best of 2023

The Best Podcasts of 2023

Despite a tough year for the industry, the podcast world remains vast in its pleasures.

Photo-Illustration: Franziska Barczyk
Photo-Illustration: Franziska Barczyk

Let’s not sugarcoat this: 2023 has been a bad year for the podcast world. The economic turbulence that rocked the broader media industry was felt especially hard by the young podcast medium: successive waves of layoffs and cancellations, celebrity-talent megadeals that exploded in very public fashion, and the bill came due for all the exorbitant speculative spending that defined the business over the past few years.

But it would be misguided to think that this sustained downturn is ultimately anything existential. People want this stuff, people want to make this stuff, and the only real question is how best to construct an ecosystem that fairly harnesses the energy of both those things. The podcast market may or may not have hit rock bottom at this writing, but once it finally does, the rebuilding will begin.

In any case, no matter how long that takes, there’s always great, interesting, fun, impactful, and memorable stuff being made by all sorts of people in the meantime. This year welcomed strong narrative releases from established teams and newer voices alike. We saw the full return of a veteran, and a long-running operation rising to meet the cultural moment. We continue to enjoy an independent space that never fails to be endlessly interesting. And of course, there is the increasing intersection between podcasting and the greater entertainment ecosystem. We used to think that was supposed to mean Hollywood-size fiction podcasts, but what it really turned out to be was podcast-size reality television.

Brutal as 2023 has been, the podcast ecosystem remains vast in its values and pleasures. Here, I’ve tried to build a list that reflects that.


The Scandoval Podcast-Industrial Complex

Yes, this is a weird pick, but we must embrace the truth. The messy, sprawling, and spectacular reality-television drama that was #Scandoval was undoubtedly one of the year’s largest and undeniably pervasive pop-culture moments — somewhere below Kelce-Swift but above the Gwyneth Ski Trial. And a great deal of the experience played out beyond the confines of Vanderpump Rules, not just through warring social-media tête-à-têtes but also by way of a cottage industry of podcasts that helped blur the line between reality and reality-television performance. Among those ranks in the Affair of the Lightning Bolt Necklace: Scheananigans With Scheana Shay, Give Them Lala, Straight Up With Stassi, and, of course, Howie Mandel’s pod, which inexplicably served as Tom Sandoval’s platform of choice to air out his side of the breakup with longtime partner Ariana Madix. Even if you don’t care a lick about Vanderpump Rules or Sandoval’s ’stache, the Scandoval Podcast-Industrial Complex is nevertheless illustrative of something very real about the way culture exists right now: There is no such thing as metatext any more.


Popcast (New York Times)

What if I told you that the best New York Times podcast wasn’t The Daily, but a show in which the critic Jon Caramanica grapples with the perpetually shifting youth cultures of the pop-music world despite his own climbing age? It’s true. Popcast has been around for eons, but these days, the show has evolved into a sharper weekly operation, routinely delivering interesting conversations about a slice of whatever’s happening in the music world at any given moment. Two factors inform Popcast’s appearance on this list. The first is just how busy a year it’s been for cultural narratives around music, between Taylor Swift’s juggernaut Eras tour, the various controversies and curiosities around modern country music, and, uh, The Idol, among other things. The second is a shot of innovation: The show recently introduced the delicious Popcast (Deluxe), a spinoff video podcast series where Caramanica and music reporter Joe Coscarelli regularly convene for a roundtable discussion on culture writ large. What’s particularly interesting is the video of it all, reflecting a push by some corners of podcasting to integrate more fully with the digital video ecosystem — and tap into that industry’s more established wealth.


