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9 podcast series to binge on during the Christmas holidays (or whenever you like)

If you haven’t listened to Slow Burn yet, you have been missing out.

Image: Shutterstock/Elena Khairullina

IT’S BEEN A hectic year this year… We thought we’d get the time to catch up on all those things on our to-do list, but haven’t. 

If you’re looking for something to do that isn’t too taxing, a podcast series might be what you’re looking for. A short sharp ten-episoder may be enough to tide you over the next few days, without following you into the new year.

Here’s a list of 10 podcast series – with a beginning, a middle, and (most importantly) an end – that you can enjoy over Christmas without too much exertion. 

Learn a new thing, ponder a great mystery, or just enjoy a story well told.

1. Slow Burn

The first two series of this are as gripping as it gets. Series one tells the tale of the Watergate scandal – beginning with the jaw-dropping story of how the gossiping wife of the Attorney General had to be kept quiet.

The second series covers the Bill Clinton affair with Monica Lewinsky. It delves into the role of US civil servant Linda Tripp, and the impact of the Starr investigation into the affair, as well as the impeachment proceedings.

If you’re willing to pay, the podcast also gives you access to exclusive interviews with figures at the centre of both scandals.

Listen to the Watergate one here, and the Bill Clinton impeachment one here.

2. Stardust

Almost 40 years ago, young people from Dublin and beyond gathered at The Stardust nightclub for Valentine’s Day. After the disco dancing competition, and as the night was drawing to a close, a fire was spotted in a closed area of the venue. 

That was the start of what would become the Stardust tragedy, where 48 people died and over 200 people were wounded. 

In this TheJournal.ie series, you’ll hear from survivors, parents of the victims and first responders. You’ll also hear about the questions that people still have decades after the tragedy.

The podcast has won three major awards: this year’s Mary Raftery Prize; gold at the New York Festivals Radio Awards for Best Narrative/Documentary Podcast; and best Radio Documentary at the Celtic Media Festival.

Listen to Stardust Episode One here.

3. Revisionist History

If you don’t want to tackle an interlinked series, this is perfect for dipping into as most of the episodes are standalones.

There are five seasons of this series, but you can browse through the themes and pick one that suits you.

From Season One, Hallelujah (about music and making mistakes); the Blame Game (the psychology of driving); and the Satire Paradox are stand-out episodes.

Listen to Season 1 here.

4. My Dad Wrote A Porno

A British guy realises his dad has written a porno, so he gathers two of his friends around a mic to read it aloud and critique it.

This is a podcast in its purest and most brilliant form. Its first season went viral a few years ago – but a return to it now might be just the laugh you need. 

And in case you don’t quite get the joke, the porno is more terrible than tantalising.

The main character, Belinda Blumenthal, works at a pots and pans company that sends her around the world: “one moment Belinda is handcuffed to a trellis in a ‘medium-sized maze’, the next she’s at a charity tombola raising funds for the Asses & Donkeys Trust.”

Listen to Season 1 Episode 1 here.

5. Serial

The true crime podcast that is credited with spurring on the genre.

Here’s the hook for the first season:

It’s Baltimore, 1999. Hae Min Lee, a popular high-school senior, disappears after school one day. Six weeks later detectives arrest her classmate and ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, for her murder. He says he’s innocent – though he can’t exactly remember what he was doing on that January afternoon. But someone can. A classmate at Woodlawn High School says she knows where Adnan was. The trouble is, she’s nowhere to be found.

Listen to Season 1 Episode 1 here

6. 1619: a podcast from the New York Times

There has been quite a focus on The 1619 Project, which is a mix of articles, opinion pieces and this podcast series that tells the personal, heartfelt, and sometimes harrowing stories of the Black community’s history in the United States.

Nikole Hannah-Jones is the podcast host, and won a Pulitzer Prize for Commentary for her work on the Project; her lyrical introduction to the series makes for a nice change of pace to the attention-grabbing style of others.

Though concerns have been raised about whether the podcast gives an all-rounded view of US history, that misses the point – it’s to give a side of history that hasn’t been highlighted enough. For an Irish audience, it gives a flavour of the United States’ history with its Black community through the prisms of music, healthcare, and farming. 

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In a year where ‘Black Lives Matter’ marches were one of the most important news stories of the year, this podcast is a good starting point into understanding the US.

Listen to 1619 here.

7. West Cork

A Times of London review of this 14-episode podcast series was: “Is West Cork the new Serial? No, this murder mystery is far better.”

With investigative journalist Sam Bungey and documentarian Jennifer Forde at the helm, the podcast brings listeners through the brutal murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier in 1996, how Gardaí handled the investigation, and how the local community reacted to the story.

Listen to West Cork here (you’ll need to sign up for a free trial or a subscription to Audible to listen).

8. George Gibney

This BBC podcast into the 1994 disappearance of Ireland’s Olympic swimming coach George Gibney is not an easy listen, but after it prompted further alleged victims to come forward, it may have just become essential listening.

The series follows Irish journalist Mark Horgan as he tries to trace Gibney: travelling to Florida to where they think he lives, following a trail that he has left behind him – and urging those who may have information to come forward.

Listen to Where Is George Gibney? here.

9. The Habitat

Think: a ‘Black Mirror’ reality show mixed with philosophy, and that’s close to what The Habitat series is.

Six volunteers are secluded in an imitation Mars habitat (on a mountain in Hawaii) where they will work as imitation astronauts for one very real year.

This is to help NASA understand what life might be like on the red planet—and plan for the day when the dress rehearsals are over, and we blast off for real.

Host Lynn Levy has been chronicling this experiment from the moment the crew set foot in their habitat, communicating with them through audio diaries that detail their discoveries, their frustrations, and their evolving and devolving relationships with each other.

From those diaries, Gimlet Media has crafted an addictive serialised documentary. So good.

Listen to the seven 30-minute episodes here.

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