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Recommendation Engine: Cult, Comedy and Conspiracy

This week's releases investigate misinformation, meditation cults, and 6th century double-entendre

10:00 AM GMT on January 31, 2024

    Welcome to this week's Recommendation Engine from Podcast Rex, rounding up the week in podcast reviews. Get this in an email each week by signing up to be a supporter of Podcast Rex from £3.99.

    Apple Podcasts New & Noteworthy:

    Spotify New & 🔥

    Fiona Sturges in the FT

    • Exposed: The Ashley Madison Hack - “While the podcast goes deep into the data breach and its implications, it also looks at the human impact, approaching Ashley Madison’s users in the context of a society that was moving online and experimenting with new modes of interaction. For some people, offering themselves up to cheat online is to engage in a fantasy where they can portray themselves as younger, richer or more beautiful. But for others, including those who felt unseen or unloved by partners, it offers a chance to be their true selves.”

    Patricia Nicol in the Sunday Times:

    • Why Do You Hate Me? - No one can entirely insulate themselves against mistruths mushrooming on social media, warns the podcast’s host Marianna Spring, the BBC’s misinformation and social media correspondent. In this election year, we will all have to be vigilant. 

    James Marriott in the Times:

    • Ian Hislop’s Oldest Jokes - “He is disarmingly willing to be amused. An aspect of humour not mentioned is that things can become funny when someone with a genuinely comic sensibility points out that they are funny. Hislop is an excellent inspirer of laughter. When he judges (as he does of one Pictish carving) ‘that’s funny’, you have to defer.”
    • Close Readings: On Satire - “You pay for a big hamper of books and a series of podcast episodes (you can pay less for just the podcast) and spend the year doing a sort of informal university course. It’s a lovely idea.”

    Miranda Sawyer in the Observer

    • Exposed: The Ashley Madison Hack - “Exposed starts to run out of steam. Plus, the script is weirdly moralistic. “I know what you’re thinking,” says narrator Nélisse, but I really wasn’t. Perhaps this virtuous finger-wagging is because it’s a North American show, but it becomes irritating very quickly.
    • Making Sense of Social Housing - “This is an interesting, optimistic show, and at least Lloyds is bothering to put its money where the government won’t. Saved by the bank, who’d have thought it.”
    • Ian Hislop’s Oldest Jokes - “The first episode, about punning, is a bit dull, but the next two, which concern themselves with double entendres and jokes about people being drunk, are a complete joy.”

    The Guardian’s Hear Here column recommends

    • Queer the Music - “Jake Shears is warm, thoughtful and a good listener as he teams up with Cabaret co-star Self Esteem to talk about queerness and performing live.”
    • Offstage: Inside The X Factor - “The heady days of early reality TV are always rich pickings.”
    • Why Do You Hate Me? - “Marianna Spring is a frequent target for trolls, but she’s also a fearless reporter who isn’t afraid to confront them.”
    • The Raven - “When Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis (pictured above centre) and his entourage got into an altercation outside an Atlanta club after the 2000 Super Bowl, two men were stabbed to death.”
    • Tom Dean Medal Machine - “The Team GB swimmer is attempting to win a record-breaking five gold medals at this year’s Olympics in Paris – and he’s making a podcast about it, as a sort of training diary.”

    And in the Guardian’s Guide newsletter

    • Dissident at the Doorstep - “Subterfuge, political intrigue and – curveball – Christian Bale getting punched in the face.”

    Highlights from the Radio Times

    • Past Present Future - “Exploring the curious thing that is the United Kingdom and the chances of its coming apart in the near future.”
    • The Louis Theroux Podcast - “A seemingly inexhaustible list of celebs.”
    • Talking Pictures - “Shooting the breeze in intimate settings with the creme de la creme of cinema.”
    • Camlann - “This nine-part post-apocalyptic comedy drama is set in Wales and has been heavily influenced by Arthurian legend.”

    Heat’s Top of the Pods

    Scott Bryan in Great British Podcasts

    • Untold: The Retreat - “A chilling new investigation by the Financial Times looking at Goenka network, an exclusive and intensive meditation retreat.”
    • The Louis Theroux Podcast - “Similar to his TV series, the guests that are invited onto his podcast are an eclectic mix.”
    • ITV News: Talking Politics - “Pure analysis on the latest polling and what the different political parties might be thinking and strategising.”
    • Small Ways to Live Well - “Delightful and warm.”

    In PodPod’s Earworms column

    • John Kennedy, Tape Notes: Desperately Seeking Paul - “The world's first Paul Weller fan podcast.”
    • Adrian Bradley, Tortoise: Nice Try! - “Genuinely changed some of my shopping habits.”
    • Elena Guthrie, History Hit: Dissect - “Series 6 is dedicated to Beyonce's Lemonade.”
    • Jack Suddaby, Beautiful Stranger: Love and Radio - “Weird and wonderful and incredibly immersive.”
    • Justine Hendry, Ultimate Content: The Rest Is Football - “Accessible, engaging and entertaining.”

    And on Podcast Rex, I’ve been recommending the best film podcasts to keep you in the know this awards season.

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