My Perfect Console (Independent)

2023 was a particularly interesting year in the relationship between video games and what we could perhaps blithely call “mainstream culture.” Consider, for starters, all those video-game adaptations that achieved success in more traditional forms of media (The Super Mario Bros. Movie, The Last of Us, etc). There’s also the growing awareness around the economic prominence of the games industry, which is only going to become more central to the health of global entertainment conglomerates. But the reality is that video games have long been central to so many people’s media diets, and this is the principal idea that animates Simon Parkin’s My Perfect Console. Taking a page from the BBC’s Desert Island Discs, this lovely indie project sees Parkins interview people about the games that are canonically influential to their lives. The guest list includes both figures from the wider gaming world (designers, theorists, academics, executives) and notable individuals with strong affinities for the medium (comedians, writers, Ronan Farrow), all of whom reflect on video games as artistic objects. My Perfect Console is just less than a year old, but it’s already shaping up to be a vibrant historical record of the medium.


Louder Than a Riot: Season Two (NPR)

There is very little quite like Louder Than a Riot. Led by hosts Sidney Madden and Rodney Carmichael, the NPR Music podcast made its debut back in 2020 with a season that explored how hip-hop has been historically marginalized within American culture. But when it returned for a second season earlier this spring, something unexpected happened: The series inverted the frame to explore how hip-hop can be a marginalizing force within itself, pushing against women, queerness, and forms of masculinity that don’t conform to traditional machismo. Topics in this sophomore season run the gamut, ranging from the Tory Lanez trial to the groundbreaking importance of MC Sha-Rock to the rise of the “bad bitch.” Sadly, this might be all we get from Louder Than a Riot, which was among the shows canceled during NPR’s recent wave of cost-cutting and shift toward producing only podcasts that can doubly work for broader audiences on the radio — a seeming retrenchment of creative ambition that marks a real loss for the public-radio system as a theoretical alternate to corporate-owned media.


Skyline Drive (Kaleidoscope and iHeartMedia)

Photo: iHeart

It would have been enough if Skyline Drive was just a fun romp through the popularity of astrology in supposedly secular Western countries with thoughtful consideration of how America’s multicultural composition fits into the trend. Which it is! But Mangesh Hattikudur, previously the host of Part-Time Genius and part of the HowStuffWorks brain trust, has a lot more on his mind. The podcast really comes to life when it reveals itself to be an elegant personal journal of sorts, evolving into a striking reflection on the experience of being a second-generation immigrant. Somewhat provocatively, Hattikudur juxtaposes non-western religiosity with modern astrological interest as a way into asking a few difficult questions: How does one relate to their parents and the culture of their roots, and what is to be passed down to their own kids? As a sweetener, Skyline Drive also features some killer music supervision, courtesy of Hattikudur himself.


Murder on Sex Island (Independent)

Photo: Murder on Sex Island Podcast

Bless Jo Firestone’s quiet, mad genius. Produced as an audiobook, distributed as a podcast, and eventually released in parallel as a self-published book, Murder on Sex Island is, yes, a murder-mystery that’s every bit as weird, charming, and idiosyncratic as the comedian herself. The story follows a divorced ex-social worker who’s trying to lead a double life as a glamorous private investigator as she’s contracted by a hit reality show called Sex Island to solve the disappearance of one of its cast members. The catch? She has to solve the case while appearing on the show. Hilarious and completely brilliant, Murder on Sex Island is the bloodstained love letter to reality-dating television I’ve wanted for years.

Read Nicholas Quah’s interview with Jo Firestone.


If Books Could Kill (Independent)

Photo: IBCK Premium

If Books Could Kill debuted last November, but the indie podcast has become so ubiquitous it feels like it’s been around forever. Here, in the style of Maintenance Phase, Michael Hobbes has partnered with Peter Shamshiri (who also hosts the leftist Supreme Court podcast 5-4) to interrogate many of the seminal texts that have come to define the “popular nonfiction” book publishing category over the decades — and, by extension, mainstream intellectual thought. Targets run the gamut, from so-called productivity bibles like The 4-Hour Workweek to pseudo-sociology like Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus to totemic works of various prominent New York Times Opinion writers. In recent months, the duo have steadily crept into more contemporary concerns, like highbrow media’s excessive fascination with campus controversies. If Books Could Kill is cutting and ambitious criticism of the nexus linking publishing, media, and elite power, made eminently accessible by its form and format.


