Stream 15 Audio Drama Podcasts & Let Stories Get You Through the Doldrums of COVID-19 Isolation

At my home now, we constantly tell stories: to distract, soothe, entertain—telling and retelling, collaboratively authoring over meals, listening to a ton of story podcasts. These activities took up a good part of the day before all hell broke loose and schools shut down. Now they guide us from morning to night as we try to imagine other worlds, better worlds, than the one we’re living in at present. We are painting on the walls of our cave, so to speak, with brave and fearful images, while outside, confusion sets in.

Lest anyone think this is kid stuff, it most assuredly is not. Narrative coherence seems particularly important for healthy human functioning. We may grow to appreciate greater levels of complexity and moral ambiguity, it’s true. But the desire to experience reality as something with arcs, rather than erratic and disturbing non-sequiturs, remains strong. Experimental fiction proves so unsettling because it defies acceptable notions of cause and consequence.




From the tales told by plague-displaced aristocrats in Boccaccio’s Decameron to the radio dramas that entertained families sheltering in place during the Blitz to our own podcast-saturated coronavirus media landscape…. Stories told well and often have a healing effect on the distresses psyches of those trapped in world-historical dramas. “While stories might not protect you from a virus,” writes Andre Spicer at New Statesman, “they can protect you from the ill feelings which epidemics generate.”

In addition to advice offered throughout history—by many of Boccaccio’s contemporaries, for example, who urged story and song to lift plague-weary spirits—“dozens of studies” by psychologists have shown “the impact storytelling has on our health.” Telling and hearing stories gives us language we may lack to describe experience. We can communicate and analyze painful emotions through metaphors and characterization, rather than too-personal confession. We can experience a sense of kinship with those who have felt similarly.

Perhaps this last function is most important in the midst of catastrophes that isolate people from each other. As reality refuses to conform to a sense of appropriate scope, as cartoon villains destroy all proportion and probability, empathy fatigue can start to set in. Through the art of storytelling, we might learn we don't have to share other people's backgrounds, beliefs, and interests to understand their motivations and care about what happens to them.

We can also learn to start small, with just a few people, instead of the whole world. Short fiction brings unthinkable abstractions—the death tolls in wars and plagues—to a manageable emotional scale. Rather than showing us how we might defeat, avoid, or escape invisible antagonists like viral pandemics, stories illustrate how people can behave well or badly in extreme, inhuman circumstances.

Below, find a series of audio dramas, both fiction and non, in podcast form—many featuring celebrity voices—to help you in your journey through our narratively exhausting times. Parents and caregivers likely already find themselves immersed in stories much of the day. Yet adults, whether they’re raising kids or not, need storytime too—maybe especially when the stories we believed about the world stop making sense.

Alice Isn’t Dead - Apple - Spotify - Google - Web Site - A truck driver searches across America for the wife she had long assumed was dead. In the course of her search, she will encounter not-quite-human serial murderers, towns literally lost in time, and a conspiracy that goes way beyond one missing woman.

Blackout - Apple - Spotify - Google - Academy Award winner Rami Malek stars in this apocalyptic thriller as a small-town radio DJ fighting to protect his family and community after the power grid goes down nationwide, upending modern civilization.

LifeAfter/The Message - Apple - Spotify - Google - The Message and its sequel, LifeAfter, take listeners on journeys to the limits of technology. In The Message, an alien transmission from decades ago becomes an urgent puzzle with life or death consequences. In LifeAfter, Ross, a low-level employee at the FBI, spends his days conversing online with his wife Charlie – who died eight months ago. But the technology behind this digital resurrection leads Ross down a dangerous path that threatens his job, his own life, and maybe even the world. Winner of the Cannes Gold Lion.

Homecoming - Apple - Spotify - Google - Homecoming centers on a caseworker at an experimental facility, her ambitious supervisor, and a soldier eager to rejoin civilian life — presented in an enigmatic collage of telephone calls, therapy sessions, and overheard conversations. Starring Catherine Keener, Oscar Isaac, David Schwimmer, David Cross, Amy Sedaris, Michael Cera, Mercedes Ruehl, Alia Shawkat, Chris Gethard, and Spike Jonze.

Limetown - Apple - Spotify - Google - Web Site - The premise: Ten years ago, over three hundred men, women and children disappeared from a small town in Tennessee, never to be heard from again. In this podcast, American Public Radio reporter Lia Haddock asks the question once more, "What happened to the people of Limetown?"

Motherhacker - Apple - Spotify - Google - Web Site - The plot: Bridget’s life is a series of dropped calls. With a gift for gab, an ex-husband in rehab, and down to her last dollar, Bridget’s life takes a desperate turn when she starts vishing over the phone for a shady identity theft ring in order to support her family.

Passenger List - Apple - Spotify - Google - Web Site - Atlantic Flight 702 has disappeared mid-flight between London and New York with 256 passengers on board. Kaitlin Le (Kelly Marie Tran), a college student whose twin brother vanished with the flight, is determined to uncover the truth.

