The Best New Podcasts of 2022 By Todd Spangler, Cynthia Littleton, William Earl, Pat Saperstein
Lend me an ear! The surge in podcasting continued apace this year, yielding a bumper crop of top-shelf audio programming. Variety staff picked 20 podcasts — spanning drama, comedy, true crime and docuseries, interview shows and more — from among the thousands that came out this year that were our favorite listens.
“The Best New Podcasts”
Note that these selections are podcasts that debuted during 2022. That means we didn’t consider popular, long-running (and very good!) shows such as “This American Life,” the New York Times’ “The Daily,” “SmartLess” and “Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend.”
The Sunshine Place (Cadence13)
Anyone who grew up in California in the 1970s and ’80s knew someone who had ties to Synanon. The organization that did pioneering work to help heroin addicts in the 1960s by the late ’70s was a full-blown cult built around Synanon founder Charles Dederich, a reformed alcoholic.
Over eight episodes “The Sunshine Place” podcast offers an insightful deep dive into the history of Synanon from the perspective of Sari Crawford, a woman whose parents were both involved in the group at the highest levels. Producers C13 Originals and Team Downey did their homework, turning up vintage audio and video that captures Synanon group-think and activities at their weirdest. Listen at this link.
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the video archives Podcast With Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avary (Stitcher)
Mileage may vary with a podcast consisting of notorious motormouth Quentin Tarantino and his longtime BFF Roger Avary chatting about a bunch of seemingly random movies from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s.
But spending some time in the mind of an artist like QT is a joy, whether it’s hearing why no one makes horror movies like 1997’s “The Relic” anymore or going deep on Brian De Palma with guests like Eli Roth. It’s a shaggy, casual affair, but it’s great fun to feel like you’re getting coffee after seeing a B movie at a rundown cinema with the smartest, quirkiest film nerds you know. Listen at this link.
HeidiWorld: The Heidi Fleiss Story (iHeartPodcasts)
L.A. writer Molly Lambert revisits one of the most sensationalized stories of the 1990s: how local party girl and doctor’s daughter Heidi Fleiss became the “madam to the stars” with high-flying clients from the movie biz before being busted. It’s a fascinating snapshot of Hollywood at the dawn of the reality TV era, but more significant,
it’s also a sobering dissection of how Fleiss was painted as a shameful public pariah and criminal for merely providing a service to consenting adults. Though the public waited breathlessly for her “little black book” to be revealed, her male clients escaped publicity while her own life crumpled. Listen at this link.
Jordan Klepper Fingers the Conspiracy (Comedy Central & iHeartPodcasts)
On “The Daily Show,” correspondent Jordan Klepper has the unenviable task of regularly attending Trump rallies and interviewing the former president’s fanatical base. At the events, he became increasingly aware of conspiracy theories passed among his faithful, including QAnon loyalists who believe in the existence of an elite leftist cabal that drinks baby blood.
While it’s easy to write off these theories as fringe nonsense, they’re unfortunately widespread — and sometimes amplified by Twitter’s new overlord, Elon Musk. This podcast breaks down each of these theories, as Klepper is joined by academics to trace their surprising histories, with enough jokes to keep things from getting too bleak. Listen at this link.
Welcome to Provincetown (Stitcher/Room Tone/Rococo Punch)
Listeners are invited to Provincetown, aka P-town, the “two-street beach town at the end of a sand spit” and the famous gay vacation destination on Massachusetts’ Cape Cod. The series takes a reality TV approach to classic audio storytelling: Recorded in 2021,
host Mitra Kaboli (a producer whose projects include “The Heart” and ESPN’s “30 for 30” podcasts) follows the summertime sex lives and relationships of seven locals — unpacking the seaside drama in memorable fashion. The show (10 episodes plus two bonus follow-up segments) is co-produced by Stitcher’s Witness Docs unit, Rococo Punch and Room Tone. Listen at this link.