Search Engine (PJ Vogt, Audacy, and Jigsaw Productions)

After a tumultuous exit from Gimlet Media in 2021, PJ Vogt’s full return to podcasting is a sorely welcome one. His Search Engine is a weekly narrative show broadly in the tradition of This American Life, and its conceit revives the old Reply All-ean spirit of pursuing seemingly banal inquiries that are actually plugged into a deeper, grander curiosity on how we exist. The scope is intentionally expansive, setting the show up as a vessel for the long haul where it may evolve along the creative team’s shifting interests, which over the past year seemed to primarily cluster around drugs, housing policy, and digital life. Search Engine is further intriguing as an example of how narrative shows, facing existential hurdles, can adapt to the calcifying shape of the contemporary podcast industry: by combining the metabolism of old radio with the potential of new-world narrative podcasts.

Read Vulture’s full review of Search Engine.


You Didn’t See Nothin (USG Audio and the Invisible Institute)

There’s a mythical quality to the premise of You Didn’t See Nothin. The injustice of a horrible crime leads a man to the practice of investigative journalism, with which he becomes disenchanted and ultimately leaves altogether due to the force of its constraints around the production of justice. Years later, he returns to that instigating story, looking to settle a spiritual score. The man in question is the Chicago writer Yohance Lacour, and the story he revisits is a hate crime that took place in the late nineties: a young Black boy, Lenard Clark, beaten into a coma by a gang of white teenagers for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. You Didn’t See Nothin is a fluid amalgam of different things: memoir, social history, investigative journalism, spirited litigation, and a creative experiment. Lacour is a fantastic writer-narrator — sharp, funny, potent, unexpected — and he gives himself to the project in striking, revealing ways.


The Retrievals (Serial Productions with the New York Times)

The Retrievals tackles a real-life nightmare. Not long ago, a nurse at the Yale Fertility Center in New Haven, Connecticut, was found to have routinely swapped out fentanyl with saline, thus subjecting patients to experiencing the full pain of egg-retrieval procedures. In more conventional hands, this might’ve been a series that fixates on the lurid nature of the crime and just carries itself as a procedural recounting of the legal aftermath. But here, Susan Burton and Serial Productions go for something more subtle, more complicated. Assuming an empathetic but detached position, the series presents the patients as a kind of Greek chorus, frequently rotating through their perspectives to emphasize the structural dismissal of women’s pain as the center of this tale. Burton and company are unsparing in their critiques of the system, but they also leave room at the edges to poke at even thornier subject matter, like the sometimes-destructive tension between bodily autonomy and motherhood itself. Brilliant, unforgettable, and the best thing I’ve heard all year.

Read Nicholas Quah’s interview with Susan Burton.

Other Podcast Highlights From This Year

Throughout the year, Vulture maintained a “Best Podcasts of the Year (So Far)” list. Many of those selections appear above in our top ten. Below, the rest of the shows that stood out to them this year, presented in order of release date.

Ghost Story (Wondery and Pineapple Street Studios)

Graphic: Pineapple Street Studios/Wondery

The hook of Ghost Story can be challenging to efficiently describe. I’ve taken to calling it a “conceptual turducken”: a secret family history stuffed into a murder mystery stuffed into the titular ghost story. But let’s unpack that. A series of coincidences leads Tristan Redman, a skeptical British journalist, to investigate a haunting he once personally experienced as a teenager, which he would eventually learn is linked to a murder that’s almost a hundred years old … and that also turns out to be intimately connected to his wife’s family tree. This is no ordinary family either, as it happens to include a famous philosopher (her father, Jonathan Dancy) and a Hollywood actor (her brother Hugh Dancy, of Hannibal and Downton Abbey fame). What transpires is a puzzle-box journey whose pleasures are grounded in simply not knowing where this thing might go, and which comes packaged with an intriguing sense of personal stakes: To what extent will Redman risk the wrath of his in-laws for the sake of learning the truth behind a good story?

