a small and eccentric liberal arts college birthed the so-called literary Brat Pack, the gang of writers who would go on to produce some of the defining novels of the 1990s. Among the class of ‘86 were Donna Tartt, future author of The Secret History, and Brett Easton Ellis (American Psycho), whose debut novel Less Than Zero was written while he was still an undergraduate. The mannered vocal style of Once Upon a Time… host Lili Anolik can take some getting used to, I’ll admit. But should you be interested in the ‘80s, drugs, sex, money, celebrity or cool young people on the cusp of fame – and really, who isn’t? – this podcast is worth your time.
Partygate: The Inside Story
Boris Johnson contemplates his many, many mistakes, January 2022. (Photo: Getty Images)
After almost a decade being outdone by the craziness across the pond, British politics roared back into the spotlight last year. For observers, Partygate and its fallout was a symphony of schadenfreude, from the drip of Number 10 revelations, to the growing web of scandals (remember the MP who watched porn in the Commons?), to the end of the Boris era and the short and disastrous Liz Truss reign. I’ve been following it all religiously – shout out here to the excellent Oh God, What Now? UK politics podcast – so I already knew most of what’s covered in ITV News’ Partygate: The Inside Story. That didn’t make hearing the saga retold by journalists and inside sources any less gripping, though. British politics is sadly not as exciting as it was six months ago – but we’ll always have Partygate.
The Evaporated: Gone with the Gods
In Japan, johatsu are “the evaporated”, people who stage their own disappearance, usually in response to debt, violence or domestic abuse. In 2018, a Tokyo accountant joined the ranks of the johatsu, leaving his clients in the lurch – among them investigative journalist Jake Adelstein, author of the book Tokyo Vice. Adelstein has been writing about the Japanese criminal underworld for decades; in The Evaporated, he and co-host Shoko Plambeck use their search for the missing accountant to explore the entire johatsu phenomenon, from the role of the yakuza to the secretive companies providing “night escapes“ for people desperate to flee their own lives.
On The Spinoff Podcast Network: A reality TV star in our midst
Jane, Alex and Duncan are back, baby. In this week’s Real Pod they discuss their big news from the summer break – Jane is on the verge of TV stardom, Alex moved cities and Duncan… went camping. Plus, they look at the enormous buffet of reality TV New Zealand will be devouring in 2023.
This ‘name the movie in six seconds or less’ game is crushingly difficult and borderline addictive.
Escaped the password-sharing crackdown so far? That’s about to change, warns Netflix.
Recommended long read: The dark history of Ticketmaster.
Which reminds me, do you have your tickets to Morningside Live Block Party yet? Come hang with us!
Some amazing data viz here: Is HBO’s The Last of Us too scary for total scaredy-cats?
More on The Last of Us: how it changed gaming, strained relationships and spawned an empire.
New Zealander of the Year? Meet the Auckland girl behind the creepy viral M3GAN dance.
The nightmarish experience of having one of the most coveted handles on Instagram.
I wrote about how my attempts to raise a few monarch butterflies brought me to the edge of economic ruin.
“Monorail!” How Conan O’Brien came up with an iconic Simpsons episode
That’s it for Rec Room for this week. If you liked what you read, why not share Rec Room with your friends and whānau.