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Marie Tanksley’s podcast recommendations for November 1


“A Piece of Work”

Abbi Jacobson knocks it out of the park with “A Piece of Work,” an approachable art podcast done for WNYC Studios in partnership with Museum of Modern Art. Fans of Broad City might recognize Jacobson as one of the show’s main characters, whose wit and charm carry over into real life. She’s an art major, but it’s clear her talented voice was made for radio.

One of the best parts about the show is that it is always so refreshing to hear someone speak about something they clearly adore. For most of us, art can seem intimidating, but this funny, down-to-earth pod says art is for everyone. It doesn’t matter if you dislike art or work full time in an art museum, Jacobson makes informative and comprehensive cases for all sorts of it. Her passion for creating a podcast about art that educates while it captivates in a way that isn’t pretentious is the sort of attitude the subject needs.

The show gives an inside look into MoMA with the help of some of Jacobson’s friends. She brings them along to gauge their reactions to some of the works she discusses. It’s interesting to hear the different impressions and perspectives. Guests include Hannibal Buress, RuPaul, and Questlove, to name a few. Everything they have to say is useful and adds to the presentation, unlike what I’ve seen in other shows.

I’ll admit I was skeptical about how hearing people talk about art would go with just the audio, but this 10-part series is out to prove anyone with the same doubts wrong. While it’s completely possible to enjoy the show without viewing the art, a quick Google search gives you much more to appreciate. For an easy way to make sure you’re looking at the right piece, I recommend checking out the show’s website.

Apple Podcasts has 4.8 out of 5 stars, 1,343 ratings and 278 written reviews. Episodes are about 20 minutes long, commercials are average for the length and music was minimal. You can listen to the episodes out of order, with slight nods to guests from older episodes being the only building information.

OwlTail can’t generate the most popular episodes for this short series, but my favorites were “Samantha Irby Gets High on Light” and “How Questlove Learned to Love Silence.”

No trigger warnings for this one. I’m sure it’s obvious by the length of the review that I loved this show. It is definitely in the running for my podcast of the year. I would give it 10/5 stars if I could.

Similar Pods: “The Art History Babes,” “ArtCurious,” “The Week in Art” and (bonus YouTube recommendation) “The Art Assignment.”

“Based on a True Story”

“Based on a True Story” (BOATS for short) is an educational mix of movies and history. Host, Dan LeFebvre, looks at how movies that are based on true stories stack up against real-life events. The amount of research he puts into fact-checking everything in each film is mad.

I really enjoyed hearing the tales behind movies I’ve seen and getting motivated to check out ones I haven’t. The podcast covers a wide selection of movies, including both popular and lesser-known films. I really liked the April Fools episodes that look at how well the “Lord of the Rings” movies follow the books. These aren’t like the normal episodes, but that’s the point.

Another fun segment that happens in every show is a game of two truths and a lie based on the episode’s events. Listeners in a hurry will appreciate the show’s no-nonsense agenda. Earlier episodes were about an hour long, but the last several have had guests and often reached two and a half hours. If that length sounds hard to tackle, I recommend starting at the beginning or with a movie you have strong feelings about.

Apple Podcasts has 4.5 average stars, 391 ratings and 91 written reviews. So far there are 193 episodes, with new ones coming out biweekly. OwlTail’s most popular episodes are “Titanic” and “The Greatest Showman.” My favorites have been “Seabiscuit” and “Zodiac.”

Production quality is perfect, which is exceptional when you know this is an indie show. Guests on the show were relatively rare until episode 134, at which point they became the norm. I really like how the host cites all of his sources and includes transcripts on his website. There’s also a newsletter. The music is of a somber piano but fitting for the historical perspective of the show.

Trigger warnings differ for every movie covered.