The Big Dig (WGBH)

Photo: WGBH

As Frank Sobotka would say, we used to make shit in this country. Led by Ian Coss, who made 2021’s Forever Is a Long Time, this audio docuseries offers a meaty look into the history of the “Big Dig,” an infamous Boston-area highway megaproject that’s come to be a maligned symbol of government inefficiency despite ultimately being successful in driving its intended outcomes. It can be difficult to make a story about infrastructure compelling — especially for audiences who aren’t wonks or civic nerds — but Coss structurally achieves this through a series of character portraits reflecting different aspects of the politics around American infrastructure: activists, planners, etc. This is the exact right time to make this series, too. As the country, and the world, faces a future threatened by climate change that’s going to need more large-scale infrastructure projects, it’s prudent to develop a firm grasp on how political pushback develops, how they can be navigated … and how initiatives like these can fail.

Magnificent Jerk (Apple TV+ and Pineapple Street Studios)

Photo: Apple TV+

On a recent trip home to Oakland, Maya Lin Sugarman stumbles upon the knowledge that her uncle, Galen Yuen, not only possessed a colorful history as part of a gang that was previously unknown to her, but that he would later put his life experience into a screenplay that actually got made. But her uncle’s intent to honestly capture how it felt coming of age in that world didn’t survive Hollywood. Called Crazy Six, the 1997 direct-to-video movie relocated the story from Oakland Chinatown to Eastern Europe and cast Rob Lowe in the lead role. Working with the producer James Kim, Sugarman sets off to learn more about what happened to her uncle and his work, and the resulting work is a delightfully strange creation that extracts nuance around questions of whitewashing and the complicated act of preserving one’s own story.

Starting a Riot (OPB)

Photo: NPR

An impassioned question animates Fabi Reyna’s series revisiting the history of the Riot Grrrl movement: Where’s my place in the revolution? Typified by bands like Bikini Kill and Sleater-Kinney, the subculture left a lasting mark for its advancement of feminism via punk rock. But it was also the product of a specific time and place — the Pacific Northwest of the early ’90s. As a result, the predominant faces embodying Riot Grrrl ended up mostly being white. In six brisk episodes, Reyna grapples with the people who were drawn to the movement but felt pushed to the margins at the time, and examines how Riot Grrrl’s complicated legacy continues to shape bands, both within and beyond the United States, to this day.

You’re Welcome With Zoe Nightingale (Independent)

You’re Welcome appears to have been around for a long time, publishing off and on from as far back as 2013, but it only truly came to my attention through a shout-out on another show. (Such is the nature of podcast discovery: Word of mouth still reigns supreme.) And you know what? It’s kind of incredible. Billed as a “satirical improv comedy show whose goal is to find and share peoples stories, from all over the world,” You’re Welcome is an anarchic, free-flowing, and thoroughly unself-conscious interview pod hosted by a New York event producer named Zoe Nightingale. She makes the show by basically whipping out a recording app whenever in the company of idiosyncratic people and pretty much lets the conversation rip. Sure, that might sound like a parody of what a podcast can be, but in truth, it’s what podcasts should sound like. Nightingale’s commitment to her curiosity and love of strange individuals is electrifying.

Dreamtown: The Story of Adelanto (Crooked Media)

Reported and hosted by David Weinberg (Welcome to L.A., The Superhero Complex), Dreamtown tells the strange story of what happened when a tiny city in the California desert tried to revive its struggling economy by transforming itself into a legal-marijuana hub. Things went well for a while until they didn’t. Within a few years, federal investigators became a constant presence in the city’s milieu, and several local politicians found themselves in very hot legal water. There’s been a string of podcasts in recent years that fixate on the drama and oddities of small-city lore — think Crooked City, Boomtown, California City — so much so that I’ve come to perceive them within a subgenre of their own: Let’s call it civic noir. Dreamtown is a great addition to the mix, equal parts fascinating, sad, frustrating, and in the end, hopeful.