The Trojan Horse Affair (Serial)
From the team at the New York Times’ Serial Productions comes a captivating case study in modern mass hysteria and misinformation. Brian Reed (“S-Town”) and doctor-turned-reporter Hamza Syed revisit a supposed Islamic plot to take over the schools in Hamza’s hometown of Birmingham, England, a feverish fantasy that sprang from the appearance of a mysterious letter in 2014. In this intricately documented series, the duo discover (of course) that there’s more than meets the eye to this weird story that panicked a nation. Listen at this link.
all there Is With Anderson Cooper (CNN)
How do people cope with the death of someone they love? The CNN anchor, still grieving over the 2019 death of his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt, employs his masterful interviewing skills and empathy to address the topic directly in a series of raw conversations with others (including Stephen Colbert, Molly Shannon and Laurie Anderson) who also have experienced what once felt like an unspeakable loss. Listen at this link.
Club Random With Bill Maher (independent)
Yes, he’s a cornball whose politics have turned from “subversive” to “old man yells on his front porch,” but Bill Maher remains a great talker. His new podcast is a Marc Maron-esque chat with a seemingly… random assortment of celebrities, and the only rule is they can’t talk politics (they always do, but that’s beside the point). Loosened up by weed,
Maher asks interesting questions from the vantage of someone who doesn’t give a shit about stepping in something uncomfortable, which makes for riveting conversations with A-listers like Chevy Chase, Mike Tyson and Kid Rock. Maher’s contrarian streak creates an interesting push and pull, as he’s fascinated by his guests even when he doesn’t agree with them at all, which is a rarity in most modern echo chambers. Listen at this link.
Fiasco: The AIDS Crisis (Prologue Projects & Audible)
In this searing and heartbreaking series, host leon Neyfakh revisits the early years of the AIDS epidemic in the ’80s in the U.S. when very little was known about the disease — and it was seen as a death sentence for those who contracted it. The podcast gets to the heart of what finally made Americans and their elected officials care about treating those afflicted with AIDS. Listen at this link.
Vibe Check (Stitcher)
Black LGBTQ culture is a powerful force behind mainstream trends — but rarely are the voices of this community in the foreground of cultural commentary. In this weekly podcast series, journalist-podcaster Sam Sanders, poet-writer Saeed Jones and theater producer Zach Stafford use their group chat as the basis for a dissection of news, entertainment and more through a Black, queer lens. The three friends engage in lively (and often funny) debate while preserving an uplifting camaraderie. Listen at this link.
Fly on the Wall With Dana Carvey and David Spade (Cadence13)
It’s like a rewatch podcast for “Saturday Night Live” — except that you don’t need to have seen any of the episodes of the enduring late-night show to appreciate the hilarious rapport between former cast members Carvey and Spade. On the show (which has been renewed for a second season in 2023), the duo host various “SNL” alums and musical guests for extended 30 Rock reminiscing.
Their guests have included Lorne Michaels, Chevy Chase, Paul McCartney, Chris Rock, Mike Myers, Tom Hanks, Tina Fey, Bill Hader, Martin Short, Rob Lowe, John Mulaney, Laraine Newman, Ben Stiller, Bob Odenkirk, Jimmy Fallon and Conan O’Brien. Listen at this link.
Batman Unburied (Warner Bros. & Spotify Studios)
You don’t have to be a card-carrying comics fan to geek out on “Batman Unburied,” which digs up a very different origin story for the Caped Crusader. In this telling, Bruce Wayne, voiced by gifted actor Winston Duke, lives in an alternate universe in which he’s not an orphan, a setup that provides a fresh backdrop for delving into the character’s psyche.
Wayne/Batman also is presented as a Black man instead of the scion of wealthy white privilege. Produced exclusively for Spotify, “Batman Unburied” also features unsettling soundscapes and effects that hearken back to old radio plays. Listen at this link.
