We are now officially halfway through 2022. Which, for podcasts, means one thing: it’s time to take stock of the year’s best podcasts so far. Not only have we put our own guide to the finest downloadable audio experiences to have debuted in the last six months, but this week also saw the British Podcast Awards announce their shortlist of the year’s greatest pods. If you’re after lovingly curated selections of listens that are absolutely guaranteed to ensure you have zero free time left to not have your earphones in, you are in luck.
This week we also have previews of comedian Jayde Adams’ great gossip-based new podcast, a profile of pioneering gay, Black disco musician Sylvester (the brains behind this classic), and a film noir-esque true crime tale about a pair of lovers entangled in a murder. Who knows: in six months’ time, perhaps some of them will be on the next lot of best-of lists.
Deputy TV editor
Picks of the week
Welcome to the Neighbourhood
BBC Sounds, episodes weekly from Wednesday 29 Jun
If community messageboards and apps intrigue you, Jayde Adams gets it. Here she invites guests to join her and revel in the unintentional hilarity of online spaces where people will try to swap the Bounty bars out of their Celebrations for better chocolates. Bin day and arguments over high streets feature heavily, with Adams hitting the nail on the “only-saying-what-everyone’s-thinking” head in every discussion.
Widely available, episodes weekly
A twisted true-crime love story is always an ear magnet, and that’s particularly the case with this lusty, obsessive age-gap affair between Patty Presba and Jaime Ramos. Keith Morrison’s deliberately hammed-up narration is perfect for this film noir-style drama about “a kid and a dame” plus a murdered husband. HV
Sound Barrier: Sylvester
Spotify, episodes weekly
As the crafter of disco’s finest tune, You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real), Sylvester was ahead of his time both musically and in terms of being an openly gay Black man. This brilliant podcast, the first in a series, is unflinching in showing his ruthless ambition, with beautiful demos and comments from superfans including Patti LaBelle and Billy Porter. HV
Hollywood & Crime: The Execution of Bonny Lee Bakley
Wondery, episodes weekly
If scandal had a voice, Tracy Pattin would own it, and now she’s joined by actor Josh Lucas to pull at the threads of a twisty murder case. When Bonny Lee Bakley was found dead in her car with a gunshot wound, her husband, Robert Blake, was the prime suspect, but – to further add fuel to the true-crime fire – she also had a lot of enemies. HV
Romance Road Test
Audible, episodes weekly
Hosts Kristen Meinzer and Jolenta Greenberg are open about the state of their “not so sexy” marriages as they try to rekindle passion when life, illness and the seven-year itch gets in the way. The first job is to recreate their first dates including frozen pizza, Muay Thai videos and kissing noises. Heartwarming stuff. HV
There’s a podcast for that
This week, Rachel Aroesti chooses five of the best podcasts to make you smarter, from a famous QI spin-off to Claudia Winkleman’s therapy-like series on emotional intelligence
No Such Thing As A Fish
Once upon a time (the mid-to-late 00s), QI had a secure footing in the comedy zeitgeist. With Stephen Fry long gone and desk-based panel shows having fallen from favour, that time is well and truly over. Yet the programme’s team of uber-clever researchers have managed to stay at the forefront of pop culture with their wildly popular podcast. Each episode sees the endearingly swotty QI Elves swap little known facts (the pod’s title being a particularly fascinating example). Its scattershot randomness – combined with the hosts’ giddy banter – makes for a show whose interestingness levels never dip below very.
In Our Time
The original cerebral radio programme is, of course, a podcast these days too. In fact, it has been since 2004 – and in 2011, the entire archive of Melvyn Bragg’s Radio 4 show became available in podcast form (such is the wealth of material, certain pod distributors have handily divided episodes into the genres of religion, science, history, philosophy and culture). If its subject matter can often seem intimidatingly intellectual (recent episodes have covered French playwright Olympe de Gouges and Plato’s Gorgias), it’s worth sticking with: this is as rigorous and detailed as explainers aimed at the general public get.
How Did We Get Here?
Intelligence isn’t just about reeling off reams of esoteric facts or pi to a thousand decimal places: emotional wisdom is just as important. This show, presented by Claudia Winkleman and her clinical psychologist best friend Tanya Byron, provides a masterclass in unpicking human behaviour, helping the listener get a firmer grasp on why people behave like they do. Each episode is structured around a real-life therapy session – Winkleman empathically comforts the patient, Byron uses her professional nous to dig into their predicament – covering topics including challenging children, suicide, absent parents and, invariably, other issues that linger just below the surface.
There are a lot of words for things nowadays, aren’t there? That’s partly because the confluence of the internet and identity politics is making language a far more precise and sensitive tool. In contrast to the “you-can’t-say-anything-any more” brigade, this show from podcast veteran Helen Zaltzman – sister of Andy – explains and examines our ever-evolving vocabulary in a celebratory and interested way. Examples include inclusive terminology for trans parents, asexuality and aromanticism, and misogynoir, while other episodes look at more established linguistic themes: the art of apologies, sleuthing slang and the concept of zero. Eclectic, certainly, but extremely edifying too.
Made in partnership with the London Review of Books, Talking Politics began life in 2016, partly as a way to make sense of the Brexit vote. Things, it is safe to say, did not get any less complicated thereafter, which means there have been plenty of developments for host David Runciman and his fellow Cambridge academics to chew over in exactingly learned style since then. If keeping up with politics seems a sisyphean task in 2022, it might come as a relief to know that the podcast actually concluded for good in March – so there’s at least some hope of getting up to speed on the past six years.
Why not try …
From strays to canine heroes, more doggy facts than you can shake a stick-shaped chew toy at in Off Leash.