Slow Burn: Becoming Justice Thomas (Slate) and More Perfect (WNYC Studios)

There’s a peculiarity to how Supreme Court justices, who are among the most powerful individuals in American life, tend to attain a certain unknowability in the broader consciousness the longer they serve on the bench. This could well be a natural outcome: The more you are eminently visible in the public eye, the less you are actually seen. That’s a pickle, of course, because these are individuals who radically shape American life on the regular.

Justice Clarence Thomas, currently the longest-serving justice on the bench, is perhaps the most pressing modern example of this, a stature amplified by the juxtaposition of his impactful conservatism and the bubbling controversies surrounding him. His opacity is the principal target in Slow Burn’s spectacular eighth season, which features the return of Joel Anderson as host and lead reporter. Anderson cuts straight through the many scandals and narratives surrounding the justice to develop a deeper understanding of the man himself, playing into what has always been Slow Burn’s signature enterprise: elucidating the present by examining the past in its full context.

“Becoming Justice Thomas” arrived around the same time as the return of More Perfect, a Radiolab spinoff focused on the Supreme Court that’s been on hiatus for several years. Now hosted by Julia Longoria, the revival is fine for the most part, though it does suffer from not having fully adapted the feel of its Radiolab-ian roots — which feels better suited for the Obama era — to the darker, more apocalyptic feeling of contemporary American politics. But the new season has a particularly strong episode in “Clarence X,” which tackles similar territory as “Becoming Justice Thomas” and thus makes for a pretty good pairing.

The 13th Step (New Hampshire Public Radio)

The story with The 13th Step begins long before the podcast actually came out. Produced out of the same unit responsible for Bear Brook, the series is an expansion of New Hampshire Public Radio reporter Lauren Chooljian’s exposé from a year earlier, in which she investigated several tips alleging sexual misconduct on the part of Eric Spofford, the founder of the state’s largest network of addiction treatment and rehabilitation centers. Chooljian has proceeded to dig deeper into the story, and a lot has happened: She faced physical threats, legal retribution, and there had been acts of vandalism targeting her home, along with the homes of her relatives and her editor. Now the series is out, and it offers a sober, sweeping look at issues of systemic abuse — not just in the one rehab network, but in the addiction treatment industry writ large.

This American Life: “Jane Doe

Art: Chanel Miller

This American Life reached 800 episodes this year, and its octocentennial installment is a big one. In a bid to explore how things have (or haven’t) changed five years after Me Too, senior producer Miki Meek tells the story of a teenage legislative intern in Idaho who reported that a state rep, Aaron von Ehlinger, had raped her and the traumatizing effects of the public ethics hearing that took place afterward. Meek has been on a tear lately; “Jane Doe” follows another Idaho-set piece from March, about an OB/GYN’s decision to leave the state after it passed some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country.

Scriptnotes: WGA-Strike Sidecasts (Independent)

John August and Craig Mazin’s screenwriting podcast — now 12 years old! — has long been a reliable educational resource for the craft, and it has taken on further duties during the current WGA strike. August is a member of the guild’s negotiating committee, and parallel to that, he’s been publishing short “sidecasts” tailored to explaining the perspective and certain technical details behind the strike. What’s a “neutral gate”? Are general meetings still okay to take? Combined with dispatches capturing the vibe of various picket lines, these sidecasts are shaping up to be a fascinating document of this particular moment in Hollywood history.

