It is a truth universally acknowledged that any broodingly intellectual commuter must be in want of a podcast to contemplate while flexing Airpods and staring out the train window. Or maybe not, but either way, podcasts can satiate the need to fill your brain with something other than Father of the Bride for the zillionth time, or strangers’ subway conversations.
Finding the right podcast can be a trying task; the perfect piece must combine a compelling subject, a tolerable voice, and a binge-worthy collection of episodes, so I’ve saved you some of the guesswork and highlighted a few of my favourites.
1. Revisionist History
Revisionist History, brought to you by U of T alum Malcolm Gladwell, is an authoritative dive into the unknown sides of familiar institutions, figures, and events. Though Gladwell introduces the podcast as a series of reinterpretations of the past, it is also equally a catalogue of his personal obsessions.
The podcast analyzes everything from Jesuits, to golf, to the evolution of McDonalds’ French fries with equal appeal and the pith of Gladwell’s numerous bestsellers.
The most entertaining segment of the podcast may be the endings, as Gladwell unravels the stories in full form and guides you to his central idea like it’s the innermost piece of a Russian doll you unpacked together. He can spectacularly and stealthily make a point; in several episodes, Gladwell shakes his head at Donald Trump without even saying his name — he has the good sense to let you get there yourself.
2. Great Moments in Weed History
Journalists David Bienenstock and Abdullah Saeed apply a quirky and unexpected lens to the past as they trek into humanity’s 10,000-odd year relationship with cannabis. The pair cover one historical cannabis moment every episode, with Bienenstock acting as the all-knowing storyteller and Saeed as the comedic audience that Bienenstock guides along.
They deliver both the standard weed tales — the origins of four-twenty and Cheech and Chong — and the surprising bits on cannabis’ often hidden role in the past we think we know. From Jesus to Maya Angelou, no figure is safe.
Each story is interspersed with their own annecdotes and the tangents of genuine friendship, as well as the necessary pauses to ‘roll one up.’ Regardless, rest assured that the podcast is more than just stoner fare — Bienenstock and Saeed enjoy destigmatizing cannabis and history equally as much as they like smoke.
3. Someone Knows Something
We all know true crime is overdone — this is where Someone Knows Something comes in. Away from the done-before, CBC Radio and our host David Ridgen investigate the mysterious Canadian crimes that no willing — or living — voice can elucidate for us.
This is the crux of the podcast — someone must know something, but their silence has let disappearances persist as haunting and seemingly unexplainable events. Ridgen chooses cases whose explanations remain clouded amongst numerous theories, each equally questionable.
He manages to make these cases so deeply personal that you will mourn and search for answers along with his main subjects — the families struggling for decades without closure. The first two seasons are the show’s best, though they are not for the faint of heart.
4. Modern Love
Yes, you’ve heard of this a thousand times. But that’s because this podcast is a collection of some of the most genuine, personal stories about relationships you’ll ever hear. You can choose from an arsenal of eloquent, heart-warming episodes, and hear an array of celebrity voices reading essays chosen by The New York Times.
5. Nothing Much Happens
Less of a podcast and more a collection of self-described adult bedtime stories, Nothing Much Happens is meant to guide you to sleep through simple short stories from Kathryn Nicolai. Her vivid descriptions and soothing yoga-teacher-esque voice will quickly make you feel cozy and relaxed — a good avenue to peace when struggling with anxiety or insomnia.