Trials to Triumphs (OWN)
With an agile blend of humor, inspiration and relatability, Ashley Blaine Featherson-Jenkins — star of both the movie and subsequent Netflix series “Dear White People” — gets her guests to open up about turning troubles into victories. Guests have included Kelly Rowland, Robin Thede, Michelle Williams, Amber Riley, Danielle Brooks and Estelle. Listen at this link.
Back to the Beach With Kristin and Stephen (Dear Media)
Need a dose of millennial cable TV nostalgia? Dunzo! Follow along with Kristin Cavallari and Stephen Colletti, stars of teen reality show “Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County,” as they watch the MTV show together for the first time in almost two decades — providing fresh insight into their love triangle that engulfed the first two seasons, including a guest appearance by the third side of the triangle, former castmate Lauren Conrad. Listen at this link.
Maejor Frequency (Audible & Audio Up)
Can sounds heal you physically? That’s the intriguing premise of this series from music producer and artist Maejor (Brandon Green). Over the 10-episode series, he travels to 10 different locales across the globe, learning about the restorative powers of music tuned to the frequency of 432 Hz (rather than 440 Hz, the long-held tuning standard for the musical note A). We don’t know if it can really cure cancer, but Maejor’s journey is certainly a musical trip. Listen at this link.
Normal Gossip (Defector Media)
Psst — have you heard this tea? Well, no, you haven’t: “Normal Gossip” is concerned with the tittle-tattle of ordinary Janes and Joes (which listeners are invited to submit). These turn out to be stories about odd and sometimes mildly scandalous incidents involving anonymous subjects, based on hearsay, so it doesn’t matter of they’re true or not.
It’s a concept that host Kelsey McKinney uses to expert comedic effect, as she and her guests chew the fat over the minor predicaments of ordinary mortals, and more broadly consider the dynamics of dishing. Ultimately, McKinney angles to prove her thesis that gossip about strangers is a kind of social glue that binds us together. Listen at this link.
Teaching Texas (Wonder Media Network)
Today’s culture war over education is rooted in the Lone Star State — going back more than 60 years. That’s the setup for this absorbing docuseries, which details how a battle over textbooks in Texas touched off in the early 1960s has dictated what kids across America learn in the classroom. Listen at this link.
Crazy funny and brutally raw, this scripted comedy stars Kym Whitley, who created the audio series alongside Lena Waithe. In “Kym,” Whitley plays a fictionalized version of herself — a single, middle-age stand-up comic and actor trying to make it in Hollywood while raising a young boy who was (unexpectedly) left in her care. The cast includes Cynthia Erivo, Sherri Shepherd, David A. Arnold, Jess Hilarious and Jenifer Lewis, with original music composed by Wyclef Jean. Listen at this link.
Father Wants Us Dead (NJ.com)
A gripping true-crime series from start to finish (starting with the title), this podcast covers one of New Jersey’s most famous and shocking murder cases. “Father Wants Us Dead” documents how John List, a “mild-mannered accountant and Sunday school teacher,” killed his wife, mother and three children in 1971 in suburban Westfield, N.J. — and then vanished for 18 years. List assumed a new identity in Denver before eventually being apprehended and convicted for his crimes.
During their investigation into the case, reporters Rebecca Everett and Jessica Remo interviewed nearly 50 sources and reviewed hundreds of pages of documents obtained from the FBI, local police and prosecutors. The real-life story has captured renewed interest after the release of Ryan Murphy’s hit “The Watcher” on Netflix, whose titular character is based on List. Listen at this link.
Twin Flames (Wondery)
What happens when the quest for true love turns into a dangerous obsession? The concept of “Twin Flames,” referring to two people who are (supposedly) destined to be with each other and no one else for all eternity, has been promoted by YouTube-famous couple Jeff and Shaleia Ayan in their online spirituality school, Twin Flames Universe.
But the “school” may have been more like a cult: Some followers say they were encouraged to cut off ties with friends and family — and to claim their one-and-only Twin Flame by any means necessary. The tale is narrated by Stephanie Beatriz, who voiced Mirabel in Disney’s “Encanto” and starred in “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.” Listen at this link.