Happy new year! It’s time again for a few nonfiction podcast recommendations.
These podcasts reality TV in audio form: richly told stories that are entertaining and instructive. And one of them is actually about a reality TV show.
I listened to all three of these in December, and I hope that you enjoy them as much as I did.
When I first heard of The Rumor, I thought: I don’t care about baseball, so will I care about a single game played by the Baltimore Orioles and a rumor involving Cal Ripken Jr. and Kevin Costner?
The answer is yes. I am so glad I listened to this absolutely captivating podcast, which stays focused on its central idea yet becomes about so much more.
Sam Dingman and Mac Montandon’s reporting, both on the ground and over the phone, introduces us to fascinating characters as they investigate the rumor and its components.
There are only six episodes, and they build to a final episode that really blew me away, both because the investigation reaches an actual conclusion, and because of the conclusions the hosts draw. I won’t say any more.
Whether you’re intimately familiar with the rumor or never heard of it, I’m guessing you’ll find a lot to like here. I highly recommend it.
Lolita Podcast comes from Jamie Loftus, whose exploration of the comic strip Cathy was probably my favorite podcast of 2021.
Lolita Podcast and Aack Cast are similar in that they each unpack a familiar yet one-note cultural artifact, and helped me see it in a completely different way.
Loftus mixes deep research and expert insight with humor and wit, although there’s less of that here considering the subject matter, which involves abuse. (Loftus has content warnings so you’ll know if episodes are for you or not.)
Having never read Vladimir Nabokov’s novel, I only knew the pop culture version of Lolita, and let’s just say that’s been distorted in incredibly fucked-up ways, and I’m once again grateful to Loftus for helping me see part of pop culture in a new way.
Harsh Reality: The Story of Miriam Rivera
Miriam Rivera was the star of the 2003 UK dating reality show There’s Something About Miriam, and also appeared on the 2004 season of Big Brother Australia.
That was the era of gotcha reality TV, with networks trying to turn up the shock value to draw viewers. There’s Something About Miriam turned Miriam Rivera herself, and her body, into the surprise. (The show aired on Sky1, and then in the U.S. on the short-lived Fox Reality Channel.)
Miriam died in 2019. The Wondery podcast Harsh Reality: The Story of Miriam Rivera is the coda and story Miriam deserves: an in-depth exploration of not just how and why a reality TV show was produced, but the person most affected by it.
Transparent star Trace Lysette narrates, and the podcast was written by Agnes Borinsky and produced by Eleanor Biggs.
Full disclosure: I was interviewed for the final episode of the podcast, which has bonus material. But before that was scheduled or recorded, I was planning to recommend Harsh Reality, because I admire what it does for exploring a corner of this genre, and for Miriam herself.