Sandra - Apple - Spotify - Web Site - Co-stars Kristen Wiig, Alia Shawkat, and Ethan Hawke. Here's the plot: Helen’s always dreamed of ditching her hometown, so when she lands a job at the company that makes Sandra, everyone's favorite A.I., she figures it’s the next-best thing. But working behind the curtain isn’t quite the escape from reality that Helen expected.

The Angel of Vine - Apple - Spotify - Google - Web Site - A present day journalist uncovers the audio tapes of a 1950s private eye who cracked the greatest unsolved murder mystery Hollywood has ever known... and didn’t tell a soul. Starring Joe Manganiello, Alfred Molina, Constance Zimmer, Alan Tudyk, Camilla Luddington, and more.

The Bright Sessions - Apple - Spotify - Google - Web Site - A science fiction podcast that follows a group of therapy patients. But these are not your typical patients - each has a unique supernatural ability. The show documents their struggles and discoveries as well as the motivations of their mysterious therapist, Dr. Bright.

The Orbiting Human Circus - Apple - Spotify - Google - Discover a wondrously surreal world of magic, music, and mystery. This immersive, cinematic audio spectacle follows the adventures of a lonely, stage-struck janitor who is drawn into the larger-than-life universe of the Orbiting Human Circus, a fantastical, wildly popular radio show broadcast from the top of the Eiffel Tower. WNYC Studios presents a special director’s cut of this joyous, moving break from reality. Starring John Cameron Mitchell, Julian Koster, Tim Robbins, Drew Callander, Susannah Flood, and featuring Mandy Patinkin and Charlie Day.

The Truth - Apple - Spotify - Google - Web Site - The Truth makes movies for your ears. They're short stories that are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, and always intriguing. Every story is different, but they all take you to unexpected places using only sound. If you're new, some good starting places are: Silvia's Blood, That's Democracy, Moon Graffiti, Tape Delay, or whatever's most recent. Listening with headphones is encouraged!

The Walk - Apple - Spotify - "Dystopian thriller, The Walk, is a tale of mistaken identity, terrorism, and a life-or-death mission to walk across Scotland. But the format of this story is — unusual. The Walk is an immersive fiction podcast, and the creators want you to listen to it while walking. It begins with a terrorist attack at a train station; you are the protagonist, known only as Walker, and the police think you're a member of a shadowy terror group called The Burn." "Author Naomi Alderman, whose latest novel was a bestseller called The Power, is the creator of The Walk."

We're Alive - Apple - Spotify - Google - An award-wining audio drama, originally released in podcast form. Its story follows a large group of survivors of a zombie apocalypse in downtown Los Angeles, California.

Wolf 359 - Apple - Spotify - Google - A science fiction podcast created by Gabriel Urbina. Following in the tradition of Golden Age radio dramas, Wolf 359 tells the story of a dysfunctional space station crew orbiting the star Wolf 359 on a deep space survey mission.

These podcasts can be found in the new collection, 125 Great Podcasts to Enrich Your Mind.

Related Content:

Pandemic Literature: A Meta-List of the Books You Should Read in Coronavirus Quarantine

How Can Boccaccio’s 14th Century Decameron Help Us Live Through COVID-19?

1,000 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free 

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Does Local News Deserve More of Your Attention? Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #44 w/ Deion Broxton of Bison Meme Fame

Is news entertainment? To what extent has local news consumption decreased given the alternatives? Deion is an on-air reporter for NBC Montana who was recently memified for fleeing amusingly from some bison. He joins your hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt to discuss what we might be missing out on, the uses and abuses of news coverage, reality vs. media portrayals, and the current status of "trusted news reporter" in our collective consciousness.

Here are a few relevant articles to peruse:

Read that story about the murder that Deion refers to. Deion's bison encounter has been covered on the Today Show, Time, Huffington Post, etc. Follow him @DeionNBCMT.

This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.

Decoding Korean Cinema: A Pretty Much Pop Culture Podcast (ep. 43)

We're seeing a lot of Korean media in American popular culture nowadays, what with Parasite winning the Oscar for best picture and K-Pop and K-Dramas finding an increasing American cult following. This is not an accident: The Korean government has as an explicit goal the growth of "soft power" through exported cultural products. This Korean Wave (Hallyu) was aimed foremost at Asia but has reached us as well. Suzie Hyun-jung Oh joins your hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt to explore the context for this spread and figure out what exactly feels foreign to American audiences about Korean media.

This is our first attempt to get at the zeitgeist of another culture to better understand its media, and the primary focus of our immersion (the part of the wave that's not aimed at teens) was film: In addition to the work of Bong Joon-ho, we touch on The Handmaiden, A Train to Busan, The Burning, A Taxi Driver, Lucid Dreaming, Among the Gods, and others.

