In Review

Podcasts: Lena Dunham and a ‘megachurch’ scandal

Featuring The C-Word, The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, Drilled, and The Tip Off

“She is perpetually mocked for her lack of self-awareness, insensitivity, hairless cats, repeated failed Twitter apologies and privilege,” said James Marriott in The Times. But for me, Lena Dunham will always be the “genius” behind the hit show Girls. She has now returned with The C-Word, a new podcast that aims to filter through the rumours about women who have gone down in history as (in Dunham’s words) “mad, sad or just plain bad”. Annoyingly, the show is on Luminary, “a paid-for podcast app used by precisely nobody I’ve met”, but its episodes are periodically made available for free through Spotify and Apple. The latest one, on Amy Winehouse, is typically “compelling”, filled with quick-fire delivery and “psychological acuity” from both Dunham and her co-host, the “‘historian’ of bad behaviour” Alissa Bennett. 

The evangelical periodical Christianity Today might not be an obvious source of engrossing podcasts, but its new 12-part series The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill is truly fascinating, said Esther Opoku-Gyeni in The Guardian. The story traces the rise and fall of the eponymous Seattle “megachurch” from its founding in 1996 to its collapse 18 years later, when founding pastor Mark Driscoll was “engulfed” by a scandal brought on by allegations of abusive behaviour. The series delves deep into the “context and forces that allowed the church to flourish, but that also helped to enable allegedly toxic behaviour from its leadership”, while also sensitively covering “nuances of faith, celebrity and wider themes” surrounding “American church culture”. The production values aren’t as good as in some podcasts, but that doesn’t spoil this “harrowing story of what can happen when charisma is valued above character”. 

Now in its sixth season, Drilled, by the award-winning journalist Amy Westervelt, is billed as “a true crime show about the climate crisis”, said Miranda Sawyer in The Observer. It isn’t quite like a true crime show: you can mostly guess “whodunnit” from the start. But the way Westervelt explores “how big firms put profit over sustainability” is forensic and gripping. Drilled is a podcast that “tells the stories we need to know”. And anyone curious about how this kind of investigative journalism works should listen to Maeve McClenaghan’s show The Tip Off: it is an “excellent” examination of “how stories reach our newspaper pages”. Surprising details come thick and fast: over the course of the series, we learn that every police force in Britain has a press officer, and that investigative reporters often turn out to be “painstakingly good at tracking down sources via LinkedIn”. It’s enough to make you completely “reassess everyday journalism”.

The Week Unwrapped: Pensions, elephants and middle-class drugs 

Why is the government changing pension rules? How did a herd of elephants cross China? And will well-healed drug users be named and shamed? Olly Mann and The Week delve behind the headlines and debate what really matters from the past seven days.

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