Stiffed (iHeartMedia and Crooked Media)

Photo: iHeartmedia and Crooked

This limited nonfiction series covers a curious and under-remembered episode in magazine history: That moment in the ’70s when the founder of Penthouse, Bob Guccione, created an erotic magazine for women called Viva that featured a feminist staff — perhaps inadvertently on Guccione’s part. Stiffed primarily hangs on a recounting of the era’s sexual politics, but the series also doubles as a look into how the sausage gets made within magazines. We’re treated to a picture of how an intellectual culture is formed within an institution, how work gets done despite tension between founder and workers, and how internal conflicts of ideas connect to a historical moment. For culture and media nerds, it’s great stuff. Stiffed is hosted by the writer and editor Jennifer Romolini and features a production team that includes Megan Donis, Sydney Rapp, and Mary Knauf.

Holy Week (The Atlantic)

This follow-up to 2020’s Floodlines is a magisterial effort to reckon with the aborted history of the Civil Rights Movement. Hosted once again by Vann R. Newkirk II, working with producers Jocelyn Frank and Ethan Brooks, The Atlantic’s sophomore narrative-podcast series reconsiders the week of uprisings immediately following Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in 1968 — in doing so, resurfacing the connective tissue between the incomplete political projects of the era and those in the present. Holy Week elegantly illustrates the nature of history as a process and how the past is a story that never truly ends.

Read Nicholas Quah’s full review of Holy Week.

Next Year in Moscow (The Economist)

Over the past year or so, The Economist has steadily emerged as a dependable publisher of fantastic audio reportage on what can be stodgily described as topics pertaining to “global affairs and international relations.” Last year’s The Prince, for example, served up a holistic look into the modern political context around Chinese premier Xi Jinping, and with Next Year in Moscow, the magazine has constructed a piercing look into the lives of Russians who have gone into exile following their opposition to their country’s invasion of Ukraine. Led by Arkady Ostrovsky, the series offers a sober but heartfelt look into a specific iteration of political conscience, resistance, and imagination.

The Coldest Case in Laramie (Serial Productions)

Photo: Serial

I wasn’t particularly taken by The Coldest Case in Laramie, which has the distinction of being the first Serial Productions series hosted by a New York Times reporter and is easily the grimmest entry in the studio’s canon thus far. But it’s still an utterly compelling piece of nonfiction crime storytelling. The investigative podcast revolves around an unsolved murder case from host Kim Barker’s childhood that heats up again when a long-suspected ex cop is finally charged for the crime decades later based on seemingly surefire evidence — only for those charges to be inexplicably dropped shortly after. Questions about the unreliability of memory, the subjectivity of truth, and the gravitational pull of closure arise.

Read Nicholas Quah’s full review of The Coldest Case in Laramie.

She Wants More (iHeartMedia)

Jo Piazza’s kaleidoscopic series about the many forms and motivations of female infidelity is a little bit Death, Sex & Money, a little bit Esther Perel, and entirely intriguing. Drawing heavily from the 1993 ethnography A Passion for More, by Susan Shapiro Barash, who appears on the show as a talking head, She Wants More assembles a collection of interviews with a variety of women — cutting across race, class, and all around the country — discussing their experiences with extramarital relationships, often for the first time. What transpires is primarily a treatise about the limitations of traditional marriage, but Piazza’s conversations also nudge toward a grand question: What do you really want out of your life?

Read Nicholas Quah’s interview with Jo Piazza.

Drifting Off With Joe Pera (Independent)

Photo: Chestnut Walnut

Joe Pera Talks With You might not be getting any more seasons, but those with serious Pera withdrawal can thank their lucky stars for Drifting Off With Joe Pera, which imports the Buffalo native’s style of quiet observational comedy into the form of a sleep podcast. Created with frequent collaborator Ryan Dann and produced with Grant Farsi, Drifting Off is an effective example of shifting mediums. Far from being an afterthought, here is a project that clearly understands the mechanics of its principal talent and takes its chosen format seriously. I’m writing this blurb on the basis of just its first monthly episode, but I’m already convinced it’s one of the best podcasts from this year.

Read Nicholas Quah’s interview with Joe Pera and Ryan Dann.

