Given how much the true-crime podcasting landscape has exploded since Serial debuted six years ago, having a unique hook can be key for a new entrant’s success. For True Crime & Cocktails, that hook is nostalgia — specifically the nostalgia of Unsolved Mysteries and slumber parties. Hosted by Superstore scene-stealer Lauren Ash and her cousin Christy Oxborrow, the podcast, launched last fall and now entering its second season, finds the pair throwing back boozy drinks in their pajamas as they dissect their favorite episodes of Unsolved Mysteries together.
Naturally, the idea came from a burst of quarantine inspiration.
“Late one night, we were having a drunken Zoom conversation discussing our theories, and I was like, ‘We need to record this and share it with the world!’” Ash recalls of the podcast’s inception.
The idea was so enticing, Ash decided to put her other podcast, Giving It Up for Less, on hiatus to focus on the weekly Unsolved Mysteries deep dive with Oxborrow. Fitting into the “chatting with your friends” subgenre, True Crime & Cocktails sits alongside the likes of My Favorite Murder in tone — though Ash confesses she has listened only to the darker series, like Serial, Dirty John, and the CBC’s Uncover. “As somebody who works in comedy, I gravitate to the very serious, dramatic things in my consumption of media,” she says.
On the show, the drinks flow freely — the unofficial cocktail is the Canadian Palm Bay, or the DIY version Ash made in L.A. — and toward the end of an episode, things get looser. This all adds to the True Crime & Cocktails charm (the Zoom videos are available to watch in all their unedited glory), and the pair has built a community of listeners using Instagram to showcase additional material, including personal photos.
True crime, of course, has been a cornerstone of the podcast explosion. Ash and Oxborrow are keenly aware of this and of the need to differentiate themselves in a crowded marketplace. Their relatability is a big sell. The rapport between the two — and the loose, boozy vibe — is infectious. (Ash recently went through a Dry January, but the show’s energy hasn’t waned without the wine.)
As they explain it to me, they’ve been obsessing over Unsolved Mysteries since they were young — “far too young — 6, 7 years old,” Ash says. “As a kid, I didn’t even know it was real,” Oxborrow adds. “I thought it was just a show. And then I learned it was real, and it was very terrifying.”
A sisterly bond developed during their childhood summers spent together, and stories from their past that often relate to the mystery they’re dissecting are woven throughout the episodes. “Christie has made comments that, in some ways, we’re still the people we were when we were 8,” says Ash about how little has changed (beyond the alcohol and technology factors). “There is a certain nostalgia to the idea of Unsolved Mysteries,” Ash adds. “So I think we’ve found that turning into that and embracing that in terms of representing our relationship has been helpful and fun as well.” It isn’t simply a true-crime podcast, and this level of relatable detail taps into the appeal of the “chatting with friends” podcasts.
Oxborrow, a stay-at-home mom of three, may not have the name recognition of her cousin, but this hasn’t stopped listeners from falling hard for her. “It’s also been fun for me because Christy has said on the episodes, ‘Oh, people don’t care about me,’” Ash says. “And then on Instagram, people are like, ‘Oh, we love Lauren, but you’re [Oxborrow] really the star.’ And I couldn’t be happier.” It makes sense: Oxborrow’s deep dives into cases, beyond the cursory Wikipedia and Reddit searches, are an essential component of the podcast. “I always knew she was a good researcher and a good internet sleuth, but it’s really impressive, honestly,” Ash says.
Admitting she is “nosy by nature,” Oxborrow relishes diving into rabbit holes: the white pages, social media, and Facebook, of course, but she’ll also email helicopter companies in Baltimore and obtain public medical records to build the extensive case files the pair make available to the public. Oxborrow has also begun reading forensic texts to better understand the various reports; listeners studying criminology have offered additional help. “One woman volunteered her husband, who’s a medical examiner somewhere. She’s like, ‘If you ever need someone to look over some medical notes, let me know,’” Oxborrow says. During the extended time at home, she has found great satisfaction in her researcher role, even if it leads to late bedtimes. “I love finding stuff because the show only has so much time. I live for finding that, and it just snowballs.”
Having covered the existing Netflix Unsolved Mysteries episodes (as well as additional fan-theory episodes), the two have started to expand their scope. Recently, they pivoted to a Dateline episode. (“I honestly think you could solve this one,” Ash told her co-host.) Long-term, the plan is to cover both famous and more obscure mysteries. Their first famous case was the death of Brittany Murphy — which kicked off the show’s “Famous Fatalities” second season — and this week’s episode discusses the must-see HBO Max docuseries Murder on Middle Beach. The unifying theme is cases that are yet unsolved.
No matter how dark the content can get, though, Ash and Oxborrow’s lifetime of shared history provides the kind of easy chemistry most true-crime podcasts can only dream of. “It’s not making the subject matter comedic at all, it’s more about our connection,” says Ash. “That’s what brings a lightness that I think balances the darkness of some of the episodes well.”
“It’s been such a joy, honestly, for us in a year that has been full of disaster and heartache,” says Ash about the passionate response of their community of listeners (and viewers). They have even begun taking a multiplatform approach by embracing Zoom and Instagram interactions with listeners, highlighting the fervor of a podcast’s fan base at a time when live, in-person shows are impossible.
“It’s really fun to feel like you’re a part of a community — literally all over the world — that has this shared interest and enthusiasm, and I live for it,” says Ash. “I think it’s a great silver lining for the year we’ve had.”