Similar pods: “Our Fake History,” “Movie Crush” and “Something True”

“Newton’s Law”

“Newton’s Law” is a brand-new eight-part series from iHeartRadio and a perfect blend of history, true crime and action. It follows the lesser-known occupation of famous British scientist Issac Newton (yes, that Issac Newton) as lawman and Warden of the Mint. While the position doesn’t exist anymore, this podcast makes it feel more real than ever as it brings to life late 17th century culture and customs.

For example, did you know that coffee shops were the social media of the day? Lords (ladies were rarely permitted) would print pamphlets to distribute there as well as gather to talk politics or gossip. It might seem like this time is a world away from us today, but the story told by this show is one we are all familiar with: the law vs. the criminal.

Newton takes the job, thinking it will be cake and give him plenty of time for his other interests. However, he has his work cut out for him tackling the rampant counterfeiting trend and more when he meets William Chaloner, a legend among the underbelly of the country. The two led a relationship filled with cunning back-and-forth that leads to you wanting to know when Newton will get his man.

Apple Podcasts has 4.7 stars and 101 ratings. Linda Rodriguez McRobbie is both host and researcher for the show, a dual role she pulls off seamlessly. Episodes are, on average, about 42 minutes long with the series needing to be listened to in order. The script is narrative with some voiceovers by Newton in character. Music is a fitting alternative groove by Elise McCoy; you’ll want to check it out.

Similar Pods: “Blood on the Tracks: The John Lennon Story,” “American History Tellers” and “Finding Fred”

“Cats of The Wild”

Big cat lovers rejoice! The 2020 podcast “Cats of the Wild” is one of my new favorites in the nature/educational genre. Created and hosted by Andy Varvel, the show spans countries and continents to cover the conservation of wild cats.

With the help of guest experts, it doesn’t just cover cat facts (although there are plenty) but goes into the bigger picture of their ecosystems and human perceptions of them. I’ve learned a ton from this podcast, not just of far-away foreign places but cats in my own backyard. Without spoiling anything, I’ll say “The Value of The Mountain Lion” episode debunked and highlighted a bunch of information I thought was well understood but turns out is still being ascertained.

The show has 4.4 stars, 18 ratings and 2 written reviews on Apple Podcasts, which is surprising because I really don’t know how you could give this podcast anything but 5 stars. The show is current, with new episodes coming out monthly, usually around the 18th. So far there are 18 episodes, which are on average 22 minutes long. I also really love the artwork and web design for the podcast, which is bright and poppy. Background music is well-chosen and edited. Kid-Friendly.

Similar Pods: “I Know Dino,” “Ologies” and “The Animal Law”

“Lost Hills”

Paradise isn’t what it seems in this “Lost Hills” podcast about a series of shootings that left one man dead in the serene setting of Malibu Creek State Park. In 2018 Tristan Beaudette was shot and killed while sleeping in his tent on a weekend camping trip with his two very young daughters.

The podcast is upfront. The sheriff’s department has made an arrest, but is the one behind bars really the one responsible? The show is definitely road trip material, as it kept me guessing throughout the eight episodes. The only difference between it and most podcasts that inquire about if a crime is truly solved or not is that by the end of this one my mind was all but made up. This gave it a sort of fulfillment that you don’t always get in true crime.

Hosted by Dana Goodyear of The New Yorker, the pod is produced by Western Sound and Pushkin Industries. Its 4.1 stars out of 1,600 ratings acknowledge the mixed reception it received from the true-crime podcast community. While some feel the case was pretty cut-and-dry from the beginning, others (myself included) appreciated seeing the bigger picture and whole thorough story of what was happening in Malibu.

Bad cops, a possible cover-up, eccentric locals: You couldn’t write this stuff. If you did, people would say it’s too over-the-top, but in the city of Malibu, it was reality. My only gripe is that I truly hate when reporters press people who don’t want to talk. I understand it may be a part of the job, but it’s not my favorite thing to hear, even if it’s brief in one episode of this pod.

