Getting 10,000 steps a day still on your 2023 wish list? One of these addictive podcasts just might help.
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The Lazarus Heist
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
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.