We also talk a little about Korean teen cultural products, family life and religion in Korea, the aesthetic of cuteness, M*A*S*H, and whether Americans will read subtitles.

Some articles and other resources that helped us:

This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.

Star Trek: World-Building Over Generations—Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #42

The world-wide Tribble infestation and Star Trek: Picard dropping make this an apt time to address our most philosophical sci-fi franchise. 44 years of thought experiments (with photon torpedoes!) about what it is to be human should have taught us something, and Brian Hirt, Erica Spyres, and Mark Linsenmayer along with Drew Jackson (Erica's husband) reflect on what makes a Star Trek story, world building over generations in Gene Roddenberry's land, canon you don't remember vs. something that just hasn't been shown on screen, Trek vs. Wars, and step-children like The Orville and Galaxy Quest.

We have gathered a heap of articles for further cogitation:

For some suggested episodes to catch up on, there are lists online recommending those from the original series and from the franchise overall. There are also fan creations like these original series episodes, a Star Trek musical, and of course the Improvised Star Trek podcast. For some relevant words from Rod Roddenberry, check out episode 55 of the Mission Log podcast.

Learn more at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.

 

Soundtrack Composer Craig Wedren (Zoey’s Playlist, Glow, Shrill) Joins Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #41 on TV Musicals

Craig was the front-man of the brainy punk band Shudder to Think from the mid-'80s through the '90s and has created music for many TV shows and films. He joins your hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt due to his involvement with the current NBC musical dramedy Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist, which along with Glee, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Nashville, Rise, etc. represents a new era of musicals as mainstream TV.

Why are shows like this being created at this point in our cultural history? These shows all use some narrative explanation for why there's singing (i.e. the songs are diagetic) instead of just having the characters sing as in a classic musical or a film like The Greatest Showman or La La Land. Most of these also make heavy use of cover tunes and/or parodies in a way that stage musicals usually don't. And of course there's often a heavy use of autotune and more star-based casting than is the norm for stage productions.

Some articles to provide an overview of the topic:

Note that Craig doesn't create the actual songs that the cast members sing for Zoey's, just the interstitial music, but he's written heaps of songs and is in a great position to talk with us about everything from Cop Rock to Mama Mia. We also touch on musical episodes in Community and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Bohemian Rhapsody, karaoke in film, Adam Schlesinger, Stop Making Sense (also see David Byrne's mobile band on Colbert) and a weird Netflix lip-sync drama called Soundtrack,

Listen to Craig talk about his own tunes on Nakedly Examined Music and watch his daily Sabbath Sessions at facebook.com/craigwedrenmusic or on YouTube. Hear the song he wrote for School of Rock.

Learn more at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #40 on #MeToo Depictions in TV and Film


These stories are all heavily watched, which means they're entertaining: The 2019 film Bombshell (about the predations of Roger Ailes), Apple TV's The Morning Show (about a disgraced anchor), and Netflix's Unbelievable (about reporting rape) and 13 Reasons Why (about teen suicide resulting from sexual assault). But what's "entertaining" about sexual assault and harassment? What makes for a sensitive as opposed to a sensationalized portrayal?

Erica, Mark, and Brian consider which stories work and why. How much divergence from true events is allowable in Bombshell or Confirmation (about Anita Hill)? By having characters interpret their situations (Erica gives an example from the show Sex Education), are writers essentially telling audiences how to feel about their own experiences? Should certain depictions be ruled out as potentially triggering, or is it good to "bring to light" whatever terrible things actually happen in the world? Should shows delve into the psychology of the perpetrator (maybe even treating him as a protagonist), or must the message be wholly and unambiguously about the victim? 

Art is about risk-taking and capturing difficult ambiguities; this doesn't sound much like a public service message. So what responsibility to do show creators have to consult professionals about how to present difficult topics like this?

We drew on some articles to help us look at these questions:

Here's that weird scene where Jennifer Aniston and Billy Crudup sing on The Morning Show.

If this topic is too depressing, check out our episode #39 from last week about what to watch on TV during quarantine:

Learn more at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.

The Power of Costuming in Film: Pretty Much Pop #38 with Whitney Anne Adams (Happy Death Day, Great Gatsby)

How does clothing mesh with set design, cinematography, sound design, etc. to create the mood in a film? Whitney designed for and dressed leads and crowds on The Great Gatsby, the Happy Death Day films and several indie flicks. She joins Erica, Mark and Brian to discuss how clothes on screen relate to clothes in life, designing vs. curating, historic vs. modern vs. genre, when costumes get distracting, her current TV and film picks for notable costuming, and how an interest in (or total obliviousness to) clothes affects the watching experience.

Read a few interviews with Whitney about her process:

More articles to make you think about costumes:

Follow Whitney on Instagram @waacostumedesign. She's also the stylist for Brian Tyree Henry (i.e. Paper Boi on Atlanta). Some of the indie films she's worked on that we bring up include Piercing, The Eyes of My Mother, and Irreplaceable You.

Learn more at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.

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