1.5x speed

Vaccine Scammers, Scream Queens, and 4 More Podcasts Worth Trying

Photo-Illustration: Vulture

Am I a bad art friend? Hey, I’m your bad art friend. This is 1.5x Speed, your listening guide to the podcast world, plus some other things, too.

As always, tell me what you’re listening to — especially if it’s a spooky show, seeing how it’s Halloween month! You can reach me at nicholas.quah@vulture.com or find me on Twitter.

Half-Vaxxed

A miniseries on an organic, locally sourced Theranos-style debacle. 
Available on all platforms. Listen here.

Right now, Elizabeth Holmes is standing trial in San Jose for her role as the founder of Theranos, the failed health start-up that stands as one of Silicon Valley’s largest symbols of fraud, hubris, and why you should probably never buy into the hype (like, ever). That legal drama is currently the subject of two podcasts, Bad Blood: The Final Chapter and The Dropout: Elizabeth Holmes on Trial, both of which are trying to cover the story in semi-real time through their respective feeds. Given that the trial could last for quite some time — and that a second, directly related trial, of Theranos co-conspirator Sunny Balwani, is slated to start in January — this is a story that may not conclude any time soon.

For now, allow me to direct your attention to the other side of the country, where the Philadelphia public-radio station WHYY just wrapped a miniseries on a story that, in many ways, feels like the Theranos debacle in miniature.

As the national vaccine rollout was starting to take shape earlier this year, the City of Philadelphia decided to entrust the leadership of its vaccination effort to a small upstart group called Philly Fighting COVID. This despite the fact that the (mostly white) operation was fronted by a Drexel University graduate student, Andrei Doroshin, who by his own admission had no medical experience and who led the group with the bluster and Elon Musk–admiring fervor of your standard factory-issue start-up bro. What could possibly go wrong?

Just about everything, obviously. As facilitated by Philly Fighting COVID, the rollout was the textbook definition of a shitshow: abrupt cancellations of vaccination sites, organizational breakdowns leading to prioritized groups being turned away and others slipping through, wasted doses. And just to put the icing on the cake, there were accusations that Doroshin was seen pocketing vaccines and vaccination cards for himself and his friends amid the chaos.

Hosted by WHYY health reporter Nina Feldman, who chronicled the story as it took place with Alan Yu and Max Marin, Half-Vaxxed offers a comprehensive look that pieces together the entire situation: how Philly Fighting COVID came to win the contract, what actually happened, and who suffered as a result.

The miniseries also pushes the important follow-up question: Why did the city ever think this was a good idea? And what does that say about the nature of Philadelphia governance?

The Just Enough Family

Small Stories of Big Money.
Available on all platforms. Listen here.

I didn’t expect to like The Just Enough Family as much as I did. Hosted by New Yorker staff writer Ariel Levy and produced by Melinda Shopsin, the podcast is equal parts memoir, oral history, and ghost story, tracing the rise and fall of an extremely wealthy family through the perspective of Liz Lange, the niece of the family’s patriarch, Saul Steinberg.

Steinberg made his fortune as one of the most prominent corporate raiders in the late twentieth century, becoming a fixture in the society pages along the way, until the family empire came crashing down in the late nineties for a complex cluster of reasons. The Steinberg family probably means something to people with a certain relationship to the history of New York City royalty. For what it’s worth, I went into the podcast cold, knowing close to nothing about all that, yet I was transfixed all the same. This has a lot to do with the construction of these episodes. They are captivating in their minimalism, for lack of better word. It’s an unexpectedly quiet show; there are no sonic bells and whistles. The focus is almost completely on the interview tape, which is often with as little hand-holding narration as possible. And when there is guidance from Levy, it is as a warm, active presence within the interviews themselves. Her audible engagement with what’s being told to her functions effectively breaks up what would otherwise be extended, alienating stretches of wealthy people drawing from their deep wells of privilege.

And there are a lot of those. Part of what’s really interesting about The Just Enough Family is how it dances along the line separating the alluring from the alienating, working to bring you to a sense of empathy for these people as individuals. (It’s relevant to note that Levy and Lange are good friends, a contextualizing fact that’s stated early in the series.) Yes, sure, it’s a cliché to point out that mass audiences have always been interested in the lives and lifestyles of the Über-wealthy (see: Succession, the Real Housewives franchise, etc.), but there are nevertheless stark moments when listening to the self-conceptions of the very wealthy — the way they understand themselves, how they relate to the world around them, how they rationalize the differences between themselves and others — is enough to tip me off the ledge into class rage. All this is deepened by the fact that the Steinberg family’s “fall” was only relative. These days, Lange is a wildly successful fashion entrepreneur, having sold the high-end maternity line she started in the late ’90s with low-risk capital raised from her family before the decline of their empire. She’s also the current occupant of the Grey Gardens estate.

To mortal ears, the superrich are all aliens in much the same way in the end. If The Just Enough Family captures any real sense of loss, it’s in how the lifestyle of the very rich back then, even as recently as the ’90s, feels almost quaint compared with what we’re told about the extremely rich today.

Scream, Queen!

Grisly movie murders for everyone, by everyone.
Available on all platforms. Listen here

Here’s one pick for the Halloween vibes.

The Scream, Queen! tagline tells you basically everything you need to know about this horror-movie-centric chatcast: “A podcast about scary movies from people not typically depicted in scary movies.” It’s hosted by Tommy Pico, the poet and writer some listeners may know as a co-host of the podcast Food 4 Thot, and Drea Washington, a Los Angeles–based creative and self-professed horror fanatic. If you’re looking for something energetic, whip smart, and ludicrously fun — and if you, like me, are the sort of person who’s generally interested in horror movies but lacks the intestinal fortitude to sit through them on the reg — this is the podcast for you. Scream, Queen! returned for its latest season this week with an episode mostly built around the recent Fear Street trilogy on Netflix … which, uh, I have yet to watch. (Or, you know, read the Wikipedia entries for.)

Meanwhile…

Homunculus, John Cameron Mitchell’s epic in the form of a ten-episode musical, is becoming widely available on all podcast apps starting on October 13. Originally released in 2019, the show had previously been a Luminary exclusive.

Be sure to peep Alex McElroy’s recommendation of StraightioLaba podcast hosted by two gay comedians, George Civeris and Sam Taggart, that seeks “to deepen its listeners’ understanding of an increasingly suspect phenomenon: heterosexuality.” Does it feature the whizz-bang sound effects of the podcast that inspired its title? No, but it’s still a good time.

Listening notes…

Longtime fans of Jonathan Goldstein’s Heavyweight should probably know: The show is now a Spotify exclusive, a little under three years since the platform acquired its publisher, Gimlet Media.

Lindsay Lohan, on her way to a career revival, is doing the thing where she’s making her own celebrity podcast too.

And that’s a wrap for 1.5x Speed! Hope you enjoyed it. We’re back next week, but in the meantime: Send podcast recommendations, feedback, or just say hello at nicholas.quah@vulture.com.

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Vaccine Scammers, Scream Queens, and More Podcasts to Try