The show is finished, with the average length of episodes at about 39 minutes long and a bonus episode released just last month. Sound production is great, even through part of a helicopter ride.

Trigger warnings for violence and family loss.

Similar Pods: “What Happened to Annie?,” “Untold: The Daniel Morgan Murder” and “Who Killed Emma?”

“Mockery Manor”

This podcast is a mystery fiction from the U.K. about two twin sisters, JJ and Bette, starting their first summer jobs at the Mockery Manor Amusement Park in 1989. The two try to make the best of it while enduring pretty intense family trauma and all the drama that comes with living and working with a group of other teens. The rocky start is made even more complicated when a series of mysterious deaths occur, leading the sisters to a sinister secret within the park.

Written by Lindsay Sharman and produced by Long Cat Media, the comedic indie pod from 2019 is a professional-sounding production. So much so it was nominated in the Best Fiction Podcast category of the British Podcast Awards. One of my favorite things about it was how well the show handled suspense; carefully giving information away but not dragging the episode count out is the sign of a well-done pod.

The network’s other shows include “Madame Magenta” and “The Ballad of Anne & Mary,” which is a musical. Both pods are well regarded. Apple Podcasts has a fitting 5 stars for the show with 97 ratings and 19 written reviews. The first 11-part season ended in the fall of 2020 without any cliffhangers, but a second is confirmed to be in the works. Each episode was about 21 minutes long, and the voice actors were extremely talented.

Songs, theme songs, and themed commercials were a little much for my ears, but I just skip through them. I don’t think they present enough to consider this a musical podcast, but for those who enjoyed them, creators have assembled them all into a combined playlist, which can be found in a bonus episode.

Trigger warnings for murder.

Similar Pods: “The Milkman of St. Gaff’s,” “Rockfish Gap” and “Soft Voice’

“SciShow Tangents”

“SciShow Tangents” is one of my favorite science podcasts along with “Ologies” and “Science Vs.” The hosts of this Complexly and WNYC Studios show won’t be strangers to those familiar with big names in the science communication world. Hank Green, Ceri Riley, Stefan Chin and Sam Schultz have all made a name for themselves, mostly on the hugely popular YouTube series “SciShow.” The SciShow network has videos on all sorts of science topics including psychology, space and many more.

Fans of the podcast “Holy F*****g Science” will also recognize the cast and be excited they’ve decided to come back, albeit in a slightly different format. In SciShow Tangents, there are regularly occurring segments in the themed episodes such as picking a quick creative tagline and reading out poems the team takes turns writing.

The majority of the show is a variety of science, fact-based games the group plays, tallying up points to determine the winner at the end. Interesting tangents come up, but if it’s deemed uninteresting by the rest of the cast, points will be deducted from your total. You can tell the whole crew has been friends for some time, and the lighthearted competition is made very entertaining by everyone trying to one-up each other’s facts.

Apple Podcasts has a solid 4.9-star rating. With 900 ratings and 251 written reviews, that kind of positive recognition is something you don’t see every day. Having heard all the episodes twice, I still forget the answer almost every time, so the re-listen value is high.

Another part of the show I really love is how each of them specializes in a certain field but collectively respects knowledge, so while they might not all be experts in a subject, they hold the correct answer with the highest importance. It makes it really easy for laymen and amateur science enthusiasts to enjoy. There’s also usually a Twitter poll they post that’s fun to play along with.

So far there are 130 episodes, all about 32 minutes long, and new ones come out every Tuesday. My favorite episodes have been “Bees,” “Museums” and “Healing.” OwlTail has the most popular episodes as “Fear Month: Decomposition!,” “Light” and “Money” as the top three. Music seems to be a variation on the SciShow theme song. Commercial breaks are short, relevant and a bit entertaining.

A swear warning for anyone who doesn’t prefer it.

Similar Pods: “Science Vs,” “Ologies with Alie Ward” and “Science Friday”

Marie Tanksley, KCSU’s podcast director, can be reached at