Svetlana! Svetlana! (iHeartMedia)

Photo: iHeart

You can hold a lot against Svetlana! Svetlana! The podcast — by the playwright Dan Kitrosser, about the eventful life of Joseph Stalin’s daughter, Svetlana Iosifovna Alliluyeva — is at turns messy, obnoxious, and all over the place. At the same time, it’s messy, obnoxious, and all over the place; which is to say, for the right person, it’s spectacularly free and fun. We seem to be in a boomlet of fanciful, individually anchored narrative-podcast projects — funded to some noticeable extent by iHeartMedia — that are reminiscent of the kinds of general-interest nonfiction books that used to populate the best-seller list. (See: City of the Rails, Unread, the assorted works of Jamie Loftus, and so on.) Listen, I’d be perfectly happy to get hundreds more of these.

Mallwalkin’ (Pistol Shrimps Radio)

Photo: Pistol Shrimps Radio

Hear me out. Mallwalkin’ is exactly what it sounds like: each episode sees Matt Gourley and Mark McConville, both longtime comedy-podcast regulars of Superego and OG Earwolf lineage, walking around malls in the greater Los Angeles area with audio equipment in hand as they talk through their impressions of the place until they run out of mall or management kicks them out for violating recording policies. It’s likely too shaggy and self-indulgent for most listeners; it’s also the perfect thing to leave on in the background when you just wanna zone out with, oh I don’t know, a blunt. Yeah, I can be high-falutin about this pick and make a whole argument about how Mallwalkin’ carries forward a beautiful micro-tradition of independent podcasts that serve as naturalistic windows into the actual world (see also: Walking, Field Recordings) — and I would be goddamned right — but really, Mallwalkin’ is just plain ambling fun.

Unreformed: The Story of the Alabama Industrial School for Negro Children (iHeartMedia)

Photo: iHeart

The criminal-justice reporter Josie Duffy Rice travels to Mount Meigs, an unincorporated community outside Montgomery, Alabama, where she looks into the history of a juvenile-reform school once known as the Alabama Industrial School for Negro Children. Originally created around the turn of the 20th century to provide Black children with an alternative to actual prison, the institution took a sordid turn when it was sold to the state in 1911, after which it developed a history of abusing many of the children held within its system. Patiently reported, Unreformed joins an emerging subgenre of recent audio docs focused on state-run institutions designed to subjugate vulnerable populations — see also, among others, Gimlet Media’s Stolen: Surviving St. Michael’s and the CBC’s Kuper Island.

The Turning: Room of Mirrors (Rococo Punch and iHeartMedia)

Photo: iHeart

The Turning’s debut season spun together a story of Mother Teresa’s Catholic order, the Missionaries of Charity, told through the perspective of women who had left the group after suffering under the weight of its religious demands. The series was notable for its delicate touch, constructing a picture of that insular world’s stark realities while honoring the specific nature of the women’s faith. Host Erika Lantz and the team returned earlier this year with an equally sensitive look at another insular world containing somewhat similar power dynamics: that of modern American ballet, which was defined in large part by a singular figure, George Balanchine, and the elite company of female dancers he built as co-founder of the New York City Ballet.

In the Scenes Behind Plain Sight (Radiotopia)

Photo: Radiotopia

Created by Ian Chillag and Mike Danforth, who previously partnered up on the criminally underrated How To Do Everything, In the Scenes Behind Plain Sight nominally takes the shape of a weekly nostalgia recap podcast — recalling the bursting subgenre epitomized by shows like Office Girls and Back to the Beach — with the twist being they’re revisiting a hit mid-aughts TV show that never existed. It’s a silly, quiet, smart-dumb premise befitting a silly, quiet, often idiotically brilliant show that gives Chillag and Danforth expansive license to parody a broad range of things, not least of which is podcasting itself. Maybe it’s too inside baseball, but I don’t particularly care.

The Best Podcasts of 2023