The best thing about podcasts is that you can listen to them while you’re doing other things: Washing dishes, going for a run, coloring, and especially, driving. But there are so many podcasts these days that it’s simply impossible to keep up. There are new ones debuting all the time, and it’s hard to know whether they deserve a spot in your feed.
Every week, we highlight new and returning podcasts we couldn’t put down. Whether you’re looking for the latest and greatest or you’re just dipping your toe into the vast ocean of podcasts, we’ll find you something worth listening to. This week, we’ve got podcasts about superheroes, growing up, trains, a book of etiquette, and a URO (unidentified rolling object).
In an episode of The Simpsons, an Itchy and Scratchy fan wonders why, when the cartoon mouse plays the cat’s skeleton like a xylophone and strikes the same rib twice, it makes two different tones. Homer dismisses the question with aplomb.
It’s just the kind of query Dr. Shane Campbell-Staton might tackle and genuinely try to answer. The evolutionary biologist and assistant professor at UCLA hosts Biology of Superheroes, where he discusses Spider-Man’s web and the Flash’s super speed. Campbell-Staton is relatively new to comics, but his co-host, Arien Darby, works for Warner Bros. and has been a fan of DC and Marvel for years. The first episode of season two is all about Wakanda. It turns out there’s a lot of biomimicry in the tech and costumes for Black Panther. Since T’Challa doesn’t have the padding and thick fur that help muffle a big cat’s paws, his sister has to invent some silent sneakers for him, emphasis on the sneak.
“I’m no good in the winter,” Bill Pullman’s character says melancholically in Igby Goes Down. “These gray days, they’re so sad.” Throughout the movie, Igby senses he’s inherited mental illness from his father and believes he’ll be institutionalized one day, as well.
It’s one of the films James Kim references as inspiration for his fiction podcast, Moonface. The others are Ghost World and Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Those are all about high schoolers, but Kim’s protagonist graduated a decade ago. In a lot of ways, he’s still grappling with the insecurities found in these teen flicks. Paul (Joel Kim Booster) feels stuck. He’s living at home with his mom, who mostly speaks Korean, a language he never learned. She also doesn’t know her son is gay. Kim says he took a lot of inspiration from his own life for the podcast, and it especially shows in the dialogue, which feels very real sometimes, like you’re eavesdropping on someone’s life.
Trains are the settings for some classic murder mysteries, including at least three from Agatha Christie and one involving Elizabeth Peters’ Vicky Bliss. The characters are bound for the French Riviera, a village in England, London, and Memphis — the one in Egypt, not Tennessee. Strangers on a Train takes place in the U.S., but these days Americans don’t ride the railways as often as those in many other countries.
In the 1990s, Wisconsin’s Republican governor Tommy Thompson wanted to change that. The man loved trains. With the “Midwest Rail Initiative,” Thompson hoped to link nine states, carrying passengers from Minnesota to Ohio, with lines shooting out to Nebraska, Michigan, and Missouri. Some portions of the high-speed rail would have trains traveling at 110 miles per hour. Thompson planned on having parts of it up and running in Wisconsin by 2003. As reporters Bridgit Bowden and Shawn Johnson explain in Derailed, myriad factors tanked the plan.
“Politeness forbids any display of resentment,” Florence Hartley wrote in 1872’s The Ladies’ Book of Etiquette, and Manual of Politeness. “The polished surface throws back the arrow.” In 2019, though, many women know sometimes people prey on politeness.
Aseloka Smith was excited when she found The Colored Girl Beautiful, a 1916 etiquette book written by Emma Azalia Hackley. The singer and activist had a remarkable career and traveled extensively, teaching thousands to sing with a method she developed. In the book, Smith found lessons that resonated with her and others that carry a different weight a hundred years later. The podcast is Smith’s exploration of Hackley and her words, as well as discussions with other African-American women about their experiences growing up with expectations shaped by their identities.
In September, the U.S. Navy confirmed the authenticity of unidentified flying object videos Blink-182’s Tom DeLonge released. Not a sentence I thought I’d be writing back in 1999 when the band released “Aliens Exist,” but here we are. Of course, UFO doesn’t automatically equal extraterrestrial.
This isn’t the first time the Navy’s gotten involved in a mysterious object. When her son found an unusual ball on Gerri Betz’s property in 1974, it grabbed a lot of people’s attention. The metal sphere would vibrate and move in unexpected ways. If you shook it, it sounded like a spent lightbulb. It wasn’t just reporters who showed up; the Navy came to x-ray it. Now the ball is missing, and the Betz family isn’t talking. Host Lindsey Kilbride wants to find it — and find out what it is.
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